Elias Ashmole

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Elias Ashmole bigraphy, stories - English antiquarian, politician, officer of arms, astrologer and alchemist

Elias Ashmole : biography

23 May 1617 – 18 May 1692

Elias Ashmole (23 May 1617 – 18 May 1692) was a celebrated English antiquary, politician, officer of arms, astrologer and student of alchemy. Ashmole supported the royalist side during the English Civil War, and at the restoration of Charles II he was rewarded with several lucrative offices.

Ashmole was an antiquary with a strong Baconian bent for the study of nature. (Password required) His library reflected his intellectual outlook, including works on English history, law, numismatics, chorography, alchemy, astrology, astronomy, and botany. Although he was one of the founding members of the Royal Society, a key institution in the development of experimental science, his interests were antiquarian and mystical as well as scientific. He was an early Freemason, although the extent of his involvement and commitment is unclear. Throughout his life he was an avid collector of curiosities and other artifacts. Many of these he acquired from the traveller, botanist, and collector John Tradescant the Younger. Ashmole donated most of his collection, his antiquarian library and priceless manuscripts to the University of Oxford to create the Ashmolean Museum.

Solicitor, royalist and freemason

Ashmole was born in Breadmarket Street, Lichfield, Staffordshire. His family had been prominent, but its fortunes had declined by the time of Ashmole’s birth. His mother, Anne, was the daughter of a wealthy Coventry draper, Anthony Bowyer, and a relative of James Pagit, a Baron of the Exchequer. His father, Simon Ashmole (1589–1634), was a saddler, who had served as a soldier in Ireland and Europe. Elias Ashmole attended Lichfield Grammar School (now King Edward VI School (Lichfield)) and became a chorister at Lichfield Cathedral. In 1633, he went to live in London as companion to Pagit’s sons, and in 1638, with the help of Pagit, he became a solicitor. He enjoyed a successful practice in London, and married Eleanor Mainwaring (1603–1641), a member of a poor but aristocratic family, who died, while pregnant,Josten, C. H. (editor) (1966). Elias Ashmole (1617–1692). His Autobiographical and Historical Notes, his Correspondence, and Other Contemporary Sources Relating to his Life and Work Oxford: Clarendon Press, vol. I, p. 18 only three years later on 6 December 1641.Hunter, Michael (September 2004; online edition May 2006) , Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, London, Oxford University Press, , retrieved 25 January 2010 (Subscription required) Still in his early twenties, Ashmole had taken the first steps towards status and wealth.

Ashmole supported the side of Charles I in the Civil War. At the outbreak of fighting in 1642, he left London for the house of his father-in-law, Peter Mainwaring, at Smallwood in Cheshire. There he lived a retired life until 1644, when he was appointed King’s Commissioner of Excise at Lichfield.Josten, vol. I, p. 19 Soon afterwards, at the suggestion of George Wharton, a leading astrologer with strong court connections, Ashmole was given a military post at Oxford, where he served as an ordnance officer for the King’s forces. In his spare time, he studied mathematics and physics at his lodgings, Brasenose College. There he acquired a deep interest in astronomy, astrology, and magic. In late 1645, he left Oxford to accept the position of Commissioner of Excise at Worcester. Ashmole was given the additional military post of Captain in Lord Astley’s Regiment of Foot, part of the Royalist Infantry, though as a mathematician, he was appointed to artillery positions. He seems never to have participated in any actual fighting.Josten, vol. I, pp. 28–30

After the surrender of Worcester to Parliamentary forces in July 1646, he retired again to Cheshire. Passing through Lichfield on his way there, he learnt that his mother had died just three weeks before of the plague.Josten, vol. I, p. 33 During this period, he was admitted as a Freemason. His diary entry for 16 October 1646 reads in part: "I was made a Free Mason at Warrington in Lancashire, with Coll: Henry Mainwaring of Karincham in Cheshire."Josten, vol. II, pp. 395–396Henry Mainwaring was a cousin of Ashmole’s first wife who had fought with the Parliamentary forces (Josten, vol. I, p. 33). Although there is only one other mention of Masonic activity in his diary he seems to have remained in good standing and well-connected with the fraternity as he was still attending meetings in 1682. On 10 March that year he wrote: "About 5 H: P.M. I received a Sumons to appeare at a Lodge to held the next day, at Masons Hall London." The following day, 11 March 1682, he wrote: "Accordingly, I went … I was the Senior Fellow among them (it being 35 yeares since I was admitted) … We all dyned at the halfe Moone Taverne in Cheapeside, at a Noble Dinner prepaired at the charge of the New-accepted Masons."Josten, vol. IV, pp. 1699–1701 Ashmole’s notes are one of the earliest references to Freemasonry known in England,Michael Hunter calls it the first (see Hunter, 2004), but other sources propose Robert Moray in 1641 as the first Speculative Mason whose name is known (see ). but apart from these entries in his autobiographical notes, there are no further details about Ashmole’s involvement.