George William Fisher.

Annals of Shrewsbury School online

. (page 4 of 56)
Online LibraryGeorge William FisherAnnals of Shrewsbury School → online text (page 4 of 56)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the matter were longer deferred, he would use his powers
under the Royal Charter to settle the ordinances without
them, accepting temporarily the appointments offered him,
in order that he might be able to defray the costs of such
an undertaking. 1

In May, 1575, Ashton was again sent out by the Govern-
ment to Ireland to convey a letter from the Queen to Lord
Essex, in which she expressed her desire that his Ulster
enterprise should be given up, "without dislike of him or
danger to the State."

At the same time Ashton received instructions 2 from the
Council to assure Essex of Her Majesty's good will towards
him personally. Both letter and instructions bear the same
date, May 22nd, 1575. It must be borne in mind that in the
previous October Essex had written to Lord Burghley,
expressing his conviction that the Queen disliked both him
and his enterprise. 3 A very sensible and interesting letter,
written by Lord Leicester to Ashton after he had arrived
in Ireland, is preserved in the Record Office. 4 The date of
May 9th, 1575, which is suggested on the original in pencil,
is manifestly wrong, as the internal evidence of the letter
shows distinctly that Ashton was with Lord Essex when
it was written. It is evident enough that the letter was
intended as a guide and help to Ashton in advising "his
friend," as Leicester calls Essex throughout, and in order to
assure him that he had kept his promise, made before
Ashton set out, to do all he could to have Lord Essex's
"enterprise well thought on," and to use his influence with
his brother-in-law, Sir Henry Sidney, who had just been

1 For a further account of this letter see the chapter on the Constitution and
Customs of the school.

2 See Irish State Papers, Eliz. li. 39, 40.

3 Irish State Papers, Eliz. xlviii. 4.

4 Irish State Papers, Eliz. li. 48.


re-appointed Lord Deputy, to make him " well affected and
frendly to further his actions." A few words relating to
Ashton himself may well be quoted as illustrating the
high opinion formed of him by one of the prominent
statesmen of the day. ..." I am sure (your friend)
wanteth not your best advice nor plain counsels. I would
that he was as good a man of war for his sake as you are
zealous and careful for his well-doing. Then I would wish
you abroad longer than now I do, for want of faithful
solicitors here of his counsel which I have found plainly
enough since you went. . . ."

Ashton's stay in Ireland was brief, and before June 25th
he had returned to London again, with Lord Essex's answer
to the Council, and private instructions to make certain
conditions for him. It may be noted that with most
of these conditions the Queen and Council ultimately
complied. 1

In the course of the autumn of this year, at the Queen's
express desire, Ashton was offered the Mastership of the
Savoy Hospital ; but he does not appear to have accepted
the post. 2 No records are to be found of any further visit
of his to Ireland. Lord Essex himself indeed returned
to England in November, 1575 ; and his second visit to
Ireland, in July, 1576, to be solemnly invested with his new
office of Earl Mareschall, soon terminated in his death. 3
His will, made shortly before his end, shows the confidence
he reposed in his friend Ashton, and the value which he
set on his past services to him and his family. He left

1 The chief conditions Lord Essex desired to make for consenting to give up
the Ulster enterprise were that he should be allowed his disbursements, that the
mortgage on his lands should be discharged, and that he should be created the
Earl Mareschall of Ireland. (Irish State Papers, Eliz. Hi. 17.)

2 Leicester wrote to Burghley on October 2nd, 1575, to say that the Queen had
desired him to confer with Burghley on the subject of the Savoy Hospital. They
were to understand that she intended Ashton to have the Mastership if he liked it.
But she had heard that sickness had been prevalent in the house, and Ashton was
not to be allowed to go there if it should turn out that the sickness was of an in-
fectious nature. ( Calendar of Hatfield MSS. )

3 Walter, Earl of Essex, died September 22nd, 1576. (DEVEREUX'S Earls of
Essex. )


Ashton 40 a year for life, and made him one of the
feoffees of his estates during the minority of his son. 1

