Abney-Hastings Family History
Frank Abney-Hastings was a direct descendent of 1st Earl of Huntingdon whose grandfather was William, Lord Hastings, who was executed by his friend & cousin, Richard III. The first Earl was George Hastings, a childhood friend of Prince Hal, later Henry VIII who created him 1st Earl of Huntingdon & allowed him sufficient funds to build up estates around Ashby de la Zouch.
George kept away from the religious & marriage arguments during Henry VIII’s reign & allowed his eldest son, Francis, to marry Catherine Pole a grand-daughter of the Duke of Clarence, brother of Edward IV. This marriage gave the Hastings family a claim to the Plantagenet throne for centuries to come – thus the 2004 television programme ‘The Rightful King of England’ about Lord Michael Abney-Hastings, 14th Earl of Loudoun, currently living in Australia.
Francis had none of his father’s political skills & he rode to Cambridge in support of his son’s sister-in-law, Lady Jane Grey. He was captured by his Catholic cousins, the Huddlestons, and, along with the Duke of Northumberland, was thrown into the Tower of London. The Duke lost his head, but Francis’s brother, Lord Loughborough, was a favourite of both his uncle, Cardinal Pole & of Queen Mary, & Francis was allowed to return quietly to Ashby where he eventually died of natural causes.
His very dull & unpopular son, Henry, became the Earl known as the Puritan Earl! He was not liked by Elizabeth upon whom he showered gifts, & Lord Leicester amongst others forced him to renounce any claim to the throne. After this he was given the task of gaoler to the beautiful & tragic Mary Queen of Scots. He subsequently moved to York as President of the North where he died without issue.
His altogether more entertaining brother, George, inherited the title & became very friendly with King James I who allowed his Queen & his son, Prince Henry, to stay at Ashby as a sign of reconciliation with the Plantagenets. One of his sons became a sea captain under Walter Raleigh & the other became a famous (or infamous?) lover & party thrower. King James was said to have spent more time in Ashby than his mother Mary who was imprisoned there! He later became an ardent supporter of the Royalist cause and, interestingly, it was during the Civil War & the siege of Ashby Castle by Cromwell that Hastings’ friend, James Abney, moved his staff & himself from Willesley Hall to the castle to support the Earl. Sadly the cause was lost & the sixth Earl of Huntingdon was incarcerated in Fleet jail until the 1653 Act of Parliament allowed his release. He had lost most of his lands & three of his four sons at an early age but with the castle rendered uninhabitable by Cromwell, the family did retain Donnington Hall lands in the area which is now home to the East Midlands Airport & the Donnington Race Track scheduled to become the home of the British Grand Prix.
Great debates raged about the succession to Charles II, & again the family took the losing side! The Earl, Theophilus, at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in London in 1679, proposed a toast to the Duke of Monmouth & was ordered from Court by Charles. Cleverly he was made a Privy Councillor to keep him apart from Monmouth which meant that on the King’s death he threw his support in with James II & again renounced his own claim to the throne. This again was to be the family’s downfall when the Dutch Invasion gave the crown of England to William of Orange & Mary in 1688. Like the second Earl before him, he was cast into the Tower. Thankfully released, he spent his last ten years at Donnington having 15 children by two wives! His eldest son, George, became the eighth Earl in 1701 & quite admired the new foreign monarchy. He even carried the sceptre at Queen Anne’s coronation in 1702.
As he died unmarried three years later, he was succeeded by his six year-old half -brother who, in 1727, carried the Sword of State at the coronation of George II. He was recorded as a dull man but this is probably as he married an extraordinary wife, Land Selina Shirley the second daughter & co-heir to Earl Ferrers. She committed an almost heretical act to her class by converting to Wesleyan Methodism. The ninth Earl was reproached by his fellow peers for allowing his wife to behave in such a scandalous manner. The Bishop of Gloucester, the Earl’s old tutor, was called in to help, but one chronicler described the visit as “ ineffectual to bring her to a saner sense of devotion.”
Countess Selina’s parting riposte to the unfortunate Bishop was “ …to consider your responsibilities to the Great Head of the Church!”. The poor man disappeared in total personal & theological disarray, abandoning his ineffectual ex-pupil to a quiet life amongst his parklands. Selina continued her pilgrimage & often entertained John & Charles Wesley.
