About Sir Roger Aston, MP
Family and Education Illegit. s. of Thomas Aston of Aston, Cheshire. educ. Oxf. MA 1605.1 m. (1) bef. 1596, Marjory Stuart (d. 11 Apr. 1606), lady-in-waiting to Anne of Denmark, da. of Andrew Stewart, Lord Ochiltree [S], several s. d.v.p. 4da.; (2) Cordelia, da. of Sir John Stanhope* of Elvaston, Derbys. 1s.2 kntd. 18 Apr. 1603.3 d. 23 May 1612. sig. Roger Aston.
Master huntsman [S] by 1580-1603;4 gent. of the chamber [S] 1587-1603;5 gent. of the bedchamber 1603-d.;6 master falconer 1603-d., ?master huntsman 1603-d.;7 master, gt. wardrobe (jt.) 1605-6, (sole) 1606-d.8
Kpr. Cooling Park, Kent 1603,9 game, Greenwich, Kent 1603,10 St. James’s Park, Westminster 1604, Mansion House, St. James, Westminster 1609;11 j.p. Kent 1606-d.,12 Mdx. by 1608.13
Patentee, greenwax fines, duchy of Lancaster 1604-d., glassmaking [I] 1606-11.14
Biography The illegitimate son of a senior member of the Cheshire gentry, Aston appears to have been raised entirely in Scotland. By 1580 he was master huntsman to James VI, and in 1587 was appointed to the king’s chamber. He enjoyed a familiar relationship with James, who tried to persuade him to take up smoking and to ‘put him out of his new custom, which is to drink nothing but ale after supper’.15 Consequently he was permitted to marry one of the king’s cousins, Marjory Stuart, who, with her mother, went on to serve in the Household of Anne of Denmark.16 As well as performing his duties on the hunting field and in the chamber, Aston undertook diplomatic missions to the Continent,17 and served as the principal messenger between James and Queen Elizabeth, in which capacity he was later described by Bishop Goodman as ‘a very plain, honest, worthy gentleman’.18 In 1586 he was entrusted with carrying £4,000 from Elizabeth to James.19 He also delivered messages to the earls of Leicester and Essex, Lord Burghley (Sir William Cecil†) and Sir Francis Walsingham†.20 Towards the end of Elizabeth’s reign, he carried some of the cipher letters between James and Salisbury about the succession.21
Aston remained one of the king’s closest confidants and regular hunting companions after James ascended the English throne. Like many Scottish courtiers, he benefited greatly from James’s generosity, being appointed a gentleman of the bedchamber and receiving numerous offices and grants of lands, including the keeperships of various parks and houses.22 He was also created master falconer, probably continued to serve as the king’s master huntsman, and occasionally acted as one of the king’s personal secretaries.23 In 1605 he became joint master of the great wardrobe with the earl of Dunbar, and in the following year he gained sole control of this office, which was later estimated to have brought him £4,000 p.a.24
Although Aston no longer lived in Cheshire the county returned him to Parliament in 1604. Cheshire had a tradition of electing one Member connected to the Court, and it helped that Aston was drawn from one of its senior gentry families. Aston may have sought election at the king’s suggestion, as James needed someone close to him to inform him of activities in the Commons. Throughout the Parliament, certainly, Aston was often employed as a messenger between James and the Lower House. On 11 Apr. 1604 he conveyed the Commons’ gratitude after James allowed Members to decide for themselves the outcome of the Buckinghamshire election. He also informed the Commons that the king would meet them the following day, and was among the delegation sent to James on 12 April.25 Aston delivered letters to the House about the projected Union (24 Apr., 1 May),26 and brought news that James had ordered a purveyor to be hanged if he was found guilty (30 April). Although not named in the Commons Journal, Aston presumably supported a bill to prevent ‘shooting [game] with guns’; at its third reading on 19 May the House was asked to ‘regard it, because the king desires it’, and even after the measure had been dashed, ‘a double question [was] pressed, but forborn’.27 It is also surprising, given his hunting interests, that Aston was not named to the committee for a bill to prevent the illegal hunting of deer and rabbits (23 May).28 Near the end of the session he bore a message that the king would be present on the last day to give the Royal Assent.29
