ASHBY, William (d.1593), of Clerkenwell, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

2nd s. of Everard Ashby of Loseby, Leics. by Mary, da. of Robert Baud of Somerby, Leics., wid. of William Berkley of Wymondham, Leics. educ. Peterhouse, Camb. 1551, MA 1566; G. Inn 1556; incorp. Christ Church, Oxf. 1566; studied in Paris. unm.

Offices Held

?J.p. Mdx. by 1580; ambassador to Scotland 1588-90.


Ashby came of an old Leicestershire family. In 1567 he received valuable leases in Leicestershire and Yorkshire from the Crown in satisfaction of a debt of over £240 owed to his father by the attainted Duke of Suffolk. He may have been the Mr. Ashby, one of certain Middlesex justices of the peace to whom the Privy Council wrote in July 1580; if so, he must have been settled in the county for some time. His foreign service had begun by 1576, when he was taking letters from Walsingham to the Continent. Between that date and 1588 he was often employed in Europe as a confidential messenger to and from English agents at Brussels, Frankfurt, Augsburg and other cities. In July 1578 he sent Walsingham a long report from Dunkirk, and in 1582 and the following year there are references to him at Antwerp and Cologne. About this time he sent Walsingham several letters from Augsburg, whence in August 1582 he set off for England with despatches for the Queen. Early in Edward Stafford II, writing from Paris to Walsingham, described Ashby, who was about to bring the ambassador’s ‘packet’ to England, as ‘Mr. Vice-Chamberlain’s man’. If this means that he was working for (Sir) Christopher Hatton I, it is the only instance that has come to light.

In June 1588 he was appointed ambassador to the Scottish court. According to one of James VI’s courtiers, this surprised the King

whom I found not looking ... to see any gentleman upon a sudden sent unto him ... except he had been a man of great calling, and one who should have come fully instructed to satisfy him in all points.

The writer said he had told the King that Ashby, who may have visited Scotland with Walsingham in 1583, was a ‘particular friend’ of the Earl of Angus and also a ‘near kinsman’ to a certain Mr. Fowler, ‘his Highness’s servant’. Ashby’s main commission was evidently to prevent the King from lending assistance to Spain in the current crisis. In February 1589 the Queen instructed Ashby to persuade James to hasten the departure out of his kingdom of the 500 Spaniards who were there. Other duties included attempts to obtain redress for the Queen’s northern subjects recently spoiled by Scottish raiders; efforts to recover property seized by a Scottish pirate; and the giving of guarantees that interference with Scottish merchants in England would be punished.

In January 1590 Ashby quitted his post, for reasons not altogether clear. It has been suggested that the cause was ill-health, but more than six months earlier he had complained to Burghley, who he considered had prevented him from gaining valuable leases from the bishopric of Ely, that he could not afford to stay in Scotland unless his allowance were raised or other grants obtained for him. ‘I have neither land nor lease to sell or pawn, and sithence my coming hither my house in London robbed and my apparel and household stuff taken away to the value of £200’. However, his relationship with Burghley evidently continued to flourish, since he was still regarded as a useful contact by those seeking the lord treasurer’s patronage.

It was probably Ashby’s cousin and namesake who was named by the Privy Council in 1592 as among the ‘better sort’ in Leicestershire thought fit by their lordships to act as jurors in an important civil action there. On the other hand, it was evidently Ashby himself who, in July 1593, was granted the lands of a certain recusant, Charles Waldegrave, to farm, paying the Queen an agreed rent.

Ashby’s late return to Parliament in 1586 was probably due to the 3rd Earl of Rutland, who had previously nominated Sir Henry Bagnall at Grantham before Bagnall had made sure of a county seat. No direct connexion between the Earl and Ashby has been found: perhaps the Earl passed the nomination to either Sir Francis Walsingham or Sir Christopher Hatton. In 1593 he was nominated by Lord Lumley, with whom he may have had dealings in the north and who, at that time, had influence at Chichester. Ashby, as the mayor observed, was ‘a mere stranger unto this place ... unknown to us all, and only liked and allowed of by your Lordship’s commendations’.

His His will, made and proved in December 1593, left £100 to a son of his cousin William Ashby, with the proviso that it should be entrusted during the boy’s minority to another cousin, George Ashby of Quenby, who was to have £20 for his own son. Ashby’s heir and executor was his nephew Robert Naunton, who had accompanied him to Scotland and who was later secretary of state. One Cecily Naunton attempted to upset the will and submitted claims as the deceased’s next of kin, but the will was upheld by sentence on 13 Feb. 1594.

N. and Q. (ser. 11), iv. 105; Vis. Leics.(Harl. Soc. ii), 14; APC, xii. 92; xvi. 338-9; xvii. 78, 437; xxii. 237, 243; xxiv. 363; PRO Index 6800; Leics. Arch. Soc. xvi. 19; CPR, 1566-9, p. 8; Zurich Letters (ser. 2) (Parker Soc.), ii. 285; CSP For. 1575-7, pp. 557, 574; 1578-9, pp. 46-9; 1582, pp. 309, 315, 355, 406; 1583 and Add. pp. 303, 603-4, 606, 624, 626; 1585-6, p. 492; HMC Hatfield, iii. 337, 339, 448; iv. 138; Cooper, Ath. Cant. ii. 79; CSP Dom.1581-90, pp. 580, 696; CSP Scot. x. 77-8; Egerton 2598, f. 277; PCC 86 Neville, 14 Dixy.

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: J.E.M.


  • 1. Did not sit for the duration of the Parliament.