Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Astley, Jacob
ASTLEY, Sir JACOB, Lord Astley (1579–1652), royalist, was the second son of Isaac Astley of Melton Constable, Norfolk. From the age of nineteen he served with reputation in the Netherlands under the Counts Maurice and Henry, and subsequently under the Palatine and Gustavus Adolphus. He was present at the battle of Newport (1599) and the siege of Ostend. It is on record that, though he was absent in the service of Christian IV of Denmark for a year and a half, and again in Germany for two years, his company was kept for him in the States army. In 1638, having been made governor of Plymouth and the isle of St. Nicholas, he was summoned to the council of war (21 Feb.), and he was one of the committee that made report (7 May) on some vexed questions as to the fortification of the isle of Scilly. The next year, after taking the musters in the midland and northern counties, he went to Newcastle as sergeant-major to provide against the expected Scotch invasion. He had to overcome the objections of the trainbands to serve beyond their own county; but at last they agreed to 'refer all to the king, and to serve wherever he pleased.' He diligently attended to all the minutiae of war, and kept a constant correspondence with the council. His patience was much tried by the puritans, whose sympathies were naturally with his covenanting foes. He broke up their meetings; but as they were poor men ('mostly bancroftes,' as he says), he did not think persecution advisable, though 'if a fat puritan could be laid hold of it were best to punish him.' He so wrought upon the corporation of Berwick that they sent him a protestation of their loyalty—a service worthy of the 'thanks' minuted to him by the council in days when the Scotch were encouraged by the dissensions of the English peers and their half-hearted prosecution of the war. At York the prevalent disaffection gave fresh scope to Astley's diplomacy. 'I am fain to single out some of the discreetest of the leading men, to bring them to reason.' And so the ill-fated expedition ran its course to the pacification of Berwick, when Astley was left free to other cares. In November be petitioned for the arrears of the Plymouth garrison, and obtained 400l. out of 1,500l, due.
In January 1640 'huge preparation' was making for another Scotch war. Though Astley was then 'not talked of for any of the great posts (to obtain which, says one letter- writer, 'we are all ready to scratch each other's faces'), yet his practical knowledge made him indispensable. He was appointed on the council of war (14 Feb.), and was one of its active members, reporting on stores and weapons, and contriving a defence for Newcastle by arming the miners. By this time he was again sergeant-major. The war was soon ended by the pacification of Ripon, and its immediate result was the assembling of the Long Parliament. In 1641 Astley was examined before a committee of the house as to the king's alleged tampering with the army, especially with reference to a petition signed by many officers and shown to the king, who, in token of his approbation, wrote C. R. upon it. This petition, reflecting upon the leaders of parliament, was highly resented by that assembly, and some incautious speeches of Astley to the unstable Earl of Holland were reported by the latter, so that 'what had been imparted to him in the greatest secrecy his informants had now publicly to testify.'
In August 1642, when the war broke out, Astley left Plymouth for Nottingham to join the king, who made him major-general of the foot—'a man as fit for that office as Christendom yielded,' says Clarendon, whose commendations are in this case imqualified by any after disparagement.
During the first civil war Astley is a notable figure. He was among those 'hurt' at Edgehill (13 Oct. 1642). His prayer before the battle is recorded by Warvick (Memoirs, 229). He commanded a division at the siege of Gloucester. When Essex, after relieving that city, had fought the battle of Newbury (20 Sept. 1643), and had continued his retreat to London, Sir Jacob possessed himself of Reading. In 1644 he assisted Lord Hopton in the capture of Arundel (soon retaken by Waller), and shared in the defeat at Alresford (29 March). Clarendon records in detail his gallant defence of Gosworth Bridge against Essex, and of the purlieus of Shaw House against the repeated attacks of Manchester. During the second battle of Newbury (27 Oct.) Astley commanded the infantry in that expedition (or escape) of Charles from Oxford, when the armies of Essex and Waller were closing on the city. At Naseby (14 June 1645) 'the main body of the foot was led by Lord Astley, whom the king had lately made a baron.' His patent is dated 4 Nov. 1644. When the king called out the Welsh levies for the relief of Hereford, the discontented gentlemen of those counties insisted on the dismissal of the general Gerrard, 'and his charge was presently conferred upon Lord Astley, who was most acceptable to them.'
Not long after Astley had the honour to play the last stake for the king. From Oxford was sent a party of fifteen hundred to meet the remnant of the royal army gathered under his banners. But all intelligence as to his movements was intercepted, till his friends learned that he had been routed after a stubborn resistance by Sir Thomas Brereton and Colonel Morgan at Stow-in-the-Wold (21 March 1646). Morgan, though second in command, bore the main brunt of the engagement, and was allowed to announce its success in a letter to the speaker. Lord Astley's speech to Brereton's officers — 'You have now done your work and may go to play, unless you will fall out among yourselves' — has 'something of prophetic strain,' prompted by the veteran's 'old experience.' The conquerors (who ordered a special thanksgiving for their victory) seem to have borne him no lasting ill-will. His release from Warwick Castle (June) was one of the terms of capitulation granted to Oxford on its surrender to Fairfax. An ordinance (passed 8 March 1648) cleared him of his delinquency. But he had his share of the inconveniences then attaching to conspicuous loyalty. The council of state, in the anxious months before Worcester battle, wrote to Colonel Dixwell (a regicide and ex-state councillor commanding in Kent), to arrest 'and secure in one of your garrisons furthest from their houses, and from the places where they have any influence,' certain old cavaliers. Among them was Astley — 'Sir Jacob Astley' — his title not being acknowledged by the parliament. He was brought to London, and on 15 May 1651 order was made that he should be allowed the liberty of the Fleet. On 31 May he was called before the council and allowed to return to his residence in Kent on giving bail in 1,000l., with two sureties in 500l. each. He died (February 1651-2) in the old palace of Maidstone (granted by Elizabeth to Sir John Astley). His wife, Agnes Imple, a German lady, brought him two sons and a daughter. One son, Sir Bernard, fell in the siege of Bristol. The barony became extinct in 1668 by the death of Lord Astley's grandson without issue. A portrait of Astley (the property of Mrs. Branfell) was in the National Portrait Exhibition of 1866.[Clarendon's Hist. of Rebellion; Rushworth's Hist. Collections; Calendars of State Papers, Domestic]