ASHBURNHAM, John (1602-1671), of Whitehall; later of Westover, Hants and Ashburnham Place, Suss.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



1640 (Nov.) - 5 Feb. 1644
1644 (Oxf. Parl.)
1661 - 22 Nov. 1667

Family and Education

bap. 12 June 1602, 1st s. of Sir John Ashburnham of Ashburnham and Elizabeth, da. of Sir Thomas Beaumont II* of Stoughton Grange, Leics.; bro. of William†. educ. G. Inn 1618; Peterhouse, Camb. 1619. m. (1) lic. 24 Sept. 1629, Frances (d. c.1651), da. and h. of William Holland of West Burton, Suss., 4s. (2 d.v.p.) 4da.; (2) Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Christopher Kenn of Kenn Court, Som., wid. of John Poulett*, 1st Bar. Poulett of Hinton St. George, Som. ?s.p.1 suc. fa. 1620.2 d. 15 June 1671.3 sig. John Ashbournham.

Offices Held

Servant (?groom of the bedchamber) to George Villiers, 1st duke of Buckingham by 1624-8;4 gent. of the privy chamber 1628;5 groom of the bedchamber, Household of Prince Charles by 1641, king’s Household 1642-at least 1646, 6 by 1661-at least 1667;7 treas.-at-war (roy.) 1643-at least 1645;8 member, Council of War (roy.) 1643-5;9 commr. Uxbridge Treaty 1644-5.10

Member, Fishery Soc. by 1633.11

Capt. of ft. 1640.12

J.p. Suss. 1640-4, 1661-d.;13 commr. subsidy, Suss. 1640, assessment 1641-2, Mdx. and Suss. 1661-9, Westminster 1661-2, 1665-9;14 dep. lt. Suss. 1660-d., Mdx. 1661-d.;15 freeman, Portsmouth, Hants 1662;16 commr. loyal and indigent officers, London, Mdx., Suss. and Westminster 1662,17 highways and sewers, London and Westminster 1662;18 sub-commr. prizes, London 1665-7.19


By 1166 Ashburnham’s ancestors were already the principal landowners in the Sussex parish from which they took their name,20 and members of the family first represented the county in 1397. The profits of the iron industry brought them prosperity in Tudor times; but Ashburnham’s father wasted his inheritance, sold the estate, and finally evaded his creditors by dying in a debtors’ prison at the age of 48. Thus, within a couple of years, his widow and children were free of financial embarrassment.21

Ashburnham himself has to be distinguished from a cousin of the Broomham branch, who was knighted in 1625 for long and faithful service to the Electress Palatine.22 It may have been this connection that first brought Ashburnham to Court, but more important was his kinship with Buckingham through his mother, by reason of which he was described as the favourite’s nephew, even before his brother strengthened the connection by marrying, in about 1627, the widow of the 1st earl of Marlborough (Sir James Ley*). Ashburnham had entered Buckingham’s service by September 1624, perhaps as groom of the bedchamber, as he appears to have been responsible for admitting and instructing Buckingham’s servants above stairs.23 In November 1625 he accompanied his master to The Hague to ratify the Treaty of Southampton.24 He proved unable to exploit his master’s abundant electoral interest in the Cinque Ports for his brother-in-law Sir Edward Dering in January 1626, because Dering applied too late for a seat.25 However, a few months later he may have encouraged Walter Montagu to stand for Hastings, some ten miles from Ashburnham, at the by-election brought about by the elevation of (Sir) Dudley Carleton to the peerage.

Ashburnham was sent to The Hague in March 1627 with a personal assurance of support for the exiled Palatines. Three months later he accompanied Buckingham and the English army to the Ile de Ré and, though not a military man, helped to rally the landing party after it recoiled on being charged by French cavalry.26 In September he was sent to Paris in an attempt to seek a negotiated settlement, but the French king refused to see him as Richelieu saw in Ashburnham’s mission an admission of military weakness.27 Consequently, Ashburnham left empty-handed, but not before learning that France was planning to fall on the English expeditionary force with the aid of the Spanish. After relaying this news to Buckingham in person, he was dispatched with all haste to England to press for urgently needed reinforcements and fresh supplies.28 After conveying this request to Charles, who termed him ‘Jack Ashburnham’ in his letters,29 he rode to Plymouth, where he endeavoured to hasten the relief expedition under the earl of Holland (Sir Henry Rich*).30 However, his mood, as revealed in his correspondence with Edward Nicholas*, was defeatist. ‘I am so melancholic with thinking of this business’, he wrote in one, ‘and the more I think on it, the worse I like it’. In a second missive, penned the following day, he opined, that ‘such a rotten miserable fleet set out to sea no man ever saw; our enemies seeing it may scoff at our nation’. Fortunately, perhaps, Holland’s expedition never reached the theatre of war, for by the time that it finally set sail Buckingham’s army had already abandoned the Ile de Ré in disorder.31

