ASHLEY COOPER, Hon. Anthony William (1803-1877).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1826 - 1 Apr. 1830

Family and Education

b. 4 Oct. 1803, 2nd s. of Cropley Ashley†, 6th earl of Shaftesbury (d. 1851), and Lady Anne Spencer, da. of George, 4th duke of Marlborough; bro. of Anthony Ashley Cooper, Lord Ashley*, Hon. Anthony Henry Ashley Cooper* and Hon. Anthony John Ashley Cooper*. educ. Eton 1817; Christ Church, Oxf. 1821; L. Inn 1823. m. 8 Mar. 1831, Maria Anne, da. of Hugh Duncan Baillie*, s.p. d. 18 Apr. 1877.

Offices Held

Attaché to Vienna embassy 1830; vice-chamberlain to Queen Adelaide 1830-4, treas. and v.-chamberlain 1834-49; master, St. Katharine’s Hosp., Regent’s Park, Mdx. 1839-d.

Dir. Hand in Hand Insurance Co. 1844-d.


Known simply as William Ashley, this Member, a good-natured but ineffectual man, travelled on the continent in 1824 with his elder brother, Lord Ashley, and the following summer was said to have ‘made neat love to Lady Mary Brudenell, which she seemed to like’.1 Lord Ashley being provided with a seat for New Woodstock, William was brought in by their father for the seat he controlled at Dorchester at the general election of 1826, when he expressed his confidence in Lord Liverpool’s ‘able and constitutional ministry’ and was made a freeman of the borough.2 His brother and he, who were respectively described by some female admirers as ‘the sublime and the beautiful’, were expected to follow their father’s Tory principles, but William was inactive in Parliament.3 Lord Ashley nearly despaired of him, writing in his journal that ‘if William, having gained the object of his wishes, do not conduct himself with industry and energetic principle, my heart will be snapped asunder’. Indeed, William’s potential abilities and religious propensities were sometimes rated as high as those of his more prominent brother, who continued to wish him settled in life as ‘perhaps that will alter his whole character’.4

William Ashley voted against Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827, 12 May, and repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb. 1828. He divided against reducing the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July. In May 1828 the cabinet minister Lord Ellenborough suggested his name to the duke of Wellington, the prime minister, arguing that, despite his low profile, ‘we should do well to get [into the government] some young men who stood well in society’.5 Nothing came of this, but in February 1829 he was considered as a possible mover or seconder of the address in favour of Catholic emancipation, with which, according to Ellenborough (for whom he was employed copying letters), he was ‘delighted’.6 He was listed by Planta, the patronage secretary, among those likely to be ‘with government’ on emancipation, but was evidently overruled by his father, who divided against it in the Lords, as his name appears in none of the surviving division lists. Lady Holland noted on 9 Mar. that ‘Shaftesbury is behaving abominably and would not let his second son, William, who had promised, vote the other night [6 Mar. 1829]’; and Lord Ashley, who defied his father on this question, recorded of his brother that ‘to a certainty the earl has won him ... To justify Lord S. is to condemn me. I know that William is always in the hands of that man who last flattered him’.7 William’s only other known votes were against transferring East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., and parliamentary reform, 18 Feb. 1830. He left the House in April that year, ostensibly having been made attaché at Vienna, where the ambassador was Wellington’s brother, Lord Cowley; it is unlikely that he took it up. At the subsequent by-election in Dorchester, one angry constituent declared that his services had ‘amounted to nothing’ and that he had been removed because his conduct had met with Shaftesbury’s disapproval.8

William’s marriage was first declared in mid-1829, when Charles Percy* commented to Ralph Sneyd that ‘I wish for Miss Baillie’s sake, that men had a trousseau, for I never knew anybody’s clothes that would be more advantageously cast off than William’s. They have not only the venerableness but the smell of antiquity’. The engagement was once or twice called off, but was revived ‘after a long flirtation’, Lady Holland observing that ‘money and Lord Shaftesbury were the obstacles. The former seems hardly removed as they will only have an income of £700 per annum’.9 He was eventually married, in March 1831, to Maria Anne Baillie, the daughter of a Scottish soldier and Bristol banker, who had been elected for Rye the year before. By that time he had presumably begun to serve as vice-chamberlain to Queen Adelaide, whose household was established after her husband’s accession in 1830. According to Lady Gower, 30 Jan. 1833:

There are sad stories of Mrs. Ashley’s temper and conduct: that she behaves in the strangest way to the queen, refusing to drive out with her at Windsor and getting up before other people; the intention being to disgust them out of wishing William to retain his place, as she wishes to live abroad. He mentioned her several times in conversation to me and talked of her cough and her chest. I am sorry for him.

Her sister Lady Dover related in reply that she had met Mrs. Ashley ‘looking very handsome, but not very pleasing. How she can show so much temper to such a gentle and amiable being, I do not understand. He looks ill and not in spirits, but talks of her, and of love, and of marriage, as if they were not awkward subjects’.10 He, who was additionally appointed the queen’s treasurer in October 1834, continued as Adelaide’s vice-chamberlain from the death of William IV in 1837 until hers in December 1849. It was she who appointed him to a sinecure at St. Katharine’s Hospital, of which he was the last lay master.11 Ashley, who had long resided in Stable Yard, St. James’s Palace, died at Mentone, France, in April 1877.12

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. G. Battiscombe, Shaftesbury, 20; Add. 52017, Townshend to Fox, 1 Aug. 1825.
  • 2. G.B.A.M. Finlayson, Shaftesbury, 27; Dorset Co. Chron. 8, 15 June 1826; C. H. Mayo, Municipal Recs. of Dorchester, 434.
  • 3. E. Hodder, Life and Work of Shaftesbury (1887), 39.
  • 4. Battiscombe, 24-25; Finlayson, 33, 54, 564.
  • 5. Ellenborough Diary, i. 132.
  • 6. Ibid. i. 334, 336; Add. 40398, f. 87.
  • 7. Finlayson, 30; Lady Holland to Son, 99.
  • 8. Dorset Co. Chron. 8, 15 Apr. 1830.
  • 9. Keele Univ. Lib. Sneyd mss SC12/95; 17/54; Somerset Letters, 25; Russell Letters, ii. 237-8.
  • 10. Howard Sisters, 268, 270-1.
  • 11. C. Jamieson, Hist. Royal Hosp. of St. Katharine, 174, 193.
  • 12. Dorset Co. Chron. 26 Apr.; The Times, 6 July 1877.