Aston, Thomas (DNB00)
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, Sir Thomas and his friends set about the preparation of a counter-petition or remonstrance. Sir Thomas was attacked as the framer of the document in an 'answer' which he denounces as the work of 'some brain-sick anabaptist,' and this appears to have provoked him to the hasty compilation of a quarto which is sufficiently described on its title- page: 'A Remonstrance against Presbytery, exhibited by divers of the nobilitie, gentrie, ministers, and inhabitants of the County Palatine of Chester, with the motives of that Remonstrance, together with a short survey of the Presbyterian discipline, showing the inconveniences of it, and the inconsistency thereof with the constitution of this state, being in its principles destructive to the laws and liberties of the people. With a briefe review of the institution, succession, jurisdiction of the ancient and venerable order of bishops found to be instituted by the Apostles, continued ever since, grounded on the lawes of God and most agreeable to the law of the land. By Sir Thomas Aston, Baronet. . . . Printed for John Aston, 1641' (B.M.), 4to. Sir Thomas includes in his book the petition to which it is an answer, and also 'certain positions' maintained by Samuel Eaton in his sermons at Chester and Knutsford. Eaton had been resident in New England, and had brought thence a keen appreciation of the congregational form of church government. Aston also made 'A Collection of Sundry Petitions presented to the King's most excellent Majesty, as also to the two Houses now assembled in Parliament. And others already signed by most of the gentry, ministers, and freeholders of several counties,' 1642 (Bodleian). When the war broke out between the king and parliament. Sir Thomas took part with the royalists, and was in command at Middlewich in March 1642-3, when he was defeated by Sir William Brereton. The royalists lost their two cannons and five hundred stand of arms. Few were slain, but the prisoners included many of the principal cavaliers engaged, and the town suffered at the hands of the roundheads, who made free with the property of burgesses and the plate of the church. Sir Thomas escaped, but when a few days later he returned to Chester he was placed under arrest at Pulford, where he wrote a defence of his conduct which furnishes a very minute account of the affair and is an interesting picture of the civil war. Sir Thomas apparently freed himself from censure and rejoined the king's army, and indeed is said to have suffered a second defeat from Brereton at Macclesfield in 1643. He was afterwards captured in a skirmish in Staffordshire. When in prison at Stafford he endeavoured to escape, but the attempted evasion was discovered by a soldier who struck him on the head. This and other wounds received in the war brought on a fever, of which he died at Stafford on 24 March 1645. He was buried at Aston chapel, and is fairly entitled, as Wood says, 'to the character of a stout and learned man.'[Ormerod's History of Cheshire, ed. Helsby, 1882, ii. 82-3; Earwaker's East Cheshire, 1880, i. 470, ii. 657; Wood's Athenæ Oxonienses; Axon's Cheshire Gleanings.]