Following the retreat from Ré the Venetian ambassador in France reported, incorrectly, that Ashburnham had been captured.32 At the 1628 general election Buckingham, who desperately needed parliamentary support, found him a seat at Hastings, but he played little recorded part in the third Caroline Parliament. His sole committee appointment (4 June 1628) was to consider the bill to restore Carew Ralegh†,33 which measure offered the prospect of embarrassing Buckingham’s most dangerous enemy in the Lords, the earl of Bristol (Sir John Digby*). The next day Sir Edward Coke* named Buckingham as ‘the cause of all our miseries’. Ashburnham was the first to speak in the duke’s defence. ‘I cannot sit still when I hear this man named’, he declared, before adding that ‘I pray God while we dispute of these grievances that we make not ourselves the greatest grievances of this kingdom’. At this rather inadvisable comment he was stopped in his tracks, and only escaped punishment for aspersing the House because it was realized that, as Sir Edward Giles* put it, ‘he spoke for his master’.34

After the prorogation Ashburnham was granted the estate forfeited by the murderer Sir William Withypoll*.35 On 6 Aug. he drew up his will, as he was planning to accompany Buckingham in a further expedition, to La Rochelle. His estate consisted principally of £2,000 in the hands of Viscount Lumley ‘with a promise that it shall be employed for my use’, and a magnificent diamond ring worth about £400 which he left with Nicholas, his executor and friend. About £400 was owing to him by sundry debtors, including Buckingham ‘as appears by my accounts remaining in my trunk at Whitehall’, Walter Montagu, Basil Feilding, Spencer Compton*, and Edward Savage II*. However, he was bound with Nicholas to pay Thomas Fotherley* £1,040 next December, and he owed £1,150 to other creditors, including (inevitably) his tailor. ‘My estate is such that I cannot give any legacies’, he regretted, but any surplus was to go to his brother, his books to Nicholas and his clothes to his servant Phineas Andrews†. His humble suit to Buckingham ‘to cast an eye on my decayed estate’ was soon overtaken by events, however, as less than three weeks later the favourite was assassinated.36 Ashburnham was shortly thereafter taken into the king’s service, succeeding Sir Ralph Clare* as a gentleman of the privy chamber.37 The following year he married Lumley’s stepdaughter ‘with an exceeding great portion’, and subsequently settled at Westover, in Hampshire.38

Ashburnham took no known part in the 1629 session, although he benefited from the fine imposed on Walter Long*.39 During the 1630s he played little part in politics, either at Court or in his locality. In 1639, following lengthy negotiations, he succeeded in either buying back or leasing his ancestral estate, Ashburnham Place.40 He failed to obtain re-election at Hastings in the spring of 1640, apparently through his own negligence, but he regained the seat in the autumn, and retained it until February 1644, when he was disabled as a royalist. He was allowed to resume attendance on the king in 1647, and was widely blamed for the unfortunate decision to escape from Hampton Court to the Isle of Wight. He was the only Sussex royalist to compound at the maximum rate of one half, paying £1,270 shortly before the king’s execution. Imprisoned as a royalist conspirator under the Protectorate, after the Restoration he resumed his place at Court, and sat in the Cavalier Parliament as knight of the shire until expelled for corruption. He died on 15 June 1671, and was buried in the parish church which he had rebuilt. His grandson and heir, John, sat for Hastings in four parliaments before being raised to the peerage as a Court Tory in 1689.41

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Peter Lefevre / Andrew Thrush


