The ruined Astley Castle is a Grade II listed fortified manor house dating from the 16th century. The manor had belonged to the Astley family since the 12th century but passed to the Grey’s in 1420 when Joan de Astley, wife of Reginald Grey, 3rd Baron Grey de Ruthyn (Born 1362 – Died 30 September 1440), inherited the estate of her father Sir William de Astley, 5th Baron Astley. It is thought that the Grey’s rebuilt the manor house around 1555 and it is this house which forms the majority of the current ruins. Following the disgrace of the Grey family it was seized by the monarchy, partially destroyed and sold to Edward Chamberlain who rebuilt it around 1600. During the English Civil War it was garrisoned by Parliamentary troops and shortly afterwards in 1674 it was sold to the Newdigate family of Arbury Hall. It was leased out following the death of Lieutenant General Sir Edward Newdigate Newdigate in 1902. In the 1960’s Astley Castle became a hotel but this new life was short lived as it was practically destroyed by a fire in April 1978 and left in a ruinous state.
There are numerous famous personalities associated with Astley Castle and the Grey family. Elizabeth Woodville (Born 1437 – Died 8 June 1492), the widow of Sir John Grey, of Groby (Born 1432 – Died 17 February 1461) secretly married King Edward IV (Born 28 April 1442 – Died 9 April 1483) in 1464. (Jacquetta of Luxembourg (Born 1415 – Died 30 May 1472) was Elizabeth’s mother and was accused of Witchcraft in 1469 and the charges were dropped on 19 January 1470). Elizabeth’s children with Edward IV included Edward V (Born 2 November 1470 – Died 29 July 1483) and Richard of Shrewsbury (Born 17 August 1473 – Died 1483), who both disappeared whilst being held in the Tower of London and assumed murdered. Her daughter Elizabeth of York (Born 11 February 1466 – Died 11 February 1503) married King Henry VII (Born 28 January 1457 – Death 21 April 1509) and was the mother of King Henry VIII.
However, the headless ghost rumoured to haunt Astley Castle is said to be the great-grandson of Elizabeth Woodville , Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk, 3rd Marquess of Dorset (Born 17 January 1517 – Died 23 February 1554) husband of Frances Brandon (a granddaughter of Elizabeth of York) and father of Lady Jane Grey (Born 1536 – Died 12 February 1554). Jane was a cousin of the young King Edward VI (Born 12 October 1537 – Died 6 July 1553), the successor of King Henry VIII. On his death bed he nominated Jane as his heir rather than his half sisters Mary (Queen Mary I) and Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth I). Jane ruled for just nine days from 10 July 1553. Mary was eventually proclaimed Queen on 19 July 1553 and Jane executed on 12 February 1554 closely followed by her husband Lord Guildford Dudley (Born 1535 – Died 12 February 1554).
Suffolk was released from captivity after wife pleaded with Queen Mary I for leniency. However, following the Queens announcement to marry the Catholic King Phillip II of Spain, Henry joined a rebellion led by Sir Thomas Wyatt during January and February 1554. It failed and Henry Grey fled back to Astley where he hid in a hollow tree near the Church. A retainer called Underwood would bring food for Suffolk until his greed got too much and he sold the location of the his master to the Queen’s men. Sir Henry Grey was beheaded on Tower Hill 23 February 1554, eleven days after his daughter. The tree in which he hid was blown in 1891. It has also been suggested that Lady Jane Grey may also haunt Astley Castle.
In Unknown London (1920) Walter George Bell says that the severed head of the decapitated Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk may have been discovered in Holy Trinity Church, London in 1851. Thought to have been hidden in the vault there by his wife. The head was removed to St Botolph’s without Aldgate in 1899 when Holy Trinity Church was de-consecrated.
Immediately following the fire of 1978 a journalist for the Tribune named Gef White wrote “The mystery is intriguing investigators of the blaze. A room was exposed by the fire and detectives were shown a circle of black lace, horror masks and three ‘death ritual’ dolls, stabbed by nails coated in red paint. “The room, tucked away in a top corner of the castle, contained three dolls. The faces of each were painted in a tragic grimace and nails pierced their hearts and legs. On the door of the room was a hand-painted symbol like a huge question mark.”