Hedingham Castle is now the home of Jason and Demetra Lindsay and their three young children. They live in the Georgian Mansion House next to the keep, which is all that remains of the Norman Castle built 877 years ago, in 1140, by their ancestor Aubrey de Vere II, the first Lord Great Chamberlain of England.
The first Aubrey de Vere, Lord of Ver in Normandy, had come over with the Conqueror – his brother in law – and was granted fourteen lordships by William in England. Hedingham was the greatest. He planted vineyards here, and wild red grapes still grow in the grounds. He founded the priory of Earl’s Colne and became a monk after the death of his wife, who bore five sons.
Aubrey I built a Castle on the site of what had been the home of a Saxon named Ulwine, of whom, such is the price of defeat, little now is known. His son Aubrey II started to build in stone, and the keep which you can see today is all that remains, next to the family home. His son, Aubrey III, was created an Earl by Empress Matilda and chose the title of Oxford, a title which continued for many generations until finally becoming extinct with the death of the twentieth Earl, also an Aubrey, in 1702.
‘The de Veres, Earls of Oxford, were the longest and most illustrious line of nobles that England has ever seen’. Lord Macauley.
Illustrious, and fierce. The ‘fighting Veres’ served their Kings, if they believed in them, in every major military engagement from the Crusades to the Battle of the Boyne. The second Earl fought with Richard the Lionheart and was with him on the First Crusade to the Holy Land in 1098. During the Battle of Antioch, with night falling, the enemy looked to be saved by the encroaching darkness when a brilliant five-pointed star appeared on the standard being carried by de Vere. The battlefield was illuminated and the victory won, and the de Veres carried the star as their emblem ever since.
The seventh Earl was one of Edward III’s greatest generals, commanding the 1st Division with the Black Prince at Crecy and the archers at Poitiers where the English triumphed and captured King John of France.
The eleventh Earl commanded forces at Agincourt and his son the twelfth Earl remained loyal to Henry VI and the House of Lancaster when Edward IV took the throne, an allegiance which led to his execution at Tower Hill in 1461. His eldest son was beheaded in front of him before he died.
Fortunes changed frequently during the chaos and anarchy of the Wars of the Roses. John, the thirteenth Earl, was exiled after the Battle of Barnet Fields and thrown into prison in Calais for twelve years. He escaped, led the vanguard at the Battle of Bosworth Field and restored the Lancastrian Henry VII. He also restored the fortunes of Hedingham, having been hugely rewarded by a grateful Henry, and built the Tudor bridge, which still leads the way from the drive to the keep. Though godfather to Henry’s son, the future Henry VIII, John was possibly treated rather unjustly by the king he had put back on the throne. Henry had been staying at Hedingham in August 1498, where he had been sumptuously entertained in the Banqueting Hall of the keep. As he was leaving, the Earl of Oxford lined his route with armed retainers emblazoned with the de Vere livery, and the King promptly fined him a fortune for presuming to demonstrate too great a power.
The fifteenth Earl, also John, fought under Henry VIII at the Battle of the Spurs and was with the King at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. He bore the crown at the coronation of Anne Boleyn, and his black marble tomb can still be seen in Castle Hedingham church. The 16th Earl, another John, was also a general under Henry VIII and his wife was a Maid of Honour to Elizabeth I, who visited the Castle in 1561. This John once amazed his noble companions during a wild boar hunt. Tired of the chase on horseback, he dismounted, only to hear shouts of ‘save yourself!’ when a large boar appeared and charged him. Brave and nonchalant as were all his forebears, the Earl stood his ground in the face of the enormous beast and despatched it with his rapier.
Warlike, brave and loyal though the Earls of Oxford undoubtedly were, Edward, the seventeenth Earl was a very different sort of man from his illustrious forebears. With degrees from both Oxford and Cambridge, he was unusually brilliant, accomplished and enigmatic. Much of his life is still unknown, and there is a widespread belief that he was the true author of the plays attributed to William Shakespeare. His son Henry, the 18th Earl, was the last to own and live in Hedingham Castle. After he died of wounds sustained at the Battle of the Hague in 1625, the Castle passed to his mother’s family, the Trenthams, and was lost to the de Veres or their direct descendants for a while.
In 1713 the Castle was bought by Sir William Ashhurst MP, the Lord Mayor of London. He landscaped the grounds and built a fine country house which was completed in 1719. His son Sir Robert built the dovecote by the lake 1720, and the date and his initials can be seen in the brickwork. After Sir William’s death, the estate passed to his great-granddaughter, the wife of Lewis Majendie. Lewis was a keen botanist and planted fruit trees, forest trees and shrubs in the gardens and pleasure grounds. The Majendie family owned Hedingham Castle for 250 years until Miss Musette Majendie left it to her cousin, the Honourable Thomas Lindsay, descended from the de Veres through both maternal and paternal lines. Thomas began the process of restoration of the Mansion House and the grounds, funded in large part by the reintroduction of Jousting and other events on the Tudor tilting lawn in front of the keep. In 1994 Thomas passed ownership to his son, Jason, who with his wife Demetra continues the process of restoration without any funds from any historical or governmental body.