The shire of Huntingdon is believed to have emerged in the 920s as a result of Edward the Elder's patient conquest of the Danish Five Boroughs. In common with other English shires it is presumed that it had its own ealdorman although the records of such appointments are sparse and intermittent. Shortly before the Norman Conquest, however, it was bestowed on Siward Digera who having been appointed by king Cnut as Jarl or Earl of Northumbria was later also granted Huntingdonshire by Edward the Confessor as a reward for his support in the king's struggles against the Earl Godwin. Siward died in 1055 and was replaced by Tostig Godwinson, but as Siward was related by marriage to the Canmore dynasty of Scottish kings they fancied that they had a claim on Huntingdon (and Northumbria) as well; a claim which they intemittently pursued over the following centuries.

After the Norman Conquest; Waltheof, Senlis and Canmore

In 1072 (by which time Tostig was long gone), William I granted the title to to Siward's son Waltheof Siwardson together with a generous grant of a number of manors in Northamptonshire and seven other shires including properties in London which were known as the 'Honour of Huntingdon'. However Waltheof Siwardson ended up being executed for treason as a result of his tangential involvement in the Revolt of the Earls. Waltheof died leaving an only daughter named Maud as his heiress. She had married a Norman by the name of Simon de Senlis or 'Simon of St Liz', and Simon therefore staked his claim to the earldom of Huntingdon (and that of Northampton as well) which was recognised in around the year 1080. They had two sons named Simon of Senlis and Waltheof of Senlis, but when the elder Simon of Senlis died in 1113, Henry I married his widow Maud off to one David Canmore and granted him the earldom notwishtanding the prior claim of Maud's sons. Said David being better known as king David I of Scotland who regarded himself as the true heir to Siward's land and titles and hence the Senlis and Canmore families squabbled over Huntingdon for the next century or so.

When Henry I died in December 1135, the English crown became a matter of dispute between Stephen and Matilda. David I supported Matilda, as the daughter and nominated heir of Henry I, but only so far as it furthered his own interests. Stephen therefore encouraged Simon de Senlis to occupy Huntingdon and claim the title for himself, but was eventually forced to buy off the Scottish king by recognising his claim to the title.

In the March of 1136 David resigned the Earldom of Huntingdon to his son Prince Henry, who did homage to Stephen for the earldom, whilst pursuing his claim for the earldom of Northumbria as well, which was later granted to him after the Treaty of Durham in 1139. After Prince Henry died in 1152, the second Simon of Senlis stepped up and took control of Huntingdon, but when he died shortly afterwards in 1153, Henry II granted the earldom back to Henry's son Malcolm the Maiden as part of an overall settlement with the Scottish king that involved him in surrendering his claims on Northumbria. Therefore the earldom passed on Malcolm's death to his brother William the Lion in 1165. William however, supported the rebellion of Henry's sons in 1173 and as a result the third Simon of Senlis (the grandson of the original) was permitted to seize control of Huntingdon and was recognised as earl in 1174.

The Canmore's however did not give up and when Simon of Senlis died without issue in 1184 the earldom was regranted to William the Lion. William held it for a short while before he passed it to his brother David in 1185. David who later became king David II resigned the title in 1219 to his son John, known as John the Scot who also subsequently became Earl of Chester. When John the Scot died childless in 1237 the earldom reverted to the crown but the estates were divided up amongst the three sisters who had married into the Bruce, Balliol and Hastings families.

The fate of the Honour of Huntingdon

The family connection to the House of Canmore that determined the disposition of the estates that comprised the Honour of Huntingdon was of course the exact same family connection that determined the leading contenders for the vacant Scottish throne at the end of the 13th century. Thus the events of the first Scottish War of Independence had a great part to play in the eventual fate of the Honour of Huntingdon, as the male representatives of each of the three families played their part in the conflict. The Balliol portion was forfeited to the English crown in 1296 and the Bruce share similarly being siezed in 1304. The Balliol share was later granted to John of Britanny, Earl of Richmond but this returned to the crown's possession in 1341. The Hastings part also came to the crown in 1389, which reunited the honour in royal ownership.

