ASSHETON (ASHTON), Sir Ralph I, 2nd Bt. (c.1605-80), of Whalley Abbey and Downham, Lancs.
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Family and Education
b. c.1605, 1st s. of Sir Ralph Assheton, 1st Bt., of Great Lever, by 1st w. Dorothy, da. of Sir James Bellingham of Levens, Westmld. educ. Univ. Coll. Oxf. 1623; G. Inn 1624. m. (1) lic. 17 Apr. 1630, Lady Dorothy Tufton (d. 28 Jan. 1635), da. of Nicholas Tufton†, 1st Earl of Thanet, s.p.; (2) 3 Feb. 1644, Elizabeth, da. of Sir Sapcotes Harrington of Rand, Lincs., 1s. d.v.p. suc. fa. 18 Oct. 1644, cos. Richard Assheton in Downham estate 1657.2
Receiver, duchy of Lancaster 1629-?49, May 1660-d.; commr. for sequestration, Lancs. 1643, assessment 1644-8, Jan. 1660-9, 1679-d., northern assoc. 1645, defence 1645; elder, Blackburn classic 1646; j.p. Lancs. 1647-9, Mar. 1660-6, commr. for militia 1648, Mar. 1660; out-bailiff, Clitheroe Oct. 1660-2.3
Capt. of ft. (parliamentary) 1643.
Assheton was descended from a younger son of the first Sir Ralph Assheton of Middleton in the 15th century, who married the heiress of Great Lever. His father was created a baronet in 1620 and served in the usual county offices, but his later years were unfortunate. He sold Great Lever in 1629, suffered outlawry, apparently in consequence of a Star Chamber case, and incurred a fine of £500 by High Commission for adultery and incest. Both father and son supported Parliament in the Civil War, and Assheton, in spite of his own matrimonial difficulties, became an elder in the Lancashire presbytery. His disastrous second marriage to the sister and pupil of the republican theorist, James Harrington, probably only served to narrow his political and religious outlook, and he held no local office during the Interregnum, though he thought it advisable to obtain a pardon at the Restoration. For the sixth time he was returned for Clitheroe, four miles from Whalley, at the general election of 1660, and marked as a friend by Lord Wharton, to be managed by Sir Thomas Wharton. A moderately active Member of the Convention, he was named to 19 committees and made ten recorded speeches. He was appointed to the committee for the indemnity bill, but spoke for excepting Bulstrode Whitelocke† who had ordered him to pay alimony. On 30 June he accused Thomas Birch of corrupt practices in the previous Parliament. Assheton was named to the committees to inquire into unauthorized Anglican publications and to consider the proviso concerning John Hutchinson in the indemnity bill. After the unseating of his colleague William White on 16 July he was denied permission to speak again on the Clitheroe election. Although opposed to the estate bill of Sir George Booth, because he wished ‘to recompense him some other way’, he was named to the committee. On 17 Aug. he moved to send all the regicides to the Tower, pending a decision on their fate, and he gave damaging evidence against Sir Henry Vane†. He demanded that the Speaker should reprove (Sir) John Marsham for his doubts about the Sabbath. He served on the committee for the bill against marital separation, and opened the debate on the report stage, moving that no allowance should be made to wives living apart from their husbands:
It was against the law of God and the realm. He did not make this motion for his own private concernment, but for the future public good, though he had been a stranger to his wife and children [sic] now near twelve years, and never had any comfort from them in all that time. He therefore earnestly desired the House to consider of it, and not to allow his wife all her alimony since 22 June 1649.
But his malice against Whitelocke had grown tedious and cries of ‘Alimony!’ ‘shamed and stopped his mouth’. He complained of the ‘exorbitances’ of the militia on 13 Dec., and altogether, in spite of his hostility to the republicans, he must be reckoned as much an opponent of the Court in this Parliament as in others.4
On 11 Jan. 1661 Assheton forwarded to the Privy Council ‘a scandalous and dangerous paper’ signed by the Quaker Fox. He appointed a deputy to act as returning officer and was re-elected to the Cavalier Parliament. Before being unseated in the following year, he was again moderately active, being appointed to seven committees and twice acting as teller. He continued to walk the Presbyterian tightrope, declaring himself unable to take the Anglican communion on the one hand (from which he alone of the 507 Members received ‘the tacit dispensation of this House’), and on the other serving on the committee for preventing dangers from Quakers and other schismatics. Although a teller against the corporations bill, he is said to have been nominated a commissioner, but this was probably a mistake for his cousin, the first baronet of the Middleton line. After losing his seat he retired to his solitary home at Whalley, where he pulled down the Abbey and lived in considerable style on an income of something over £1,000 p.a., notwithstanding the alimony of which he complained so bitterly. In his leisure he compiled three volumes of divinity, which he hoped his heirs would publish, and he was also something of a virtuoso. He again contested Clitheroe at a by-election in 1675, but his repeated petitions failed to oust the court candidate, Sir Thomas Stringer. But he regained the seat in 1679, when he was marked ‘honest’ on Shaftesbury’s list. He was moderately active in the first Exclusion Parliament, in which he was named to eight committees. On 25 Mar. he demanded that no humiliation should be spared in the expulsion of Edward Sackville for expressing disbelief in the Popish Plot: ‘I never knew that a criminal was not brought upon his knees to receive his sentence at the bar since the 21st of King James’. After this reminder of Assheton’s status as ‘father of the House’, he was appointed to inspect the Journals every morning, to inquire into scandalous words spoken by a gentleman pensioner, and to search for precedents for punishing false returns and carrying up bills without express instructions. He voted for the exclusion bill, and was re-elected in September, but died in London on 30 Jan. 1680 before Parliament met. He was buried at Downham, where he had constructed a family vault. His will suggests that he had moved some way towards Anglicanism, though a nonconformist preacher lamented his death as ‘a great loss to the country and affliction to me’. His brother and heir, Sir Edmund, was unable to make good his claim to a seat at Clitheroe. The baronetcy became extinct in 1696, when Whalley was inherited by his sister’s son, Sir Ralph Assheton II.5
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Authors: M. W. Helms / Irene Cassidy
- 1. Did not sit after Pride’s Purge, 6 Dec. 1648, readmitted 21 Feb. 1660.
- 2. T. D. Whitaker, Hist. Whalley, 316-18; VCH Lancs. vi. 554-5.
- 3. Sir Robert Somerville, Duchy of Lancaster Official Lists, 133; W. S. Weeks, Clitheroe in the 17th Cent. 228, 300.
- 4. VCH Lancs. v. 184; Keeler, Long Parl. 92-93; Mins. Manchester Classis (Chetham Soc. n.s. xx), 7; Whitaker, 243; Bowman diary, ff. 7v, 9v, 104, 148; CJ, viii. 105, 183; Old Parl. Hist. xxii. 443; xxiii. 27, 33, 53; R. Spalding, Improbable Puritan, 225.
- 5. PC2/55/96; CJ, viii. 258, 289, 291; SP29/61/157; Whitaker, 318; Grey, vii. 55; PCC 54 Bath; D. R. Lacey, Dissent and Parl. Pols. 374; Jolly’s Note Bk. (Chetham Soc. n. s. xxxiii), 40.