ASHBURNHAM, John (1687-1737)

ASHBURNHAM, John (1687–1737)

suc. bro. 16 June 1710 as 3rd Bar. ASHBURNHAM; cr. 14 May 1730 earl of ASHBURNHAM.

First sat 27 Nov. 1710; last sat 20 Apr. 1736

MP Hastings 10 Feb.-16 June 1710

bap. 13 Mar. 1687, 2nd s. of John Ashburnham, Bar. Ashburnham and Bridget, da. and h. of Walter Vaughan of Porthammel House, co. Brecon; bro. of William Ashburnham, 2nd Bar. Ashburnham. m. (1) 21 Oct. 1710, Mary (d.1712), da. of James Butler, 2nd duke of Ormond and 2nd w. Mary Somerset, s.p.; (2) 24 July 1714, Henrietta Maria (d.1718), suo jure baroness Strange, da. and coh. of William Richard George Stanley, 9th earl of Derby, wid. of John Annesley, 4th earl of Anglesey, 1da. d.v.p.;1 (3) lic. 14 Mar. 1724, Jemima, da. and coh. of Henry Grey, duke of Kent and 1st w. Jemima Crewe, 1s. d. 10 Mar. 1737; will 17 Mar. 1733, pr. 24 Mar. 1737.2

Guidon and maj. 1 Horse Gds. 1707, col. July 1713-15; col. of horse duke of Ormond’s Regt. Jan. 1713.

Dep. gov. and dep. warden Cinque Ports June 1713-14; capt. yeomen of the guard. Nov. 1731-d.

Gent. of the bedchamber to Frederick, Prince of Wales Dec. 1728-July 1731.3

Associated with: Ashburnham Place, Ashburnham, E. Suss.; Ampthill, Beds.

As a younger son of a wealthy peer, it was always likely that Ashburnham would end up in Parliament; in April 1705 his father wrote, ‘my sons are both gone in to Sussex full of projects of elections for themselves’.4 Ashburnham was underage at this point and was destined for a military career. Earlier in Anne’s reign, his father had approached John Churchill, duke of Marlborough, for the place of guidion in the guards, and once his son was 18 he recommended him again.5 In May 1706 his father reminded Marlborough of ‘the hopes I had of my second son being made fit in his education for the queen’s service’, outlined his plan for Ashburnham to be guidion ‘in her first troop of guards’ and described him in June as ‘a pretty fellow both in language and exercises becoming his age.’6 After further manoeuvring he was gazetted in January 1707.7

Following his father’s death, and his older brother’s elevation to the House of Lords, Ashburnham took over his brother’s seat of Hastings but his time in the Commons proved to be brief. In the summer of 1710, the unexpected death of his brother from smallpox propelled him into the Lords instead.8 By August his new found status was also pushing him towards matrimony, and it was reported that he was to be married ‘very quickly’ to Lady Mary Butler, youngest daughter of James Butler, 2nd duke of Ormond, ‘as soon as the writings can be done’.9 By 23 Aug. it was reported that ‘all matters are concluded for the marriage’, which Swift called the ‘best match now in England’, as Ashburnham had £12,000 a year and ‘abundance of money’.10 Both his own and his wife’s family traditions suggested that he would have Tory sympathies, but his military background had drawn him into Marlborough’s orbit. Thus, in August 1710 Anne Clavering reported that John Poulett, Earl Poulett (a distant kinsman), had spent an hour trying to win Ashburnham over to the new ministry headed by Robert Harley, the future earl of Oxford, only to be told that ‘may my estate sink under ground, my tenants be ruined, my family perish, and myself damned if ever I give you a vote.’ Lady Clavering was delighted with the ‘glorious young rogue’ and concluded her account by writing ‘is this not a tight Whig? Thank God his brother made room for him’.11 Not surprisingly, in October 1710 Harley listed him as a likely opponent of the ministry.

Ashburnham took his seat on the second day of the 1710 Parliament (27 Nov.) and attended on 58 days of the session, 51 per cent of the total. He took a particular interest in military affairs and his attendances in January and early February of 1711 coincided with discussions of the war in Spain. On 11 Jan. 1711 he joined with a group of Whig peers and entered two protests relating to the conduct of the war. The first was against the resolution that the defeat at Almanza was the responsibility of Henri de Massue de Ruvigny, earl of Galway [I], Charles O’Hara, Baron Tyrawley [I] and General James Stanhope, later Earl Stanhope. The second was against the decision to reject petitions from Galway and Tyrawley. The following day he entered another protest at the decision of the House to censure the conduct of ministers for approving an offensive war in Spain. On 3 Feb. he entered two further protests; both effectively defended the previous ministry against allegations of incompetence in the conduct of the war. He covered a short absence from Parliament between 9 and 13 Feb. by a proxy registered in favour of fellow Whig Charles Mohun, 4th Baron Mohun. Ashburnham was absent from 17 Mar. to 19 Apr. 1711, probably due to ill health, as on 20 Mar. he was reported to be ‘dead or dying of a pleurisy.’12 He was present, though, on 24 Apr. when the bill for repairing the highways between Dunstable and Hockley (Hockliffe) was considered in a committee of the whole before receiving its third reading, then on 9 May he was named as one of the managers of the conference on amendments to the bill.

