ASHBURNHAM, John (d.1417), of Ashburnham, Suss.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Jan. 1397
Sept. 1397

Family and Education

s. and h. of John Ashburnham of Ashburnham. m. 1s.2

Offices Held

Sheriff, Surr. and Suss. 9 Dec. 1395-1 Dec. 1396, 29 Nov. 1402-5 Nov. 1403, 4 Nov. 1409-29 Nov. 1410

Commr. of inquiry, Surr., Suss. Nov. 1397 (Salman estates); to collect an aid, Suss. Dec. 1401; of arrest Aug. 1403; array Nov. 1403, May 1415.


The Ashburnhams first emerged as small landowners in the parish of Ashburnham in east Sussex towards the close of the 12th century. Following the execution for treason of Bartholomew Ashburnham in 1322, the manor passed to his brother John (d.1335) and then to the latter’s son John, the father of the future shire knight.3 John the father did long-lasting harm to the family fortunes by his improvidence: in the 1360s he was frequently sued for debt, and on more than one occasion his creditors had him imprisoned in the Fleet. This led to the enforced sale of land in Surrey, followed by the leasing out of Ashburnham itself. Early in 1371 John senior was found to have defaulted on a debt for £200; an order went out for his arrest, but he is not recorded thereafter.4

Of rather different character was the shire knight’s uncle Roger, who became a prominent figure among those engaged in the administration of Sussex in Richard II’s reign, and was able to acquire on his own account at least five manors in that county and in Kent. Young John became head of the family only after his uncle’s death in about 1392, although he is probably recorded earlier. Thirty years previously his father had put in a claim to property in London belonging to a recently deceased kinsman, Henry Grofherst, rector of Horsmonden, so our John Ashburnham may well have been he who as ‘of London’ stood surety in July 1386 for the appearance before the King’s Council of a chaplain named John Ellis in connexion with a suit brought by the archdeacon of Sudbury, and who, in company with the same chaplain, was himself to be arrested and taken before the Council two months later. By 1391 Ashburnham could exert sufficient influence at Court to secure a royal pardon for a Kentish man convicted of manslaughter.5 In the spring of 1393 he paid a fine of £2 for failure to assume knighthood as required by royal proclamation; and, as is indicated by the note ‘loco militis’ applied to him on both parliamentary returns for 1397, he remained an ‘esquire’. His first election to the Commons followed shortly after the end of his shrievalty of 1395-6, and it was as a former sheriff that he purchased a royal pardon in February 1398 — just after the dissolution of his second Parliament.6

As ‘of Sussex’, in 1400 Ashburnham provided securities in Chancery for a man from Norfolk, which may suggest that he was the Ashburnham who held property at Egmere in that county, in part as a tenant of the earl of Arundel. Two further terms as sheriff were to follow in Henry IV’s reign, but he was never again, apparently, elected to Parliament. Little is known of his personal transactions during this period, although he was evidently on good terms with members of the Halle family, to whom his estates had once been mortgaged, and in particular with John Halle II*, on whose behalf he acted in 1404 as a trustee of the Sussex manor of West Preston. In August 1414 he took out royal letters of protection to cover his membership of the retinue of the duke of Clarence at Guines castle, and since these letters were renewed a year later it may be inferred that he also served under Clarence in Henry V’s army at the siege of Harfleur. Shortly before February 1416 he was imprisoned by order of Thomas, earl of Dorset, the admiral, in connexion with his having acted as a pledge for Richard Cryse, party to a prolonged suit in the admiral’s court, notwithstanding that an appeal was pending. A royal commission was set up to hear his case.7

By this late stage in his career Ashburnham appears to have been quite comfortably placed, with an annual income from his property at Ashburnham and at Codsheath in Kent estimated at £25. Furthermore, he had expectations of inheriting four of his uncle Roger’s manors on the death of the latter’s widow, and in November 1417 he enfeoffed the two Halle brothers and other friends of his reversionary interest in the same.8 However, he was not to see his hopes realized, for he died on the 22nd of that month. He was buried in the church of St. Magdalene at Bermondsey.9 Ashburnham left his affairs in considerable disorder. His late uncle’s manors became the subject of prolonged litigation, beginning immediately after his death when his son Thomas seized Scotney by force, and leading to the eventual sale of the reversions of that and two other manors by his feoffees. John was supposed to have paid Roger Ashburnham’s executors £100 to secure his title to Ewhurst, but had evidently failed to do so. Nevertheless, he had instructed them to convey the manor to the influential Sussex knight, (Sir) John Pelham*, ‘for many grete benefetis by hym done in dyverse wises to the same John Assheburnham’. In 1419 the Halles were required to enter into recognizances in 1,000 marks with the chancellor, as guarantee that they would hand over to John’s executors the sum they had received from Pelham, in order that his creditors might be satisfied. The heir was still engaged in lawsuits over Ewhurst more than 30 years later.10

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. Elected ‘loco militis ’ on both occasions: C219/9/12,13.
  • 2. Vis. Suss. (Harl. Soc. liii), 17 gives Ashburnham’s mother as Mary Isseley of Sundridge, Kent and his wife as Elizabeth Finch, but no evidence has been found to substantiate this pedigree. The account in Cat. Ashburnham Archs. ed. Steer, p. viii splits the career of the shire knight between two John Ashburnhams.
  • 3. VCH Suss. ix. 127.
  • 4. CPR, 1364-7, pp. 84, 213; Surr. Feet of Fines (Surr. Arch. Colls. extra vol. i), 137; CCR, 1369-74, pp. 293, 295-6, 419; C131/19/16.
  • 5. C1/19/289; Cal. Wills ct. Husting London ed. Sharpe, ii. 65; CCR, 1385-9, p. 251; CPR, 1385-9, p. 260; 1388-92, p. 511.
  • 6. E401/592, 17 Apr.; C67/30 m. 30.
  • 7. CCR, 1399-1402, p. 118; Feudal Aids, iii. 652; Suss. Feet of Fines (Suss. Rec. Soc. xxiii), no. 2758; HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, i. 26; DKR, xliv. 556, 574; CPR, 1413-16, p. 398; N.H. Nicolas, Agincourt, 375.
  • 8. Feudal Aids, vi. 477, 527; CP25(1)240/83/24; VCH Suss. ix. 266.
  • 9. C1/19/281.
  • 10. C1/19/280-90, 69/289, 357; CCR, 1419-22, p. 43; CP25(1)240/83/29.