St George Ashe
St. George Ashe (1658-27 February 1718), D.D., was a Church of Ireland cleric who served successively as Bishop of Cloyne, Clogher and Derry in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. He is remembered now chiefly for his alleged role in performing a secret marriage between Jonathan Swift and "Stella".
Background and early life
Ashe was born in County Roscommon in 1658, younger son of Thomas Ashe and his wife Mary St George, daughter of Richard St George of Athlone. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, where he became a Fellow, and Professor of Mathematics; he afterwards acted as secretary and chaplain to the British Embassy at Vienna. Returning to Ireland in 1692, he was made Provost of Trinity College, Dublin.
He was consecrated Bishop of Cloyne in 1695, and promoted to the see of Clogher in 1697, and to that of Derry in 1717. He spent a large sum on refurbishing the episcopal palace at Clogher. He refused to become Archbishop of Tuam in 1716, on the ground that the stipend was inadequate. He had a reputation for being an absentee bishop and was sharply reprimanded on that account by William King, Archbishop of Dublin, who wrote that the enemies of the church were led by his conduct to conclude that "bishops are not necessary, since they can so long be spared", and pleaded with him to "think of coming home as soon as possible".
He occasionally contributed to the proceedings of the Royal Society, of which he was a member. He died in Dublin, 27 February 1718, and was buried in Christ Church. He bequeathed his mathematical library to the College.
Two years before he died, he sent his son, also St George Ashe, on a Grand Tour with Fellow of Trinity College, the philosopher George Berkeley, as his tutor. Having been conducted on one of the most extensive tours of the period, including the length and breadth of Italy, including Sicily, Ischia, Calabria and Puglia, the young Ashe died, presumably without having seen his father again, in Brussels in 1721. By his wife (and distant cousin) Jane St George, daughter of Sir George St George of Dunmore, County Galway and Elizabeth Hannay, the Bishop as well as his son had one daughter Elizabeth, who married as his second wife Sir Ralph Gore, 4th Baronet, and had numerous children, including Ralph Gore, 1st Earl of Ross.
Despite his record as an absentee bishop, Ashe was much loved by his friends. Joseph Addison wrote to Swift to commiserate him on Ashe's death, and said that Ashe was a man "who has scarce left behind his equal in humanity, agreeable conversation and all kinds of learning".
Swift and Stella
Bishop Ashe was a lifelong friend of Jonathan Swift, whose tutor he had been at Trinity. In 1726 Esther Johnson ("Stella") the lifelong companion of Swift, is said to have confided to her friends that Ashe had performed a secret marriage ceremony, with no witnesses, between herself and Swift in 1716. Whether or not her claim was true has been the subject of endless debate, and historians conclude that it is impossible to be certain one way or the other.
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