Ashburnham soon developed a reputation as a man about town, thus on 27 Nov. 1711, Lady Strafford was speculating on the duchess of Shrewsbury being ‘very coquet’ with him, and on the likelihood of a new opera singer becoming his mistress.13 That same month, Swift had charged him with spreading a false rumour in a coffee house that Edward Harley, styled Lord Harley, the future 2nd earl of Oxford, had married the Newcastle heiress.14 Ashburnham attended the prorogations on 13 and 27 Nov., and was present on the opening day of the session, 7 Dec. 1711. Evidently, he supported the amendment to the address to include a reference to ‘No Peace without Spain’, and his name was listed on a forecast of those peers who would support the presentation of the address on the following day. He was also present at a celebratory dinner held on the 8th along with Ossulston and a host of other Whig peers.15 On 12 Dec. he registered his proxy in favour of William Cavendish, 2nd duke of Devonshire. Ashburnham had been forecast on 19 Dec. by Oxford as an opponent of the attempt to admit Scottish peers as peers of Great Britain, but with a query, which probably denotes his likely absence. The proxy was vacated by Ashburnham’s return to the House on 14 Jan. 1712. Ralph Bridges thought it worthy of note that on 20 May he voted against the passage of the bill to appoint commissioners to inquire into grants made since 1688.16 He registered a proxy on 24 May in favour of Devonshire, next being recorded as present on 30 May. Thus, he was not recorded as present on 28 May 1712, although a printed list includes his name among those voting against an address to the queen that his father-in-law, Ormond, should act offensively against France in order to obtain a safe and honourable peace, Devonshire being on the other side of the question.17

Ashburnham’s presumed support for the ministry in this division list is made more interesting because he was the most likely intended recipient of Swift’s pamphlet, published on 31 May, Some Reasons to prove that no Person is obliged by his Principles, as a Whig, to oppose her Majesty or her present Ministry. In a Letter to A Whig Peer.18 Ashburnham, like the recipient, did vote for the ‘No Peace without Spain’ amendment to the address on 7 Dec. 1711; his ‘neighbour’ in Sussex, Charles Seymour, 6th duke of Somerset, had been pivotal in that vote, and he was in possession of a ‘great patrimonial estate’. Most interestingly, the pamphlet referred to the failed grants’ bill (20 May) and to the loss of ‘your vote’, ‘a few days ago’, when the Whigs had been so confident of success as to encourage people to hire places in expectation of ministers being sent to the Tower, a reference to the vote of 28 May.19 Tantalizingly, given the purpose of the pamphlet, Ashburnham does appear to have switched sides, for he supported the ministry on 7 June in a vote on whether to add words to the address in response to the queen’s speech communicating the terms of the peace.20 Ashburnham had attended on 70 days of the session, 65 per cent of the total.

On 2 Jan. 1713, Swift noted that Lady Ashburnham had died at her ‘country house’, or as Thomas Bateman reported on 5 Jan. ‘suddenly on the road out of Sussex’, she being ‘with child and having a cold, Sir D[avid] Hamilton was sent for, who to prevent miscarriage, administered somewhat, or other, and she fell into convulsions’.21 Ashburnham was now clearly in the Tory camp, for when Ormond conversed with Swift on 5 Jan. he referred to the political repercussions of her death, noting that ‘he was afraid the Whigs would get him again’.22 His return to the Whigs was forestalled by his appointment on 26 Jan. 1713 as colonel of Ormond’s regiment of horse. Ashburnham attended the prorogations of 3 and 17 Feb. 1713. Swift included his name as a supporter of the ministry in the list that he drew up before the new session. Ashburnham was present on the opening day of the 1713 session, 9 Apr., attending on 48 days of the session, 73 per cent of the total. He was named to a select committee on the bill allowing his wife’s uncle, Charles Butler, Baron Butler of Weston and earl of Arran [I], to take the oaths relevant to his Irish offices in England. He was also expected to support the ministry over the French commercial treaty. It was presumably to ensure Ashburnham’s continuing allegiance to the Tories that Ormond appointed him deputy warden of the Cinque Ports in June 1713. With Ormond’s regiment slated for disbandment, Ashburnham was accommodated in July 1713 when William Henry Bentinck, 2nd earl of Portland, agreed to sell him the colonelcy of the first troop of horse guards.