The young Robert Devereux, who had now been for
some little time under the charge of Robert Wright, 2 an
old Shrewsbury boy, and, like Ashton himself, a fellow of
Trinity College, Cambridge, took up his residence at his
tutor's college in 1577, though he did not matriculate till
two years later. It was at this time, apparently, that
Andrew Downes, the Greek Professor, was introduced by
his old schoolmaster to the young Earl of Essex. 3 In the
meanwhile, the work of framing the school ordinances had
made but slow progress, and Ashton had been obliged to
renew his complaints on the subject, and once again to
threaten the Bailiffs of Shrewsbury, that, if the business
were any longer delayed, he would take a new course, and
settle matters in a manner more advantageous " for learning,
though less beneficial to the town." 4 These remonstrances
had the desired effect, and on May 22nd Ashton was
able to congratulate the Bailiffs on their " reddiness to work
all to the best." On June loth he wrote again, promising
to go to Shrewsbury so soon as he had " spoken once again
to her Majesty." 5 No record of this visit is forthcoming,
and it was not till May I5th, 1577, that Ashton announced
to the Bailiffs that the ordinances were completed. 6

1 DEVEREUX'S Earls of Essex.

* Robert Wright was a native of Shrewsbury, and his name occurs in the 3rd
class in the school list of 1562. He graduated B.A. at Trin. Coll., Camb., in
January, I57r. In all probability he was made tutor to Robert Devereux on
Ashton's recommendation, when the latter was sent to Ireland by the Government
in May, 1574. Subsequently Robert Wright became steward to the young Earl,
and was elected Burgess of Parliament for the borough of Shrewsbury in
February, 159!, at the Earl's special request. (Taylor MS.) Essex was using all
his influence at Tamworth, Stafford, Lichfield, Newcastle, and other places, to get
members returned to this Parliament in his interest. (DEVEREUX'S Earls of Essex.)

3 See ANDREW DOWNES'S Lectures on Lysiae defensio. " Eram tibi notus in
Academia : habebam turn ad sublimitatem tuam ipse humilis, hanc commenda-
tionem atque aditum quod a Thoma Ashtone mihi quoque erudiri contigerat, qui
teneros tuos suscepit annos."

4 This letter is dated May loth, 1576. (Hotchkis MSS.)

5 An indication that Ashton was still engaged in some way in the Crown

6 All these letters, or abstracts of them, are to be found in the Appendix.


After the death of his friend and employer, Lord Essex,
the arrangements for his funeral in Wales, the settlement
of his affairs, and the necessity of deciding on the best
course to take for Robert Devereux's education, were all
matters in which Ashton's advice and help would naturally
be much needed, and we cannot doubt that they were freely
given. All this may well account for the new delay in
the framing of the ordinances. Ashton himself, too, had
been ill, and, as he tells the Bailiffs, had been obliged to
entrust the final revision of the ordinances to others. His
letter, which is given in full by Hotchkis and Blakeway,
was written from Keiston, a manor house of the Devereux
family in Huntingdonshire, whither Ashton had apparently
gone to recruit his health. 1

It is probable that some provision was made for Ashton
by the Government after the death of Walter, Earl of
Essex ; for Robert Devereux, writing to Lord Burghley
from Chartley on December nth, 1576, expresses his
gratitude for Burghley's letters in his " schoolmaster's
behalf." 2

The Shrewsbury Bailiffs took their time in dealing with
Ashton's draft of the ordinances. It was not till January
4th, I57J, that they were referred to the consideration of
a committee. After this time there was but little delay, as
on February nth, I5/J, the common seal of the Corpo-
ration was ordered to be set to the "Indenture Tripartite,"
a document by which the Corporation of Shrewsbury, the
Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, the Master and Fellows
of St. John's College, Cambridge, Thomas Ashton, and
Thomas Lawrence, the Head Master of the school, formally
gave their consent to the ordinances.

1 Robert Devereux was himself at Keiston in October, 1577, having retired
there on account of sickness at Cambridge. (See letter from him to Burghley
in Ellis' letters.) In another letter of March 3ist, 1578, he calls this sickness
"the plague," and expresses his pleasure in being back at Cambridge again from
Keiston. (Lansd. MSS. xxvii. I.) The young earl sold the manor of Keiston
in 1590 to discharge a debt of ^3000 to the Queen. (Diet, of Nat. Biog.}

2 Ashton is the only person to whom he can well be referring. Robert Wright
was still his tutor, and acting at Cambridge in that capacity.


