Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Aislabie, John

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AISLABIE, JOHN (1670–1742), statesman and politician, was baptised at Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, York, 7 Dec. 1670. He was the fourth son of George Aislabie, principal registrar of the archiepiscopal court of York, by his second wife, Mary, the eldest daughter of Sir John Mallorie, lord of the manor of Studley Royal. His father was killed in a duel with Mr. (afterwards Sir) Jonathan Jennings, 10 Jan. 1674. On the death of his eldest surviving brother, George, in 1699, John Aislabie succeeded to the Studley Royal estates, which had come into the possession of the family through his father's second marriage. In 1695 he was elected member of parliament for Ripon, which then returned two members, and seems to have been a pocket borough belonging to the lord of Studley Royal. He continued to sit for Ripon until 1702, when he was elected for the neighbouring borough of Northallerton, and in the same year chosen mayor of Ripon. In 1705 he was again returned for Ripon, and continued to represent the constituency until his expulsion from the House of Commons. In 1712 he was appointed one of the commissioners for executing the office of lord high admiral. In 1714 he became treasurer of the navy, an office of great trust, dignity, and profit. Two years afterwards, he was sworn in as a member of the privy council, at that time consisting of some sixty members, nearly all of whom were peers. Upon Charles, earl of Sunderland, becoming first lord of the treasury in March 1718, Aislabie accepted the office of chancellor of the exchequer.

At the close of the year 1719, the South Sea Company—first formed by Harley, earl of Oxford, in 1711, with the object of improving the public credit—proposed a scheme for paying off the national debt. The scheme was strenuously supported by Aislabie, and, notwithstanding the opposition of the Bank of England, was ultimately accepted in an amended form by the House of Commons. Every stratagem was employed to raise the price of the stock while the bill was in progress through parliament. It received the royal assent in April 1720. The subscription lists were thereupon opened, and the shares were immediately taken up by people of all classes. In August the price of the stock rose to 1000, but soon afterwards it began to decline. Public confidence was lost as quickly as it had been won, and not long afterwards the crash came. Thousands of families were ruined, and the resentment against the directors and other promoters of the South Sea scheme became universal. Parliament met 8 Dec. The directors were then ordered to lay before the House of Commons an account of their proceedings. After the Christmas recess a secret committee of inquiry was appointed by the commons, and on 23 Jan. 1720–21 Aislabie resigned the seals of his office. On 8 March the report of the secret committee with reference to the late chancellor of the exchequer was taken into consideration. Though Aislabie made 'a long submissive and pathetick speech in his own defence,' the house unanimously agreed to twelve resolutions, declaring him guilty of 'most notorious, dangerous, and infamous corruption,' that he 'had encouraged and promoted the Dangerous and Destructive execution of the South Sea scheme with a view to his own Exhorbitant Profit,' and that he 'be for his said offences expelled the house.' The next day he was committed to the Tower on the authority of the speaker's writ. During the discussion in the House of Lords on the bill for confiscating the estates of the directors and others for the benefit of the sufferers (in which bill Aislabie's name had been inserted in the other house) he was summoned from the Tower by order of the lords, and twice addressed the committee in his own defence. After some debate it was carried that his name should be retained in the bill, and he was thereupon remanded to the Tower. He was, however, allowed to retain his country estate and all the property of which he was possessed on or before 20 Oct. 1718, so that he did not fare so badly as some of his colleagues. Upon his release, Aislabie retired into Yorkshire and there led the life of a country gentleman, spending the chief part of his time in laying out the pleasure-grounds of Studley Royal and otherwise improving the estate. He died in 1742, aged 71 years, and was buried in the family chapel in Ripon Minster. He was twice married, first to Anne, daughter of Sir William Rawlinson, of Hendon, by whom he had three children who survived infancy, viz., William, Mary, and Anne. This lady perished with her infant daughter in a fire which occurred at her London residence on Christmas Day, 1701. He afterwards married Judith, daughter of Sir Thomas Vernon. There were no children of the second marriage.

Aislabie was a man of considerable energy and ability, but he unfortunately sacrificed an honourable and useful career to his ambition to amass a large fortune. He was succeeded in the family estate by his only son William, who was elected for Ripon in place of his father in 1721, and continued its representative until the time of his death in 1781. On the death, in July 1845, of Elizabeth Sophia Lawrence, grand-daughter of John Aislabie, the estate of Studley Royal, together with Fountains Abbey, devolved upon Thomas, second Earl de Grey, whose great-grandfather (Sir William Robinson) had married John Aislabie's sister.

[Walbran's Memorials of the Abbey of St. Mary of Fountains (Surtees Society), ii. appendix; Walbran's Guide to Ripon, Fountains Abbey, Brimham Rocks, and Hackfall; Burke's Visitation of Seats and Arms, ii. 90; Thomas Gent's History of Ripon; Political State of Great Britain, xix., xx.; Historical Register for 1721; Mahon's History of England, ii. 4–34; Chambers's Book of Days, i. 146–9; Mackay's Extraordinary Popular Delusions, 45–84 ; Notes and Queries, 2nd series, iii. 292.]

G. F. R. B.