ASKWITH (AYSCOUGH, ASCUE), Robert (1567-1623), of Hosier Lane, York

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press




Family and Education

bap. 28 Dec. 1567, 1st s. of Robert Askewith†, draper of York and Elizabeth, da. and h. of Thomas Cartmel, barber of York.1 m. by 1608, Mary, s.p.2 suc. fa. 1597;3 kntd. 13 Apr. 1617.4 d. 28 Sept. 1623.5 sig. Robert Askwith.

Offices Held

Freeman, York 1588, chamberlain 1591-2, common councilman 1595-9, sheriff 1599-1600, member of the Twenty-Four 1600, alderman 1602-d.;6 commr. survey R. Ouse, Yorks. 1604, 1610;7 ld. mayor, York 1606-7, 1617-18;8 commr. subsidy, York 1608, 1621, aid 1609;9 collector, Privy Seal loans, York 1611-12;10 commr. oyer and terminer, Northern circ. 1618;11 collector, Palatine Benevolence, Bootham ward, York 1620.12

Master, Merchant Taylors’ Co. York 1594-5, 1606-8;13 member, Virg. Co. 1610.14

Commr. Union 1604-6.15


Askwith’s ancestors leased Pot Grange from Fountains Abbey, and lived in nearby Masham. His father became a York draper, served twice as lord mayor and was returned to Parliament in 1581 and 1589. Already a common councilman by the time his father died in 1597, Askwith was bequeathed £200 in cash, but his mother and younger brother apparently took over the family business.16 As a newly elected alderman, Askwith was included among a delegation sent to meet James I at Newcastle in April 1603, and he helped prepare his own city for the king’s arrival a week later. One of the unsuccessful candidates at the mayoral election of January 1604, he was returned to Parliament for the senior seat six weeks later, defeating Sir John Bennet* by an overwhelming margin.17

Although he sat in three parliaments, Askwith hardly featured in their debates. Indeed, the only occasion on which he is known to have spoken was on 16 May 1621, when he commented on the Lords’ proviso confirming the Shrewsbury drapers’ monopoly of the trade in Welsh cottons.18 Yet while Askwith remained largely silent he was by no means inactive. The York corporation, which paid generous parliamentary wages, expected its Members to lobby hard both in committee and elsewhere, and there is ample evidence that Askwith did precisely that. The first item on the list of instructions he took to Westminster in 1604 was the improvement of the navigation on the River Ouse, York’s main trade artery: on 24 May he reassured the corporation that the matter was in hand; and on 23 June he added a proviso for the Ouse to the bill for the abatement of weirs on navigable rivers. That same day he was named to the committee, but the bill was not reported before the prorogation. The corporation had also hoped to divert revenue from the Dover pier levy to maintenance of the Ouse, but the Dover duty was instead confirmed for seven years. The other task the corporation entrusted to Askwith was to investigate the possibility of obtaining a new charter to give the lord mayor Admiralty rights over the Ouse; he ultimately advised against seeking such a grant. While in the Commons Askwith was also required to pursue the interests of specific guilds: armed with a petition from the York tanners, he was named to the committee for the bill to regulate the industry (28 Apr.), although no specific proviso for the city was included in the resulting statute. The York tapestry makers were equally disappointed in their hopes for the repeal of a Henrician statute granting York weavers a monopoly of coverlet manufacture.19

The York Members traditionally sat next to the privy councillors in the Commons, and it was perhaps for this reason that Askwith was named to attend the conference of 26 Mar. 1604 at which the Lords were asked to join a petition to the king to compound for wardship. He was then in dispute with (Sir) Timothy Whittingham* over a wardship, and in 1610 the two men waived their parliamentary privilege to hasten proceedings. He attended the conference at which the king set out his initial agenda for the Union (14 Apr. 1604), was named to the committee for a bill granting Scots children born in England since James’s accession the status of denizens (3 May), and was one of the four merchants appointed commissioners for the Union (12 May). While not appointed to the committee for the bill to enable Sir Thomas Monson* to exchange lands with Trinity College, Cambridge, he was clearly an interested party, as he was allowed to be heard by counsel at its deliberations.20

