ASTLEY (ASHLEY), John (by 1526-96), of Allington and Maidstone, Kent.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Family and Education

b. by 1526, 1st s. of Thomas Astley of Hill Morton and Melton Constable, Norf. by 2nd w. Anne, da. and coh. of John Awodde or Wood of East Barsham, Norf. educ. ?Jesus, Camb. m. (1) ?1545, Catherine Champernon (d.1565), s.p.; (2) 1565, Margaret Lenton alias Grey, illegit. da. of Lord Thomas Grey, 3s. 3da.2

Offices Held

Gent. waiter, household of Prince Edward by 1543-7; member, household of Princess Elizabeth by 1548-?54; chief gent. privy chamber 1558; master of jewel house 1558-95; steward, Enfield manor and master forester, Enfield Chase 1560-73; jt. (with wife) keeper, St. James’s palace and bailiff of St. James’s fair 1560-76; j.p. Mdx. 1562, Kent 1583-commr. musters. Mdx. by 1576.3


John Astley’s elder half-brother John was born in 1513 or 1514, and succeeded to the family estates in Norfolk on their father’s death. The reading of Astley’s funeral inscription that would make him 89 at his death must therefore be incorrect, an inference which accords with the fact that in his will of 1593 he referred to his good health but not to old age.4

Astley probably travelled on the Continent as a youth, for in the ‘Report and Discourse’ on the affairs of Germany addressed to Astley in 1552 Roger Ascham included a long quotation in the original of an Italian poem ‘seeing that you so well understand the Italian tongue’. ‘From his age of 12 years’ Astley was at court. He was probably ‘Asheley the younger’ who took part in the ceremonies for Anne of Cleves’s reception in 1539; he doubtless owed his introduction to his mother’s relationship to Anne Boleyn, in whose service Thomas and Jane Astley had been in 1531-2. It was as a gentleman waiter in Prince Edward’s household that he was assessed for the subsidy at £11 in wages in 1543. On Edward’s accession Astley was named as one of those ‘that do remain unplaced and served the King’s majesty being prince’, but about two years earlier he had married Catherine Champernon, who had been for some years in the service of Princess Elizabeth, and his own transfer to the princess’s service was thus a natural one. It was also made easier by the fact that the wife of Sir Anthony Denny, in whose care Elizabeth spent much of her time, was also a Champernon, and by Astley’s friendship with Elizabeth’s new tutor, Roger Ascham; Ascham was a fellow of St. John’s College, Cambridge, where Denny had been educated, and he wrote to Astley from Cambridge, probably in 1548, praising the progress in learning there of Astley’s younger brother Richard.5

Catherine Astley and her husband were both in the confidence of Elizabeth. According to her own evidence, Catherine was less strict than she should have been in preventing Thomas, Baron Seymour of Sudeley’s familiarities towards the princess, for she favoured his suit for Elizabeth’s hand ‘but she did ever adjoin unto it, if the Council were content’. Astley warned his wife ‘to take heed for he did fear that the lady Elizabeth did bear some affection to my lord Admiral’, an admonition which suggests that he did not share his wife’s enthusiasm at the prospect. No evidence could be extracted from Catherine Astley that her mistress had seriously considered marriage to Seymour or had been involved in his plans to supplant Somerset as Protector; Catherine evidently refused to tell all she knew about Elizabeth’s relations with Seymour and her silence was generously rewarded by Elizabeth. In January 1549 both Astley and his wife were imprisoned, in the Fleet and the Tower respectively. Elizabeth wrote to the Council in their favour, saying of Astley: ‘Because he is my kinsman I would be glad he should do well.’ Both were probably freed by August of the same year, and by 1551 Catherine Astley was certainly back in Elizabeth’s service, although neither she nor her husband was rated for the subsidy as a member of the princess’s household in October 1552. Astley was named ‘vir parliamentarius’ in Ascham’s letter to him, dating probably from 1548; the writer adjured his friend to favour the reformation in religion which, he claimed, was supported by the people and opposed only by the clergy. Astley was certainly inclined to do so, but it was less because of his Protestantism than of his connexions that he was returned to both Edwardian Parliaments: his patron at Chippenham in 1547 may have been either Baron Seymour or the Protector himself, and at West Looe five years later he must also have enjoyed official support, the borough being part of the duchy of Cornwall.6

