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The Hastings Hours

The Hastings Hours

A National Treasure

The Hastings Hours is a hand-illustrated prayer book of extraordinary beauty and detail.  Janet Backhouse, who provides the commentary for the edition from the British Library, calls it “the last great flowerings of an essentially medieval art form.”  The book was almost unknown until Mrs. F. W. M. Perrins gave it to Britain in 1968.  Backhouse indicates that The Hastings Hours was made by expert craftsmen in Bruges and Ghent in 1480.  It was commissioned by William Hastings, and his badge is on it.

A connection has been made between this book, William Hastings, and the young Edward V.  It is believed that Hastings gave this book to Edward, and, therefore, it becomes symbolic of the relationship between them, especially as argued by Jonathan Hughes in The Religious Life of Richard III.  Whereas the prayer book of Richard III contains images of war and isolation, The Hastings Hours, commissioned for the young Prince whom he supplanted, contains images of love, warmth, support, and protection.


Hastings’ tie to the House of York was deep; He himself was born in 1430, and his father had been an adherent of Richard, the Duke of York, father of Edward IV.

To get a perspective on Hastings’ years of connection with York, one might be wise to keep in mind that Edward IV was born in 1442, and Richard III in 1452.  Hastings had been a man with connections to the Yorkist cause when the royal brothers were just boys.  Hastings was there with the 18-year old Edward at Mortimer’s Cross in February 1461, and he was the first man whom the young Edward IV knighted after the battle of Towton on March 29, 1461.  In the summer of that year, he married Katherine Neville, the King’s cousin, the sister of Richard, the earl of Warwick, and the widow of William Bonville.  Hastings was also raised to the peerage during that summer, and in March of 1462, he was made a Knight of the Garter.  Large estates, “including Ashby-de-la-Zouche in Leicestershire,”  and other Lancastrian lands that were forfeited, and “many of the royal strongholds in the Midlands and North Wales were placed in his hands.”

He was Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household, Master and Worker of the King’s Mints, and Receiver General of the Duchy of Cornwall and Chamber of North Wales.  Hastings was engaged in several diplomatic negotiations, primarily those involving the marriage of Edward IV’s sister Margaret to Charles the Bold of Burgundy.  He was made Lieutenant of Calais in 1471.

Backhouse claims that William Caxton’s translation from the French and publication of “The Mirror of the World,” the first English book printed with illustrations (March 1481) were done at the request of Hugh Bryce, an Alderman of London and a close associate of Hastings, for presentation to him.  Thus riding high as the King’s best friend and most stalwart supporter, Hastings was in the process of building a castle for himself at Kirby Muxloe when Edward IV died.

The Edwardian Connection

The personal connection between Edward V and William Hastings is important in light of the tragedy that occurred on June 13, 1483, but it was a connection that had been forged by July 3, 1471, when Edward IV had selected Hastings as one of those who would be responsible for administering the affairs of the child of eight months who was made Prince of Wales.  Perhaps it is important to add that the Prince’s mother and uncles Gloucester, Clarence and Rivers were also held responsible for administering the Prince’s affairs  (Cora Scofield, The Life and Reign of King Edward the Fourth, 1924).

Providing remarkable insight into the psychology of the relationship between Hastings and the Prince, Hughes points out that Hastings was not the only father figure whom Richard forcibly removed from young Edward V.  Death had claimed his father Edward IV on April 9, 1483.  During the coup at Northampton and Stony Stratford on April 30, 1483, Richard had removed from Edward Anthony Woodville, who was his governor and maternal uncle, and Sir Thomas Vaughan, who had been his chamberlain since infancy, as well as his older half-brother Lord Richard Grey.  He was separated from Bishop Robert Alcock, his tutor, who was probably only saved from the fate of Rivers, Grey and Vaughan by his priesthood.  All the men who had surrounded Edward all his life were thus taken from him at one stroke.  Having been his father’s companion all his life, Hastings would naturally be an obvious father figure to Edward, and his position as Lord Chamberlain would give him even more intimate access to the young King, who sorely missed the support and trust he had placed in his household officers.

