Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ashby, George (d.1475)

ASHBY, GEORGE (d. 1475), poetical writer, was born about 1390. Little is known of him till late in life, when he appears to have owned an estate named 'Breakspeares' in Harefield, Middlesex, and to have been clerk of the signet, first to Henry VI from the beginning of his reign, and afterwards to Margaret of Anjou, in whose service he evidently travelled abroad. His earliest extant poem, written in English and preserved in manuscript at Trinity College, Cambridge (R. 3, 19), describes him as a prisoner in the Fleet, and begins with a 'prohemium vnius Prisonarii.' Ashby there says that he has been

Wrytyng to theyr sygnet full fourty yere
As well beyond the see as on thys syde.

A former owner of the book has, from internal evidence, assigned its production and its author's imprisonment to 1463. Ashby was perhaps confined in the Fleet at the time by the Yorkist conquerors of Henry VI, who was deposed in 1461. Subsequently the poet would seem to have directed the education of the young Prince Edward, Henry VI's son, until his murder in 1471. For his use Ashby prepared two English poetical treatises—one entitled 'De Activa Pollecia Principis,' which opens with an address to 'Maisters Gower, Chaucer, and Lydgate,' and the second called 'Dicta et Opiniones Diversorum Philosophorum,' with translations into English verse. Both these compositions, Ashby states, were produced when he had attained the age of eighty. The manuscripts of these poems passed from the library of John More, bishop of Norfolk about 1700, to the Cambridge University Library, where they are still preserved. According to Warton, Ashby was likewise the translator into English of several 'French manuals of devotion,' ascribed by Robert Copland to Andrew Chertsey in his prologue to Chertsey's 'Passyon of our Lord Jesu Christ' (printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1520): but no positive authority is given for this statement. None of Ashby's works are known to have been printed.

Ashby died on 20 Feb. 1474-5, and was buried at Harefield. The inscription on a brass to the memory of himself and his wife in the church there has been printed in Nichols's 'Collectanea Topographica et Genealogica' (v. 132). Ashby left a son John, who died in 1496. A grandson George was clerk of the signet to Henry VII and Henry VIII, and died on 5 March 1514-5.

[Ritson's Bibliographica Poetica, p. 43; Cat. of MSS. in Cambridge University Library, iv. 299; Warton's History of English Poetry (ed. Hazlitt), iv. 76; Nichols's Collectanea Topographica et Genealogica, v. 128-138; information from W. Aldis Wright, Esq.]

S. L. L.