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John Ashley

John Ashley (1672-1692)

A notebook showing various entries in the second Earl’s hand records the birth and baptism of his second son:

On the 12th of February 7½ between 6 & 7 a clock in the morning my wife was brought to bed of my second son who was christned the 23 following John he was also born and christened at Exeter howse in the Stran London uncle Lo Exeter Lord Roos & my mother-in-law

(The National Archives: PRO 30/24/19, fol. 167r. The godparents listed here were John Cecil, 4th Earl of Exeter (1628-1678), both maternal uncle to the second Earl and husband to the boy’s maternal aunt; John Manners, the boy’s maternal uncle and future 9th Earl/1st Duke of Rutland (1638-1711); the second Earl’s step-mother, the first Countess of Shaftesbury.)

Legal custody and responsibility for the education of the second Earl’s two sons (and any other children he might have in the future) was settled in March 1674 on their grandfather, the first Earl, but nothing is known of John’s schooling over the following eight years. He seems have been returned to his parents’ care at some point, and in late June 1682 his father sent him to Winchester College. He was still listed as a pupil there in 1685, but may have been absent for a while, as he had to be taken home “in his ague” on 20 February 1684. In February 1686 his father bought his middle son a horse, in November of the same year he noted that he was now sending him to Sherborne School in Dorset. One undated sample of John’s schoolwork has survived: a brief text on “The Roman People”.

John Ashley — “The Roman People”

Hampshire Record Office, Winchester

Malmesbury Papers 9M73 G276

A single sheet, used by John Ashley on one side only; handwriting large, rounded, neat; margin free on left, lines continued to extreme edge of paper at the right; on reverse, in another hand, the words “Relict of Mr John Ashley, son of ye 2d Lord Shaftesby Probably, ye only relict left of him.”

The Roman people, from king Romulus untill Cæsar Augustus, about seven hundred years they did such great feats both in peace, and war, yt if any one compares ye greatness of ye: empire wth its years he may well think it older then it is. For they displayed there ensigns abroad every where, so through out ye world, if they who consider there history may learn ye deeds not of one people but of all mankind; for they were exercised by so many toyls, and dangers yt vallour, and good fortune may seem to have contended to raise there Empire. Wherefore since it is worth while especially to know this as well as ye rest, yet because ye greatness of it is an hindrance to its self & ye variety of matter dulls ye edge of our fancy, I will do like them yt represent ye situation of countries, I will comprise its whole form as it were in a small map, I hope I shall contribute somthing towards the wonder of this illustrious people if I shall shew its greatness in a just conformity to what it appeares in its self.

Jo: Ashley.

By March 1688 his parents accepted that his time at school had been (or still was) something of a disaster and began to consider sending him abroad. They contacted the tutor with whom John’s elder brother was currently in France, but he advised against this option.

When Lord Ashley returned from his Grand Tour in May 1689, John was recovering from smallpox at St Giles’s House. His parents had not come to any decision, but two possibilities were being discussed: sending him to sea or placing him with a private tutor. For Lord Ashley, who was now asked for his thoughts on the matter, the sea was the only course, but he was overruled by his parents. By July 1689 John had entered into some kind of liaison with a nursery maid in the Shaftesburys’ Dorset home. Two letters sent to her have survived, the second certainly, but probably both sent from London: PRO 30/24/22/1, fols 33-6.

July ye 9 1689

Dear Mistris

I arrived late ys morning. Sins it twas my Ill fortune to part from you so suddenly whitch was ye greates greivance to me in ye world though i did not dare to shew it whilst I was there. I begg you yt you would do me ye favour to speak to Gibbart to performe his promis. i have not time to deliver your letter tonight but i wi to morrow as soon as I am able

With an harty tender of my derest affections. I hope i ma subscrib my self

Youer ever loving husband
Jo Ashley

Address: These For Mrs Betty Eams present

Deare Wife

I had writ you a letter on wedsenday according as I did intend but I was frustrated from my designe bereson I was taken very ill of a wind collect and a feavour I hope deare Spouse if you have received your small presant wch was scarce worthy of your exceptance yet I hope you will be so favorable as to lett me know whether you have received it or no. I hear’d a sad repord of you wch I now will tell you, yt is contrary to your father and Mothers will you keep a correspondence with Mr Bushshop with whome if I might desier you yt you would not keep no more such correspondence which to do you will obblege him who subscribes himself

Your ever loving Husband till death
John Ashley

Address: To Elizabeth Eams Servant to ye Right honorable ye Earll of Shaftesbury. Leave this at ye wite hart in Sarum. hum: Prsent
Sealed; postmark: IY 20 [20 July]

It is not clear what the precise nature of this presumably clandestine relationship was or how long it lasted, but towards the end of January 1690 John left (or was sent from) St Giles’s House to go, as his father noted, to sea. He lived in London for a while and was given some tuition there in the skills he would need (e.g. navigation). In July 1691 the second Earl was annoyed to find him still in London, and Lord Ashley was apparently asked to speed things up. Only weeks later, on 12 August, John — with a warrant from the Admiralty, kit, and generous provisions — boarded a navy ship and sailed for the West Indies. The only news we have of him after this is that he was buried in the graveyard of what is now The Cathedral Church of St Michael & All Angels in Bridgetown, Barbados.

Barbados Parish of s:t Michael.
These are to Certifye all whom it may Concerne That the Hon:ble John Ashley Cooper Esq:r was buryed on the second day of April One Thousand Six hundred Ninety and Two in the Parish Church of s:t Michael aforesaid as appeareth by the Register Book thereunto belonging. Witness my hand the Eleventh day of June 1692.

Randolph: Vawdrey Rector
Fran Bond

(PRO 30/24/45/80 Part 1, fol. 21)

The second Earl, his hand now noticeably shakier, added a line to the above-mentioned record of John’s birth:

and deied in April 1692 the 2d

Another member of the family, probably Lady Elizabeth Ashley (born 1681), kept a lock of John’s hair (preserved at the Hampshire Record Office: 9M73/G277).