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* John Penry, the noted Puritan, was born in Brecknockshire in 1559. He
matriculated at Peterhouse, Cambridge, in 1578. The Shrewsbury boy entered
school in February,


Robert Owen, 1 the Herald-at-Arms, to whom we are in-
debted for the interesting MS. The Arms of the Bailiff s, which
is preserved in the school library, is another Shrewsbury
worthy of these days whose name must not be passed over.

No details of the inner life of the school in Ashton's time
have come down to us, but there can be no doubt that the
Ordinances of 1578, of which Ashton was the chief author,
present a faithful picture of the general system of school
management during his mastership. A house and land had
been bought from John Proude in 1551 ; 2 with this, and the
property acquired by the Bailiffs in 1548, together with some
adjacent buildings rented from Mr. Birrington, 3 of which the
freehold was purchased in 1576, Ashton had to do the best
he could. No such establishments as masters' boarding-
houses were known at Shrewsbury in those days. Boys
coming from a distance were " tabled " by residents in the
town willing to receive them into their houses. 4 We are
not told what were the position and duties of the seventeen
boys whom Ashton has entered in the school register as
" Pan tiers " ; 5 but we may fairly conclude that their status

1 Robert Owen was the eldest son of Richard Owen, Bailiff of Shrewsbury in
1564, 1568, and 1573. He entered school in 1571. In after years Robert Owen
became a Herald-at-Arms. He died in November, r632, and was buried at
St. Chad's. A MS. collection of the Arms of the Bailiffs, illuminated by him,
and continued by other hands, was presented to the School library in 1668 by
Joseph Baynes, his son-in-law, who describes Robert Owen as "authorised by the
Court Marshall of England, a deputy Herald for Salop and several other adjacent
counties. "

2 " Paid to John Prowde for a house and other lands and tenements for the free
school 2O;." Extract from Corporation Accounts in Blakeway MSS.

3 "1576. Sept 22. Roger Birrington. gen. s.h. Tho. B. gent, late alderman
deced, grants to David Lloyd John Shele and 10 others (whereof Richard Owen,
jun r , mercer, one) totum illud magnu' messuagin' quondam voc' Shotten place et
unum voc' le Grammar Schole howse in quadam venele' voc' Rotten lane prope le
Castle Gate." Blakeway MSS.

4 A painful incident illustrative of the system of " tabling " boys with residents
in the town is recorded in the Taylor MS. under the year 1590. "This yeare
and the 4 th of May there was a young scholler beinge about XII. or thretteen
yeares owld being burdid at master hamons in Salop hangid himsellffe in the
chamber where he did lye beinge a Walshe boye whose name was Reece ap John
beinge an Idle boy and hatid the scoole."

5 Pantler is derived from pantlerius or pannetarius, a low Latin word which
means properly someone in charge of bread, a keeper of the pantry. The word


was something akin to that of sizars at Cambridge and
servitors at Oxford, and that they were "tabled" at the
expense of the parents of some of their wealthier school-
fellows, for whom in return they performed some menial
offices. In support of this view it should be remarked that
all the Pantlers whose names occur in the register were
"aliens." No mention is made of Pantlers after Ashton's
time, and, in all probability, the institution died out with him.

Allusion has already been made to Ashton's partiality for
dramatic performances, and his skill in arranging them.
With such predilections it is not surprising that he should
have made them a prominent feature of school life at
Shrewsbury. He left it a standing regulation of the school
that, on every Thursday, the highest form should, before
going to play, "declaim and play one Act of a Comedy";
and the celebrity of the Whitsuntide Plays at Shrewsbury
in Ashton's time is strong evidence of the pains he must
have taken in training the boys for their performance.
Every visitor to Shrewsbury has seen the beautiful grounds
bordering the Severn which are known as "The Quarry."
They must have presented a very different appearance in
the fifteenth century, before the trees were planted, when they
were nothing better than waste grounds outside the town
walls. Portions of the al fresco theatre, in which the repre-
sentations were given, are still to be seen.

Churchyard, the poet, seems to imply that the ground
had been hollowed out for the purpose ; but it is probable
that its architects had an old quarry to work upon.

" There is a ground new made theater wyse,
Both deepe and hye in goodlie auncient guise :
Where well may sit ten thousand men at ease,
And yet the one the other not displease.

" A grounde most apt, and they that sit above
At once in vewe all this may see for love ;
At Aston's playe, who had behelde thys then
Might well have seen there twentie thousand men."

occurs three times in Shakespeare. " A good shallow young fellow : a' would
have made a good pantler: a' would have chipped bread well." Falstaff in
Henry IV., II. ii. iv. See also Winters Tale, IV. iv., and Cymbeline, II. iii.


