Robert Ashley (writer)

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Robert Ashley (1565 – October 1641) was an English writer of the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I, and Member of Parliament for Dorchester.[1]


He was the son of Anthony Ashley of Damerham and Dorothy Lyte,[1] daughter of John Lyte, esq. of Lytes Cary of Somerset. He was the younger brother of Anthony Ashley, 1st Baronet of Wimborne St Giles and the older brother of Sir Francis Ashley of Dorchester.[2][3][a]

Ashley was at the Grammar School under the headmaster Hadrian Saravia, at Southampton. At the age of thirteen he continued his studies at the Cathedral School in Salisbury with Adam Hill.[citation needed] Wood says he became a fellow commoner of Hart Hall in 1580, and does not speak of his being a member of any other college in Oxford University. From his autobiography that he transferred to Magdalen College, Oxford.[1]

Ashley was granted his BA degree in 1582 and was named fellow in 1583. He was made Master of Arts in 1587.[citation needed] In 1588 he entered New Inn and was admitted to Middle Temple in 1588.[citation needed] He was called to the Bar in 1595 after travelling to France. His mind was too mercurial for law, and he gave himself to the study of Dutch, French, Spanish, and Italian. "Finding the practice of law", says Wood, "to have ebbs and tides, he applied himself to the learning of the languages of our neighbours, to the end that he might be partaker of the wisdom of those nations, having been many years of this opinion, that as no one soil or territory yieldeth all fruits alike, so no one climate or region affordeth all kind of knowledge in full measure".[1] [b]

Ashley was elected Member of Parliament for Dorchester in 1597.[4] He lived for many years in the Middle Temple, dying in October 1641, leaving no descendants.[2][5] He was buried in the Temple Church, leaving his personal library to re-establish a library at Middle Temple.[1] The collection consisted of over 4000 volumes.[citation needed]

Literary background and published works[edit]

Ashley wrote during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I, is called by Wood, in his Athenæ Oxonienses, "an esquire's son and Wiltshire-man born". When Ashley was a boy he delighted in reading Bevis of Hampton, Guy of Warwick, Valentine and Orson, Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and later the Decameron of Boccace and the Heptameron of the Queen of Navarre.[1] His principal works are:[1]

  • Urania, in Latin verse, London, 1589, 4to, translated from the French of Du Bartas;
  • The Interchangeable Course, 1594, fol., translated from the French of Louis le Roy;
  • Almansor, the learned and victorious King that conquered Spain, his Life and Death, London, 1627, 4to, translated from the Spanish (In the preface to Almansor, he speaks of having been in the library of the Escorial, where, he says, he saw a glorious golden library of Arabian books[1]);
  • Relation of the Kingdom of Cochin-China, containing many admirable rarities and singularities of that country, London, 1633, 4to, translated from the Italian of Christ. Barri;
  • David Persecuted, translated from the Italian of Malvezzi, London, 1637.


  1. ^ His older brother, Sir Anthony Ashley inherited the family estates at Wimborne St Giles. He was the grandfather of Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury.(Ashley 1947, p. [page needed])
  2. ^ Wood obtained this quote from Ashley's own Vita which is now (MS Sloane 2131).


  • Ashley, Robert (1947). Heltzel, Virgil Barney, ed. Of honour. University of Michigan: Huntington Library. p. [page needed]. 
  • Burke, John; Burke, Sir John Bernard (1838). A genealogical and heraldic history of the extinct and dormant baronetcies of England. London: Oxford University, Scott, Webster, and Geary,. p. 18. 
  • Hasler, P. W. (1981). "ASHLEY, Robert (1565-1641), of Damerham, Wilts.". The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603. Boydell and Brewer.