Catherine Astley’s service to Elizabeth was twice interrupted in the reign of Queen Mary. When the princess was sent to the Tower in February 1554 neither Astley nor his wife accompanied her, but Catherine was apparently placed under house-arrest in the custody of Sir Roger Cholmley, who was authorized by the Council to release her in May 1555. Astley, who at this time held no official position in Elizabeth’s household, was presumably allowed to remain at liberty. There is a possibility that he passed some time abroad. Thomas Hoby met one ‘John Ashley’ in August 1554 in Padua, where English exiles included Sir John Cheke, Sir Thomas Wroth and three of Denny’s sons; this, however, is more likely to have been Astley’s elder half-brother John, whose own brother Thomas was certainly an exile at Frankfurt and is said to have married a daughter of Denny. There would have been time for Astley to have gone abroad in 1554 and to have returned in time for the Parliament of 1555, in which it was almost certainly he, not his half-brother and namesake, who sat for St. Albans. His fellow-Member Robert Stepneth was a servant and protégé of Sir Francis Jobson, who had held under Edward VI the mastership of the jewels that Astley was to hold under Elizabeth. Unlike Stepneth, Astley had no known link with St. Albans, but his connexions with Elizabeth (who spent much time at Hatfield) and with the Denny family of Cheshunt may have been sufficient recommendation there. It is no surprise that Astley voted in this Parliament against a government bill, possibly the one to penalize the Marian exiles, who included one and probably both of his half-brothers. He took no other part in public affairs during Mary’s reign. His wife had been reinstated as Elizabeth’s governess in June 1555, but a year later she lost the post and was again put in the Tower, with other servants of Elizabeth, on suspicion of being implicated in the Dudley conspiracy; according to the Venetian ambassador she was also found in possession of seditious literature. On her release in October 1556 she was dismissed from Elizabeth’s service and forbidden to see her.7

Elizabeth’s accession naturally brought Astley and his wife into high favour. John was made chief gentleman of the privy chamber and master of the jewel house, and Catherine chief gentlewoman, a post she held until her death in July 1565. Astley himself died on 1 Aug. 1596, having made his will on 25 Jan. 1593.8

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: D. F. Coros


  • 1. HMC Var. iv. 128; Hatfield 207.
  • 2. Date of birth estimated from appearance at court and election. A. J. Collins, Inventory of the Jewels and Plate of Q. Eliz. I, 199-200; PCC 7 Pynnyng; Mar. Lic. London (Harl. Soc. xxv), 31; DNB. E179/69/31a, 48; Roy. 7, 116, f. 94; LC2/4/3, p. 104; Collins, 200, 210; Somerville, Duchy, i. 613.
  • 3. E179/69/31a, 48; Roy. 7, 116, f. 94; LC2/4/3, p. 104; Collins, 200, 210; Somerville, Duchy, i. 613.
  • 4. Collins, 199.
  • 5. Collins, 202; R. Ascham, Letters (1590), 157-8, English Works, ed. Bennet (1761), 4-5, 14; LP Hen. VIII, v, vii, xi, xiv; DNB (Ascham, Roger).
  • 6. Coll. State Pprs. ed. Haynes, 100, 101; E179/69/69; Cam. Misc. ii(2), 4, 31-34, 41; Collins, 203-4; Orig. Letters ed. Ellis, (ser. 1), ii. 155; APC, ii. 240.
  • 7. CSP Ven. 1555-6, pp. 475, 718; C. H. Garrett, Marian Exiles, 73-74; Cam. Misc. x. 116; Guildford mus. Loseley 1331/2; Collins, 205-7.
  • 8. Collins, 222-3; PCC 61 Drake.