Churchyard 1 tells us that the theatre was used for
wrestling, bull-baiting, bear-baiting and cock-fighting, as
well as for plays. Although we must suppose that Church-
yard's account of the numbers present at these dramatic
entertainments is somewhat coloured by poetical exagger-
ation, we can have no doubt as to the great popularity that
they enjoyed. Queen Elizabeth herself made progress as
far as Coventry in 1566, in order "to see Mr. Aston's Play,"
which in that year is said to have been Julian, the Apostate ;
but she was too late, " it was ended." 2

The writer of the chronicle known as the Taylor MS.
makes special mention of one of these entertainments, which,
he tells us, "lastid all the hollydayes," "great nomber of
people of noblemen and others " coming to see it. He calls
it " a notable stage playe played in Shrosberie in a place
called the Quarrell," and adds that it was " praysed greatlye,"
and that " the chyffe auther thereof was one master Astoon,
beinge the head schoolemaster of the free schoole there a
godly and lernyd man who tooke marvelous greate paynes

There can be little or no doubt that this "notable stage
playe" was Ashton's second representation of The Passion
of Christ, which Robert Owen calls his "greate playe," and
which he assigns doubtfully 3 to the year 1567-68. The
chronicler gives Whitsuntide, 1568, as the date of "the
notable stage playe," the date, in fact, which Owen tells

1 See CHURCHYARD'S Worthines of Wales. In a marginal note the poet calls
Ashton " a goode and godlie preacher."

2 See OWEN'S Arms of the Bailiffs The Queen seems to have thought of
visiting Shrewsbury on two or three occasions. In August, 15 75 , she got as far
as Lichfield on her way to Shrewsbury, but, hearing that sickness prevailed within
four miles of the town, she changed her mind and went to Chartley, Stafford, and
Worcester instead. (Taylor MS.; NICHOLLS' Royal Progresses.} It appears
from the Corporation Accounts for 1574-75 that 2 ?s. lod. was "given to the
Queene's herbinger in gold and spent upon her graces s'vaunts resorting to this
towne sondrye times this yeare concerning her grace's coming to this towne."
(OwEN and BLAKEWAY. ) Churchyard was sent by Sir Henry Sidney to Shrews-
bury with letters about the royal visit, and received ^"3 6s. Sd. for his trouble. He
was probably intended to provide similar rhymes for recitation at Shrewsbury to
those he wrote for Bristol in August, 1574.

3 OWEN'S Arms of the Bailiffs.


us was " recorded by some " as that of Mr. Ashton's " greate

But in Blakeivay's MSS. we find an extract from the
Corporation Accounts, under the date of April, 1569, which
indicates that the play that year was intended to be of
exceptional importance. An agreement is there recorded
that 10 should be given towards the maintenance of the
play at Whitsuntide, over and above such sums as might be
levied by the occupations of the town, or raised by private
subscriptions. The town authorities further pledged them-
selves that if Mr. Ashton should declare by his honesty any
more money to be wanting, the deficit should be defrayed by
them. It is also certain that the Drapers' Company 1 voted
5, and the Mercers' Company 2 $os. upon the same occasion,
towards the expense of setting forth the play. Hotchkis
says that the Corporation paid 2$ is. to Mr. Ashton in the
year 1568-69 on account of the Whitsuntide play.

Remembering then that in the dates given in Owen's Arms
of the Bailiffs for Ashton's various plays there is much con-
fusion and uncertainty, 3 and that the writer of the Taylor MS.
only began to compile his chronicle some time between 1577
and 1580,* and cannot, therefore, be regarded as an absolutely
conclusive authority as to the date of the particular play he
mentions, we may fairly conclude that the play which Church-
yard had specially in his mind when he talked about twenty
thousand spectators, " the notable stage playe " which " lastid
all the hollydayes," and attracted great numbers of " noble-
men and others " to " the Quarrell in Shrosberie " to see it,
the play for the performance of which the Corporation and
Trade Companies of the town made such liberal provision,
was The Passion of Christ, and that it was performed at
Whitsuntide, 1569.

Ashton's dramatic lessons were not thrown away, at least

1 OWEN'S Arms of the Bailiffs. * Shropshire Arch&ol. Trans., vol. viii.

3 Robert Owen was only a boy at the time when Ashton's plays were performed,
and many years must have elapsed before the Bailiffs' Arms were illuminated and
the historical notes were written on the blank pages.