Clinton, d'Angle, Grey and Herbert

The earldom remained vacant for over a century until it was granted to a William de Clinton, the second son of John de Clinton, 2nd Baron Clinton of Maxstoke. William joined the group of court knights led by William Montagu who clustered around the young Edward III and participated in the coup of 1330 that freed the king from the domination of Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March. William, who had already been granted his own Clinton barony on the 6th September 1330, became Admiral of England in 1333, and was created Earl of Huntingdon in 1337. He died without issue in 1354 rendering his titles extinct, although the senior branch of the Clinton family later won their own earldom of Lincoln.

The dignity was next granted to a Frenchman Guichard d'Angle who had fought on the French side at the battle of Poitiers where he was wounded and captured. Brought back to England, he became an adherent of the English cause and was one of the four earls created by Richard II at his coronation in 1377. Interestingly enough he was only created Earl of Huntingdon for life, making him the very first recorded Life Peer. This naturally meant that his title became extinct on his death in 1381.

Richard II next granted the title to his half-brother John Holland on the 2nd June 1387. John was later created Duke of Exeter on the 29th September 1397, but degraded from his dukedom in 1399 after the deposition of Richard. He was executed shortly thereafter in January 1400 as result of his participation in the Epiphany Rising against Henry IV. His eldest surviving son, another John Holland, was eventually restored to the peerage as Earl of Huntingdon in 1417 and served Henry V on his French campaigns, being captured at the Battle of Baugé in 1421. This John Holland was eventually able to recover the title of Duke of Exeter in 1443. The title then passed to his son in 1447, but was extinguished in 1461 after he was attainted as a result of picking the losing side at the battle of Towton. (see Duke of Exeter).

There were to be two further short lived fifteenth century creations of the title. Firstly, one Thomas Grey was created Earl of Huntingdon in 1471 but was persuaded to surrender the title four years later in 1475, in return for which he was created the Marquess of Dorset. Secondly a William Herbert was created Earl of Huntingdon on the 4th July 1479 in return for his surrender of the title of Earl of Pembroke, which the king Edward IV wished to confer upon his son and heir Edward. William later died without issue in 1491 and his title became extinct.

Hastings

The Hastings family were of Norman origin and naturally took their name from the town itself. One branch of the family became landowners in Leicestershire represented by a William Hastings who was summoned to Parliament as Baron Hastings of Ashby-de-la-Zouch on the 26th July 1461. William was later one of the first victims of Richard III when he was summarily executed on the 13th June 1483.

It was his grandson George Hastings, 3rd Baron Hastings who attracted the approval of Henry VIII and was created Earl of Huntingdon on the 8th December 1529. The choice of Huntingdon being no doubt dictated by the family connection with the Hastings branch of the family who had long held a share of the old honour between the years 1237 and 1389. George later loyally served king Henry in the suppression of the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536, died on the 24 March 1544 and was succeeded by his eldest son Francis.

Francis the 2nd Earl became a close friend and political ally of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. He subsequently shared in that duke's fall and imprisonment after the death of Edward VI in 1553, but was soon released, and was even employed on occasion by Mary. The 2nd earl was most notable for marrying Catherine Pole, daughter of Henry Pole, Baron Montagu and the sole surviving descendent of George, Duke of Clarence and brother of Edward IV. Thus his son Henry who succeeded in 1561 fancied himself as the legitimate successor to Elizabeth on the English throne, and it was probably in furtherance of this claim that the 3rd Earl compiled an elaborate history of the Hastings family. But despite his royal pretensions he was a loyal servant of the queen, trusted to assist the Earl of Shrewsbury in escorting Mary, Queen of Scots from Wingfield to Tutbury, and was even one of her custodians for a short time in 1569. The 3rd Earl eventually died childless on the 14th December 1595 and the succession passed to his brother George.

George the 4th Earl died on the 31st December 1604 and was succeeded by his grandson another Henry, who married Elizabeth Stanley, daughter of Ferdinando Stanley, 5th Earl of Derby, which explains why his eldest son and the 6th Earl was named Ferdinando. Ferdinando was followed by his only surviving son Theophilus the 7th Earl, who despite his early sympathy for the cause of the Duke of Monmouth, later became a firm supporter of James II. However Theophilus remained in England after the Glorious Revolution and was briefly imprisoned as a Jacobite and never recognised William and Mary despite his subsequent release.