Aston was named to 21 bill committees in 1604. Most concerned matters that must have particularly interested James, such as the naturalization of the Scottish courtiers Sir George Home (18 May) and John, earl of Mar (11 June), the confirmation of letters patent granted to Home (18 May), the renewal of Berwick-upon-Tweed’s charter (16 May) and the jointure of Anne of Denmark (24 May).30 James’s interests probably also lay behind his appointment to committees concerned with apparel (11 Apr., 2 June), denization of the post-nati (3 May), witchcraft (26 May), shooting with guns (30 May) and Tunnage and Poundage (13 June).31 Among Aston’s remaining appointments were committees for bills to restore the earls of Southampton and Essex (2 Apr.), and similar measures regarding Thomas, the son of the late earl of Arundel (2 Apr.) and Thomas Lucas (12 April).32 Aston’s role as guardian of the king’s interests in the Commons is clear from his appointment to conferences on wardship (26 Mar., 22 May), Goodwin’s case (5 Apr.) and the Union (14 April).33 On this latter topic Aston intervened on 28 Apr., stating that the ‘the king desireth only to take upon him the name of Britain and France, with their islands adjacent. It is not his meaning to prejudice any of them, to take away their names, their laws or liberties’.34 Yet while Aston undoubtedly ‘represented’ the king in the Commons, he also acted in his own interests, introducing a bill to naturalize his wife and daughters, which was enacted at the end of the session.35
In 1605-6 Aston continued to serve as both the king’s eyes and ears in the Commons and as a messenger. As a reporter he proved so assiduous that Salisbury was once rebuked by James because Aston’s report of a conference on ecclesiastical causes was more detailed than his. Aston’s dispatch was ostensibly directed to Thomas Erskine, Lord Dirletoun, and from it James learned of a new bill of purveyors in May 1606.36 As a messenger Aston enjoyed the complete confidence of James and the Commons, which on 26 May entrusted him with the delicate task of informing the king that they objected to a sermon recently preached at St. Paul’s.37 However, Aston’s standing in the Commons was not enough to prevent his lease of the duchy of Lancaster’s greenwax fines from being noted as a grievance. Objections to this patent were presented on 15 Mar.,38 and were debated fully on 9 April. Although Aston was not directly criticized, the article of grievance suggested that the fines and profits should remain with the king and not be farmed out. Aston, who was allowed to stay in the Commons during the debate, ‘did best defend this grant’ himself.39 He admitted that the yearly rental of £48 paid to the king was low, but pointed out that he had given a large sum for the right to collect the fines, which had been farmed out long before he had obtained his grant. However, despite the support of the auditor of the Duchy, Thomas Fanshawe I*, the article was ordered to be included in the grievances’ petition, though without mentioning Aston by name.40 Six days later, the matter was again debated, this time culminating in a division, which Aston narrowly lost (by 104 votes to 109).41 Ironically, it was Aston who was subsequently instructed to attend the king to request an audience to present the petition (13 May).42
