Ashby de la Zouch Castle has had a tumultuous historical past. Originally a manor house occupied by the Earl of Leicester, later transformed into a royalist stronghold during the civil war and subsequently the inspiration behind Walter Scott’s jousting scene in his historical tale ‘Ivanhoe’. Ashby de la Zouch Castle has been an integral part of Leicestershire’s history and is a compelling foundation for research and understanding of the local area.
Moreover, since its public acquisition in 1932, the Castle has been utilised primarily as a tourist attraction. Today, under the expertise of English Heritage, Ashby de la Zouch Castle displays as much historical significance as it first did when it was a functioning castle. It can make for a fantastic family day out exploring the grounds with family, it’s imposing background befitting for a warm summer’s day picnic with friends and is well suited for many educational school trips.
In the late 12th Century, the Earl of Leicester gave the then manor house to Baron Zouch and his family for his military achievements. The Zouch family influenced the town significantly, most prominently with the extension of the town name to Ashby de la Zouch in addition to the introduction of weekly markets and annual fairs. However, in 1399 the last heir of the Zouch family passed away and this generated many unstable years for the manor house as debates intensified over who should inherit the property, but conversations concluded in 1462 when William, Lord Hastings came to occupy the house.
Lord Hastings had been a prominent soldier in the War of the Roses, a series of wars sparked by two sovereign families battling to take the throne. King Edward IV came to power after winning the war and Lord Hastings was rewarded for his loyal support and bravery with the manor house in Ashby de la Zouch. He continued to serve the King as his Lord Chamberlain, controlling Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and parts of Warwickshire on behalf of the King. In 1474, King Edward IV gave permission for Lord Hastings to fortify the manor house. Ashby de la Zouch Castle can therefore be thought to have beginnings in the 15th Century when Lord Hastings created an accomplished, characterful and impressive castle.
In spite of Lord Hastings’ good relationship with the King, when King Edward IV passed away in 1483 and the throne was bestowed to his brother Richard, Lord Hastings title was compromised. Richard was ruthless on his quest to be King and felt threatened by previous influencers, therefore had Lord Hastings executed. Nevertheless, the Hastings lineage continued to reside at Ashby de la Zouch Castle, but the 100 years that followed conveyed exciting highs and hopeless lows. Whilst some of William’s ancestors enjoyed trusted relationships with royalty, others fell onto hard times and ruination.
By the middle of the 17th Century, Henry Hastings was in charge of fortifying Ashby de la Zouch Castle once again in addition to strengthening Ashby town. The castle was to play a significant part in the English civil war as a Royalist stronghold for King Charles I. Despite the Royalist’s best efforts to be victorious, in 1646 Ashby de la Zouch Castle was completely ruined by Cromwell’s Parliamentarians.
By the turn of the 19th Century, Ashby de la Zouch Castle was thrown back into the spotlight, breathing a new lease of life into the castle. In 1819, Sir Walter Scott published a historical novel named ‘Ivanhoe’ with a dramatic jousting scene set in the Ashby de la Zouch Castle. Tourists embarked on Ashby, and the town and castle experienced a rejuvenated sense of impressive value that still lives on today.