The 7th Earl was succeeded in 1704 by his eldest son George the 8th Earl who died in 1704 and was followed by his younger brother Theophilus the 9th Earl. This Theophilus was most noted for his marriage in 1728 to Selina Shirley, daughter of Washington Shirley, 2nd Earl Ferrers. The Countess became an ardent Methodist and the founder of her own sect of Calvinistic Methodists, known as the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion, which persists to this day. Their son Francis succeeded as the 10th Earl after Theophilus' death on the 13th October 1746, but he died unmarried on the 2nd October 1789.

At this point the Hastings estates together with the baronies of Botreaux, Hungerford, de Moleyns, and Hastings passed to the 10th Earls' sister Elizabeth Hastings, who had married John Rawdon, 1st Earl of Moira, after which they passed to their son Francis who later became the Marquess of Hastings. However the title of Earl of Huntingdon which could only pass to a male heir was regarded as having become dormant, i.e. awaiting a legitimate male heir to come forward and make good his claim. As it happens there was a perfectly valid male heir in the form of Theophilus Henry Hastings, a descendant of Sir Edward Hastings of Leicester Abbey, the fourth and youngest son of the 2nd Earl. However Theophilus Henry simply assumed the title and never got around to making a formal claim. He died in 1804 and it was left to his nephew and heir, Hans Francis Hastings who took the necessary steps to prove his right to the title and in 1818 succeeded in proving his right to the earldom. Hans later served as Governor of Dominica and died on the 9th December 1828 when he was succeeded by his son Francis Theophilus.

From Francis Theophilus the title passed to his son Francis Power who died on the 20th May 1885 and was followed by his grandson Warner Francis. In 1939 the title passed to Warner's son, Francis John the artist and politician and 16th Earl. Francis John died without male issue in 1990 and the title passed to William Edward, a great-grandson of the 13th earl by his younger son Aubrey Craven Hastings.

William Edward, or to give him his full name, William Edward Robin Hood Hastings-Bass is the current and 17th Earl of Huntingdon. The 'Robin Hood' arises in his name as a result of the legend that the original Robin of Sherwood was in someway the 'true heir' to the earldom of Huntingdon, although the Earl is keen to point out that "there is no historical evidence that he really was linked to my family." William Edward who took the name of Hastings-Bass in 1976, is a former racehorse trainer to HM Queen Elizabeth II between 1989 and 1998, before he gave up the business as the result of financial losses. Although he is married he has no sons, and the heir apparent to the title is currently his younger brother Simon Aubrey Hastings-Bass.

Unusually for an Earldom, the Earl of Huntingdon has no subsidiary titles.


Some confusion is caused by the question of whether or not the Theophilus Henry who failed to formally claim the title in 1789 should be accorded the status of an earl. Some accounts omit him from the sequence of earls and thus renumber the subsequent holders of the title.


THE EARLS OF HUNTINGDON

SIWARDSON

SENLIS

CANMORE

SENLIS

CANMORE

  • Malcom Canmore, 3rd Earl of Huntingdon alias Malcolm IV (1153-1165)
  • William Canmore, 4th Earl of Huntingdon alias William the Lion (1165-1174)

SENLIS

CANMORE

  • William Canmore, 4th Earl of Huntingdon alias William the Lion (1184-1185)
  • David Canmore, 5th Earl of Huntingdon alias David II (1185-1219)
  • John the Scot, 5th Earl of Huntingdon (1219-1234)

CLINTON

D'ANGLE

HOLLAND

Attainted 1400, title restored in 1417

GREY

HERBERT

HASTINGS


SOURCES

  • The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entries for HUNTINGDON, EARLS OF and HUNTINGDONSHIRE
  • .
  • Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)
  • A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain at www.thepeerage.com
  • Stirnet Genealogy at http://www.stirnet.com/HTML/genie/genfam.htm
  • The Peerages of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom at http://www.angeltowns.com/town/peerage/Peers.htm
  • http://members.tripod.com/~midgley/abney_hastings.html
  • The Clinton Family at http://www.tudorplace.com.ar/CLINTON.htm
  • http://www.burkes-peerage.net/sites/Contents/book/UK/FHP/Peerage/fhp-HUNTINGDON.asp

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