ASSHENDEN, Thomas I (d.c.1393), of Dartmouth, Devon.
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Family and Education
Dep. butler in all ports of Som. and Devon 6 Feb.-Oct. 1371, Devon and Cornw. 1371-6, Som. and Devon 1376-82, Som., Devon and Dorset 1382-6; Devon 1386-c.1393.
Commr. to fortify Dartmouth, Dec. 1374, Feb. 1377, Nov. 1381; of inquiry, Devon and Som. Sept. 1385; to confiscate stolen merchandise, Dartmouth Feb. 1386; compel restitution for seizures at sea, Devon Dec. 1386.
Havener of the duchy of Cornw. Mich. 1376-May 1377.2
Tax collector, Dartmouth Mar. 1377.
Searcher, Dartmouth Mar. 1378-June 1379.
Constable of Brest, 24 May 1386-Apr. 1388.3
Collector of customs and subsidies from Bridgwater to Exeter 28 Nov. 1386-91.
Asshenden’s assessment for the poll tax of 1377, along with his wife and Avice Asshenden (probably his mother) and as many as six servants, shows that at that time he was keeping the largest household in Dartmouth, larger even than that of his more famous contemporary, John Hawley I*. Next to his house Asshenden acquired a vacant plot and as much land as he could reclaim from the sea, and he also owned two messuages in Southtown, Dartmouth. That in 1387 Bishop Brantingham of Exeter granted him, his wife, and Avice permission to have mass celebrated in their own oratory suggests a life conducted in some style.4 However, whether he owed his prosperity more to his mercantile ventures than to the emoluments of royal service remains unclear.
Even though, on 31 Jan. 1372, Asshenden took out royal letters patent exempting him from holding office under the Crown against his will, for the next 20 years and more he served in the capacity of deputy butler in all the ports of Devon and, at intervals, round the coasts of Somerset, Cornwall and Dorset as well. In addition, in the last year of Edward III’s reign he acted as havener of the duchy of Cornwall, an office then at the disposal of the King owing to the recent death of the Black Prince. An able sea-captain and commander, in March 1378 he was appointed to supply the castle at Brest with provisions, and in December 1379, along with John Hawley and another Dartmouth man, Benedict Bottesana, he was licensed to go to sea at his own expense but under the King’s protection, in order to attack and destroy French shipping. The licensees’ flotilla consisted of two ships and four barges, of which Asshenden was the owner of the Seintsavourscogg, and their initial costs were probably soon off-set by the seizure of valuable prizes; certainly, in the spring of 1380 he and Bottesana were given charge of the Seint Margarete of Lisbon, which had been taken at sea, and also instructed to provide for the welfare of her crew pending the royal council’s decision as to whether her capture had been lawful. Sometime before the summer of 1383 Asshenden was acting as lieutenant to the admiral of the south and west, Sir John Roches*. During the war with France it was not unusual for ships of a neutral country to be involved in incidents at sea and for these to give rise to reprisals. Thus, in 1384 La Marie and La Trinite of Dartmouth, which Asshenden had freighted with merchandise worth £300, were seized by Bretons. La Trinite, which was owned jointly by Asshenden and Hawley, was evidently recovered, for in March 1386 she herself took part in the capture of a Flemish vessel, though the Dartmouth men did subsequently compensate their Flemish counterparts for their loss of a large cargo of wine. Another incident of a similar nature resulted in complaints from certain Genoese merchants. For nearly two years, from May 1386, Asshenden occupied the post of constable of Brest, a position of considerable importance in which he again served under Sir John Roches.5
Meanwhile, Asshenden had not restricted his acts of aggression to incidents at sea: in 1380 a commission of oyer and terminer had been set up to investigate Walter Cornu’s† complaint that he and others had broken down fences at Shilstone, Devon, and stolen livestock worth £40. At other times, however, he was evidently more peacefully engaged: in 1384 he stood bail for William Cole of Plymouth, a prisoner in the Tower, promising to bring him before the King’s Council in the Parliament at Salisbury; and in the following year he was enfeoffed by Sir John Prideaux* of rents coming from the manors of Combe-in-Teignhead, Columbjohn and Godford. Asshenden is last recorded in April 1391 when he obtained a royal licence to transport 200 pilgrims to the shrine of St James of Compostella.6 He may have died two years later, when John Corp* replaced him as deputy butler in Devon.