Their eldest son, Francis, was somewhat different and, whilst he had all his mother’s intellect & character, his zeal was always aimed in the opposite direction. In 1746 at the age of seventeen his father died & Francis inherited the title of Tenth Earl. He did not inherit the estates & money until he reached twenty-one. His first action was to remove his mother & younger siblings to their own house in Ashby, some eight miles away. He joined many of his intellectual aristocratic friends in the Theist movement which rejected all the trappings of organised religion including marriage.
This caused Selina to throw herself & her considerable fortune even more fully into the cause by then known as Calvinistic Methodism.By the time of her death in 1791, she had financed the building of sixty-four chapels which became known as ‘Countess of Huntingdon’s Connection’. To this day some twenty chapels remain.
Francis travelled & became one of the brightest young scholars of the nation, being at the time one of the youngest men elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was also the conqueror of a famed beauty, the leading danceuse at the Paris Opera, Louise Madeleine Lany, known throughout Europe as La Lanilla. A very long story (which will undoubtedly become a romantic history) led on 11th March 1752 to the birth of Charles Hastings. Whilst Francis still would not consider marriage, for the remainder of his life the 10th Earl referred to Charles as his ‘natural son’and gave every support to his upbringing. In that same year his sister, Lady Elizabeth, had married an Irish nobleman, Baron Rawdon, who became the first Earl of Moira. They established a home in Dublin at Moira House which became the centre for writers, artists & politicians. When Charles was two, it was decided that he & his mother should move into the Irish home to be brought up with Elizabeth’s children. Hence Charles & his cousin Francis were in effect brought up as brothers which certainly affected the future life of Charles & his sons, one of whom was Frank. Sadly the French beauty developed pneumonia when Charles was three & she died at Moira House.
The ‘grieving’ widower Francis, having had a claim for the Dukedom of Clarence (and therefore the Plantagenet throne) rejected by King George III, returned to his great interests in life; travel, languages, classics & young ladies of various nations! He certainly kept closely in touch with his son & his nephews, & spent many months each year with them in Leicestershire.
The two boys went to University College, Oxford, but neither enjoyed the academic life & to the annoyance of parents they both left & joined the Regiment of Foot Guards. Both saw honourable service in America & rose to the rank of Colonel, but separated when Francis was created Baron Rawdon of Rawdon in York. This took him to Parliament, & almost immediately the Irishman fell out with the government. With Pitt & Fox, he plotted to take over the administration from Lord Melville, an action which was to affect the career of Frank Abney-Hastings some thirty years later.
Charles’ father, Francis 10th Earl of Huntingdon, died suddenly at the age of 60 without pain at the dinner table on October 2nd 1783. Whilst the main estates at Ashby & Donnington were left to his nephew Francis, his natural son, General Sir Charles Hastings, was left estates at Packington producing at that time a huge income of two thousand pounds a year. Whilst this was happening, Charles befriended the beautiful daughter of neighbouring landowners at Willesley & Measham, Parnell Abney. Whilst not as high ranking as the Hastings, the Abneys were certainly one of the oldest families in the land & records show a John d’Albini having been granted lands in Derbyshire after the Norman Conquest, including a village now called Abney. The Willesley estate, settled upon the couple, had been in the hands of the Abneys for four centuries & bordered the Packington estate already owned by Charles. The wealthy parents of Charles’ intended wife were a Judge, Sir Thomas Abney & his wife, Lady Parnell, an heiress to the Villiers family who was extremely rich in her own right.
The couple devoted themselves to their lands, although Charles maintained his own local troops, was made a Lieutenant-General & granted a Knighthood. The elder of their two sons, also Charles, was a bookish child who never became close to Frank, his younger sibling by two years. It was the boy Frank who fully joined in the attractions of the estate, & he was never happier than out shooting hare with the woodmen & their children.
After a season of energetic fox-hunting the announcement was made, on Frank’s 11th birthday, 14th February 1805, that he was to be sent to Portsmouth to join the Royal Navy. A week later he was loaded into a carriage & sadly waved off by his mother, a little girl called Eliza Harriet Moore who had been adopted by the family, & a full turn-out of estate workers & their families.
Many of the traits seen in Frank Abney-Hastings come from his illustrious ancestors; his sense of duty & loyalty, his linguistic ability, his hatred of oppression, his caring for those beneath him in social rank & an outward coolness hiding great feelings of emotion. He was also acutely aware that his grandfather was the Earl of Huntingdon, the Plantagenet claimant, & his own lineage was secured in heraldic terms by the awarding of the Abney-Hastings coat-of-arms in 1806.