  • 1. E. Suss. RO, Ore par. reg.; Vis. Suss. (Harl. Soc. liii. 17-18); Al. Cant.; GI Admiss.; Hants Mar. Lics. 1607-40 comp. A.J. Willis, 67; The Ashburnham Archives: A Catalogue ed. F.W. Steer, xii-xiii.
  • 2. GL, ms St. Andrew Holborn par. reg., burial dated 30 June 1620.
  • 3. Horsfield, Suss. i. 559.
  • 4. Add. 12528, f. 16; CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 352; SP16/112/42.
  • 5. Orig. Letters of Eminent Literary Men ed. H. Ellis, iii. 274.
  • 6. Bodl. ms Nalson XIII/I, f. 74; LC3/1, unfol.; Life of James, Duke of Ormond comp. T. Carte, vi. 147; SO3/13, unfol. (Apr. 1646).
  • 7. CSP Dom. 1661-2, p. 150; 1668-9, p. 122.
  • 8. Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6 ed. W.H. Black, 368; C231/3, p. 156.
  • 9. Harl. 6852, ff. 145r-v, 204, 233, 254, 264.
  • 10. LJ, vii. 150a.
  • 11. CSP Dom. 1631-3, p. 511.
  • 12. E. Suss. RO, ASH 3203.
  • 13. C231/5, p. 394; 231/7, p. 85; ASSI 35/85/1, m. 42.
  • 14. SR, v. 66, 89, 156, 334-5, 340, 462, 468, 535-6, 541, 590.
  • 15. SP29/11, f. 237; 29/42, f. 113v; 29/60, ff. 145v, 151v; SP44/35a, ff. 6v-7; E. Suss. RO, ASH 4501/772.
  • 16. R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 357.
  • 17. SR, v. 382-4.
  • 18. Tudor and Stuart Procs. ed. R. Steele, i. 405.
  • 19. Nat. Maritime Mus. Southwell ms 17/15.
  • 20. Ashburnham Archives, vii.
  • 21. VCH Suss. ix. 127; Horsfield, i. 559; Ashburnham Archives, p. x.
  • 22. For this man, see HMC 4th Rep. 311; Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 189; Vis. Suss. 18-19; M.A.E. Green, Elizabeth of Bohemia, 255, 259, 277; Fortescue Pprs. ed. S.R. Gardiner (Cam. Soc. n.s. i), 217; Harl. 1580, f. 239v.
  • 23. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 352. The offices of gent. of the horse, kpr. of the privy purse, gentleman usher, recvr.-gen. and secretary were already held by Richard Graham*, Sackville Crowe*, Edward Savage II*, Thomas Fotherley* and Robert Mason respectively.
  • 24. Add. 12528, f. 28v. The pass issued to John Ashburnham and his wife by the Privy Council on 9 Oct. 1625 presumably refers to Ashburnham’s kinsman, as Ashburnham was not then married: APC, 1625-6, p. 193.
  • 25. Procs. in Kent ed. L.B. Larking (Cam. Soc. lxxx), p. x.
  • 26. R. Lockyer, Buckingham, 358, 382; SP78/82, ff. 16-17.
  • 27. Lockyer, 393-4; CSP Ven. 1626-8, p. 393.
  • 28. Add. 64893, f. 13v; CSP Dom. 1627-8, pp. 359, 361-2.
  • 29. Misc. State Pprs. 1501-1726 comp. P. Yorke (1778), ii. 17, 19.
  • 30. CSP Dom. 1627-8, pp. 404, 413.
  • 31. SP16/82/87; 16/83/57.
  • 32. CSP Ven. 1626-8, pp. 468, 480.
  • 33. CD 1628, iv. 83.
  • 34. Ibid. 116, 126.
  • 35. Letters of John Holles ed. P. Seddon (Thoroton Soc. rec. ser. xxxvi), 383.
  • 36. SP16/112/42.
  • 37. Orig. Letters ed. Ellis, iii. 274.
  • 38. Autobiog. of Sir Simonds D’Ewes ed. J.O. Halliwell, ii. 206; C54/3077/17; E. Suss. RO, ASH4501/602.
  • 39. CSP Dom. 1637-8, p. 409.
  • 40. Ibid. 1633-4, p. 300; 1639-40, p. 187; E. Suss. RO, ASH/5501/601; VCH Suss. ix. 127.
  • 41. CSP Dom. 1639-40, p. 607; M. Keeler, Long Parl. 89; CCC, 1863; Horsfield, i. 559.