August arrived, however, before Ashton was able to
journey to Shrewsbury, and set his seal also to the in-
denture. He preached a farewell sermon at St. Mary's
Church, took leave of his old Shrewsbury friends, and
returned to Cambridge, where, in less than a fortnight, he
died. 1 Like his pupil, Philip Sidney, Ashton appears to
have acquired in no ordinary degree the esteem and
admiration of all with whom he came in contact, and, but
for his comparatively early death, he would, we can hardly
doubt, have attained some high position in Church or State.
The poet Churchyard, who was a Shrewsbury man, Camden,
the historian, who visited Shrewsbury when he was writing
his Britannia, and when Ashton's memory was still green in
the town, the writer of the chronicle known as the Taylor
MS., and the Corporation annals, all testify to the high
regard entertained for Shrewsbury's great schoolmaster in
Shropshire; 2 while the school ordinances, which will be
spoken of at length in the next chapter, and the very
remarkable and interesting letter which he wrote to Lord
Burghley in October, 1571, are sufficient proofs of the
wisdom, discretion, and, other statesmanlike qualities which
earned for him the confidence of the Queen and her

1 "This yeare (1578) and ye xxix th daye of August beinge a fridaye, master
Aston that godly father departid this presennt lyffe a lytyll besyde Cambridge who
before hys deathe cam to Salop and there prechid famously and did fynyshe and
scale up Indentures to the full acomplyshmet and anvytie of cxx/. for the
sufficient fyndinge of the scoolemasters there w ch he of hys greate suyte before
was a traveler to the queene's m tie for the augmentacon to that anval porshyon
and so fynyshinge all things gyvynge the sayd towne of Salop frindly farewell and
w l hin a fourteene dayes after dyed." Taylor MS.

2 Ashton is often mentioned in the annals of the Mercers' Company at Shrews-
bury as having been asked by the company to arbitrate in some disputed matter.
(Shropshire Archceological Society's Transactions^ vol. viii.) Another local
testimony to the general esteem in which Ashton was held occurs in a letter
which Mr. Thomas Browne, a Shrewsbury draper, wrote to the Queen towards the
end of 1574, where he describes him as "a man, God be blessed for him, that
hath done much good in Shropshire." (Lansdowne MSS., ex.)




Constitution and Customs of Shrewsbury School in the Sixteenth and
Seventeenth Centuries.

THE original Charter of Edward VI., which bears date
February loth, 15 5 J, gave power to the Bailiffs and
burgesses of Shrewsbury to appoint the Master and Under
Master of the school whenever vacancies in those offices
should occur, and also, with the advice of the Bishop of
Lichfield and Coventry, to make ordinances for the general
government of the school. But the right of making such
ordinances was subsequently expressly reserved by the
indenture of Elizabeth, dated May 23rd, 1571, to Thomas
Ashton, clerk, who is there described as " now Schoolmaster"
of "the Free Grammar School within the Town of Salop
founded by the late King Edward the Sixth," and, in case of
his dying before the ordinances were made, to the Bishop
of Lichfield and Coventry and the Dean of Lichfield. The
framing of these ordinances was not completed for several
years. The delay seems to have been due partly to Ashton's
public and private engagements, which were so heavy as to
make him at one time desirous of being " discharged from
any further care about the school," 1 and partly to differences
of opinion between him and the Bailiffs. One of these
differences arose out of a proposal to use some of the surplus
revenues of the school for the redemption of tolls and the
relief of poor artificers. On November ;th, I5/3, 2 Ashton
wrote to the Bailiffs, urging them to agree to the alteration of

1 Ashton writes to this effect from Chartley on October 2;th, 1573. (See letter
in Appendix.)

2 See letter in Appendix.



an ordinance which had been already made to that effect,
and the devotion of the funds in question to " the rinding of
a third master." 1 The Bailiffs of the year, who had only
recently been elected, and were not responsible for the views
of their predecessors, seem to have consented at once, on the
very sufficient grounds that "the School's money" should
" serve only the School's use," and Ashton, with praiseworthy
policy, gave them all the credit of proposing the change.
At the same time he pointed out to them that after
providing ample stipends for three masters there would still
be sufficient surplus to assist poor scholars of Shrewsbury to
go to the universities.

The school had at the time a " dead stock " of 200,
and Ashton was desirous of expending this money on
the purchase of a plot of ground on the other side of the
street, belonging to Sir Andrew Corbet, with the view of
ultimately building " a fair school " thereon. He describes
the existing school-buildings as "old and inclining to ruin,"
and regards the site, on account of its proximity to the
Common Gaol, and for other excellent reasons, as " an Evil

The letter in which Ashton deals at length with these
matters is dated February 2Oth, I57. 2 On May 4th,
1574, he started for Ireland, and did not return to England
till the following October. On February I2th, I57f, we
find him writing in strong terms to the Bailiffs as to their
apathy in the school business, and hinting, not indistinctly,
that interested motives were the cause of their frequent
delays. He further threatens them that, if they did not

1 A third master probably means a third assistant master. There were already
three masters in the school. Hotchkis says that in the ordinances, as first
proposed in April, 1572, provision was only made for two masters and a poor
scholar to help them. But Ashton's threat on November 7th, 1573, that, if the
Bailiffs did not agree to his proposal about a third master, he would frame the
necessary ordinances, and appoint one himself, shows that an additional master
to the three already in office was contemplated. Ultimately it was arranged
to have an accidence school for beginners, and the fourth master was put in
charge of that.

