Lichfield City Council




Elias Ashmole - (1617-1692)

Elias Ashmole

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 to Ashmole.

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.

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