ASSHETON, Sir John I (c.1354-c.1398), of Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancs.
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Family and Education
b.c.1354, s. and h. of John Assheton (d.c.1360) of Ashton-under-Lyne by his w. Margaret, da. of Robert del Leigh of Adlington, Cheshire. m. (1) by c.1366, Joan, da. of William Radcliffe of Smithills, Lancs., at least 5s. inc. Sir John II*, 1 da.; (2) a da. of Robert Staveley (d. by 1410) of Staveley, Cheshire. Kntd. by 1377.1
Commr. of array, Lancs. Apr. 1381, Feb. 1384, Mar. 1400; to make arrests Dec. 1381, Derbys. Feb. 1388.2
J.p. Lancs. 18 Mar. 1384.3
The ancestors of this MP took their name from the manor of Ashton-under-Lyne where they are known to have lived from the mid 12th century onwards, if not before. In 1346, John’s father claimed that his estates were worth only £10 8s. p.a. in all, but since he was then trying to avoid being made a knight (and thus having to shoulder heavier administrative and financial burdens) this sum clearly represents a gross undervaluation of his annual landed income. When bringing an action of account against his former guardians, Sir John Kirkby and William Radcliffe, some 30 years later, John estimated his revenues at £100 p.a., but he then had every reason to exaggerate. He was about six years old when his father died, leaving his mother and her new husband, William Radcliffe of Todmorden, to dispute with Sir John Kirkby over the allocation of her dower and the custody of the property and person of the young heir. As subsequent litigation shows, the two parties appear to have reached a compromise, although John’s betrothal to Joan, the daughter of William Radcliffe of Smithills, suggests that his stepfather alone acquired his marriage on behalf of one of his kinsmen. John’s efforts, soon after his coming-of-age in 1375, to force Kirkby and Radcliffe to pay back some of the profits they had taken from his estates were evidently quite successful, as by August 1377 the latter, at least, had begun making good a debt of 140 marks.4
Like his father, who had distinguished himself in the wars with Scotland and France, John Assheton began early to pursue the profession of arms. As a mere youth of about 15 he served overseas in the retinue of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster; and he had still to achieve his majority when, in 1373, he undertook to join the military entourage of Sir William Windsor, the governor of Ireland. The legal problems attendant upon his succession to the family estates probably brought him back to England, where he was formally recruited, as a newly made knight, by Gaunt at a fee of £20 a year. The support of so powerful a patron no doubt proved most helpful in his various lawsuits, and in 1378 he was again ready to leave England, this time on a naval expedition mounted by Lancaster against the French. In the following year Sir John and his wife obtained a licence from the bishop of Coventry and Lichfield permitting them, as a mark of favour, to engage their own confessor.5 Perhaps because of some property transaction Sir John was obliged not long afterwards to sue out a writ in the ducal Chancery as well as offering a joint recognizance to one of Gaunt’s clerks, evidently as a matter of routine. Gaunt had hoped to leave for Spain in 1382 to pursue his claim to the throne of Castile, but although both Sir John and his colleague, Sir Robert Urswyk*, who were returned together to the October Parliament of that year, undoubtedly did their best as members of the duke’s affinity to win financial backing for the venture, the Commons’ response proved distinctly unenthusiastic. The royal letters of attorney issued to Sir John at this time were thus never used, and his next campaign turned out to be Bishop Despenser’s disastrous ‘crusade’ of 1383, which ended in disgrace for many of those involved. His participation in King Richard’s expedition against the Scots, two years later, can hardly have proved much more satisfactory, since this venture, too, failed in its objective. Our Member may even have resorted to violence at home, for Gaunt then saw fit to pardon him and three of his servants for a sentence of outlawry previously passed against them. In the following year Sir John himself acted as an attorney for one of his neighbours who was absent in Ireland; and, along with several other members of the duke’s retinue, he also gave evidence on behalf of Sir Robert Grosvenor in his dispute with Richard, Lord Scrope, over the right to bear the same coat of arms. In view of the fact that his deposition was heard in September 1386 at Stockport, his hopes of accompanying Gaunt to Spain must once again have been frustrated, since the duke had by then taken to the field.6
Save for his attendance at the two consecutive Parliaments of September 1388 and January 1390, not much is known about Sir John’s affairs during this period, possibly because he was away, for part of the time at least, on the Scottish border, helping Sir John Stanley to defend Berwick-upon-Tweed. In March 1397, he married his daughter, Joan, to a son of the influential Cheshire landowner, John Davenport. The two men exchanged mutual securities of 120 marks as an earnest of their readiness to accept the terms of the contract, which allowed generous compensation in the event of either of their children dying without issue. Although hitherto superficially cordial, relations between Richard II and Gaunt’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke, began to deteriorate once allegations of treason were made against Bolingbroke early in 1398 by the duke of Norfolk. In a vain attempt to win over the more influential supporters of the house of Lancaster, King Richard then sanctioned the award of several generous annuities, including one of 20 marks, assigned on the revenues of Yorkshire, to Sir John. The latter did not apparently survive to witness Bolingbroke’s triumphant seizure of the throne in the following year, although his eldest son, Sir John II, a loyal servant of the new regime, was handsomely rewarded at this time. So too were three of the latter’s brothers, Nicholas, Piers and Robert, who, in keeping with family tradition, also wore the Lancastrian livery. This attachment on the part of the Assheton family cannot but have been strengthened by Sir John’s second marriage to a sister of Sir Ralph Staveley*, since the latter showed similar devotion to Gaunt and his son.7
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Variants: Ashton, Aston.
- 1. W.M. Bowman, England in Ashton-under-Lyne, 97-98; DL42/15, ff. 14, 116v; VCH Lancs. iv. 341; Vis. Cheshire (Harl. Soc. xviii), 151; Chetham Soc. n.s. xcvi. 53; DKR, xxxiii. 20; xxxvi(2), 11; xl. 527.
- 2. DKR, xxxii. 343; xl. 526, 528; Reg. Gaunt 1379-83, no. 631.
- 3. DKR, xl. 523.
- 4. SC8/88/4377; VCH Lancs. iv. 341; Bowman, 97; DKR, xxxii. 361.
- 5. Bowman, 92-95, 98; S.K. Walker, ‘John of Gaunt and his retainers, 1361-99’ (Oxf. Univ. D.Phil. thesis, 1986), 266; CPR, 1370-4, pp. 340, 369; Foedera ed. Rymer (Hague edn.), iii(3), 7; DKR, xl. 527.
- 6. Rot. Gasc. et Franc. ed. Carte, ii. 138; DKR, xxxii. 351, 362; xxxvi(2), 6; xl. 524; Walker, 43; Scrope v. Grosvenor, i. 275-6.
- 7. DKR, xxxvi(2), 11; CPR, 1396-9, p. 324; DL42/15, ff. 14, 116v; Cal. Scots. Docs. (supp.) v. no. 4390; Chetham Soc. n.s. xcvi. 107.