2 This letter, which is given both by Hotchkis and Blakeway, was printed at
length in the Report of the Public School Commission.


look to the matter better, he would use his power under
the Queen's indenture to settle the ordinances without them,
accepting temporarily certain appointments which had been
offered him, in order to defray the cost of such an under-
taking. 1

Two years later (on May loth, 1576) Ashton wrote
in a similar strain, reiterating his former complaints, and
telling the Bailiffs plainly that, sooner than allow the
business to be any longer deferred, he would "take a
new course," and "establish the thing more surely for
learning, though less beneficial for the town hereafter."
These last remonstrances seem to have had the desired
effect, and on May 22nd, 1576, Ashton was able to change
his tone towards the town authorities, and acknowledge
their readiness "to work all to the best." A fortnight later,
on June loth, we find him promising to go to Shrewsbury
after he had " spoken once again to her Majesty." In a year
from this time the ordinances were completed, and on
May 1 5th, 1577, Ashton sent the final draft to the Bailiffs
for their approval, telling them in his letter that he had
been obliged to entrust their last revision to " certain worship-
ful, wise, learned, discrete personages," whose "credytt and
judgment" would "wynne to the mater more maiestie
and procure it more credit than yt ever could have had
by " his " owne private doing." Finally, the ordinances were
accepted by an" Indenture Tripartite," dated February nth,
157!, between the Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield of the
first part, the Bailiffs and burgesses of the town of the
second part, and the Master and Fellows of St. John's
College, Cambridge, Mr. Ashton, late Head Master, and
Thomas Lawrence, Head Master, of the third part. And
by these ordinances the school was governed until, more

1 " Before God, if you look not better to it, I will alter all anew. My credit it
not so much lost but if it be thought I have done what I can, and by law
am barred to go any further, and, by that is done, some holes be espied to creep
in at, to make a spoil, I will work upon my credit what I can to prevent it,
whatsoever it cost me. It shall but make me take such livings which now
are offered, to bear the charges thereof, and to give them over when I have done,"
(See Appendix.)


than two hundred years later, they were repealed by Act
of Parliament in i/QS. 1

Statutes for the government of the school seem to have
been made by the Bailiffs in 1571, under the powers given
them by the Charter of Edward VI. They may have failed
to realize that Elizabeth's indenture of May, 1571, had
deprived them of these powers ; or perhaps Ashton and
the Bishop may have assented to their temporary revival.
At any rate, we find a complete school list in the register
of admissions under the date January nth, I57|-, at the
head of which it is stated that the "new statutes" had
come into force on Christmas-day, and that all the boys
in the school, whether aliens or oppidans, whether they
had been at school before Christmas, or were now admitted
for the first time, had been called upon to pay certain
entrance fees. The amount of his fee is written against
the name of each boy. The table of fees seems to have
been 5^., 4^., 3^., 2s. 6d., is. 6d., is. ^d. } is., 8d., 6d., and
Afd. But after 1575 the scale of fees 2 appointed by Ashton's
Ordinances of 157! was practically in use. It is evident
that, in fixing the amount of the entrance fee, account
was taken of the rank of the father as well as of the place
of his residence. All the boys are entered either as aliens
or as oppidans, and the latter are invariably charged a
smaller fee than the former. Sons of knights or esquires