4 A full account of the Taylor MS. will be given in a later chapter on the
school library.


on some of his pupils. At the Cambridge B.A. commence-
ment of i5|^- Dr. Legge's play of Ricardus Tertius was
acted at St. John's College. 1 The names of the actors have
been preserved, and we find among them no less than five old
Salopians, Philip Stringer, 2 Richard Webster, 3 John Mehen, 4
Richard Harries, 5 and Abraham Fraunce. 6 The two last
named, however, only entered school towards the end of
Ashton's time.

After 1569 we seem to lose sight of Ashton at Shrewsbury,
although the Indenture of Elizabeth, dated May 23rd, 1571,
shows that at that time, nominally at any rate, he was still
Head Master of the School. 7 By this Indenture the Crown
made considerable additions to the school endowments, and
the compiler of the Taylor MS. attributes the grant entirely
to Ashton's exertions in the matter. 8

1 Comb. Antiq. Soc. Commun., vol. i. p. 356.

2 Philip Stringer's name stands first in the school list of 1562. He was a native
of Buckinghamshire, and was admitted at St. John's College, Cambridge, in June,
1565. B.A., 1568; M.A. : 1571; Fellow, 1568; Senior Bursar, 1576; College
Auditor, 1580 ; Esquire Bedell of the University, 1579 ; sent by the University to
witness the reception of Queen Elizabeth at Oxford in 1592, and that of James I.
in 1605 ; Solicitor to the University and J.P. for the Borough of Cambridge ;
acted the part of Nuntius in the play. (Hist, of St. John's College ', Camb., Ed.
MAYOR ; COOPER'S Athen. Cantab.}

3 Richard Webster's part was that of Fitzwilliam.

4 John Mehen, a native of Shrewsbury, who was entered at school in the 8th
class in 1566, and became subsequently its Head Master, played the part of
Episcopus Mutus.

5 Richard Harries, son of Mr. Roger Harries, of Shrewsbury, draper. Admitted
at school 1571. B.A. of St. John's College, Cambridge, 1580; M.A., 1583;
D.D., 1595; Fellow, 1580; Senior Fellow, 1593; College Preacher, 1590;
Rector of Gestingthorpe, Essex, 1599; Rector of Bradwell-juxta-mare, Essex,
1613. His part in the play was that of Nuntius. Dr. HARRIES wrote in 1613
an answer to BECANE'S English Jarre, a book entitled The English Concord. (See
Hist, of St. John's College, and an'article in the Transactions of the Shropshire
Archaological Society (New Series) on the family of Harris of Boreatton.)

6 The part of Civis Londinensis was assigned to Abraham Fraunce.

7 Ashton is described in this Indenture as "now Schoolmaster of the said
Grammar School."

8 " 7570-77. Eliz th 13. This yeare one Mr. Aston, schoolemaster of the free
schoole in Salop, beinge a good and zealous man towards the prefermet of lernig
in the same schoole made suyte of hys owne charge besyde greate labor to the
queenes m tie and so obtaynyd to the mayntenance of the same schoole xx/. a yeare
more, w c h made it xl/. a yere and sufficient fyndinge for the disciplyne of a master
and 2 ushers." (Taylor MS. )


Camden, whose Britannia was published in 1586, makes
a similar statement, and both authorities agree in asserting
that Ashton's suit to Her Majesty was made at his own
expense. But the Corporation accounts for December 2Oth,
1571, show that this assertion was not strictly accurate, and
that the town or school bore, at any rate, a portion of Ashton's
costs. 1

The somewhat irregular keeping of the school registers,
and the great diminution in the number of entries during
the years 1568, 1569, and 1570, render it probable that though
retaining his post as Head Master, Ashton was at this time
much away from Shrewsbury. The negotiations in which he
was engaged with the view of obtaining an increase of the
school endowments took him much to London, and brought
him into contact, not only with several of Her Majesty's
ministers, but with the Queen herself. In October, 1571, we
find Ashton writing to Lord Burghley on the subject of the
Duke of Norfolk's affairs in terms which appear to indicate
confidence on his part that his expressed views on political
matters would receive attention. 2

There are letters also extant from Lord Leicester 3 and the
Earl of Bedford 4 which show the high esteem in which he
was held by these statesmen, as well as by the Queen. The
grant made by the Crown to Shrewsbury School in 1571 was
considerable, comprising the reversion of the Rectory of
Chirbury in Shropshire, together with the tithes, oblations,
profits, and emoluments which belonged to that Rectory, and
the tithes of corn and hay in Wilmington, Wooderton,
Stockton, Chirbury, Winsbury, Dudston, Walcote, Hockle-
ton, Priest Weston, Marington, Tymbredth, Rorington,

1 " Agreed that the 2$ los. which Mr. Ashton hath disbursed in the obtaining
of the grante of the Queene's Majestic that nowe is, concerning the free school
shall be paid." Blakeway MSS.

