Elias Ashmole, the antiquary, was born in Breadmarket
Street In 1617, the son of a saddler and a lady of good family. He attended
Lichfield Grammar School and showed promise in several scholarly fields
and in music.
In the years leading up to the English Civil War he worked
in London as a lawyer, but soon after the outbreak of war he moved to Oxford
where he was in communication with the Royalist armies in Lichfield. Also
at Oxford he began his passionate interest in astrology and other magical
studies. After returning to London in 1646 he added botany, alchemy, anatomy,
logic and medicine to his varied list of interests.
His first wife, Eleanor had died in 1641 in childbirth,
and by his second marriage to Lady Manwaring, a lady 20 years his senior,
he was able, with the help of her wealth, to form an important collection
of astrological, medical and historical manuscripts.
His collection was enormously enriched in 1659 when the
famous botanist, John Tradescant, presented his natural history specimens
After the Restoration of Charles II, Ashmole's loyalty
was rewarded by being made Windsor Herald, a post which enabled him to
continue his research into the Order of the Garter. In 1672 these led to
the publication of his most famous work, 'The Institutions, Laws and
Ceremonies of the Most Noble Order of the Garter'.
Despite his attachment to magic, he was a founder member
of the Royal Society, a group dedicated to practical scientific research.
In 1675 Ashmole began to make arrangements for his scholarly
collection to be handed over to Oxford University, where it was to be housed
in a special museum. This building - now known as the Old Ashmolean -was
completed in 1683, the first public museum in the British Isles. As befitted
a man with Ashmole's intense curiosity, it was also to be a centre for
scientific research and remained so for over a century and a half.
Ashmole did not forget his native city; as well as charitable
gifts, he gave several music manuscripts to the Cathedral, and a beautiful
silver drinking vessel to the city, the Ashmole Cup, which can still be
seen in the Treasury in the Lichfield Heritage Centre.