William Aston (Irish judge)

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Sir William Aston (1613-1671) was an English born barrister, politician and soldier who fought with distinction in Ireland for King Charles I during the English Civil War. Although he made his peace with the Cromwellian regime after the King's defeat, he is believed to have remained a convinced Royalist at heart. He was rewarded for his loyalty to the Crown with a seat on the Irish High Court Bench after the Restoration. [1] His eldest son was hanged for murder in 1686. His last direct male descendant, also named William Aston, was the de jure 6th Lord Aston of Forfar. [2]



Church Leigh, Staffordshire, Sir William Aston's birthplace All Saints church and Church Leigh village.jpg
Church Leigh, Staffordshire, Sir William Aston's birthplace

He was born at Leigh, Staffordshire, son of John Aston and his wife Margery Walton, daughter of James Walton of Fole, and great-grandson of Sir Walter Aston of Tixall, who was the grandfather of the 1st Lord Aston of Forfar. [3] He entered Gray's Inn in 1639, and then moved to Ireland. In 1646 he was serving as a major in the Royalist army under Col. Sir Anthony Hungerford, [4] [5] and was then described as an "honest royalist"; yet a few years later he was serving in the Cromwellian army, and sat in the Irish Protectorate Parliaments of 1656 and 1659. [6] [7] Elrington Ball argues that despite his apparent change of side, his loyalty to the Crown was never really in doubt: certainly early in 1660 he was known to be actively supporting the Restoration of Charles II. The new regime praised him for his "early and faithful adherence to the King". He was knighted and made a justice of the Court of King's Bench (Ireland). [6] He was appointed Recorder of Drogheda in 1655. [8]


As a judge he presided over one of the last Irish witch trials. [9] He also engaged in a dispute over precedence with his colleague Sir Jerome Alexander, who as a result is said to have challenged him to a duel, and then accused him of cowardice for refusing to accept the challenge. The two were neighbours in Ship Street, Dublin; Aston obtained permission from the Corporation to widen the street in front of his house. He also quarreled with the well-known Roman Catholic barrister Patrick D'Arcy, who had carried Alexander's challenge: according to one report, Aston tried unsuccessfully to have D'Arcy prosecuted. D'Arcy in turn threatened to horsewhip Aston, who is said to have gone in fear of him for some time after, although the story that he fled to England and stayed there until after D'Arcy's death is not borne out by the evidence. [10]

As well as his town house, he also had a country estate with a 15th Century castle at Richardstown in County Louth, which he obtained from the historic White family. [11] His exact date of death is disputed but it was probably in January 1671. [9] He was Treasurer of the King's Inns from 1665 to 1669. [12]


He married firstly Sarah Wingfield daughter of Thomas Wingfield of Shrewsbury, by whom had two daughters, Elizabeth and Anne; she died before 1642. He married secondly in 1642 Elizabeth Gill (née Fellgate), the daughter and widow of [merchants]] of London, by whom he had two sons, William junior and John; she died in 1661.

The case of Aston's son William, who was hanged for murder (1686)

Aston's eldest son by Elizabeth Gill, William Aston junior (1643-1686), who was a barrister of Lincoln's Inn, killed a Mr Keating in a street brawl in Dublin in 1686 and was tried, convicted and hanged for his murder. [9] The crime was considered so grave, and his defence of his actions so feeble, that the Crown, despite his high social standing, clearly decided to make an example of him. A good deal of trouble was taken to empanel a "good jury" i.e. one which could be trusted, with a certain amount of "persuasion" (a polite word used by judges for bullying) from the Bench, to bring in a guilty verdict. [13] The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Henry Hyde, 2nd Earl of Clarendon, referred to Aston with contempt, and wrote to his brother Lord Rochester that despite "great intercession" having been made on the young man's behalf, he could see no grounds for James II to exercise his prerogative of mercy. [14] The only concession made to clemency was that, rather than Aston being hanged, drawn, and quartered and his body parts exposed in public, which was the usual penalty for an Irish murdererer at the time, his body, after a simple hanging would be released to his family for private burial. [15]

Third marriage

Sir William married thirdly, after 1661, Ursula Stockton, daughter of his judicial colleague, Thomas Stockton, and his wife Ursula Bellot of Great Moreton Hall, Cheshire, and had one surviving son, Thomas. Thomas's son William married Salisbury Tichborne, daughter and heiress of Henry Tichborne, 1st Baron Ferrard and Arabella Cotton in 1713 [16] and lived at Richardstown. [11] Their grandson William Aston (died 1769) was the de jure 6th Baron Aston, although he never made out a claim to the title, and may not have been aware of his right to it. [17]

After Sir William's death Ursula remarried Colonel Sir Charles Feilding, a younger son of George Feilding, 1st Earl of Desmond and Bridget Stanhope, by whom she had two daughters. She died in 1720. Lord Clarendon, in the letter to his brother Lord Rochester describing her stepson's conviction for murder, also gossiped that Ursula had a jointure of £300 a year, making her a woman of considerable wealth. [18]

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  1. Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 London John Murray 1926 Vol. 1 p.346
  2. Cokayne Complete Peerage Reprinted Gloucester 2000 Vol. 1 p.289
  3. Cokayne Complete Peerage
  4. National Library of Ireland, Genealogical Office: Ms.45, p.67, "Certificate of Arms of Sergeant Major William Aston, grandson of the uncle of Lord Aston of Texall in Staffordshire and then in Col. Hungerford’s Regt., May 20, 1647"
  5. Burke, Bernard. 2007 Heritage Books. The General Armory of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales Volume 1, p.31
  6. 1 2 Ball p.268
  7. The Parliamentary History of England, 1760, p.21
  8. D'Alton, John. History of Drogheda, Volume 1, p.259
  9. 1 2 3 Ball p.346
  10. Burke, Oiver Anecdotes of the Connaught Circuit Hodges Figgis Dublin 1885 p.64
  11. 1 2 Faulkner, Padraig. Dunleer, An Historical Archive last retrieved 25 November 2015
  12. Kenny, Colum The King's Inns and the Kingdom of Ireland Irish Academic Press Dublin 1992 p.290
  13. It was not then thought improper for judges to "persuade" i.e. coerce a jury into returning the desired verdict- Kenyon, J.P. The Stuart Constitution 2nd Edition Cambridge University Press 1986 p.406
  14. The Correspondence of Henry Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, with his brother Lawrence Hyde, 1st Earl of Rochester Vol.1 p.391
  15. In England this was the normal penalty for treason, not murder, but in Ireland the more severe penalty applied to murder as well as treason - see Clarendon Correspondence p.391
  16. Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, D. 87, "Marriage settlement between Thomas Aston and W. Aston, his son, of Loughans Town, Co. Louth and Sir H. Tichbourne and his daughter Salisbury, Beaulieu, Co. Louth, June 16, 1713."
  17. Cokayne p.289
  18. Clarendon Correspondence p.391