On the day after the discovery of Gunpowder Plot, Askwith was appointed to the committee for better execution of the penal laws. However, he was elected lord mayor of York in January 1606, and played no further part in the session. He missed much of the next too, arriving at Westminster after Easter 1607, when he was named to five committees, including one drafting the petition of religious grievances (18 May), and another for the bill to facilitate the assignation of debts between merchants (5 June). The corporation advanced £40 to secure the charter renewal that had been abandoned in 1604, but he achieved nothing.21 In the spring session of 1610 he was named to 35 committees, although many of these concerned private or local bills in which he had no traceable interest. He attended the conference of 15 Feb. at which lord treasurer Salisbury outlined the Crown’s financial straits, and was included on the delegation which presented the grievances to the king (7 July), but otherwise played no known part in the high politics of the session. His name headed the committee list for the bill to confirm the exemption of Kendal cloth from alnage duties (23 Feb.), and he was named to attend a conference on the better execution of justice in the north (5 July).22 Having undertaken a survey of the Ouse during his mayoralty, he secured a fresh commission for this purpose in June 1610. He left no mark on the ill-recorded autumn session, but was asked to secure a new lease of part of the city’s commons during his sojourn at Westminster, and joined his fellow-MP Christopher Brooke in compounding for a parcel of concealed lands within the city.23

Re-elected to the Addled Parliament, Askwith was again named to a handful of committees, including one for a bill to expedite proceedings in the Court of Wards (14 May), and two others concerned with the licensing of alehouses and tippling (31 May). The latter issue was apparently a personal priority for Askwith, for during his mayoralty he had made strenuous efforts to prevent tippling on Sundays. Moreover, in 1621 he was named to committees for the drunkenness bill (1 Mar.) and the Sabbath bill (15 Feb.; also to a conference on 24 May). The corporation had hoped to secure a bill for the Ouse navigation during this session, but did not even manage to commission a survey until 1615.24

Chosen as lord mayor once again in 1617, Askwith hosted the king on his progress to Scotland, and was knighted after subjecting his royal visitor to an ode on the need to improve the Ouse navigation. James apparently offered some encouragement to the Ouse navigation project, and consequently Askwith and Brooke tabled a bill in 1621. However, this received only a single reading before Easter, which they ascribed to

the slow proceedings of private things ... in regard so many public grievances and [an]noyances of the commonwealth are on foot, and that those whom we mean to use for moving the king to be a burgess for us, as he pleased to say he would have been so employed, that it was not possible for them to act our desires.

The bill received a second reading on 3 May, but Askwith’s presence on the committee failed to overcome the objections of Sir Thomas Wentworth* and other landowners, who rejected the imposition of a county-wide rate to pay for the proposed improvements. The York MPs persevered, but the abrupt adjournment at the beginning of June halted proceedings, and the bill was not heard of again. The York MPs also petitioned the king for a Proclamation to bar London merchants from the great northern fairs at Howden and Beverley. They were encouraged to find other MPs who were willing to complain about the Londoners, but were firmly advised that ‘there is no way by Parliament to take away the liberty of any subject from going and merchandising where he list’, and despite their plans to make a personal approach to James, nothing came of their hopes.25

Few of the bill committees to which Askwith was named in 1621 can be identified with his known interests, but his regular correspondence with the corporation during the session illustrates his priorities. The session began with an extraordinary grant of two subsidies, which he strove to justify to his constituents. While admitting that ‘the king hath been jealous of his people a great while that they contended with him for the mastery, or at least to have their own will, and to bridle his’, he pointed out the success of proceedings against monopolists and corrupt ministers, and commended the investigation of the decay of trade:

we are by His Majesty’s good liking also in consideration of all things that impeach trades and hinder the venting of the cloth of the kingdom, as well the pretermitted customs lately exacted, and the engrossing and monopolising of all into the Londoners’ hands, and many other things tending to the public and the good of the common wealth.