In 1606 Aston was appointed to naturalization bills concerning the Scottish courtiers Sir David Foulis (18 Apr.) and Sir David Murray (14 May), and was named to consider the measure confirming a land sale for his fellow courtier Sir Thomas Lake I* (25 January).43 Among his other committee nominations were bills for the better execution of penal statutes (22 Jan.), a public thanksgiving every 5 Nov. (23 Jan.), the subsidy (10 Feb.), regulating fees in courts of record (14 Feb.) and the attainder of the Gunpowder plotters (30 April).44 He was also named to the general committee on 21 Jan. to consider what measures could be taken against Jesuits and to prevent further popish plots.45
At the opening of the third session (1606-7), the king’s reply to the grievances’ petition was read. Aston was obliged to surrender his patent for the greenwax, but an amended grant was then issued which barely affected his income from this source.46 In contrast with earlier sessions, Aston seems only rarely to have performed his accustomed duties as a go-between, though he did transmit verbal messages at least once between James and Salisbury in relation to Commons’ business.47 Instead he introduced a bill to limit the rights of the copyhold tenants of his Cambridgeshire manor of Soham. When the measure was reported on 11 Feb. the committee recommended that a new bill be drafted, but this fared little better and was rejected at the third reading on 25 Feb. as setting a dangerous precedent.48 Having failed to alter his rights, Aston persuaded the king to exchange his grant of Soham for other more valuable lands later that year.49 Aston was not recorded as speaking during the session, but on 3 June he attended the committee on the hostile laws bill in order to explain Scottish law.50 On 24 Nov. he was named to a joint conference on the Instrument of the Union, but otherwise he seems to have played no role in the Union debates.51 He was appointed to general committees concerned with Spanish maltreatment of English merchants (28 Feb.) and to draft a petition to the king on religion (18 May).52 He was also named to six legislative committees. These were concerned with abuses in the Marshalsea (10 Dec.), turning wheat into starch (26 Feb.), bringing water to London (1 May), reforming the practices of mariners (1 May), confirming the lands of London’s companies (4 May) and establishing the possessions of the earl of Derby (3 June).53
It has been claimed that in the fourth session (1610) Aston was ‘particularly active’ in persuading the king to accept the Great Contract, but the evidence does not sustain this assertion.54 He was named to only one joint conference on the subject and one delegation to the king (both 26 May).55 Aston himself noted that credit belonged to Salisbury, whose eyes and ears he was in the Commons: ‘the little beagle hath run a true and perfect scent, which brought the rest of the great hounds to a perfect tune which was before by their voice much divided’.56 Aston did, however, continue to carry messages and was again appointed to naturalization bills concerning the Scottish courtiers Sir Robert Carr (20 Feb.), Jane Drummond (26 Feb.) and James Maxwell (10 March).57 His hunting interests explain why he was named to bill committees concerning the preservation of game (29 Mar.) and hawking (29 Mar., 17 April).58 He made only one recorded speech (2 May), when he stated that the king had asked him to tell the House that he would never employ the errant Sir Stephen Proctor again.59 There is no mention of Aston in the sparse records of the fifth session.