2 The letter was written from Charlecote. Ashton mentions that he had been
travelling in Shropshire and the neighbouring counties, and it is possible that he
was now staying at Sir Thomas Lucy's seat in Warwickshire. But there is a house
called Charlecote in the parish of Aston Botterell in Shropshire, and that may
have been his temporary residence.

3 See Irish State Papers, Eliz. 42, 48.

4 See Lans. MSS. vol. xiv., Letter to Lord Burghley, dated July I2th, 1572.


and Middleton, together with all other tenths, oblations,
profits, and emoluments which belonged to the said towns
and hamlets, as also the Parsonage of Chirbury with its glebe
and the advowson of the Vicarage.

All these had belonged to the dissolved Priory of Chirbury,
and had been leased first to Mr. William Snowball, a mem-
ber of the Royal Household, in 1536, and second to Mr.
William Bilmore in 1551. Both leases were for terms of
twenty-one years, but the second lease was not to come into
operation till the expiration by forfeiture or surrender or
any other means, of the full term of the first lease.

The reversion of certain tithes in the town and fields of
Albrighton, and in the Castle Foregate, and of certain lands
and free rents in Astley and Sansaw, formerly belonging to
the College of St. Mary, which were not included in King
Edward's gift, was now made over to the school. The
Queen's grant also included the profits arising from "Spiritual
Jurisdiction " and the " Easter Book " which had belonged
to the same College. In consideration of the whole grant,
the school trustees were to pay the Crown an annual rent of
10 I2s. $d. They were also to provide the sum of i 8s. 2d.,
payable annually by the Church of Chirbury to the Arch-
deacon of Salop for synodals and procurations, and a per-
petual pension of i 155. 6\d. to the Bishop of Hereford,
which had also been a charge on Chirbury. The stipends of
the Vicars of Chirbury and St. Mary, and the Curates of
Clive and Astley were also to be paid from school revenues.
The Indenture is given at length in the Appendix.

At the time Ashton wrote his letter to Lord Burghley,
the Council was engaged in investigating evidence recently
obtained, connecting the Duke of Norfolk with plots against
both Church and Crown, which had the personality of Mary
Queen of Scots for their centre, and in which Spain and
Rome and sometimes France had taken their share. The
main objects which Ashton had in view were to make known
to Lord Burghley the general state of political opinion in
Shropshire and the neighbouring counties, and to recommend
his friend Sir Andrew Corbet to the notice of the Council


as " the only staid man, most secret, true, and faithfullest to
his prince," whom he knew, " in all those parts of the realm."
But the whole letter is of great interest, not only as an
illustration of Ashton's shrewdness and knowledge of affairs,
but as affording a clue to the mystery which has always
surrounded the discovery of Norfolk's treasonable dealings. 1

About this time, if not before, Ashton entered into the
service of Walter Devereux, Lord Hereford, who was created
Earl of Essex in the following year. Lord Hereford's
acquaintance with Ashton had probably been of long
standing. Sir Henry Sidney, Sir George Bromley, 2 Mr.
William Gerard, afterwards Lord Chancellor of Ireland,
and Sir Andrew Corbet 2 were friends of his, and Mr.
Edward Leighton, of Watelsborough, was his kinsman ;
and all these gentlemen had sons at Shrewsbury School in
Ashton's time. Sir Andrew Corbet's knowledge of Ashton
dated, indeed, in all probability from a time anterior to
his appointment to the head-mastership of Shrewsbury.
We know, too, that Walter Devereux occasionally visited
the town from his Staffordshire or Carmarthenshire resi-
dences, neither of which was very far distant from Shrop-
shire. 3 Under these circumstances it is not surprising that he
should have formed a high estimate of Ashton's intellectual
and business qualifications.

During the years 1568 and 1569 Lord Hereford was
almost constantly engaged in the Queen's service 4 ; first,
in the unpleasant duty of keeping armed watch against any
attempt to rescue Mary, Queen of Scots, who was then a
prisoner at Tutbury ; and afterwards in helping to suppress
the northern rebellion under the Earls of Northumberland
and Westmoreland.

It is possible that, even as early as this, Ashton may have
taken some part in the superintendence of Lord Hereford's

1 See Appendix.

2 Sir George Bromley and Sir Andrew Corbet are both named in his will as
feoffees of his estates. DEVEREUX'S Earls of Essex.

