Ashby de la Zouch Castle

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Ashby de la Zouch Castle
Ashby de la Zouch castle main buildings.JPG
Ashby de la Zouch Castle
Ashby de la Zouch Castle is located in Leicestershire
Ashby de la Zouch Castle
Location within Leicestershire
General information
Architectural style Fortified manor house
Town or city Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire
Country England
Coordinates 52°44′44″N 1°27′56″W / 52.745435°N 1.465685°W / 52.745435; -1.465685
Completed 12th century

Coordinates: 52°44′44″N 1°27′56″W / 52.745435°N 1.465685°W / 52.745435; -1.465685

Ashby de la Zouch Castle (/ˌæʃbɪˌdələˈzʃ/) is in the town of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire, England (grid reference SK36061659).[1] The ruins have been designated by English Heritage as a Grade I listed building,[2] and they are a Scheduled Ancient Monument.[1][3] It is managed by English Heritage.



The site originated as a Norman fortified manor house in the 12th century founded by Alain de Porhoet, la Zouch, out of Breton, France.[4] During the next three centuries it was extended by his descendants, but when the Zouch succession line ended in the 14th century, the castle changed ownership many times. In 1461, the castle reverted to the Crown after the then owner James Butler, the 5th Earl of Ormonde, was executed after the Battle of Towton.

The castle remained within the Crown's hands for a few years until Edward IV bestowed it upon William, Lord Hastings. William was awarded a licence to crenellate in 1474 and quickly started major works to extend and improve the castle. The licence also granted him the rights to empark 3,000 acres (12 km2) of surrounding land.[5] The principal building of this time was the Hastings Tower which was 90 feet (27 m) high. It is rectangular in shape measuring about 47 feet (14 m) by 41 feet (12 m) with walls nearly 9 feet (3 m) thick on the ground floor.[6] The tower principal had four grand floors with an extension on the northeast side having seven floors. The tower and kitchens had their own well.

There was also a Great Hall and other grand rooms for entertainment sited to the north of the main tower. A visitor in 1644 described rich stained glass windows, depicting coats of arms. William's descendants added to the castle and grounds, including grand landscaped parks and gardens.[7]

The Donne Triptych by Hans Memling, 1470s, National Gallery, London. Sir John Donne kneels at left, Lady Elizabeth Donne and a daughter at right

A chapel was built by William on the northeast corner of the castle and was originally lavishly appointed and richly decorated, but was stripped bare during the reformation at some time in the 16th century when the Hastings family converted to Protestantism. Surviving artworks from the former period include for an altarpiece, The Virgin and Child with Saints and Donors, or the Donne Triptych as painted by Hans Memling in circa 1478. It depicts Lord Hastings' sister, Elizabeth, and her husband Sir John Donne to either side of a central Virgin Mary and Christ child. The chapel is still in use as a family burial place today, with recent interments including those of Barbara Abney-Hastings (1919-2002), Peter Abney-Hastings (1924-2002), and their daughter Mary Flowers (née Mary Joy Abney-Hastings) (1957–97).[7]

The castle has been host to many royal visitors, including Henry VII, James I in 1603, and Charles I in 1645.[5] Mary, Queen of Scots was detained there for a while in 1569, under the custody of the Earl of Huntingdon, Henry Hastings, and the Earl of Shrewsbury, George Talbot.[5]

English Civil War[edit]

The castle was a Royalist stronghold during the Civil War.[8] Although the then heir to Ashby castle, Ferdinando Hastings, the 6th Earl of Huntingdon, was outwardly neutral during the English Civil War, other members of the family, most notably his brother Henry Hastings, were ardent Royalists. As such Ashby became a vital link between the Royalist southwest and the north – particularly as much of the rest of Leicestershire supported the Parliamentary cause. In 1643 Henry Hastings provided many additional fortifications to the castle, and he may also have created the tunnels which linked various buildings and parts of the castle. He was made High Sheriff of Leicestershire by the King and became engaged in various skirmishes between the opposing forces, seeing action at the Battle of Hopton Heath, fighting a small battle at Cotes Bridge near Loughborough and later losing an eye to a pistol shot after an exchange near Bagworth, all in 1643.[9] Later that year, his forces captured and lost the town of Burton upon Trent.

However, as the war progressed and Royalist fortunes waned, Ashby—already the target of action in 1644—was subject to a prolonged siege between September 1645 and its surrender in March 1646. Hastings, ennobled as the first Baron Loughborough on 23 October 1643, for his services to Charles I, marched out with the honours of war. The surrender terms however demanded that the Castle be slighted (demolished), with the remaining Hastings family moving to Donington Hall near Derby. The outer fortifications were immediately levelled, but the main castle buildings and towers survived until about 1648, at which point they were largely destroyed by the Parliamentary forces.[7]

A colour tinted photograph of the castle, circa 1890

Post Civil War[edit]

The Great Hall was rebuilt and adapted sometime between the 14th and 17th centuries. A 1730 engraving by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck shows the hall re-roofed and re-glazed, obviously repaired after the Civil War, but by the time of the 19th century it had fallen into ruin.[7]

The castle became a famous ruin after the publication of Sir Walter Scott’s 1819 novel Ivanhoe, the success of which meant that the castle soon became a popular tourist destination.[7]


The castle is a popular tourist attraction, managed by English Heritage. The ruins have for the large part been stabilised from further deterioration, and the grounds are all laid to grass. It is possible to climb to the top of the Hastings tower (there are 98 steps), and to explore the underground passage from the kitchen basements to the Hastings tower, which was probably created during the Civil War.[8]

Ashby de la Zouch Castle, as seen from the gardens.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Historic England. "Ashby de la Zouch Castle (312919)". PastScape. Retrieved 2 May 2008. 
  2. ^ "Castle ruins (including 2 isolated towers at south east and south west angles of outer wall)", The National Heritage List for England, English Heritage, 2011, retrieved 8 May 2011 
  3. ^ "Ashby Castle and associated formal garden", The National Heritage List for England, English Heritage, 2011, retrieved 8 May 2011 
  4. ^ "Ashby-de-la-Zouch Castle". CastleUK. Archived from the original on 3 January 2008. Retrieved 2 December 2007. 
  5. ^ a b c "Ashby-de-la-Zouch". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). New York: Encyclopædia Britannica. 1911. 
  6. ^ Fry, Plantagenet Somerset (1980). The David & Charles Book of Castles. Newton Abbot: David & Charles. p. 180. ISBN 0-7153-7976-3. 
  7. ^ a b c d e English Heritage site visitor information
  8. ^ a b "Ashby de la Zouch Castle". English Heritage. Retrieved 10 February 2011. 
  9. ^ p466, Robert Ashton, Counter Revolution: The Second Civil War and its Origins 1646-48, Yale University Press, 1994

Further reading[edit]

  • Herbert, Anthony (1931–32), "Ashby Castle" (PDF), Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological Society, 17: 197–204 

External links[edit]