Hastings remained true to father and son to the end.  Regarding Hastings’ execution, Giles St. Aubyn remarks in The Year of Three Kings 1483: “Even assuming for the sake of argument that Hastings stands convicted, it is hard to see what his crimes are supposed to have been.  In so far he conspired, he did so on Edward’s behalf, probably with his knowledge and consent.  Plotting to save the King from a so-called ‘Protector’ is not an indictable offense.  But it is, of course, treason to plan to seize the Throne.  The execution of the Lord Chamberlain (Hastings) and the arrest of a former Lord Chancellor (Rotherham) naturally intimidated the King’s supporters, as was no doubt the intention.  Once Richard had seemingly sacrificed Hastings for standing in his way, no one felt safe.  The Croyland Chronicler succinctly summed up the result of this savage coup.  The strongest supporters of the new King being thus removed ‘without judgment or justice, and all the rest of his faithful subjects fearing the like treatment, the royal dukes (Richard and Buckingham) did thenceforth just as they pleased.’”

Murder Most Foul

Hastings’ beheading without due process on June 13, 1483 was murder, not justice.  He was ruthlessly ambushed by people he might have called friends.  Since the death of Edward IV, Hastings had taken Richard’s side in his confrontation with the Woodvilles, but when he had to choose between Edward V and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, he stood by the King.  Richard knew that Hastings would always be the King’s man, and that he would protect his interests above Richard’s.  The means by which Richard’s associates lured Hastings into the Tower for that fateful meeting makes it plain that the whole event was planned as much as it was unprecedented.  The Lord Chamberlain should not be pulled out of a council meeting and beheaded on a block of scaffolding just yards away.  There can be no justification for Hastings’ murder and Richard had no authority to do it.

It is plain that Hastings stood in the way of Richard’s next power grab.  Richard’s motivation is quite clear: he was not conducting business in the King’s name when he arrested his household officers and murdered his Lord Chamberlain.  Such violence could have only one object.  The speed with which Hastings’ murder was done, horrifying the nation with the realization of just how far he would go, gave Richard the leverage to proceed unchallenged to his ultimate goal.

The Illustrations in The Hastings Hours

Janet Backhouse and Jonathan Hughes look at the lovely illustrations within the prayer book in the context of Edward’s life and his common history with Hastings.  The significance of David, the patron saint of Wales, as featured in The Hastings Hours, would not have been missed by Edward, Prince of Wales.  Since the prayer book was commissioned around 1480 in Flanders, Hughes suggests that it might have been done with the assistance of Margaret of York, the Duchess of Burgundy, sister of Edward IV who visited England in 1480.

Describing the prayer book, Hughes says, “..a number of the illustrations allude, in a way that would be appealing to a child, to Prince Edward’s world.  The portrait of St. Christopher bearing on his shoulders the Christ child who is pulling the saint’s hair as he crosses a high river, alludes to the joke of Edward IV’s jester about the rivers being so high one can scarce escape through them  In this context it is possible to see Christ as Prince Edward and St. Christopher as his guardian and friend Hastings or Anthony. Earl Rivers. (It is ironic that Cicely Neville left a relic of St. Christopher to Prince Edward’s mother Elizabeth Woodville.)  The other illustrations explain the proverbs contained in Christine de Pisan’s book translated by Anthony Woodville in 1477 and presented at the court of Edward IV.  They include, besides more punning references to the Woodvilles, illustrations condemning extreme largesse, warnings about the wheels of fate, exhortations to great self-control and advice on the rearing of children.”

Neither Backhouse nor Hughes mention a more obvious “St. Christopher” figure:  Thomas Vaughan, who had been Edward’s chamberlain since he had been made Prince of Wales in 1471.  It was he who held the baby Prince on state occasions.  Annette Joelson in England’s Princes of Wales remarks that “wherever King Edward went, Sir Thomas had to go, carrying the infant in his arms.”  Sir Thomas had been, like Hastings, a Yorkist adherent since the 1450s, now with Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, at Ludlow as a member of the Prince’s household.  Sir Thomas would be, like St. Christopher , “crossing a high river…the rivers being so high one can scarce escape through them.”  Since Thomas Vaughan was born about 1425, Hastings in 1430, and Rivers in about 1440, the allusion to St. Christopher, ‘the old man,’ seems to be even more closely aligned with Thomas Vaughan.  Moreover, Thomas Vaughan had been an ambassador to Burgundy on more than one occasion.  It was he who played a major role in the negotiations involving the marriage of Margaret of York to Duke Charles the Bold of Burgundy in 1468.  Hastings had been one of those who accompanied Margaret to Burgundy for the marriage.

