Ashby de la Zouch Castle

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Ashby de la Zouch Castle

Ashby de la Zouch Castle is a ruined castle in the town of Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire, England.[1] The ruins have been listed by English Heritage as a historic building I. Grade I listed buildings[2] and are considered a Scheduled Monument.[1][3] They are managed by English Heritage.



The first building on the estate was a Norman fortified manor house, built for Alan de la Zouche, a native of Brittany[4] who came to England before 1172. Over the next three centuries it was extended by his descendants, but after the Zouch line ended in the 14th century the castle changed hands several times. In 1461 the castle reverted to the Crown after the then owner, James Butler, 5th Earl of Ormond, was executed after the Battle of Towton.

The castle remained in the hands of the Crown for a number of years until King Edward IV granted it to William Hastings, 1st Baron Hastings. William Hastings obtained a royal warrant for fortification in 1474(English licence to crenellate) and immediately had extension and expansion works carried out on the castle. The permission also allowed him to convert 12 sq km of surrounding land into a park.[5] The most important building from this time was the 27 meter high Hastings Tower. It has a rectangular plan measuring 14.1 metres × 12.3 metres, with walls almost 2.7 metres thick on the ground floor.[6] The tower had four main storeys with an extension on the north-east side which had seven storeys. The tower and kitchens had their own well.

There was also a knights’ hall and other parade rooms for entertaining, located on the north side of the main tower. A visitor in 1644 described richly decorated stained glass windows depicting coats of arms. William Hastings’ descendants extended the castle and estate, for example with large landscaped parks and gardens.[7]

Donne triptych by Hans Memling (1470s), National Gallery (London). Sir John Donne kneels on the left, Lady Elizabeth Donne and daughter on the right.

A chapel was built by William Hastings in the north-east corner of the castle. It was originally lavishly furnished and richly decorated, but was stripped of almost all its imagery at the Reformation, in the 16th century, when Hastings’ family converted to Protestantism. Still surviving from the earlier period are works of art such as The Virgin and Child with Saints and Donors and Hans Memling’s Donne Triptych of c. 1478, where Hastings’ sister Elizabeth and her husband Sir John Donne are depicted on either side of the Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus. Today the chapel still serves as a burial chapel for the family. Funerals have also recently been held there, for example of Barbara Abney-Hastings (1919-2002), Peter Abney-Hastings (1924-2002) and their daughter Mary Flowers (née Mary Joy Abney-Hastings, 1957-1997).[7]

The castle hosted many royal visitors, such as Henry VII, James I in 1603, and Charles I in 1645.[5] Mary Stuart was imprisoned there for a time in 1569 under the supervision of the Earl of Huntingdon, Henry Hastings, and the Earl of Shrewsbury, George Talbot.[5]

English Civil War

During the English Civil War, Ashby de la Zouch Castle was a stronghold of the Royalists.[8] Although the castle’s heir at the time, Ferdinando Hastings, 6th Earl of Huntingdon, was outwardly neutral, members of his family, especially his brother Henry Hastings, were ardent Royalists. Thus Ashby de la Zouch Castle formed an important link between the royalist south-west and the north of England – especially when the rest of Leicestershire supported the parliamentarian cause. In 1643 Henry Hastings had many additional fortifications added to the castle, and presumably built the tunnels connecting many of the buildings and parts of the castle. He was appointed High Sheriff of Leicestershire by the King and became involved in many skirmishes between enemy forces, such as the Battle of Hopton Heath, a small battle at Cotes Bridge near Loughborough. He later lost an eye to a pistol shot in an exchange of fire at Bagworth, all in 1643.[9] Later that year his troops captured the town of Burton-upon-Trent and lost it again.

As the war progressed and royalist fortunes turned, Ashby de la Zouch Castle – already engaged in fighting in 1644 – was besieged from September 1645 until its surrender in March 1646. Hastings, who had been made the first Baron Loughborough on 23 October 1643 for his services to King Charles I, left the castle with honour. The surrender agreements, however, stipulated that the site should be razed and the remaining Hastings family should move to Donington Hall near Derby. The outer fortifications were immediately levelled, but the main part of the castle and the towers remained standing until 1648, when they were largely destroyed by Parliamentarian forces.[7]

After the civil war

A coloured photograph of the castle (around 1890)

The Knights Hall was rebuilt and adapted sometime between the 14th and 17th centuries. An engraving by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck shows the Knights Hall with a new roof and windows, apparently repaired after the Civil War, but by the 19th century it had fallen back into ruin.[7]

After the publication of Sir Walter Scott’s novella Ivanhoe in 1819, the castle ruins became famous. The success of the novella meant that it soon became a popular tourist attraction.[7]


The castle remains a popular tourist destination today, managed by English Heritage. Most of the ruins have been protected against further decay and the estate has been entirely planted with grass. You can climb Hastings Tower (98 steps) and explore the tunnel from the kitchen cellar to Hastings Tower, which was probably constructed during the Civil War.[8]

enlarge and show information about the picture

Ashby de la Zouch Castle from the gardens

Individual references

  1. a b Ashby de la Zouch Castle. Retrieved 26 November 2015.
  2. Castle ruins (including 2 isolated towers at south east and south west angles of outer wall)In: The National Heritage List for England. English Heritage. 2011. Archived from Original july 14, 2014. Info:archive linkwas automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check original and archive link according to instructions and then remove this note.@1@2Template:Webachiv/IABot/ Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  3. Ashby Castle and associated formal gardenIn: The National Heritage List for England. English Heritage. 2011. Archived from Original 14 July 2014. Info: Thearchive linkwas automatically inserted and has not yet been checked. Please check original and archive link according to instructions and then remove this note.@1@2Template:Webachiv/IABot/ Retrieved 26 November 2015.
  4. Ashby-de-la-Zouch Castle. castleUK. Archived from the Original 3 January 2008. retrieved 26 November 2015.
  5. a b c Ashby de la Zouch in Encyclopedia Britannica. 11. Edition. New York 1911.
  6. Plantagenet Somerset Fry: The David & Charles Book of Castles. David & Charles, Newton Abbot 1980. ISBN 0-7153-7976-3. p. 180.
  7. a b c d e Visitor information from English Heritage.
  8. a b Ashby de la Zouch CastleEnglish Heritage. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
  9. Robert Ashton: Counter Revolution: The Second Civil War and its Origins 1646-48. Yale University Press, New Haven 1994. p. 466.


  • Anthony Herbert: Ashby Castle. In: Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological Society. Issue 17 (1931-1932), pp. 197-204. (PDF;385 kB).

Web links

Commons: Ashby de la Zouch Castle– Collection of images, videos and audio files

Coordinates 52° 44′ 43.6″ N, 1° 27′ 56.5″ W