The execution of Lord Hastings

The ‘Crimes’ of Richard III: The execution of Lord Hastings
This ‘crime’ is one of those to which a great deal of attention has been given, an excessive amount almost. The traditional date on which William Lord Hastings was executed was Friday 13 June 1483. This is the date given by the Crowland Chronicler and it was not questioned by anyone until Sir Clements Markham agued in the English Historical Review (henceforth cited as EHR) in 1891 (and repeated in his book Richard III: His Life and Character in 1906) that Hastings was in fact executed on 20 June, allowing time for a proper trial after his arrest on 13 June. He based his redating on a reinterpretation of a slightly ambiguous letter from Sir Simon Stallworth written on 21 June and describing the events in London. This rather implausible argument was ignored by everyone until 1972 when an article by Alison Hanham started a flurry of publications which only ceased in 1980.

The article by Hanham was entitled ‘Richard III, Lord Hastings and the historians’ (EHR, vol. 87, [1972], pp.133.248) and it revived Markham’s redating, using as the main evidence a passage in the Acts of the Court of the Mercers’ Company, 1453-1527 edited by Laetitia Lyell and F.D. Watney: not in the Society Library) which seemed to show that Hastings was still alive on 15 June. She backed up her arguments with a number of other pieces of evidence. This article was answered by Dr. B.P. Wolfe in ‘When and Why did Hastings lose his head?’ (EHR, vol. 89 [1974] pp. 835-844). Wolfe argued for the traditional date, using much documentary evidence including the building accounts at Kirby Muxloe. As he pointed out these gave the date when work stopped on the castle of Hastings as 17 June. If Hastings had still been alive it is unlikely that work would have stopped then. Hanham repeated her arguments in her bookRichard III and his early historians (OUP, 1975) which went to press before she saw Wolfe’s article and defended herself in another article ‘Hastings Redivivus’ (EHR, vol. 90 [1975] pp. 821-827). She adduced little new evidence but chiefly criticised Wolfe’s arguments concerning the dating of the evidence from the Acts of Court. Before Dr. Wolfe could reply to his article someone else, in the person of Dr. J.A.F. Thompson, entered the controversy. Dr. Thompson surveyed the arguments to date and pointed out further gaps in Hanham’s arguments, (‘Richard III and Lord Hastings – a Problematical Case Reviewed’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, vol. 48, [1975] pp.22-30). After this came Dr. Wolfe’s final shot with the decisive title of ‘Hastings Reinterred’ (EHR, vol. 91 [1976] pp. 813-824), in which he again criticised Hanham’s use of the Inquisitions Post Mortem as evidence and her use of the Acts of Court.

The evidence of the Acts of Court is obviously crucial to the whole argument and it was examined in detail, as an edition of a sixteenth-century copy of lost fifteenth-century originals, of posible mistakes by the copier and of the dating of the entries, by Anne Sutton and P.W. Hammond, (‘The problems of dating and the dangers of redating: the Acts of Court of the Mercers’ Company of London 1453-1527′, Journal of the Society of Archivists, vol. 6, [1978] pp. 87-91). These authors came to the conclusion that it was dangerous to rely on this volume of crucial dates, the ‘Hastings’ entry in particular, since June 15 1483 was a Sunday, a day of the week on which the Court of the Mercers’ Company rarely if ever held a meeting. This entry must therefore refer to another year. This article was the last one on this controversy until Dr. C.H.D. Coleman published ‘The Execution of Hastings, a neglected source’, (Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, col. 53, [1980] pp. 244-247). This article discusses the Black Book of the Exchequer, a manuscript devoted, amongst much else, to recording dates of interest to the officers of that department. Hastings was a Chamberlain of the Exchequer and his death was recorded as 13 June 1483. This is most unlikely to be wrong; there would be no point in recording the wrong date.

During the controversy a number of articles appeared in The Ricardian. These were all mentioned in an excellent survey by Lorraine Attreed, ‘Hanham Redivivus – A Salvage Operation’ (vol. 5, number 65, [1979] pp. 41-50). The final restult of it all was to reinforce the traditional date of Hastings’ death, the same day that he was arrested, Friday 13 June. PWH