One of the committee ordered to prepare for an important debate on free trade (19 Apr.), he blamed impositions and the pretermitted custom for the shortage of coin, but confessed, ‘in this we have found a deep ocean of matter not to be waded through in a whole Parliament’. Although stunned by the king’s announcement of an abrupt end to the sitting on 28 May, he assured himself that it would be ‘no long work’ to perfect existing legislation at their next meeting. This did not happen: the session reconvened in the autumn, but Askwith was unable to further any of his projects due to the breakdown of relations between king and Commons. He was named to a single committee, appointed to examine a complaint against the 1st earl of Castlehaven (Sir Mervyn Audley*) from a deranged clergyman (1 December).26

Askwith died, apparently intestate, on 28 Sept. 1623; his heir was his brother Thomas. None of the family subsequently sat in Parliament.27

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Simon Healy


  • 1. Clay, Dugdale’s Vis. Yorks. iii. 105; York Wills (Yorks. Arch. Soc. rec. ser. xiv), 30.
  • 2. Borthwick, Reg. Test. 30, ff. 746v-7v; C142/666/74.
  • 3. C142/255/180.
  • 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 162.
  • 5. C142/666/74.
  • 6. York Freemen ed. F. Collins (Surtees Soc. cii), 30; York City Archives, House Bk. 32, ff. 185v, 199v; York City Lib., R.W. Skaife, Civic Officials and Parl. Rep. of York, ff. 26v-7.
  • 7. C181/1, f. 98v; 181/2, f. 127v.
  • 8. York City Archives, House Bk. 33, f. 1; House Bk. 34, f. 107.
  • 9. SP14/31/1, 14/43/107; C212/22/20-1.
  • 10. Add. 27877, f. 161.
  • 11. C181/2, f. 317.
  • 12. York City Archives, House Bk. 34, f. 216v.
  • 13. Skaife, ff. 26v-7.
  • 14. T.K. Rabb, Enterprise and Empire, 237.
  • 15. CJ, i. 319a.
  • 16. Clay, Dugdale’s Vis. Yorks. iii. 105; VCH Yorks. (N. Riding), i. 326-8; Borthwick, Reg. Test. 27, ff. 25-6.
  • 17. York City Archives, House Bk. 32, ff. 254v-5v, 305, 314v; F. Drake, Eboracum (1736), pp. 131-2.
  • 18. CD 1621, iii. 272. His words went unrecorded.
  • 19. York City Archives, House Bk. 32, ff. 318-19, 331v; CJ, i. 189a, 245b, 997a; B.F. Duckham, Yorks. Ouse, 17-23; SR, iv. 1062.
  • 20. CJ, i. 154b, 172a, 197a, 208a, 226b; HMC Hatfield, xvii. 45; Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 364.
  • 21. York City Archives, House Bk. 33, ff. 1, 55, 62r-v; CJ, i. 257a, 375a, 379b.
  • 22. CJ, i. 393b, 399a, 445b; Procs. 1610 ed. Foster, ii. 254; SR, iv. 1171.
  • 23. York City Archives, House Bk. 33, ff. 27v, 203v, 221, 229v-30; C181/2, f. 127v.
  • 24. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 235, 392, 394; York City Archives, House Bk. 33, ff. 2, 33; CJ, i. 523a, 532b, 626a; Duckham, 45.
  • 25. Recs. Early Eng. Drama, York ed. A.F. Johnston and M. Rogerson, i. 549-56; York City Archives, House Bk. 34, H. ff. 218, 220-3; CJ, i. 605b; Duckham, 46-7.
  • 26. York City Archives, House Bk. 34, ff. 217v-23; CJ, i. 582b, 655a.
  • 27. C142/666/74.