Janet Backhouse’s puzzlement regarding the significance of the Three Kings of Cologne in The Hastings Hours is answered in the light of Hughes’ Woodville references.  In a pageant performed on April 28, 1474 in the City of Coventry in honor of the three-year old Prince of Wales’ first visit to the city, which Queen Elizabeth Woodville also attended, the city honored her mother’s noble Continental heritage by including a piece featuring the Three Kings of Cologne, who say: “We three kings beseech thee with meek meditation/ Specially to preserve this noble prince, your knight/ Which by Influence of thy grace proceeds a-right/ Of one of us three lineally we find, His noble Mother, queen Elizabeth, is come of that kind.”

Since the quarrel between Hastings and the Woodvilles is taken as a given by most students of Yorkist history, it is curious that there would be any reference to them in a work commissioned by William Hastings, and yet, since Hastings’ step-daughter married Elizabeth Woodville’s son Tom Grey in 1474, politics and marriage make strange bedfellows.

In Edward’s Darkest Hours

Jonathan Hughes in The Religious Life of Richard III, says this about The Hastings Hours:

”If the Book of Hours was presented Edward V during his last days before 13 June when Hastings was involved in a desperate attempt to rescue him, then its owner would maybe have prayed from it knowing that his hour was up.  His identification with the child on the shoulders of the avuncular St. Christopher would have taken on a poignant significance when the Prince realized that his guardian Rivers (and his beloved chamberlain Sir Thomas Vaughan) was (were) dead.  Hoping vainly for rescue from Hastings, the only father-figure left him after the execution of Rivers (and Vaughan), Edward must have felt the shadow of his uncle lengthening over him, and he could only have taken solace in identifying with the infant Christ, seeing Richard, as others were to do, in the role of Herod….

A blue smudge on a page containing a painting of the Virgin Mary suggests that one of the owners of this book of hours, perhaps the Prince of Wales, had in his hour of need kissed the dress of the Virgin.  This book became for Shakespeare a symbol of the innocence of the princes.  “Their lips were four red roses on a stalk/And in their summer beauty kissed each other./  A book of prayers on their pillow lay/ who once, quoth Forrest, almost changed my mind.”  How different is the mindscape of Richard III’s book of hours.  A comparison between this prayer book and the Hastings Hours reveals the clashing of the destinies of nephew and uncle  Edward’s book of hours reveals the elaborate support system that underpinned the prince’s life, such as the moral advice that his tutor’s gave him to enable him to assume the duties of kingship, advice that reflected the secular interests of a Woodville-dominated court steeped in the literature and secular ethics of Roman antiquity.  Richard’s book of hours, on the other hand, reveals the isolation of the ambitious younger brother and uncle, the outsider who only had his God to turn to, whose imaginative world is not the New Testament or classical antiquity, but a more private chivalric world, that of the Old Testament chronicles of war and exile which reflected so compellingly his childhood and youth.”

Hughes comments, “His (Richard’s) doubts and anxieties would have increased after July 1483 when rumors concerning the disappearance of the princes spread and his unpopularity increased, despite his displays of piety.  In the expression of religious sentiments in this period, there was considerable affection for young children, and, in Richard’s own copy of the Revelations of St. Mechtild, there are many visions of the Christ Child appearing as a twelve-year-old boy.  What must have taken Richard by surprise however, was the widespread, instinctive reaction of horror to what was presumed to be the murder of two innocent children.”  Hughes goes on to quote Dominic Mancini, who left England shortly after Richard’s coronation on July 6, 1483 and who wrote this account in December of that year:  “I have seen many men burst forth into tears and lamentations when mention was made of him (Edward V) after his removal from men’s sight, and already there was a suspicion that he had been done away with.  Whether, however, he has been done away with and by what manner of death, so far I have not at all discovered.”

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