ASHLEY, Hon. Maurice (c.1675-1726), of Bedford Row, Westminster

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Dec. 1701 - 1702

Family and Education

b. 14 Apr. 1675, 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of Anthony Ashley Cooper†, 2nd Earl of Shaftesbury; bro. of Lord Ashley (Anthony Ashley*).  educ. Winchester c.1682–9; Utrecht (private tutor).  m. lic. 2 June 1709, Catherine (d. 1721), da. of William Popple of St. Clement Danes, London, s.p.1

Offices Held


After spending seven years at Winchester College, Ashley’s attainments were such as to induce his brother, Lord Ashley, to write anxiously to their father in July 1689:

All that is called good breeding is . . . totally lost in him . . . The seven improving years of his life have been sacrificed at Winchester . . . in any other sort of reading he has no manner of tincture . . . There is nothing left to be lost in him, unless he were to be brought to lose some ill qualities that have grown up in the void that others have left, for here has been an acquisition indeed.

Lord Ashley’s recommendation of a sojourn at Utrecht under the guidance of a tutor was accepted and by 1695 Ashley had so far improved that although still a minor he was returned at Weymouth on his father’s interest and thus entered Parliament at the same time as his brother. He was classed as ‘doubtful’ in the forecast for the division on the proposed council of trade on 31 Jan. 1696, though he signed the Association promptly. He was, however, an inactive Member. He did not stand for re-election in 1698, and in a comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments was classed as a Country supporter. Shortly after his father’s death, his brother, now 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury, settled on him an estate of £1,000 p.a.2

At the first 1701 election Ashley was persuaded by Shaftesbury to stand again for Weymouth, and, assured of a ‘secure interest’, he was returned in a contested election. However, somewhat unexpectedly in November, as the next election approached, he was invited to stand for Wiltshire. His brother-in-law, Edward Hooper, wrote to Shaftesbury that he thought the offer should be accepted, because Ashley had ‘heartily embraced this offer and if balked, I fear, will not be agreeable at all’. Ashley also stood at Weymouth once again, and was returned for both constituencies. In December he was classed as a Whig by Robert Harley*, and as a gain for the Whigs by Lord Spencer (Charles*). On 20 Jan. 1702 Ashley elected to sit for Wiltshire.3

Shaftesbury hoped to secure Ashley’s return for Wiltshire a second time in 1702, but the accession of Queen Anne had reduced the Whigs’ influence and Ashley was defeated in a contested election. Shaftesbury’s agent, John Wheelock, informed the Earl on 29 Oct. 1703 that Ashley’s expenses in the last three elections had been about £700, adding,

It is too much for him to spare yet not so much as it cost either of his opposers at the last election, as I am well assured, for which cause it’s said both give out the next . . . I have been asked (and pressed for Mr Ashley’s answer) both in the county of Wiltshire (by several) and by Mr Lewis for Dorsetshire, to know whether Mr Ashley designs to stand again for the first and by the latter whether he will decline that and stand for Dorsetshire . . . I would give no answer to either but that Mr Ashley would be wholly governed by the gentlemen.

The request from Wiltshire was seconded by Lord Somers (Sir John*) in a letter to Shaftesbury, who replied that having in the past ‘with much difficulty . . . prevailed with’ Maurice ‘to act the candidate’s part’, he had now resolved to leave him to his own free choice. This attitude seems to have been the more necessary in that the brothers were on bad terms at this time, with one point at issue being Ashley’s election expenses. He decided to stand for Weymouth instead of Wiltshire, to the annoyance of Shaftesbury, who implied that his choice would entail more expense for the family than if Wiltshire had been accepted. On 28 Dec. 1704 Ashley informed his brother that

I am sorry that my Lord Somers or any one has given you trouble upon my score; but the zeal of the people embarked in an interest to serve the public must excuse their setting any to solicit you. They were pleased to accept the offer of me when they had no reason to claim or think of me; and if in return they now claim me as having a sort of right to me since my first silly compliance in consenting to stand, I own I cannot blame them. Nor should anything but necessity hinder me from allowing their claim, submitting to it and acting accordingly.

Ashley was returned for Weymouth in a contested election in 1705, after which he was classed as a gain for the Whigs by Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer), while he was also noted as a ‘Churchman’ in another analysis of the new Parliament. He voted on 25 Oct. for the Court candidate as Speaker, though he was otherwise an inactive Member.4

Ashley’s resentment against his brother seems to have run very deep, since no sooner was one cause of disagreement removed than another would appear. Shaftesbury had been out of favour with the Court since Anne’s accession, and the ministerial changes since 1705 had not helped as much as he had expected. In the winter of 1707–8 Shaftesbury’s friend Sir John Cropley, 2nd Bt.*, was attempting to use the Court’s difficulties with both the Tories and the Junto to repair the Earl’s relations with Lords Godolphin (Sidney†) and Marlborough (John Churchill†). Some success was achieved but the strategy was threatened by Ashley, of whom Cropley wrote to Shaftesbury on 15 Jan. 1708:

The only thing I am thinking of is your brother, his violence to the Court on your being obliged and considered. His behaviour, I know, will be outrageous, but . . . I am well prepared for this too. He shall lose his aim and not in the least hurt where he will intend it . . . I can plainly tell my lord treasurer his ill behaviour to you, for since he boasts of it, why I mayn’t I can’t see a reason.

However, Cropley’s hope that Ashley would not stand in the forthcoming elections was disappointed, and he was returned again for Weymouth in a contested election. Classed as a Whig in two separate analyses of Parliament before and after the election, in the 1708–9 session he supported the naturalization of the Palatines, while in the following session he voted for the impeachment of Sacheverell.5

For several years Shaftesbury had been urging Ashley to marry, but without success. Finally, Shaftesbury himself decided to take a wife, whereupon Ashley also married, his wife being the daughter of a London merchant and dramatist, William Popple, the nephew of Andrew Marvell and friend of Locke. The licence was dated a month before his brother’s wedding, but either there was some delay before the ceremony was held or he kept it a secret, since a year later Cropley informed James Stanhope* that Shaftesbury’s ‘monster of a brother, after eight years repeated ingratitude of all kinds, has married the old woman I told you of that my lord took to be the cause of all his misbehaviour’. In the same year Ashley successfully contested Weymouth once again. He was classed as a Whig in the ‘Hanover list’ and on 7 Dec. 1711 voted for the motion of ‘No Peace without Spain’. He voted against the French commerce bill on 18 June 1713, but stood down at the election a few months later. Ashley died on 21 Oct. 1726, and was buried at Purton, Wiltshire.6

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Paula Watson


  • 1. Hutchins, Dorset, iii. 594; Surtees Soc. clxxviii. 127.
  • 2. Shaftesbury Letters, 280–1; PRO 30/24/22/4, f. 325.
  • 3. PRO 30/24/20/35, 38, 89, 91, 101–2; 30/24/21/14, 16, 36, 43, 44; 30/24/22/1, f. 91.
  • 4. PRO 30/24/20/77, 87, 147, 186, 207; 30/24/21/ 231, 313–14; 30/24/22/1/67–68, 72; 30/24/22/2/155–6; 30/24/22/5/ 368.
  • 5. Shaftesbury Letters, 383; PRO 30/24/20/144, 150; 30/24/21/ 1–5, 25–26; 30/24/22/1/61–62, 65; 30/24/22/4/318–19.
  • 6. Orig. Letters of Locke, Sidney and Shaftesbury ed. Forster 237; N. and Q. ser. 4, vi. 222; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/C9/31, Cropley to Stanhope, 17 June 1710.