If a parent isn’t supposed to have a favorite child, an author is probably not allowed to have a favorite character either. Nevertheless, I must confess to a particular fondness for William, Lord Hastings, the first character we encounter in The Protector. He is the best friend of King Edward IV, a veteran of many battles, an able counselor and, not least, the “boon companion of the king’s idle hours.” He seems to have been almost universally well-loved.
By birth, he was a member of the lesser nobility but gained great prominence under Edward becoming Master of the Mint, Captain of Calais, and perhaps most significantly, Lord Chamberlain, the person with the most direct access to the king. He does not seem to have been overly ambitious, though he does look after his own interests as such men do. This jockeying for power frequently brings him into conflict with the Woodvilles, the family of the queen.
Hastings’s world is rocked by King Edward’s untimely death. At first, he is much relieved when the dying Edward appoints his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, as protector of the 12-year-old king and of the realm. In the face of Woodville opposition, the baron does everything in his power to facilitate the transition to Richard and is instrumental in his gaining physical custody of the young king.
The friendship between Hastings and Richard of Gloucester has been a long and a warm one, forged in the crucible of Edward’s earlier challenges and triumphs. The two have fought together for the king and share an abiding loyalty to him, but with that Edward dead and another on the throne, each now faces circumstances that send them spiraling in opposite directions. Within six weeks, Hastings will have been executed at Richard’s command.
What happened? It would be easy to blame Jane Shore, the king’s favorite mistress for whom Hastings has long nurtured a secret affection. While he finally realizes his dream of possessing her body, if not her heart, Jane has her own reason for turning her new lover against the protector: her not-so-hidden passion for the Marquis of Dorset, now in exile. While she doesn’t cause Hastings’s disaffection, she does provide the means for his acting on it.
Hastings also feels slighted when Richard gives grants and honors to others but not to him. He is particularly aggrieved when Richard recognizes Hastings’s old friend and follower, John Lord Howard, for his exceptional service. Howard seems to be developing a closer relationship with the protector than Hastings has himself. This is symbolized by the spectacular gold cup that Howard commissions as a gift for Richard. When Hastings sees it in the goldsmith’s shop, he strongly suspects that his former friend is switching allegiance to the protector, leaving him behind.
Other issues arise. Certainly, the prominence of the Duke of Buckingham in Richard’s retinue is a problem for Hastings. The duke has assumed the role of chief advisor that Hastings had sought for himself. Richard’s splitting of the council into two parts, with Hastings being relegated to what he sees as the inferior group, is another irritant. It also puts him into close contact with three conspirators who are growing increasingly dissatisfied with the protector’s rule: Thomas, Lord Stanley; Thomas Rotherham, archbishop of York; and perhaps most notably, John Morton, bishop of Ely.
All of these factors play a part, but the main issue that sends Hastings into rebellion is Richard’s treatment of the young king. The baron not only retains a strong loyalty to the boy’s father, he also develops a genuine affection for the lad, something that the protector, for all his efforts, is unable to do. He is concerned when the young king is kept under such close custody that he is almost a prisoner. Richard has justifiable fears of what will happen if the youth were to fall into the clutches of his mother’s family and acts accordingly. Hastings does his best to relieve the boy, even taking him on an outing in London without the protector’s knowledge or consent. It is a bold move, but one that proves to be his undoing.
In the end, as he fears that Richard is about to seize the throne from his nephew, Hastings joins the group of rebels—Stanley, Rotherham, and Morton–in an effort to overthrow him. Perhaps fittingly, he is himself betrayed by Will Catesby, one of his closest adherents. It is a bitter end for an otherwise illustrious life, but as he reflects on his way to the scaffold, if he had it to do over again, he would not have chosen a different path. Killing off this “favorite child” was difficult, but I was glad to give him this final moment of grace.