ASHBURNHAM, Denny (c.1628-97), of Broomham Park, Guestling, Suss.
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Family and Education
b. c.1628, 1st s. of Lawrence Ashburnham of Broomham Park by 2nd w. Bridget, da. of Sir George Fleetwood† of The Vache, Chalfont St. Giles, Bucks. m. (1) bef. 1650, Frances, da. of John Ashburnham I of Ashburnham, Suss., 4s. d.v.p. 2da.; (2) lic. 4 Sept. 1675, Anne (d.1729), da. of Sir David Watkins of The Piazza, Covent Garden, Westminster, 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 1da. suc. fa. 1648; cr. Bt. 15 May 1661.1
Commr. for militia, Suss. Mar. 1660, assessment, Hastings, Aug. 1660-1, Suss. Aug. 1660-80, 1689-90, Westminster 1689; j.p. Suss. Mar. 1660-July 1688, Nov. 1688-9, col. of militia horse Apr. 1660-74; commr. for sewers, Wittersham marshes Dec. 1660; freeman, Rye 1662-d.; dep. lt. Suss. 1670-Apr. 1688, London 1687-Oct. 1688; mayor, Hastings 1685-6.2
Commr. for excise 1665-8, 1678-89; jt. victualler of the navy Sept.-Dec. 1671, 1673-7, Tangier 1677-8; commr. for hearth-tax 1683-9.3
Ashburnham was descended from a cadet branch of the family which had acquired Broomham, four miles from Hastings, in the 15th century. His father was appointed to two parliamentary committees for Sussex in 1643, but was discharged by order of the House of Commons. Ashburnham himself was described in the patent for his baronetcy as ‘a person of known loyalty’, though he made no display of it during the Interregnum. He seems to have lived quietly on his estate, and probably owed, at least in the first place, his title, his seat at Hastings and his offices to his first wife’s father.4
In the Convention, Ashburnham was named only to the committee for the attainder bill. He was reelected to the Cavalier Parliament, but was again inactive, serving on the committees for the corporations and uniformity bills and 25 others. He was noted as a court dependant in 1664, no doubt in anticipation of the seat on the excise commission that came his way in the following year. In 1667 he was named to the committee to consider the petition charging his father-in-law with corruption. Although he lost his appointment in an administrative reform in 1668, together with Francis Finch, he was granted a pension of £250 p.a., repeated efforts were made to find him a lucrative appointment either in the central or local administration, and his name appears on both lists of the court party in 1669-71, though he was included among the defaulters in attendance in the latter year. He was in office again from 1673 to the Revolution; in A Seasonable Argument he was credited with gains of £10,000 and in Flagellum Parliamentarium with eight times as much, though he was probably involved in the financial difficulties which beset his partner in the victualling contract, Sir Dennis Gauden. His name appeared again on the Paston list, on the list of officials in the House in 1675, on the working lists and on Wiseman’s account. He was marked ‘doubly vile’ by Shaftesbury in 1677, and again appeared on both lists of the court party in the following year.5
At the height of the hysteria over the Popish Plot, Ashburnham was approached by the sister of one of the Jesuits charged with high treason by Titus Oates to give evidence for the defence. At the trial on 17 Dec. 1678, he was clearly a reluctant witness, but produced a copy of Oates’s indictment for perjury at Hastings in 1674. Under examination by Lord Chief Justice Scroggs he further deposed:
I do know Mr Oates and have known him a great while; I have known him from his cradle, and I do know that when he was a child he was not a person of that credit that we could depend upon what he said.
He went on to affirm his belief in the Plot from circumstances corroborating Oates’s testimony, and to deny wishing to say anything against the King’s witnesses. Nevertheless he lost his seat at the general election and was out of politics till 1682, when he was active for the ‘loyal’ candidate in the mayoral election at Rye.6
At the general election of 1685, Ashburnham was nominated for Hastings by James II, who may have appreciated his conduct at the trial of the Jesuits. He took part in the coronation as senior representative of the Cinque Ports. He was moderately active, serving on six committees, and was summoned to the meeting of the court caucus on 17 Nov. He was absent from the questions of the lord lieutenant of Sussex on the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws, and was removed from local office, but was approved as court candidate for Hastings a few months later. His political and administrative career ended with the Revolution. He was buried at Guestling on 11 Dec. 1697. His son sat for Hastings in several Parliaments as a Whig.7