ASTLEY (ASHLEY), Sir John (c.1569-1640), of Old Palace, Maidstone, Kent

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

b. c.1569, 1st s. of John Astley† of Maidstone and Margaret Lenton alias Grey, illegit. da. of Lord Thomas Grey.1 educ. Court; G. Inn 1598.2 m. 18 Sept. 1609, Catherine (d.1648),3 da. of Anthony Brydges of Sudeley Castle, Glos. 3s. d.v.p. 1da. d.v.p.4 suc. fa. 1596;5 kntd. 11 May 1603.6 d. 26 Jan. 1640.7

Offices Held

Gent. pens. by 1598-at least 1612;8 dep. master of the revels 1622, master 1623-d.;9 gent. of the privy chamber 1625.10

Commr. sewers, Gravesend to Penshurst, Kent 1622-at least 1628,11 ?Forced Loan 1626.12


Astley’s father came to Court as a kinsman of Anne Boleyn and sat in nine Parliaments between 1547 and 1589. Astley himself, who ‘from his tender years’ attended on Queen Elizabeth, was knighted by James and remained at Court under the Stuarts.13 He was granted the benefit of the recusancy of 11 Catholics in 1607 and the reversion to the mastership of the revels in 1612.14 He did not inherit his father’s parliamentary interest at Maidstone, and owed his solitary appearance in the Commons to Lord (William) Knollys†, the high steward of Oxford.15 He left no trace on the records of the Addled Parliament, but he may not have altogether distanced himself from his junior colleague, the fiery puritan Thomas Wentworth I*, with whom he was connected through his sisters’ marriages.16

Astley assumed the duties of the mastership of the revels when Sir George Buc fell ‘stark mad’ early in 1622, but surrendered both duties and profits to Henry Herbert* for £150 a year in July 1623.17 He may have found managing the revels more burdensome than he had expected, for he had trouble extracting enough money from the Exchequer to pay for masques and other entertainments, which resulted in protests from his subordinates; ill health may also have been a factor.18 Nevertheless a year later he was granted £50 a year so that he might provide himself with a house and office, and he was still nominally master at his death.19 At Maidstone, where he lived, he fell into dispute with the townsmen in about 1625 over fishing rights in the Medway, which resulted in litigation that lasted for several years.20 A settlement was finally negotiated, in which Astley and his ally Sir Humphrey Tufton† not only won their case but also insisted that they should be exempt from serving as churchwardens or other ‘meaner offices’; legal costs of £170 incurred by Maidstone corporation were still being paid off in 1629.21

Astley returned to Court upon Charles I’s accession to become a gentleman of the privy chamber. He was probably the Sir John ‘Apsley’ who was named to the Kent commission for the Forced Loan in November 1626, but if so he had been removed by February 1627, when the commission was reissued.22 In 1627-8 he opposed the Medway navigation proposals, which would have affected his property and were later condemned as a monopoly by Sir Edward Coke*.23 Astley was hauled before the High Commission in 1634 on a trumped-up charge of incest with his wife’s niece, Anne Brydges, but was eventually acquitted.24 In the following year he defaulted on the Kent musters in order to signal his distaste for Ship Money.25

On 3 Jan. 1639 Astley drew up his will, in which the largest single monetary bequest was the gift of £1,000 to Anne Brydges.26 He died on 26 Jan. 1640 and was buried in All Saints’ Church, Maidstone, where there remains a monument with statutes of him and his father.27 His children had all predeceased him, and his estates passed to his ‘cousin’ Jacob, Lord Astley, the royalist general.28

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Alan Davidson / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. R.H. Goodsall, ‘The Astleys of Maidstone’, Arch. Cant. lxxii. 1-7.
  • 2. GI Admiss.
  • 3. Goodsall, ‘The Astleys of Maidstone, pt. 2’, Arch. Cant. lxxiii. 125.
  • 4. The Gen. n.s. vi. 232.
  • 5. C142/248/44.
  • 6. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 106.
  • 7. J.M. Russell, Hist. Maidstone, 347.
  • 8. GI Admiss. i. 93; E407/1/37; HMC Hatfield, xxi. 350.
  • 9. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 432.
  • 10. LC2/6, f. 37; SP16/2/118.
  • 11. C181/3, f. 42; C181/3, f. 252v (described as John Ashley in both cases).
  • 12. Harl. 6846, f. 37 (Sir John Aspley).
  • 13. J. Cave-Brown, All Saints’ Maidstone, 153.
  • 14. Add. 34765, ff. 16, 19; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 395; C66/1953.
  • 15. Pprs. of Capt. H. Stevens ed. M. Toynbee (Oxon. Rec. Soc. xlii), 37.
  • 16. E. Hasted, Kent, iv. 288, 452; Letters of Eliz. Queen of Bohemia ed. L.M. Baker, 73.
  • 17. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 430; G.E. Bentley, Jacobean and Caroline Stage, ii. 471; vii. 48, 54.
  • 18. Control and Censorship of Caroline Drama: Recs. of Sir Henry Herbert ed. N.W. Bawcutt, 4, 27, 31, 33-7.
  • 19. Cal. of Docquets of Ld. Kpr. Coventry 1625-40 ed. J. Broadway, R. Cust and S. Roberts (L. and I. Soc. spec. ser. xxxvii), 176.
  • 20. J.M. Russell, Hist. Maidstone, 347-8.
  • 21. Recs. of Maidstone, 71, 86-8, 90, 92, 94, 96, 97, 99, 234-8.
  • 22. For the reissued commn. see T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 144.
  • 23. CD 1628, iii. 375; P. Clark, Eng. Prov. Soc. 349; J.R. Scott, Scott, of Scot’s-Hall, xxxii-iii.
  • 24. CSP Dom. 1634-5, pp. 112, 120; 1635, pp. 228-9; 1635-6. p. 83; Clark, 368.
  • 25. PC2/45, p. 115; Clark, 374.
  • 26. PROB 11/182, ff. 214v-15.
  • 27. Russell, 137.
  • 28. Cave-Brown, 155.