Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 02.djvu/224

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Aston
Aston
212

transferred to the English court and knighted. In 1768 Aston was a member of the court presided over by Lord Mansfield, which unanimously decided that the writ of outlawry issued against Wilkes upon his conviction for publishing two seditious libels in No. 45 of the 'North Briton' and in the 'Essay on Woman,' was bad by reason of two formal defects. Wilkes, who had kept out of the country until the writ was issued, voluntarily surrendered himself to the sheriff of Middlesex before the execution of it, and then appeared before the court upon a writ of error, claiming to have the writ of outlawry declared invalid upon certain technical grounds. The judges disallowed all the objections urged by the counsel for Wilkes, but the result of a careful examination of precedents conducted by the junior members of the court (Yates, Aston, and Willes) was to show that in the days when the writ of outlawry (capias utlagatum) was in common use 'a series of judgments required that … after the words "at my county court" should be added the name of the county, and after the word "held" should be added "for the county of —" (naming it).' The writ being faulty in these respects, the court held that it was invalid. A decision based upon a ground so purely technical, overlooked by the counsel for the applicant, and only discovered by the judges after careful research, excited in the minds of those hostile to Wilkes suspicions of corrupt motives, and a report was circulated to the effect that the judges, or at any rate Willes and Aston, had been bribed by a gift of lottery tickets, that Aston had been seen selling them on 'Change, and had remarked that he had as good a right to sell his tickets as his brother Willes. In 1770, on the sudden death of Yorke, which occurred on 20 Jan., immediately after his acceptance of the office of lord chancellor in succession to Lord Camden, the Rockingham administration, being unable to find any lawyer of ability and character to succeed him, determined to put the great seal in commission; and Sir Sidney Stafford Smythe of the Exchequer, Sir Richard Aston of the King's Bench, and the Hon. Henry Bathurst of the Common Pleas, were selected as commissioners. These three judges, having had no experience of chancery business, in the space of a year (1770-1) committed so many blunders that a change was plainly necessary. Accordingly, on 21 Jan. 1771, the three commissioners delivered up the great seal, and on the same day it was redelivered to one of them, the Hon. Henry Bathurst. It was by Aston, sitting with Lord Mansfield in the court of King's Bench at Westminster, that in 1777 sentence of fine and imprisonment was passed upon Horne (afterwards Horne Tooke) for a seditious libel in advertising a subscription in relief 'of the widows, orphans, and aged parents of our beloved American fellow-subjects, who, faithful to the character of Englishmen, and preferring death to slavery, were, for that reason only, inhumanly murdered by the king's troops at or near Lexington and Concord in the province of Massachusetts.' Aston was married twice, first to a Miss Eldred, and then to Rebecca, daughter of Dr. Rowland, a physician of Aylesbury, and widow of Sir David Williams, Bart., of Rose Hall, Herts. He is said to have been brusque in his manners. He died in 1778, leaving no issue by either of his wives.

[Burke's Extinct Baronetage, 23, 569; Wotton's Baronetage; Cal. of Home Office Papers, 1766-9, 1770-2; Hansard, xxxii. 548, 552; Horner's Life, Letter from Horner to Murray upon the Irish Jury Bill; Smyth's Law Officers of Ireland, 311; Law and Lawyers (reputed author James Grant), ii. 140; Burrow's Settlement Cases, 533; Burrow's Reports, iv. 2527; Howell's State Trials, xix. 1085, 1098, 1109, 1116, xx. 787; Cr. Off. Min. B. No. 2, fol. 16; Annual Reg. xiii. 186.]

J. M. R.

ASTON, Sir THOMAS (1600–1645), royalist, was the heir of an ancient Cheshire family which had been settled at Aston in that county for many generations, and showed undoubted descent from the time of Henry II. Several of these early Astons were knighted, and one of them was treasurer to Philippa, the wife of Edward III, and joined in the wars in Spain. Thomas Aston was born on 29 Sept. 1600. His father, John Aston, who had been sewer to the wife of James I, died in 1615, and presumably his children remained under the care of his widow. Thomas was educated at Brasenose College, Oxford. He was made a baronet by Charles I in July 1628, and served as high sheriff of Cheshire in 1635. In this year died his first wife, Magdalene, daughter of Sir John Poulteney, but their four children all died young. She lies buried in the family chapel at Aston Hall, with an epitaph which may have been the work of her husband, and is certainly characteristic of the period. In 1639 Sir Thomas took as his second wife Anne, the heiress of Sir Henry Willoughby, and his only son was named Willoughby.

Sir Thomas was a staunch churchman and loyally attached to the monarchy, and in the civil and ecclesiastical troubles he took his part. The portentous rise of nonconformist sentiment excited alike fear and anger. When what was known as the Cheshire petition against episcopacy was in circulation,