3 Walter Lord Hereford was entertained by the Corporation of Shrewsbury in
1562 and 1573. (OWEN and BLAKEWAY.)

4 See DEVEREUX'S Earls of Essex.


affairs during his frequent absences from his home at
Chartley ; but there is no doubt that after he had finally
resigned the head-mastership of Shrewsbury, his time and
energies were mainly given to the service of the Devereux
family, and the education of Robert, the young heir of the
House. 1 Ashton's letter to Lord Burghley, which has been
already quoted, is quite sufficient to show that feelings of
strong mutual confidence and respect had been the result
of his previous intercourse with that great statesman in the
school business, and it is probable that Ashton had a good
deal to do with the negotiations consequent upon the offer
which Lord Essex made to the Queen in the spring of 1573
to colonize Ulster. Essex set sail for Ireland on July iQth,
1573. In the Indenture of Elizabeth, of which mention has
already been made, power was reserved to Ashton to make
orders and constitutions as to the use and application of the
new endowments which it conferred on Shrewsbury School.

The next we hear of him is from a letter which he wrote
to the Bailiffs on October 27th, 1573, in reference to the
framing of ordinances for the school. From this letter it
appears that, in addition to the various duties he had to
perform in connection with the affairs of Lord and Lady
Essex, he was also employed directly in the service of the
Queen, and that this employment in State business was no
new thing with him. 2 " The Prince's business," " my Lord's
affairs," and " my Lady's case " were occupying him so fully
that it was impossible for him to comply with the Bailiffs'
request that he would visit Shrewsbury.

1 We know from the testimony of Andrew Downes that Ashton acted for some
time as tutor to Robert Devereux. (See the Introduction to his Lectures on
" Lysiae defensio") Ashton himself speaks of his connection with the family
affairs in a letter to the Bailiffs of Shrewsbury, dated October 27th, 1573 : and
Andrew Downes tells us that his services were highly appreciated by the
Devereux. The writer of the biography of Andrew Downes in the Dictionary of
National Biography is in error in stating that Robert Devereux was at Shrewsbury

2 Hotchkis has preserved copious extracts from Ashton's letters to the Bailiffs
1573-78; but the letters themselves unfortunately are not forthcoming. In the
letter to which reference is made in the text, Ashton says that he was ' ' entangled
and tyed by the Prince more streightly." (Hotchkis MSS.}


Ashton seems to have been much annoyed by some
reflections that had been made on him for charging 6 for
his expenses in London and Cambridge when consulting
about the indenture and ordinances, and expresses a desire
to be relieved of all care about the school.

On May 4th, IS/4, 1 Ashton was sent to Ireland by the
Government for the purpose of persuading Lord Essex ''to
stay his enterprise " in Ulster by making peace with Tirlogh
Lenoghe, 2 the Ulster firebrand. His mission was successful,
and the necessary negotiations with Tirlogh Lenoghe were
subsequently carried on by Ashton in conjunction with
the Dean of Armagh. 3 Lord Burghley notes in his diary on
July Qth that the Earl of Essex had " compounded with
Tirlogh Lenoghe." 4 While Ashton was in Ireland a serious
difference arose between Lord Essex and Lord Leicester in
consequence of reports coming to the ears of the former as
to certain unfair practices against him in which Leicester
was said to have engaged, and Leicester wrote two letters
to Thomas Ashton in order to exonerate himself from the
charge. His choice of Ashton as a mediator, the very friendly
expressions he uses in his letters, and Lord Essex's subse-
quent congratulations to Leicester on his having chosen " so
good an instrument," are strong evidence of the esteem in
which he was held by both. The letter in which Lord
Essex accepted Lord Leicester's explanations, dated
October 7th, 1574, and other letters to Lord Burghley and
the Council, were conveyed to England by Ashton. 5

We learn from a letter written by the latter to the
Shrewsbury Bailiffs on February I2th, 157!, that he had been

1 This appears from Lord Burghley's notes on the Reign of Elizabeth given in
the Burghley State Papers: "May 4th, 1574. Ashton the priest sent to the
Erie of Essex to persuade him secretly to stay his enterprise as he may with some
reputation by concluding peace with Tirlogh."

3 Terence O'Neil.

8 See DEVEREUX'S Earls of Essex.

4 See Burghley State Papers.

5 See Irish State Papers, xlviii. (4) (4-1) and (5) and DEVEREUX'S Earls of
Essex, where Lord Essex's letter to Leicester is given at length. "Ambition
and Ingratitude " were sins which Leicester was supposed to have attributed to


offered some office or offices of emolument after his return-
from Ireland. For some reason or other he had not been
disposed to accept the offer ; but, after complaining bitterly
of the apathy shown by the Corporation in the school
business, he warned the Bailiffs that, if the completion of

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