ASTLEY, Jacob (1651-89)

ASTLEY, Jacob (1651–89)

suc. fa. Sept. 1662 (a minor) as 3rd Bar. ASTLEY.

First sat 18 Feb. 1673; last sat 4 Mar. 1689

bap. 13 Jan. 1651,1 1st s. of Isaac Astley, 2nd Bar. Astley and Ann Stydolfe. educ. St. John’s, Camb. 1669. m. bet. 13 Feb. 1677 and 23 Jan. 1678,2 Frances (c.1660-92), da. and coh. of Sir Richard Stydolfe, 1st bt. of Norbury, Mickleham, Surr. and Elizabeth, da. of Sir George Stonehouse, s.p. d. 21 Mar. 1689; admon. 8 May 1689.

Freeman, Maidstone 1683.3

Associated with: Maidstone Palace, Maidstone, Kent.

Astley’s life and parliamentary career is almost as obscure as that of his father. His grandfather’s will of February 1651, left ‘Jacob Astley my grandchild £5 to buy him a sword to maintain the honour of the name’.4 In August 1666, Sir Jacob Astley wrote to a kinsman, Dr. Herbert Astley, about Lady Astley’s need for £60 and remitting it to Maidstone, noting that James Scott, duke of Monmouth, had been at her house in Maidstone and might stay a long time.5 Astley studied at Cambridge, being admitted in January 1669, although in June 1670, William Saywell wrote to Dr. Astley that Lord Astley’s return was ‘daily expected. I saw my Lady at London three days before Whitsuntide when she told he should return presently after that great feast after a full half year’s absence within a fortnight. I should be glad to be serviceable to a nobleman of his hopes were his diligence equal to his parts.’6

At the beginning of January 1673, Dr. Astley, now dean of Norwich, approached Henry Bennet, earl of Arlington, to take Astley under his wing and present him to the king. He stressed the services of the young man’s grandfather to the king and noted that before Parliament was scheduled to meet he would have attained his majority and be able to appear more publicly, ‘his modesty hath somewhat hitherto concealed him.’7 Although the new session opened on 4 Feb. 1673, his writ of summons was not issued until 14 Feb., possibly prompted by a call of the House on the previous day. He took his seat four days later. He was added on 20 Feb. to the committees for privileges and petitions. He then absented himself from the House until mid-March, after which he attended the House almost daily until the adjournment on 29 March. He also attended when Parliament was prorogued on 20 October. Overall he was present on 14 days, 36 per cent of the total. He also attended on one of the four days of the short session which began on 27 October.

Astley was missing when the 1674 session convened on 7 Jan., being excused attendance on the 12 Jan., taking the oaths on the 15th and being added on the 16th to the sessional committees. Overall he attended on 22 days of the session, 58 per cent of the total, the highest of his parliamentary career. He was present for the opening of the first session of 1675 on 14 Apr. and was named to the committees for privileges and petitions. He was present on 19 days of the session, 46 per cent of the total, with his attendance tailing off markedly towards the end of the session. In all he was named to a further three committees. He attended on the opening day of the session of October-November 1675, on 13 Oct., and was named to the committees for privileges and petitions. However, he was present on only one other day, out of a possible 21 attendances.

At some point soon after the death of Sir Richard Stydolfe in February 1677, Astley and James Tryon married Sir Richard’s two daughters and co-heiresses, Frances and Margaret, then aged about 15 and 16 respectively. Astley and Tryon had to pay Stydolfe’s debts but seem to have regarded the investment as worthwhile since as a result they gained properties in the then fashionable Westminster parish of St Giles-in-the-Fields and in Surrey. They also found themselves in dispute with their mother-in-law over Sir Richard’s personal estate. In the course of the dispute Astley and Tryon assured the court that the Stydolfe sisters had married with the full approval of their guardians; Lady Stydolfe was equally insistent that the marriages had been contracted against her ‘will and liking’ and without the consent of their guardians.8

Astley was back in Parliament for the opening of the 1677-8 session on 15 Feb. 1677, when he was named to the committees for privileges and petitions. After attending nine of the first 17 sittings, his attendance thereafter was negligible, totalling only 22 days, 19 per cent overall. He was named to a further three committees. Despite his poor attendance, his political views were clear to Anthony Ashley Cooper, earl of Shaftesbury, who listed him as vile in his analysis of 1677-8. Although Astley had attended the prorogation of 11 May 1678, he was not present for the session of May-July 1678, which began on 23 May. Nor was he present when the next session began on 21 Oct. 1678, first attending on the 29th. He was present on ten days of the session, 17 per cent of the total.

