Heritage > British Castles

Castle Ashby

The Heritage and Tradition of Castle Ashby

The history of Castle Ashby begins in the 11th century, when Judith, niece of William the Conqueror, married Waltherof, Earl of Northampton and Huntingdon, and the King granted her several manors in the neighbourhood. The manor was then leased by Hugh of Ashby and his descendants until about 1300, when Langton, Bishop of Coventry, purchased Ashby and won permission from the King to 'embattle' the mansion. The original castle was pulled down and the Ashby Estates were acquired by Sir William Compton, ancestor of the present owner, in 1512. Work on the present building was begun in 1574 by Henry, 1st Lord Compton, whose arms can be found in the doorway at the foot of the west turret. Building continued untill 1600, when Queen Elizabeth stayed in the house. King James I was a frequent guest. During the 17th century, various additions were made to Castle Ashby, notably by Inigo Jones. The parapet of stone lettering around the top of the house is dated 1624. In the Civil War the family fought on the side of the King. In 1643 Spencer, the 2nd Earl, was killed at the battle of Hopton Heath. After his death, the east front of the house was set on fire and severely damaged. The marks of the flames can still clearly be seen on the lintels of the windows.

In 1688 Henry Compton, Bishop of London and uncle of the 4th Earl, found himself in conflict with the Roman Catholic King James II. He retreated to Castle Ashby and lived for two years in a secret part of the Castle, now known as the Bishop's Rooms. Later, when King James was deposed, the Castle gave refuge to Princess Anne before she was escorted to Oxford to meet her father, the new King William III. In October 1695, the King himself came to stay at Castle Ashby and personally suggested the planting of four avenues of trees opposite each face of the house. In 1760, Capability Brown provided designs for much of the parklands and built the Dairy and the Temple against the Menagerie. The present owner of Castle Ashby is the 7th Marquess of Northampton, a direct descendant of Sir William Compton.

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