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Ashmole, Elias

1. Dates
Born: Lichfield, Staffordshire, 23 May 1617
Died: South Lambeth (virtually London), 18 or 19 May 1692
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 75
2. Father
Occupation: Artisan, Soldier
Simon Ashmole was a saddler, but he spent more time as a soldier, in Ireland and on the continent.
Ashmole certainly implies that he plunged the family into poverty. Although I am accepting this, I do have doubts. Ashmole inherited a house from him.
3. Nationality
Birth: England
Career: England
Death: England
4. Education
Schooling: No University
Lichfield grammar school.
Legal training in London, 1633-8.
Ashmole studied in Oxford in 1645, and was a member of Brasenose College. He took no degree, but he must have developed a considerable affection for the university, as his later benefaction testifies.
Oxford conferred an M.D. on him in 1669; I do not list this degree.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Astrology, Alchemy
Subordinate: Botany
Although he never published on astrology, Ashmole became deeply interested in it about 1645 and never lost his fascination for it.
In alchemy he published Fasciculus chemicus (1650), Theatrum chemicum britannicum (1652), and The Way to Bliss (1658).
Ashmole became a simpler in Oxford and developed a fair knowledge of plants.
About 1660 he became primarily an antiquarian. He published quite a few books in that area and gathered a collection that he gave to Oxford, along with Tradescant's collection, which had been given to him.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Personal Means, Government
Secondary: Law, Patronage
Ashmole established a law practice in 1638, and for a few years law was his principal means of support.
His marrige of 1638 may have provided him with independent means, although this is unclear. Josten thinks that there was no dowry. However, it is worth noting that she was a spinster fourteen years older than Ashmole and from a family of prosperous gentry. In any case, this first wife died in 1641.
A royalist in the Civil War, he was appointed by Charles I to collect the excise in Staffordshire in 1644. Appointed commissioner, receiver and registrar of Excise of Worcester, 1645. Controller and assistant master of Ordnance in Worcester, 1646.
In 1649 he married a well-to-do widow, Lady Manwaring, who was twenty years his senior; it was her fourth marriage. Her estate established Ashmole's fortunes, even though he ceased to receive the income from her estate after her death in 1668. In every way except for Ashmole's finances the marriage was a disaster.
With the Restoration Ashmole's fortunes really looked up. He was appointed Comptroller and Auditor of the Excise and continued with the Excise until his death. Charles also appointed him Windsor Herald in the same year 1660. He was also appointed Secretary and Clerk of the Courts of Surinam (duties and recompense unknown).
8. Patronage
Types: Government Official, Aristrocrat, Court Official
In 1633 James Pagit, Baron of the Exchequer (I gather this makes him a judge), whose second wife was the sister of Ashmole's mother, brought him to London to live in his house and continue his education in music. Ashmole studied law with Pagit's sons. It seems manifest that the Pagit connection made possible Ashmole's first marriage above his station.
In 1640 Lord Keeper Finch employed him for a time until Finch was forced to flee the country.
Apparently Baroness Kinderton, whom he met through his wife's family, who were gentry, rather adopted Ashmole, and Peter Venables, Baron Kinderton, became his patron.
The process is unclear but Ashmole clearly charmed circles of gentry and nobility. Note his success in marrying a woman (to be sure, a spinster fourteen year older than he) well above his station. And during the early fourties Ashmole successfully insinuated himself into royalist circles in Oxford. Once he acquired knowledge of astrology (though this was only about 1645), I suspect it increased his attractiveness. The King, in 1645 inserted his name in the commission instead of that of one John Hanslopp who had originally been appointed.
Charles II granted him the position of Comptroller and Auditor of the Excise for the city of London in September of 1660, and Comptroller of the entire Excise in October of the same year. This position gave him more than enough money for living. The King also granted him the office of Windsor Herald and full power and authority to keep accounts of all entries, receipts and payments. He was given the right to peruse, to collect, and to transcribe any documents he might wish to use in his work. His position in the Herald's office was strengthened by a royal warrant in the October of 1660 which granted him precedence over the others newly appointed. In 1661 the King also made him Secretary and Clerk of the Courts of Surinam for life. Along with his offices Ashmole performed various commissions for Charles, such as caring for the King's medals.
Ashmole dedicated his book on the Garter (The Institutions, Laws, and Ceremonies of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, 1672) to Charles II, and gave the first presentation copy, richly bound, to the King. Charles granted him a pension of L400 from the customs on paper. In the presentation copies to six foreign princes who were members of the order, Ashmole inserted specially printed dedications to them. From these came gifts of a gold chain and medal (the King of Denmark) and a similar gift from the Elector of Brandenberg. The other rulers also acknowledged the gift.
In 1677 Ashmole was offered the post of Garter King at Arms; he arranged for it to be conferred instead on his then father- in-law (by his third marriage), William Dugdale.
When his second marriage made him wealthy;, Ashmole became something of a patrong himself--for example to George Wharton, a fellow royalist and astrologer, who dedicated a book to him in 1652. In 1656 Nathaniel and Thomas Hodges dedicated a translation of Maier's Themis aurea to Ashmole. Also a book on astrology in 1657 was dedicate to him, and in 1655 one on plants. And in fact there were quite a few more dedications throught the rest of his life. In 1682 or 83 he bequeathed the Tradescant collection, which he had received, together with his own collection to Oxford--the initial source of the Ashmolean Museum.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Pharmacology
He was deeply interested in the medicinal uses of plants.
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: Royal Society
Informal connections: Friendship and correspondence with G. Wharton, W. Lilly, J. Heydon, Dr. Dee, W. Backhouse, R. Plot, M. Lister and many other mathematicians, astrologers and naturalists.
Royal Society, 1661, but he was not active in it.
  1. Elias Ashmole, 5 vols., ed. with a biographical introduction by C.H.Josten, (Oxford, 1966). Volume one is the biography. I suppose this has to be the leading source, but it can hardly be called a penetrating book.
  2. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-1950), 1, 644-6. Biographia Britannica, 7 vols. (London, 1747-63), 1, 223-36.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University
Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.
1995 Al Van Helden
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