1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ashmole, Elias

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ASHMOLE, ELIAS (1617-1692), English antiquarian, and founder of the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, was born at Lichfield on the 23rd of May 1617, the son of a saddler. In 1638 he became a solicitor, and in 1644 was appointed commissioner of excise. At Oxford, whither this brought him when the Royalist Parliament was sitting there, he made friends with Captain (afterwards Sir) George Wharton, through whose influence he obtained the king’s commission as captain of horse and comptroller of the ordnance. In 1646 he was initiated as a Freemason—the first gentleman, or amateur, to be “accepted.” In 1649 he married Lady Mainwaring, some twenty years his senior and a relative of his first wife who had died eight years before. This marriage placed him in a position of affluence that enabled him to devote his whole time to his favourite studies. His interest in astrology, aroused by Wharton, and by William Lilly,—whom with other astrologers he met in London in 1646,—seems, in the following years, to have subsided in favour of heraldry and antiquarian research. In 1657 his wife petitioned for a separation, but failing to gain her case returned to live with him. Between this crisis in his domestic life and the time of her death in 1668, Ashmole was in high favour at court. He was made successively Windsor herald, commissioner, comptroller and accountant-general of excise, commissioner for Surinam and comptroller of the White Office. He afterwards refused the office of Garter king-at-arms in favour of Sir William Dugdale, whose daughter he had married in 1668. In 1672 he published his Institutions, Laws and Ceremonies of the Order of the Garter, a work which was practically exhaustive, and is an example of his diligence and years of patient antiquarian research. Five years later he presented the Ashmolean Museum, the first public museum of curiosities in the kingdom, the larger part of which he had inherited from a friend, John Tradescant, to the university of Oxford. He made it a condition that a suitable building should be erected for its reception, and the collection was not finally installed until 1683. Subsequently he made the further gift to the university of his library. He died on the 18th of May 1692.