ASHBURNHAM, Hon. John (1687-1737).
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Family and Education
bap. 13 Mar. 1687, 2nd s. of John Ashburnham†, 1st Lord Ashburnham by Bridget (d. 1719), da. and h. of Walter Vaughan of Porthamel House, Brec. m. (1) 21 Oct. 1710, Lady Mary Butler (d. 1713), da. of James, 2nd Duke of Ormond, s.p; (2) 24 July 1714, Lady Henrietta Maria Stanley (d. 1718), da. and coh. of William, 9th Earl of Derby, wid. of John Annesley†, 6th Earl of Anglesey (d. 1710), 1da.; (3) 14 Mar. 1724, Lady Jemima de Grey (d. 1731), da. and coh. of Henry, 1st Duke of Kent, 1s. suc. bro. as 3rd Lord Ashburnham, 16 June 1710; cr. Earl of Ashburnham 14 May 1730.
Guidon and maj. 1 Horse Gds. 1707, col. 1713–15; col. of horse Duke of Ormond’s regt. 1713; dep. gov. and dep. warden of Cinque Ports June 1713–14; ld. of bedchamber to Prince of Wales 1728–June 1731; capt. yeomen of the guard Nov. 1731–d.1
As early as 1702 Ashburnham’s father had ordained that his second son should have a military career and in 1706 sought a commission for him from the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†) in the horse guards. He commended the 19-year-old to the duke, hoping ‘his education is such as will never dishonour the near relation he has in blood to your Grace’, and on a later occasion as having ‘all the disposition in the world to serve, and if I may believe characters he is a pretty fellow both in languages and exercises becoming his age’. Accordingly, in January 1707, young Ashburnham was gazetted. In 1708 he stood unsuccessfully for Rye where his father had an interest, but in February 1710 he became MP for Hastings in succession to his elder brother William*, who the previous month had vacated the seat on succeeding to his father’s peerage. His sojourn in the lower House lasted only until June when, upon William’s death without issue, the barony passed to him. There is no indication of Ashburnham’s political comportment in the Commons. Indeed, his army commission may have given him little chance to attend. In the summer, however, he so vehemently rebuffed Lord Poulett’s attempt to induce him to join the Harleyite Tories in the Upper House as to leave no doubt that in spite of his Tory family background, his own sympathies were uncompromisingly Whig. During their encounter, Poulett tried to provoke Ashburnham on the subject of Lord Portland’s recent promotion over him in the horse guards and trusted he would ‘always be a zealous server of his country and join with the Queen and her party’.
The youth, with patience, heard him a full hour, then told him, ‘My Lord, I am not sensible of any injury done me in my Lord Portland’s preferment. Methinks ’tis an honour done the nation to have the guards commanded by one of his quality etc., and I think it an honour to serve under him, for which reason I will keep my commission. Indeed, had that empty-headed, ridiculous etc. Duke of Beaufort [a Tory] been preferred I should have took it for an affront and have thrown up the next day. As to the other part of your discourse [that] it tends to a vote, I will deal with you as an honest man. I design you none and, to prove myself sincere, may my estate sink under ground, my tenants be ruined, my family perish, and myself damned if ever I give you a vote.’
However, Ashburnham’s words turn out to be those of an impressionable and politically undecided young man. His marriage just a few months later, in October, to a daughter of the Duke of Ormond, placed him firmly in the Tory orbit. That he subsequently acted as a Tory, or at least as a Court supporter, is indicated by the remark Ormond made to Jonathan Swift a few days after Lady Ashburnham’s death in childbed early in January 1713, ‘that he was afraid the Whigs would get him again’. Swift, who had been a devoted admirer and friend of Lady Mary, had little time for Ashburnham and alluded to his profligate nature: ‘her lord’s a puppy, and I shall never think it worth my while to be troubled with him now that he has lost all that was valuable in his possession’. Ormond’s anxiety to sustain Ashburnham’s support for the administration can be seen the same month, when he gave him the colonelcy of his own regiment of horse, and in June when he nominated him as his deputy as warden of the Cinque Ports.2
For a while, Ashburnham continued supporting the Tories in the Lords, and his younger brother Bertram stood, unsuccessfully, as a Tory candidate for Sussex in 1715. But in the early years of Hanoverian rule he drifted over to the establishment Whigs, and the conferment on him of court office at the opening of George II’s reign, followed by his promotion in the peerage to earl, confirmed his political redemption. None the less, his enjoyment of these honours was clouded by ill-health and chronic financial problems. He squandered in play, and then in building, the fortune he had obtained through inheritance and his three marriages, and was twice forced to sell off considerable portions of landed property to offset escalating debt. At his death on 10 Mar. 1737, his estates much depleted, and huge debts remaining, his friend Lord Egmont (John Perceval†) mourned him as a ‘shallow, good natured man’. He was buried in the family vault at Ashburnham and was succeeded as 2nd Earl by his only son, John.3
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Andrew A. Hanham
- 1. Edinburgh Courant, 17–19 June 1713.
- 2. E. Suss. RO, Ashburnham mss 844, p. 75, Ld. Ashburnham to Duke of Ormond, 19 Oct. 1702; 846, same to Marlborough, [Feb. 1706]; Add. 61283, ff. 48, 50; Clavering Corresp. (Surtees Soc. clxxviii), 88–89; Swift Stella, 594–6.
- 3. G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 425; Ashburnham mss 4190, 4201, 4202; HMC Egmont Diary, ii. 367.