ASHLEY, Robert (1565-1641), of Damerham, Wilts.

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. 1565, s. of Anthony Ashley of Damerham, and bro. of Anthony Ashley. educ. schools at Wimborne, Southampton, Salisbury; Hart Hall, Oxf. 1580; St. Alban Hall; M. Temple (from inn of chancery) 1588, called c.1590, s.p.

Offices Held

Servant of Lord Keeper Puckering.


Ashley was a lawyer and scholar, distantly related to William Mere and to the wife of Thomas Howard. He acted in plays before the Earl of Pembroke while at school in Salisbury. In 1580 he was admitted to Hart Hall, but transferred to St. Alban Hall because of the brutality of his tutor. At Christmas 1587 he was lord of misrule at Oxford, and in 1588 lord of misrule at the Middle Temple, where he was bound with his brother and shared chambers at different times with Thomas Strangways, Walter Newburgh and Edward Boys, all Dorset men. Ashley dedicated his first book Urania, in Latin verse (published London 1589), to Sir William Hatton. Others were offered to Henry Unton, Lord Keeper Puckering, and Thomas Egerton I. After a quarrel with his brother, Ashley left the Middle Temple and, with Unton’s assistance, travelled on the Continent. Sir Francis Walsingham also gave help until his death in 1590 brought Ashley’s tour to an end. Shortly afterwards he and a close friend, Sir Thomas Baskerville, went to fight in the French wars, but Ashley was compelled by illness to return home. It is not clear whether Ashley was able to secure his own election for Dorchester or whether this was due to the influence of the 3rd Marquess of Winchester.

After serving Puckering for a period as secretary, Ashley returned to the Middle Temple. Cultured and widely travelled, he has been described by a biographer as ‘a tolerant man of classically restrained outlook’. He was buried 4 Oct. 1641, having made his will 27 Sept. (proved 25 Oct.). He left his books to found the Middle Temple library:

Having had some opportunity of a retired life in this Society for many years together and of some short excursions to acquaint myself with our neighbouring nations, I have addicted myself to the general study of the great book(s) of the world wherein all the glorious works of God are comprehended for the attaining of some knowledge whereof I have not spared any labour or expense in procuring the principal writers in their several languages, especially such as had opportunity to be acquainted with the most remote and unknown parts.

No book was to be ‘lent out of the library without sufficient pledge, as is usual in other libraries’. Provision was made for the appointment of an able student as librarian.

DNB; Roberts thesis; M.T. Mins. i. 315; Vis. Wilts. (Harl. Soc. cv, cvi), 231-5; HL Quarterly, x. 349 seq.; PCC 127 Evelyn.

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: P. W. Hasler