ASHLEY, Anthony (1551-1628), of Holborn, London; later of Wimborne St. Giles, Dorset.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b.1551, 1st s. of Anthony Ashley of Damerham, Wilts. by Dorothy, da. of John Lyte of Lytes Cary, Som.; bro. of Robert. educ. New Inn; M. Temple 1574. m. (1) Jane, da. and h. of Philip Okeover of Okeover, Staffs., wid. of Thomas Cokayne of Ravenston Grange, Derbys., 1 surv. da.; (2) 3 Jan. 1622, Philippa, da. of Sir Thomas Shelton, s.p. Kntd. at Cadiz 1596; cr. Bt. 1622.1

Offices Held

Clerk of PC Mar. 1587-1610; clerk of castle and court of York 1589; j.p.q. Mdx. 1594, Dorset 1599; sec. for war at Cadiz 1596; sheriff, Dorset 1619-20.2


Ashley’s father had been in the service of Sir Christopher Hatton, and it was to Hatton, his ‘honourable patron’, that Ashley looked for employment after leaving the Middle Temple. In the early 1580s he was in France with Hatton’s heir (Sir) William Hatton (formerly Newport), then in his late teens, as a travelling companion and tutor. The young Hatton returned to England in time to sit in the 1586 Parliament, but the absence of records about Ashley at this time suggests that he remained abroad. If so he was very probably occupied as one of Walsingham’s agents. However this may be, on 19 Mar. 1587 he was sworn a clerk of the Privy Council, and so continued until his retirement with a pension of £50 in 1610, though he was by no means always at court. In 1584 Waghenaer’s collection of charts was published in Holland, and the lord high admiral Charles Howard I, Lord Howard of Effingham, persuaded the Privy Council that it was in the interests of this country to have them translated and published in an English edition. This task Ashley undertook, and The Mariner’s Mirror of Navigation appeared in 1588, with a reference to Drake’s raid on Cadiz in the previous year, a dedication to Sir Christopher Hatton, and an apology for the delay arising from Ashley’s ‘daily attendance’ on the Privy Council.3

It was usual at this time for one of the Privy Council clerks to be in the Commons, holding a watching brief for the government, and Ashley was returned for Tavistock by arrangement with the Earl of Warwick, and for Old Sarum through the 2nd Earl of Pembroke. He left no mark on the records of either of his Parliaments. On the earlier occasion William Hatton was also a member of the House. The 1589 Parliament ended on 29 Mar., and on 7 Apr. Ashley sailed with Drake and Sir John Norris on the Portugal expedition. The Privy Council records make it clear that he was responsible for ‘the ordering of ships and goods brought from Portugal’ on behalf of the Queen, who had a considerable financial stake in the enterprise. His letter to the Privy Council recounting its successful outcome reached them on 7 July, and he was at once instructed to handle the disposal of the booty when the fleet should return. In the meantime ‘a most vile and infamous shoemaker’ had squatted in the kitchen and stable of his Holborn house.

Hatton’s death in 1591 deprived Ashley of his patron at court, and in January 1592 he wrote to Burghley, who had recently refused him a wardship, to ask that a grant (possibly of cloth) that Hatton had obtained for him from the Queen might be implemented. Mistress Ashley, he wrote, was ‘in danger of death’, and he himself was still mourning for his ‘honourable dead patron’. He wrote again to Burghley in December 1593, thanking him for ‘favours and comfortable speeches’, and in 1596 he served on the Cadiz expedition. No shoemaker this time, but he caught ‘a kind of cough of the lungs’. During the general recriminations that followed the expedition Ashley was accused of ‘certain oppressions and evil practices’, and his name is not to be found thereafter in the Privy Council registers until the accession of James, when he was re-sworn clerk of the Council, 25 Apr. 1603. His appointment at York he presumably exercised through a deputy.

Ashley invested the proceeds of his court career in west country estates, buying Kinson, then in Dorset, for £1,400 in 1596, and Wimborne St. Giles by 1600, the latter from his ruined cousin Henry. As an old man his marriage with a relative of the leading court favourite caused John Chamberlain to comment (to Dudley Carleton, 4 Jan. 1622):

on Thursday night last Sir Anthony Ashley in his dotage married Mistress Shelton, a young gentlewoman of the kindred, by whom he hath promise or expectation to become some great man.

Ashley applied unsuccessfully for the comptrollership of the Household in spring that year. He died in London 13 Jan. 1628, and was buried at Wimborne St. Giles. His will, made 22 Aug. 1625, was proved 1 Feb. 1628. Ashley requested a simple funeral, wishing to ‘go without noise and pomp out of this vale of misery’. The executor was Sir John Cooper, who had married Ashley’s only surviving daughter Anne. Their son was Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury.4

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: J.C.H.


  • 1. DNB ; Hutchins, Dorset, iii. 594-5; PRO 30/24, bdle. 2, no. 14; GEC Baronetage, i. 198-9; Vis. Wilts. (Harl. Soc. cv, cvi), 231-5.
  • 2. APC , xiv. 385; xvii. 450; PRO Index 6800, f. 436, 4208, p. 142.
  • 3. E. St. John Brooks, Sir Christopher Hatton, 138-9, 389; Lansd. 21, f. 52; 69, f. 107; 85, f. 209; APC, xiv. 385; CSP Dom. 1581-90, pp. 558, 590-1.
  • 4. APC, xvii. 352, 358; xviii. 154, 162, 165, 203, 204, 268; xxvi. 275; xxxii. 496; Lansd. 69, f. 107; 75, f. 151; 82, f. 178; 102, f. 93; CSP Dom. 1581-90, pp. 596, 604, 624; PRO 30/24, bdle. 2, no. 15; Chamberlain Letters ed. McClure, ii. 419, 437; Brooks, 138; Egerton 784, f. 67d; PCC 17 Barrington.