ASH, John, of Sowton ('Clyst Fomson'), Devon.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

s. and h. of Richard Ash. m. Alice,1 1s. John†.

Offices Held

Steward of Otterton priory, Devon from 5 Sept. 1426, of Totnes 1430-1, 1438-9.2

Commr. to assess a tax rebate, Mdx. Dec. 1433, Apr. 1440; administer the oath against maintenance Jan. 1434; assess a tax Jan. 1436; of weirs, Bucks., Herts., Mdx. July 1438; to raise royal loans, Mdx. June 1446.

J.p. Mdx. 3 Feb. 1433-June 1449.

Dep. steward of Hen. VI’s household by July 1444.


Ash inherited the manor of ‘Clyst Fomson’ near Exeter, and lands at Loventor in Berry Pomeroy.3 His only return to Parliament by the burgesses of Totnes may be accounted for by the proximity of the latter holdings to the town, and by his own close connexions with the family of Pomeroy of Berry Pomeroy, which was influential there. The Pomeroys were overlords of Ash’s manor, and evidently regarded him as a trustworthy tenant, who over many years would provide assistance in the running of their business affairs, not least in matters concerning the law, for which he was apparently trained. In 1416 Ash and a prominent local lawyer, John Bosom I*, had obtained at the Exchequer custody of the manor of Berry Pomeroy following the death of Sir John Pomeroy*, and pending the settlement of conflicting claims to the estate; and in 1429 he was to share with John Fortescue* (the future chief justice) and others the keeping of a large part of the family lands in Devon and Cornwall after the demise of Sir Thomas Pomeroy*. Then, following Edward Pomeroy’s* succession, Ash was made a trustee of Berry Pomeroy for the purpose of effecting an entail. But Ash also established other contacts of note in Devon. In November 1416 he had shared in an Exchequer lease of lands in Yarnscombe, held of the Fitzwaryn heir, and in 1421 he acted on behalf of Sir William Cheyne’s* widow in a conveyance of manorial holdings elsewhere in the shire and in Somerset. Some indication of his standing in the locality is provided, too, by his appearance at the county elections held at Exeter castle in 1421 and 1422. Early on in his career Ash had served as a feoffee of the lands of Thomas Raymond* of Holsworthy, the recorder of Exeter, and it may have been through Raymond that he became acquainted with members of the Courtenay circle. In June 1425 he purchased from the Crown the marriage of Eleanor, one of the daughters of Sir Hugh Courtenay* by his second wife, Philippa Archdeacon, perhaps with the intention of marrying Eleanor to one of his own kinsmen, for she was heiress to estates in Essex and Herefordshire as well as in the West Country. However, she died little more than a year later, apparently before any such contract had been sealed. Nevertheless, Ash’s association with the Courtenays continued, and in 1431 he shared with John Hody* (another future chief justice) custody of the manor of Whitewell in Colyton, Devon, of which Thomas Courtenay, the young earl of Devon, was overlord.4

During the 1420s Ash had begun to extend his interests beyond the confines of Devon, by forging useful connexions in Middlesex. For instance, the stewardship of Otterton priory, which he secured in 1426, was in the gift of the abbess of Syon. By then he had also come to the attention of men of considerable influence in the government. His mainpernors at the Exchequer in 1425 had been the wealthy vintner Lewis John*, currently receiver of the duchy of Cornwall and steward of its estates in Devon, and Richard Buckland†, the treasurer of Calais. Both men were members of the council of the King’s uncle John, duke of Bedford, and were closely associated with Cardinal Beaufort, whose service Ash, too, entered, before very long, becoming one of his principal legal advisors. In February 1429 he was responsible for collecting at the Exchequer on Beaufort’s behalf the 500 marks allotted for his expenses as going on embassy to Scotland; and three years later he was named among the lawyers whom the cardinal wished to handle his defence on charges under the Statute of Praemunire. In 1433 the cardinal appointed him one of his attorneys in England for the duration of his absence attending the General Council of the Church at Basle; then in 1435 he was a member of a group headed by such eminent figures as John Kemp, archbishop of York, who were to receive annual rents of 1,000 marks from certain of Beaufort’s manors in Somerset and Wiltshire to put to the cardinal’s use. On occasion, Ash was recorded in association with Archbishop Kemp in relation to other matters, too; and it seems very likely that the knowledge that he had access to such prominent members of the King’s Council as Beaufort and Kemp was a decisive factor in his two elections to Parliament for Middlesex in the 1430s.5 During this phase of Ash’s career he established himself as a landowner in Middlesex. The tax return made in 1436 recorded that he then held lands in that county as well as in Devon and Cornwall, in all worth as much as £53 a year, and the fact that he had been able to spend 200 marks on the Courtenay marriage is further proof that he was by then a man of substance. Where the bulk of his property in Middlesex was situated has yet to be ascertained, although it is recorded that in 1440 he and his wife acquired from the priory of St. John the Baptist of Haliwell its ‘Gatehouse’ as well as other buildings in Shoreditch. Ash served as a j.p. in his adopted county for 16 years, but only once in that period, in 1442, did he attend the shire elections to Parliament. Two years later he is mentioned as being deputy to the steward of the King’s household, William de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, although how long before then he had occupied this influential position remains uncertain. He is not recorded for sure after his final appointment to the Middlesex bench in June 1445.6

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. CP25(1)45/76/17; CPL, viii. 125-6. If a petition addressed to ‘the bishop of Winchester’ as chancellor may be assigned to Bishop Beaufort’s chancellorship of 1424-6, then Alice was the da. and h. of Thomas Withycombe, and brought Ash a claim to three messuages and some 400 acres of land at Withycombe Raleigh and elsewhere (C1/26/293). However, the petition may date from Bishop Waynflete’s chancellorship of 1456-60, in which case it more likely relates to the wife of Ash’s son John.
  • 2. E326/8121; H.R. Watkin, Totnes Priory and Town, 361, 374.
  • 3. Feudal Aids, i. 486, 491.
  • 4. CFR, xiv. 168, 176; xv. 104, 266; xvi. 38; CCR, 1419-22, p. 210; 1429-35, p. 342; C219/12/6, 13/1; CP25(1)45/76/17; C139/27/21.
  • 5. Issues ed. Devon, 407; Foedera ed. Rymer (orig. edn.), x. 541; CCR, 1435-41, pp. 38, 270; G.L. Harriss, Cardinal Beaufort, 216-17, 266.
  • 6. E179/238/90; London and Mdx. Feet of Fines, i. 191; CPR, 1441-6, p. 273. It was probably his son John who was a yeoman of the Crown from Oct. 1449, and was granted 6d. a day for life from the issues of Berks. in 1452. At about the latter date the queen wrote urging Sir John Dynham (d.1458) of Hartland, Devon, to pay Ash £14 14s. due to him for ‘diverse vitailles’, in consideration of his ‘necessite’, and a petition from John Ash ‘the elder’ to Cardinal Kemp during his chancellorship of 1450-4 relates to the petitioner’s difficulties in establishing his title to ‘Clyst Fomson’. Perhaps that was why, in about 1465, he made the then chancellor, George Neville, archbishop of York, a trustee of the manor. Letters Margaret of Anjou (Cam. Soc. lxxxvi), 144; C1/19/163; C140/82/10.