1 At an Assembly of the Bailiffs, Aldermen, and Common Council of Shrews-
bury, held on January 4th, 157^, the proposed ordinances were referred to a
Committee consisting of the two Bailiffs, Mr. Thomas Sherer and Mr. Thomas
Charlton, Mr. Thomas Aston (late Head Master), Mr. Richard Prince, Mr.
Edward Davies, Mr. Lawrence (Head Master), Mr. Robert Ireland (Bailiff
in 1554-55), Mr. Thomas Burnell (Bailiff in 1571-72), Mr. Beacoll, Randle
Russell, John Pearch (Bailiff in 1579-80), and Edward Owen (Bailiff in 1582-83).
The Committee seems to have had doubts whether the grants made under the
Charter of Edward VI. could be legally employed in founding scholarships
and fellowships at the universities. But they were reassured on the matter
by Sir George Bromley, who wrote to the Bailiffs on January 9th, 157^, that
the proposed ordinances could be carried out without infringing the Patents
of Edward VI. And at a further Assembly on February nth, 157$, the common
seal of the town was ordered to be set to the "Indenture Tripartite." (See
Report of Public School Commission. )

2 There is, however, one fee of 3^. recorded.


are noted by the letters M F or A F put opposite their
names, an H being added in the case of the eldest son.
Sons of past or present Bailiffs of the town are generally
described as B F. The fees at first seem to have been
entirely employed in the " reparations or other charges of
the school."

After February, I57|, Ashton's Ordinances came into force
at once, and examples of their working may be continually
found in the school register. Of these ordinances, which are
all contained in a schedule attached to the "Indenture Tripar-
tite/' some are called "Ashton's Ordinances" and others
" Bailiffs' Ordinances." But there can be no doubt that they
were all in the main framed by Ashtori himself. 1

The former contain regulations as to the number and
salaries of the masters, the management of the school
property, the employment of its revenues, and the pro-
ceedings to be taken in filling up vacancies in the cures
of St. Mary, Shrewsbury, and Chirbury. The latter deal
chiefly with the internal affairs of the school, the hours to
be devoted respectively to work and to play, the games in
which the boys might indulge, the qualifications and duties
of the masters, the disciplinary supervision of " aliens " who
were "tabled" 2 with householders in the town or suburbs,
and the books to be used in school. A vivid picture of
school life at Shrewsbury in those days and for many genera-
tions after might be sketched out from these ordinances.

The rents and tithes arising from the school property were
collected by an officer called the School Bailiff, 3 who received

1 The Bailiffs' Ordinances are formally described in the Indenture Tripartite as
made "by the Bailiffs and Burgesses of the Town of Salop, by the advice and
consent of the Reverend Father in God, Thomas, Bishop of Coventry and Lich-
field, and of Mr. Asthon, alias Ashton, Clerk, late head schoolmaster." It
appears from a letter preserved in the borough records, written by Sir George
Bromley to the Bailiffs on January Qth, 157!, that he had given Thomas Ashton
considerable assistance in drawing up the ordinances.

3 Masters' boarding houses were unknown at Shrewsbury School for many years
after its foundation.

3 Ashton had appointed David Longdon to be School Bailiff before October,
1573, for in that month he told the Bailiffs that they must call upon his "servant
David Longdon for security." The office was subsequently secured to him by the
ordinances. In order, probably, to ensure his payment, Ashton gave Longdon


an annual stipend of 4, and for whom two sureties had to
give security to the amount of jC^oo. 1 Every year, on
November i6th, his accounts were audited in "the Ex-
chequer," 2 by the Town Bailiffs and the Head Master, and
the Bailiffs at the same time audited the Head Master's
account of his receipts from entrance fees. On the following
day all these accounts, as well as the school ordinances, were
publicly read by the Town Clerk in the presence of the
Bailiffs, Aldermen, Common Council, and burgesses, and the
business of the day was concluded by a banquet, on which
the Bailiffs were allowed to expend 2os. The residue of the
receipts from all sources, which was known as the " Stock
Remanent " was placed by the auditors in a chest 3 which was
kept in the Exchequer, and provided with four locks and four
keys. These keys were severally in charge of the two
Bailiffs, the Head Master, the senior Alderman, and the
senior Common Councilman. The Bailiffs and Head Master
were allowed during the year to expend ten pounds out of

the reversion of the lease of the Frank well and Betton tithes. (See Ashton's
letter of February I2th, 157!-) Richard Painter had the lease up to 1584 at a
rent of .3. David Longdon's name appears first as tenant, at the audit of 1585,
at the rent of 20. Longdon died in 1586, but his widow seems to have farmed
the tithes of Frankwell and Betton till the expiration of her husband's lease.
Besides being School Bailiff, Longdon was one of the Serjeants of the town, and
in 1579 he was made a Serjeant-at-Mace. He was a shoemaker by trade.
(Taylor MS., and school account-book.) Hotchkis gives the name of the second

Online LibraryGeorge William FisherAnnals of Shrewsbury School → online text (page 4 of 56)