ASHBURNHAM, John I (c.1603-71), of Westover, Wherwell, Hants and Ashburnham, Suss.
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Family and Education
b. c.1603, 1st s. of Sir John Ashburnham of Ashburnham by Elizabeth, da. of Sir Thomas Beaumont† of Stoughton Grange, Leics.; bro. of William Ashburnham. educ. G. Inn, entered 1618; Peterhouse, Camb. adm. 3 July 1619, aged 16. 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 Baron Poulett of Hinton St. George, s.p. suc. fa. 1620.1
Commr. for assessment, Suss. 1640, Suss. and Mdx. 1661-9, Westminster 1661-2, 1665-9; j.p. Suss. 1640-4, 1661-d.; dep. lt. Suss. Aug. 1660-d., Mdx. 1661-d.; commr. for loyal and indigent officers, Suss., Mdx., London and Westminster 1662, highways and sewers, London and Westminster 1662; freeman, Portsmouth 1662; sub-commr. for prizes, London 1665-7.2
Gent. of the privy chamber 1628-42; treas. of war 1642-6; groom of the bedchamber 1642-7, 1661-d.; commr. (royalist) for treaty of Uxbridge 1644-5; asst. R. Adventurers into Africa 1664.3
Ashburnham’s ancestors were the principal landowners in the parish from which they took their name at least as early as 1166, and first sat for the county in 1397. Ashburnham’s father, perhaps over-elated at his profits from the booming Wealden iron industry, fell into debt, sold his lands, and died in the Fleet. But Ashburnham profited from his kinship with the 1st Duke of Buckingham to obtain a position of influence at Court and a wealthy and devoted wife, who enabled him to repurchase the bulk of his inheritance just before the Civil War. Ashburnham was one of the King’s two companions when he surrendered to the Scots army in 1646. He was allowed to resume his attendance in 1647, and either he or Sir John Berkeley was responsible for the fatal decision to seek refuge in the Isle of Wight. After the execution of the King, he compounded for his estates at the highest rate, alone of the Sussex Royalists, paying a £1,270 fine. He was arrested in 1654 on a charge of sending money to the exiled Court, and imprisoned in Guernsey till the fall of the Protectorate. The decimators assessed his estate at £800 p.a. The family interest seems to have been sufficiently strong at the general election of 1660 to secure the return of his son-in-law Denny Ashburnham at Hastings and William Howard at Winchelsea, and in the following year, after resuming his old post as groom of the bedchamber, he was elected knight of the shire.4
Ashburnham was an active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, although his record cannot be entirely separated from his brother’s. Listed as a friend by Lord Wharton, he may have sat on as many as 90 committees, and he was frequently entrusted with messages to the King. In the opening session he was appointed to the committees for the security, corporations and uniformity bills and the bill of pains and penalties, and he helped to manage two conferences. Embittered by his experiences during the Civil War and Interregnum, he was probably one of the promoters of the bill for the execution of those under attainder, and on 28 Nov. 1661 he was on the delegation which asked the King to return them to the Tower to stand trial. His parliamentary activity reached its peak in the early months of 1662. He acted as chairman of three committees: on the London and Westminster poor relief bill, on the prize accounts bill, and on the ironmasters’ petition, and he carried the two bills to the Lords. On 15 Feb. he was sent with George Clerke to the bishop of Ely about the lease of a tavern in Chancery Lane, and two days later reported the bishop’s answer, which the House deemed satisfactory. He was among the Members who attended the King with a petition from the tenants of Sir Henry Vane and with thanks for his speech of 1 Mar., and he was given the sole responsibility for obtaining the royal consent for its publication. He was one of those who obtained from the King a promise of preferment for the chaplain of the House. He was again one of the delegation which asked the King to name commissioners for the loyal and indigent officers. He expected to be made keeper of the privy purse for his pains, and on the appointment of a younger man, Sir Charles Berkeley II, it was reported that Ashburnham ‘mutinies more than an old Cavalier should do’. But his discontent is unlikely to have led him so far as to vote against the Government, and in 1664 he was marked as a court dependant, appointed to the committee for the conventicles bill, and included among the Members sent to thank the King for defending the nation against the Dutch. Thereafter his activity declined, though in his description of the court party in 1666 Andrew Marvell wrote:
Of the old courtiers next a squadron came,
That sold their master, led by Ashburnham.
Stimulated by the promise of £500 from certain English merchants for procuring a licence to land prohibited French wines, he was among the Members sent to the House of Lords to desire their concurrence in supporting the merchants’ petition on 22 Jan. 1667, and a week later he was the first to be nominated to present an address on their behalf. When the matter was raised by Sir Robert Howard in the following November, Ashburnham did not appear to defend his conduct, having been ‘lame of the gout’ throughout the session. ‘Some that were for him said that he took not the £500 as a Member of the House of Commons, but as a courtier.’ Though he was disabled from sitting, Henry Coventry, many years later, implied that he had been harshly treated:
There was no law against his taking that bribe of £500 from the merchants about soliciting the King concerning the French wines. He was a worthy gentleman, and yet you expelled him the House. He was no judge, and you judged that taking a bribe.
On the other hand, (Sir) John Nicholas wrote to his father, a friend of Ashburnham: ‘I do not find that he is much pitied, being generally blamed for loving money too well, and indeed there was scarce anything of profit stirring at Court or elsewhere wherein he would not get an interest’.5
Ashburnham’s career at Court was unaffected, and aided by the profits from his iron-works he continued to flourish materially till his death on 15 June 1671. He was buried in Ashburnham church, which, as ‘a great lover of the Church in the right Protestant way’, he had rebuilt since the Restoration. In his will he provided for the repurchase of further ancestral lands near his residence, but warned his executors (his brother, his son-in-law,