Ashburnham missed the first few days of the 1714 session, not arriving until 2 March. He attended on 44 days of the session, 58 per cent of the total and was named only to the committee for privileges. On 5 Apr. he joined with Arthur Annesley, 5th earl of Anglesey, Montagu Bertie, 2nd earl of Abingdon, and William Dawes, archbishop of York, in opposing the motion that the Hanoverian succession was safe under the queen’s government.23 His rebellion proved to be temporary, for on 8 Apr. he was one of the ‘straggling Lords’ who returned to the court in order to amend the address to the queen on issuing a proclamation and reward for the capture of the Pretender, so that it could be issued when she deemed fit.24 However, on 13 Apr. when the House came to debate the queen’s answer to their address on the Pretender of the 8th, the Whigs proposed a further address which was amended by the court. On the main amendment, Ashburnham joined other Hanoverian Tories in opposing the insertion of the term ‘and industriously’ into the address when referring to the fears and jealousies which had been ‘universally’ spread about the threats to the Protestant succession, which was carried for the ministry by two proxy votes.25 This does not seem to have presaged any move away from the court in general, for on 21 Apr. he registered his proxy in favour of Ormond. This proxy may have been necessary for on 24 Apr. it was reported that ‘this morning Lady Betty Stanley died of the smallpox. I believe her fortune comes to [her sister] Lady Anglesey who is to marry Lord Ashburnham.’26 The proxy was vacated on his reappearance in the House on 30 April. Ashburnham was missing from the House from 8 May until 1 June: again this may have been connected to his forthcoming nuptials as his prospective bride may also have fallen ill of the smallpox.27 At the end of May or beginning of June Daniel Finch, 2nd earl of Nottingham, listed Ashburnham as a supporter of the schism bill.

The prorogation on 9 July 1714 was followed on 24 July by his marriage to Lady Anglesey in the royal chapel; this match reinforced his Tory links, she being the sister-in-law of the current earl of Anglesey, and the daughter of Lady Elizabeth Butler, Ormond’s sister. The couple then left London for Sussex, but the death of the queen brought Ashburnham back to London, where he attended on nine of the 15 days of the August 1714 session.28 By the end of August, Ashburnham was preparing for the next election. His Ampthill neighbour, Charles Bruce, Baron Bruce of Whorlton, was informed by a Captain Rolt that Ashburnham had already been written to, it being ‘pretty difficult to find him at home, that we may meet together by your appointments, as soon as we can’ in order to make plans to prevent the Whigs winning the forthcoming elections in Bedfordshire.29 In November 1714 Ashburnham was actively campaigning in the forthcoming Sussex contest for his brother Bertram.30 In January 1715 his name was included on a list of Tories still in office, and he was clearly seen as a potential recruit to the Whig cause. Eventually, he attained office in the household of Prince Frederick and was promoted to an earldom. He died on 10 Mar. 1737 and was succeeded by his son, John Ashburnham, 2nd earl of Ashburnham.


  • 1 E. Suss. RO, ASH 791.
  • 2 TNA, PROB11/682.
  • 3 ASH 791.
  • 4 ASH 845, Ashburnham to E. Bedingfield, 17 Apr. 1705.
  • 5 ASH 846, Ashburnham to Marlborough, n.d. [c. Feb. 1705].
  • 6 Add. 61283, ff. 48, 51.
  • 7 ASH 846, Ashburnham to Marlborough, 23 May 1706; same to A. Cardonnel, 14 Jan. 1707.
  • 8 Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 592.
  • 9 WCRO, Mordaunt mss CR1368/iii/24.
  • 10 Add 28051, f. 241; Jnl. to Stella ed. Williams, 65.
  • 11 Clavering Corresp. (Surtees Soc. clxxviii), 88-89.
  • 12 Add. 70144, E. to A. Harley, 20 Mar. 1710/11.
  • 13 Wentworth Pprs. 214.
  • 14 Jnl. to Stella, 406.
  • 15 TNA, C104/113, Ossulston’s diary, 8 Dec. 1711.
  • 16 BLJ, xix. 162.
  • 17 PH, xxvi. 178.
  • 18 Swift, English Political Writings 1711-1714 ed. Goldgar and Gadd, 17-18, 165-79.
  • 19 Ibid. 165-6, 177.
  • 20 Christ Church, Oxford, Wake mss 17, f. 329; PH, xxvi. 182.
  • 21 Jnl. to Stella, 594; Add. 72500, ff. 125-6.
  • 22 Jnl. to Stella, 596.
  • 23 BLJ, xix. 170; NLS, Wodrow pprs. Lett. Qu. VIII, ff. 82r-83v; Wentworth Pprs. 366; HMC Polwarth, i. 17-18; Boyer, Anne Hist. 683.
  • 24 Wentworth Pprs. 366-7; HMC Polwarth, i. 18-19.
  • 25 Add. 47087, f. 68; Haddington mss, Mellerstain letters 6, Baillie to wife, 13 Apr. 1714.
  • 26 Add. 70147, Lady Dupplin to A. Harley, 24 Apr. 1714.
  • 27 Verney ms mic. M636/55, Sir T. Cave to Fermanagh, 11 May 1714.
  • 28 HMC Portland, v. 476.
  • 29 WSHC, Ailesbury mss 1300/1437.
  • 30 Chatsworth muniments, Compton Place pprs. file 18, no. 23, 25, T. Willard to S. Compton, 8 Nov., 20 Dec. 1714.