ASHBURNHAM, Sir William, 2nd Bt. (1678-1755), of Broomham Park, Guestling, Suss.
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Family and Education
bap. 1 Apr. 1678, 4th but 1st surv. s. of Sir Denny Ashburnham, 1st Bt.† of Broomham, being 1st s. by his 2nd w. Anne, da. of Sir David Watkins of The Piazza, Covent Garden, Westminster and Glos. m. 7 June 1701, Margaret (d. 1742), da. of Sir Nicholas Pelham*, s.p. suc. fa. as 2nd Bt. Dec. 1697.
Chamberlain of the Exchequer 1710–d.; commr. of alienation office 1717–d., receiver of fines 1735–d.1
Freeman, Seaford 1715.2
The Ashburnhams of Broomham were a distant cadet branch of the main aristocratic line whose seat was at nearby Ashburnham. The two families had been brought into closer union in around 1650 with the marriage of Sir William’s father to a daughter of John Ashburnham† whose nephew was created a baron in 1689. Sir Denny Ashburnham had been too sympathetic towards James II to be employed after the Revolution and had thereafter lived a retired existence, dying in 1697. It was left to his eldest surviving son and successor, William, to resurrect what had been lost of his family’s social and political standing in the Hastings area. Even so, Sir William seems not to have been particularly ambitious for a seat in Parliament. His election in 1710 was primarily owing to the unforeseen death in June of his second cousin, the 2nd Lord Ashburnham (Hon. William*) whose younger brother, Hon. John Ashburnham*, on succeeding to the peerage, was forced to quit his parliamentary seat at Hastings. In agreeing to replace his cousin as MP, Sir William, whose father had represented Hastings in the 1680s, was ensuring that the seat remained firmly within the family’s control. Earlier in the year, in May, he had become a sinecurist under the Whig ministry with his appointment as a chamberlain in the Exchequer court. He may have obtained the post through his father-in-law, Sir Nicholas Pelham, whose nephew (a son of his elder half-brother, Sir John Pelham, 3rd Bt.*) was Henry Pelham*, clerk of the pells since 1698.3
Ashburnham was brought in by the new Lord Ashburnham, a seeming Tory though connected with the previous ministry. Thus his political identity was not clear to the compiler of the ‘Hanover list’ of the 1710 Parliament who marked him as ‘d[oubtful]’. But his antipathy to the Tory ministry can be seen in his vote in favour of the motion for ‘No Peace without Spain’ on 7 Dec. 1711, and on 18 June 1713 when he voted against the French commerce bill and was listed as a Whig. Despite his commitment to opposition, however, he was retained in his Exchequer post even though only held ‘during pleasure’. In 1713, after an inactive three-year spell in the House, he did not stand for re-election. He was nominated by the future Duke of Newcastle to Seaford in 1715, only to resign in February 1717 on accepting another sinecure. Examining the 1715 returns, one parliamentary analyst mistook him for a Tory, assuming, evidently, that he was of the same political cast as his aristocratic cousin. Re-entering the House for Hastings again in 1722, he served uninterruptedly as a supporter of Walpole’s administration until 1741 when ill-health forced him to stand down. He died without issue on 7 Nov. 1755 and was succeeded in the baronetcy by his younger brother Charles.