My recent posts have explored some of the individuals and families mentioned in the 1652 will of Elizabeth Greene, widow of Stepney. In this post, I want to report what I’ve managed to find out about another family that features in the will: the Ashendens.

‘The Public Scrivener’ (Jean-Jacques de Boissieu0

In her will, Elizabeth writes: ‘I give and bequeath to the two younger children of my cousin John Ashenden late of London Scrivener deceased eight poundes with benefit of Survivourshipp’. Scriveners were mainly occupied in the writing of legal documents and belonged to an ancient livery company (see these posts). John Ashenden is listed as a warden of the company in the 1620s, and his name appears in the archives appended to a number of documents, including (for example) a bond from William Ingram Esquire of Earl’s Court, in Worcestershire to Hastings Ingram Esquire of Little Woolford ‘in £60 to hold him harmless on a joint bond of the same date to John Marks, citizen and glazier of London, in £40 for the payment of £21’. John Ashenden, scrivener, is named as a witness to this bond, as is George Allestre ‘servant of the said scrivener’.

It seems likely that in choosing his profession, John Ashenden was following a family tradition. A scrivener by the name of William Ashenden was active in London at around the same time, living in the parish of St Mary -le-Bow. He died in 1617, but his will does not mention John. William seems to have been the son of Thomas Ashenden, a gentleman of Wingham, Kent, and to have had a brother, also named Thomas, who was a a citizen and haberdasher of London.

Whether or not he was a member of this family, John Ashenden was probably born some time around 1590. Certainly by the early 1600s he was living in London, in the parish of St Martin, Ludgate, from where he was married on 14th April 1609, in the sixth year of the reign of James I. His bride was Barbara Andrewes, of the parish of St Michael’s, Wood Street; she was the daughter of George Andrewes, a gold weaver. The wedding took place at the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields.

I’ve found records of eight children born to John and Barbara Ashenden, all of them christened at St Martin Ludgate: George was born in 1611, Anne in 1613, Joane in 1614 (though she died in 1617), John in 1615, Ralph in 1616, Barbara in 1619, Henry in 1622 (he died in the same year) and Thomas in 1623.

On 20th July 1639, Barbara Ashenden the younger married Henry Nicholls, a gentleman of Olney, Buckinghamshire, at the church of St Faith the Virgin. We know that they had at least one daughter, named Elizabeth.

John Ashenden senior died in 1643, the second year of the English Civil War, and was buried at St Martin, Ludgate on 23rd August. I’ve yet to find any trace of his will. John’s widow Barbara died in 1655 (the same year as Elizabeth Greene). As much as anything, her will is a marvelous inventory of the contents of a seventeenth-century middle-class London household, which may merit further examination at some point. We learn from the will that Barbara’s children John, Thomas, Ralph, Anne and Barbara were still alive, confirming that the ‘deceased’ John Ashenden of Elizabeth Greene’s will must be John the elder, rather than his son (who is named as executor). I think that ‘the two younger children’ mentioned by Elizabeth must be Barbara and Thomas.

There is a touching memorandum added to Barbara Ashenden’s will, which reads as follows:

Before the ensealing hereof it was the Will of the Testatrix that her Grandchild Elizabeth Nicolls should have her silver thimble and prible (?) and that the Executor should pay five pounds to his brother Ralph if he returned home againe alive if not to his brother Thomas Ashenden

Might Ralph Ashenden be the person of that name who is named as one of the witnesses to the inventory of Edward Lockey, late of Virginia, planter, which was taken on 21st October 1667? Does this mean he was working in the colonies as a scrivener, like his father? And does this explain why his mother was unsure whether he was still alive?

It’s possible that Ralph returned to England at some point and that he is the Ralph Ashenden who was buried on 31st March 1685 at the church of St Benet and St Peter at Paul’s Wharf, London.

So far, I’ve been unable to discover the exact relationship between Elizabeth Greene and her ‘cousin’ John Ashenden.