Edmund Ashfield (Catholic agent)
Edmund Ashfield (1576 – ca. 1620) was an English Catholic from Tattenhoe in Buckinghamshire. He was educated at St Mary Hall, Oxford. In 1599 he travelled to Edinburgh to meet James VI of Scotland. The resident English diplomat organised his kidnap and rendition apparently in the belief that Ashfield was an agent of James VI and working to further his succession to the English throne. In 1606, Ashfield was involved in the rebuilding of Ashridge Priory for Sir Thomas Egerton. In 1612, the author Henry Peacham dedicated his Graphice, or the Auncient Arte of Drawing and Limning to Ashfield, by then Deputy-Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire. An aunt or cousin Cecily Ashfield was married to the Lord Chancellor Sir John Fortescue of Salden. Edmund's uncle Thomas Ashfield was a bailiff for the Earl of Oxford in 1571, and Edmund was Thomas's heir in 1609.
Mission to Scotland
Edmund Ashfield wrote to James VI offering the advice that he ought to publish books setting forth his claim to the succession to Elizabeth I of England, and showing how he could gain support and rule. This approach was in response to the Jesuit position on the succession, set out in the pseudonymous succession tract by "R. Doleman". It was therefore in the period 1594–8.
Ashfield obtained a pass to enter Scotland from Peregrine Bertie, Baron Willoughby, Governor of Berwick upon Tweed and was helped in Scotland by Robert Ker of Cessford. Ashfield spoke to James VI twice, in Edinburgh and during the King's hunting at Colinton. An agent of the Earl of Essex, Thomas Weyman, later wrote that Ashfield had discussed the possibility of James becoming King of England over dinner with some noblemen. The Earl of Cassilis joked; "Truly the Englishmen are good husbandmen, and have so well manured the grounds their grounds that we shall find a goodly and pleasant dwelling there when we come." Weyman thought that Ashfield's activities would turn James against the Earl of Essex.
On the beach
When the English ambassador in Scotland, William Bowes and Willoughby discovered Ashfield's plans they organised a kidnap. John Guevara, the Deputy Warden of the East Marches and Willoughby's cousin, and three assistants were sent to Edinburgh. Willoughby later attributed the plan to his servant Waterhouse. They met Ashfield on the sands at Leith where he was riding with his Scottish friends and, it was alleged, gave him drugged wine, described as if "some opium had been given him with his sugar in his wine, which so bedulled his senses as he wist not what he did for the time." Then he was driven away to Berwick in the English ambassador's coach while thinking he was getting a lift back to Edinburgh. Guevara's team were armed only with the rapiers and daggers that they normally carried. Willoughby had also organised a ship to lie off Prestonpans to give support if necessary. Ashfield's papers too were seized in Edinburgh and taken to Berwick. Willoughby wrote to Robert Cecil explaining his actions on 13 June 1599, and refused to return Ashfield to Scotland.
James VI was unsurprisingly indignant at this activity and wrote to Willoughby on 14 June 1599 demanding Ashfield's return or an explanation for "the taking away violentlie out of the hart of our country and in sight of our chief palais and eyes of our counsale, ane Inglis gentilman." However, Willoughby reported that the Protestant clergy of Edinburgh were pleased with the taking of an enemy of religion.
William Bowes, was forced into virtual house-arrest, and reportedly imprisoned at Edinburgh Castle. He was recalled and left Scotland shortly afterwards. Another English diplomat, George Nicolson, was not involved but felt he was endangered. Ashfield meanwhile was kept prisoner with two Yeomen of the Guard as his warders. James VI wrote to Elizabeth on 30 April 1601 mentioning Ashfield and the unfortunate consequences of his visit to Scotland.
Ashfield was returned to favour in England when James became King, knighted at the Tower of London on 14 March 1604, given the lease of Whaddon Priory, and in April 1604 he was admitted as one of his Majesty's pensioners in ordinary.
Ashfield's abduction was recorded as a 'heist' in a near-contemporary Scottish chronicle. This continuation of the Historie of King James the Sext follows the English letters by describing Ashfield as favoured by James VI;
"Sir William Bowes, ambassador for hir majestie, used a slight (deceitful) stratageme by exposing sum of his craftie gentilmen to beare cumpanie with an Inglish gentilman of account whom the king favorit for certen secret occasinis betuix them, and heistit the man a cosh (on a coach), maid haistie depesh (despatch) of him towart Ingland, for the whilk his majestie was exceiding angrie; and therfore causit the lodging of the said ambassador to be ombeset at all partis (surrounded) least he sould escape. Bot that matter was sone pacefeit."
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