ASHLEY, Henry (1519-88), of Wimborne St. Giles, Dorset.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Nov. 1554

Family and Education

b. 2 Oct. 1519, s. of Henry Ashley of Wimborne St. Giles by Radegund, da. of Robert Gilbert of Witcombe, Som. m. by 1548, Catherine, da. of Sir John Bassett of Umberleigh, Devon, 2s. inc. Henry. suc. fa. 1 Mar. 1549. Kntd. 2 Oct. 1553.2

Offices Held

Dep. v.-adm. Dorset 1550-82; commr. relief, Dorset 1550, piracy 1565; keeper of manor and forest of Holt 1555-66; j.p. Dorset 1554-d., Wilts. 1562, rem. 1586/87; sheriff, Som. and Dorset 1555-6, 1564-5; dep. lt. Dorset 1577-d.3


The early career of Henry Ashley remains obscure. He was first elected to Parliament before he held any office, his patron at Shaftesbury evidently being Sir Thomas Arundell, lord of the borough and a friend of his father.4

Ashley succeeded to the family estates in 1549 and in the following year was appointed deputy vice-admiral of Dorset to Sir William Herbert, perhaps on Arundell’s recommendation. Much of his subsequent activity derived from this office. The ports were jealous of their liberties and resisted so far as they could the jurisdiction of the Admiralty. In 1551 the mayor of Melcombe was briefed—presumably by the town’s lawyers—on his answer to Henry Ashley, ‘naming himself vice-admiral’, who should be told that, even armed with proof of his appointment, ‘there is not place there, for him to sit in’. Poole likewise, and with more reason, claimed that their mayor ‘is and ever hath been admiral within the same town’. Ashley was nevertheless paid an annual fee of 20s. by Poole, and seems to have made the town his official headquarters.5

Ashley’s return to Mary’s third Parliament as first knight of the shire for Dorset is an electoral aberration which needs to be explained. It interrupted what would have been a series of five successive returns of Sir Giles Strangways II, a magnate with whom Ashley could not compete in wealth or standing. As Ashley’s fellow-knight, the aged Richard Phelips, similarly supplanted a comparable figure such as a Horsey or a Rogers, it is tempting to view the election as a piece of government intervention to exclude known opponents of its policy. Ashley’s brother-in-law, the strongly Catholic James Bassett, procured his own election to the same Parliament as a knight for the adjacent shire of Devon.

Ashley’s next, and last, appearance in the Commons was not to come until after the accession of Elizabeth, during whose reign he continued to be active, especially in the matter of local defence. He lived long enough to witness the coming of the Armada, dying at his home in Wimborne St. Giles on 27 Dec. 1588.6

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Helen Miller


  • 1. Hatfield 207.
  • 2. Date of birth given in Hutchins, Dorset , iii. 594-5; The Gen. n.s. ii. 221.
  • 3. EHR, xxiii. 741; HCA 25/1 pt. 2; CPR, 1553, p. 352; APC, vii. 283; CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 571, 582; H. H. Leonard, ‘Knights and knighthood in Tudor Eng.’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1970), 280-1.
  • 4. PCC 1 Tashe.
  • 5. Weymouth and Melcombe mss. Sherren pprs. 13, 26; Poole rec. bk. 2, title page; envelope 10.
  • 6. C142/260/117; Som. and Dorset N. and Q. ii. 50.