Astley was missing when the new Parliament met on 6 Mar. 1679, and missed the remainder of the abortive first session which ended on 13 March. Although during March 1679 the various lists prepared by Thomas Osborne, earl of Danby, mark him either as an opponent or as doubtful, another list of those absent on 12 Mar. 1679, labelled him as a court lord. After attending on 18 Mar., on 20 Mar. he registered his proxy in favour of Danby’s supporter, James Compton, 3rd earl of Northampton, a peer linked to the family as Herbert Astley had once been his chaplain. The proxy was vacated by his return to the House on 2 May. He was then absent again until 8 May. On 10 May he voted against the appointment of a joint committee to consider proceeding against the impeached lords. He again absented himself after 14 May, possibly leaving London.9 Astley had returned by 26 and 27 May when the main business before the House was the conference concerning the impeached peers; on the latter day, he also probably voted in favour of the right of the bishops to stay in the House during capital cases. Nine out his ten attendances had been in May. He attended 16 per cent of all sitting days in the second session of the Parliament.

Astley was absent when the 1680-1 Parliament convened on 21 Oct., first attending on the 30th. He was present on 12 days of the session, 21 per cent of the total. Two surviving division lists indicate that he voted against rejecting the exclusion bill on its first reading on 15 Nov. 1680, but, confusingly, a third list puts him on the other side of the question. Even if this third list refers to the first question of the day, on whether to put the question that the bill be rejected, it still leaves Astley’s intentions unclear. His last attendance of the session was on 7 Dec. 1680 when he found William Howard, Viscount Stafford, guilty.

Astley failed to attend the Oxford Parliament in 1681, when Danby expected him to be neutral on the issue of his bail. In 1683 he was one of a group of local gentlemen and nobility who offered to become freemen of Maidstone after the surrender of the town’s charter, which suggests sympathy for the Tory reaction.10 He was present when James II’s Parliament opened on 19 May 1685, and attended on nine days, 17 per cent of the total, being named to one committee. He did not attend after the adjournment in July 1685, although he was present at the prorogation on 15 Feb. 1687. By then his support for James II and his policies seems to have become problematic. Canvassing lists during that year variously mark him as uncertain, opposed and undeclared. Subsequent events suggest that Danby was correct in labelling him as one of James II’s opponents.

Although Astley was not present at the Guildhall when the peers met on 11 Dec. 1688, he did attend on 24 Dec. 1688 when they met at the House of Lords to discuss the flight of the king. He also attended on Christmas Day when the assembled peers signed the two addresses, one summoning a Convention and the other asking the prince of Orange to take over the administration until then.11

He was present for the opening of the Convention on 22 Jan. 1689 and was named to the committees for privileges and petitions the following day. He was then absent until 5 Feb. when Parliament discussed whether or not James II had abdicated. Astley was content to agree with the Commons over the use of the word abdicated and that the throne was vacant on 6 Feb., a vote for which Ralph Montagu, 3rd Baron (later duke of) Montagu, later took the credit.12 He took the oaths to the new regime on 2 Mar., although it may be indicative of his standing that he was recorded as Isaac, Lord Astley. In all he attended on ten days of the session, before his death on 21 Mar. 1689, 22 per cent of the available sittings. Although his wife had been pregnant in 1680, he had no surviving children.13 His estate passed to his cousin and namesake Sir Jacob Astley, but the peerage was extinguished. When Anne Astley, a daughter of Edward Astley, the deceased younger brother of Baron Astley, sought naturalization, Sir Jacob, anxious to protect his interests, prepared a proviso to the effect that nothing in the bill should deprive him ‘of any estate right title interest claim or demand out of in or to any manors lands tenements or hereditaments of Jacob Lord Astley’.14 The Stydolfe estates passed to Lady Frances’s nephew Charles Tyron.15


  • 1 Kent HLC (CKS), P6/1/1.
  • 2 TNA, C10/191/3.
  • 3 Maidstone Recs. ed. Martin, 161.
  • 4 Arch. Cant. lxxiii. 133.
  • 5 Bodl. Tanner, 285, f. 181.
  • 6 Tanner 41, f. 158.
  • 7 Tanner 285, f. 183.
  • 8 TNA, C6/133/4; C10/191/3.
  • 9 Tanner, 285, f. 168.
  • 10 Maidstone Recs. 161.
  • 11 Kingdom without a King, 158, 165-7.
  • 12 CSP Dom. 1694-5, p. 138.
  • 13 Tanner 115, ff. 118, 128.
  • 14 Bodl. Rawl. letters 59 no. 260; Huguenot Soc. 4to ser. xviii, 216.
  • 15 Hasted, Kent, ii. 564-5.