Aston fell terminally ill in May 1612 and was visited while on his sickbed by James.60 He died on 23 May and was buried at Cranford St. James, Middlesex, where an elaborate monument was later erected.61 In his will, dated 5 May, he left his second wife Cordelia, whose marriage portion he had not yet paid, the bulk of his properties for her lifetime; thereafter they were to pass to his then unborn child. However, the boy died in infancy, and Aston’s estate was subsequently divided between his four daughters from his first marriage. One of them, Elizabeth, was ordered to receive a marriage portion of £2,000, which was to be paid from money owed to Aston by Sir Baptist Hicks*, while another, Anne, was left £1,600 as her dowry. The 1st earl of Suffolk was given Aston’s best horse, while Salisbury was left a diamond ring.62 In the event Salisbury never received this gift, as he died the day after Aston. The value of Aston’s personal estate is unknown but when he died he was owed nearly £12,000 from the wardrobe.63
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629 Author: Chris Kyle Notes 1. Al. Ox. 2. Scots Peerage ed. J.B. Paul, 516; SRO, E34/47, f. 3; D. Lysons, Mdx. Par. bet. 22-3; Vis. Derbys. 1569 and 1611, p. 80. 3. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 101. 4. SRO, E34/35, f. 8v. 5. K.M. Brown, ‘The Scottish Aristocracy, Anglicization and the Ct. 1603-38’, HJ, xxxvi. 553, n. 31. 6. Ibid.; Add. 34765, f. 34. 7. HMC Hatfield, xxi. 269. 8. C66/1676; 66/1697; E179/70/122; Lysons, bet. 22-3; Letters of Jas. VI and I ed. G.P.V. Akrigg, 238. 9. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 57. 10. CSP Dom. Addenda, 1603-25, p. 531. 11. CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 153, 506. 12. Cal. Assize Recs. Kent Indictments Jas. I, ed. J.S. Cockburn, 28, 104. 13. SP14/33, f. 41. 14. CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 158, 174, 175, 333; E.S. Godfrey, English Glassmaking, 55, 66. 15. Letters of Jas. VI and I, 238, 252, 256, 257, 259. 16. SRO, E34/41, f. 3; Reg. PC Scot. i. 201-2. 17. CSP Scot. 1581-3, p. 138. 18. Ct. of Jas. I ed. G. Goodman, i. 10; HMC Hatfield, xiii. 202, 384, 464; xiv. 251; Letters of Jas. VI and I, 108, 155, 195, 212. 19. CBP, 1560-94, p. 550. 20. CBP, passim; CSP Scot. passim. 21. Letters of Jas. VI and I, 252. 22. Brown, 543-76; CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 64, 68, 89, 90, 130, 152, 177, 178, 333, 357. 23. Ibid.; CLRO, Remembrancia, iii. f. 25. 24. C78/272/10. 25. CJ, i. 168b, 169a, 166b, 169b. 26. Ibid. 183 n. e. 27. Ibid. 214b, 215a. 28. Ibid. 224a. 29. Ibid.193a-b, 205b. 30. Ibid. 213b, 236a, 228a, 212a, 224a. 31. Ibid.167a, 984a, 197b, 227a, 229a, 238a. 32. Ibid. 162a, 169b. For the remainder of his appointments see ibid. 151a, 153a, 154a, 172b, 178a, 184a, 187b, 197b, 232a, 232b, 233b, 236a, 237b. 33. Ibid. 154b, 222b, 169b, 172a. 34. Ibid. 185a. 35. HLRO, O.A. 1 Jas.I, c. 51. 36. Bowyer Diary, 144n. 3; HMC Hatfield, xviii. 128-9. 37. Bowyer Diary, 180n. 38. CJ, i. 285a. 39. Bowyer Diary, 114. 40. Ibid. 41. Ibid. 126-7; CJ, i. 298b; W. Notestein, House of Commons, 1604-10, pp. 165-6. 42. Bowyer Diary, 159. 43. CJ, i. 260a, 300a, 309a. 44. Ibid. 258a, 258b, 266b, 303a. 45. Ibid. 257b. For his other cttee. nominations see ibid. 258b, 268b, 270a, 283b, 286b, 287a, 295a, 298b, 313b. 46. CJ, i. 316b. 47. Bowyer Diary, 240. 48. CJ, i. 330a, 333a, 333b, 337a, 340b. 49. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 385. 50. Bowyer Diary, 309. 51. CJ, i. 324b. 52. Ibid. 344b, 375a. 53. Ibid. 329a, 342b, 365b, 366a, 368b, 378a. 54. N. Cuddy, ‘Revival of the Entourage’, The English Ct. ed. D. Starkey et al. 206. This assumption was also made by Notestein, 429. 55. CJ, i. 433b, 434a. 56. Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 285; ii. 82, n. 2. 57. CJ, i. 397b, 400a, 407b, 408b, 424a, 451b. 58. For his other cttee. appointments see CJ, i. 398a, 404b, 410a, 412a, 414a, 415a, 415b, 416a, 418a, 418b, 419a, 429a, 438b, 442b, 447a. 59. CJ, i. 424a. 60. C78/272/10. 61. Lysons, bet. 22-3. 62. PROB 11/127, f. 394. 63. E407/81 unnumb.; C78/272/10. Prestwich has stated that Aston owed the wardrobe over £11,000 but this is clearly incorrect. M. Prestwich, Cranfield, 228-9.