ASSHETON, Ralph (c.1606-1680), of Whalley and Downham, Lancs.

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



1640 (Apr.)
1640 (Nov.)
1661 - 4 Feb. 1662
1679 (Mar.)
1679 (Oct.) - 30 Jan. 1680

Family and Education

b. c.1606, 1st s. of Sir Ralph Assheton, 1st bt., of Great Lever and Whalley, Lancs., and Dorothy, da. of Sir James Bellingham, of Westmorland.1 educ. Univ. Coll. Oxf. 1623, aged 17; G. Inn 1624.2 m. (1) lic. 17 Apr. 1630,3 Dorothy (d. 28 Jan. 1635),4 da. of Sir Nicholas Tufton*, 2nd bt. and 1st earl of Thanet, s.p.; (2) 1644, Elizabeth (d. 8 June 1686),5 da. of Sir Sapcot Harington of Royde, Lincs., 1s. d.v.p.6 suc. fa. as 2nd bt. 1644,7 and cos. Richard Assheton in Downham estate 1657.8 d. 30 Jan 1680.9

Offices Held

Freeman, Preston, Lancs. by 1622;10 commr. subsidy, Lancs. 1641, Poll Tax, 1642,11 sequestration 1643, assessment 1644-8, 1660-9, Northern Assoc. 1645, defence, Lancs. 1645, militia 1648, 1660;12 recvr. for duchy of Lancaster, Lancs. 1644-d.;13 j.p. Lancs. 1647-9, 1660-6;14 elder, Blackburn classis, 1646;15 out-bailiff, Clitheroe, Lancs. 1660-2.16


This Member has previously been confused with two namesakes. On the one hand he has been identified as Ralph Assheton (d.1651) of Middleton, who fought for Parliament during the Civil War and sat as a Lancashire knight of the shire between 1640 and 1648;17 and on the other he is said to have been Ralph Assheton (d.1644) of Kirkby, in the West Riding, a nephew of William Holt* of Gray’s Inn.18 However, the evidence strongly indicates that it was the younger Ralph Assheton of Whalley, son and heir of the 1st baronet, who represented Clitheroe in the first two parliaments of Charles I’s reign, and who stood again unsuccessfully in 1628. This identification has hitherto been discounted because of an erroneous assumption that he was born in 1617, but the record of his admission to Oxford shows that he was actually aged around 19 in 1625. He would therefore have been old enough to enter the Commons, albeit as a minor. Although some uncertainty remains, the baronet’s son has much the strongest claim for being regarded as the Member who sat in 1625 and 1626, given that his family’s estates lay adjacent to Clitheroe and his father was deeply involved in the town’s affairs.

The Asshetons of Whalley were descended from a younger branch of the Middleton line.19 Richard Assheton†, the duchy of Lancaster’s receiver in Lancashire under Elizabeth, built up a substantial estate around the manor and dissolved abbey of Whalley.20 The receivership became hereditary, and was occupied by at least four successive generations of Asshetons, including the first and second baronets. Links with the duchy were cemented in 1617 when chancellor Sir John Dackombe*, attorney Sir Edward Mosley*, auditor William Fanshawe*, receiver general Sir Richard Molyneux*, and other members of the Duchy council were entertained at Whalley by the copyholders of Clitheroe.21

Assheton made no impression upon the parliamentary records of the 1625 or 1626 parliaments, except that he was reported to have attended both meetings of the Macclesfield tenants bill committee in June 1625, to which he was appointed as a Lancashire Member.22 He stood again for Clitheroe in 1628 but was defeated at a hotly contested election in which he received only two votes. By this time the family were experiencing financial problems that necessitated the sale of various outlying property in the 1630s.23 Assheton himself evidently surmounted these problems and consolidated his estates, which were worth around £1,000 a year by the 1670s.24 During the minority of his cousin Richard, Assheton undertook the management of Downham, and although he did not formally inherit the estate until 1657 it was his main residence prior to his father’s death.25 Assheton’s first wife, who died in 1635, was a daughter of the crypto-Catholic 1st earl of Thanet. Whatever Assheton’s own religious views were during the 1620s and 1630s, he later inclined to Presbyterianism, being named in 1646 as fit to become an elder of the Lancashire classes.26

Although twice married, Assheton had only one child, a son who predeceased him. He left a will providing for his estates to pass after the death of his widow to his brother Edmund, and including plans for the publication of his notebooks on divinity. He desired a ‘knowing and diligent scholar’ to be employed to sort through his library selecting the manuscripts ‘worthy of printing’, and destroying any found to be ‘light or scurrilous ... without imparting them to any whomsover’. Assheton’s will also mentioned a collection of ‘several manuscripts of ancient hands or characters with their translation, which I was at much charge of causing them to be written in secretary’, two books of law notes, and a collection of coins and medals, all of which he left to his brother. His other possessions included a billiard table, carved statutes, a collection of pictures, and ‘a drinking horn with silver legs that hath a long time belonged to the house’.27 He died in London on 30 Jan. 1680, and was buried on 3 Mar. with his first wife at Downham, where he had built a family vault beneath the chancel.28

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. J. Foster, Lancs. Peds.
  • 2. Al. Ox., GI Admiss.
  • 3. Cent. Kent. Stud. U1644; CB, i. 150.
  • 4. T.D. Whitaker, Hist. Whalley (4th edn.), ii. 145.
  • 5. Ibid. ii. 145.
  • 6. Foster, Lancs. Peds.
  • 7. CB, i. 150.
  • 8. VCH Lancs. vi. 554, n. 44.
  • 9. Whitaker, ii. 145; Soc. Gen. Downham par. reg. transcript, 125.
  • 10. Preston Guild Rolls ed. W.A. Abram (Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. ix), 76.
  • 11. SR, v. 86, 153.
  • 12. A. and O. i. 114, 546, 642, 707, 758, 968, 1085, 1238; ii. 1371, 1433.
  • 13. Duchy of Lancaster Office-Holders ed. R. Somerville, 133.
  • 14. Lancs. RO, QSC44-63.
  • 15. CJ, iv. 669.
  • 16. W.S. Weeks, Clitheroe in Seventeenth Cent. 228, 300.
  • 17. M.F. Keeler, Long Parl. 92-3; VCH Lancs. v. 166-7.
  • 18. W.D. Pink and A.B. Beavan, Parl. Rep. of Lancs. 252; Weeks, 294.
  • 19. J. Foster, Lancs. Peds.; Vis Lancs. (Chetham Soc. xcviii), 61; Vis. Lancs. (Chetham Soc. lxxxii), 7; Vis Lancs. (Chetham Soc. lxxxiv), 14-15.
  • 20. VCH Lancs. vi. 382-3; Whitaker, i. 134.
  • 21. Jnl. of Nicholas Assheton of Downham ed. F.R. Raines (Chetham Soc. xiv), 55.
  • 22. C.R. Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, PPE 1604-48 ed. Kyle, 228.
  • 23. CSP Dom. 1635-6, pp. 104, 113, 119, 126, 471, 500; B.G. Blackwood, ‘The Lancs. Gentry, 1625-1660’ (Oxf. D.Phil. thesis, 1973), p. 58.
  • 24. Whitaker, ii. 2.
  • 25. Greater Manchester RO, E7/27/1/16; VCH Lancs. vi. 554, n. 44.
  • 26. W.A. Shaw, Hist. of Eng. Church during Civil Wars and under Commonwealth, ii. 394.
  • 27. Whitaker, ii. 2.
  • 28. Soc. Gen. Downham par. reg. 125.