Bishop St. George Ashe (1657-1718)

Portrait by Hugh Howard

St. George Ashe was born in Castle Strange in the county of Roscommon, Ireland, on 3 March 1657, the son of Thomas Ashe (of St. John’s Abbey, co. Meath) and Mary St. George (daughter of Captain Richard St.George of Athlone).

He is registered on the College Roll as entering Trinity College Dublin (TCD) in 1671 at the age of 14. He was distinguished for his scholastic achievements and for the positions he occupied as a dignitary of the Church. He graduated from TCD with a B.A. in 1676, an M.A. in 1679 (in which year he was appointed as a Fellow of TCD), a B.D. in 1687, and became a D.D. in 1692.

He founded the Dublin Philosophical Society with William Molyneux in 1683, and succeeded him as Secretary in 1685. In the same year, he became Donegal Lecturer and Professor of Mathematics at TCD, and made important additions to that Science (ultimately he bequeathed his valuable Mathematical Library to TCD).

He was obliged to flee to England during the reign of James II, and in 1689 he became chaplain to Lord Paget, William III’s ambassador to Vienna and was also elected to membership of the Royal Society. In the Boyle Papers (Vol. 25, pp. 280-1), information is recorded from the Imperial Ambassador and members of his entourage concerning the transmutation of gold performed by J.W. Seiler with a date of 9 July 1691 in the margin. There is a further extract added in a letter from St George Ashe to the Royal Society, which is worth reproducing here:

On his return to Trinity in 1692, he was chosen Provost, and was the College Tutor of the celebrated Jonathan Swift, with whom he remained life-long friends. He is also said to be the clergyman who officiated at Swift and Stella’s secret “wedding” in 1716.

In 1695, he was elevated to be the Lord Bishop of Cloyne, of Clogher in 1697, and of Derry in 1716.

He married Jane St. George, daughter of Sir George St. George, bart of Dunway in the county of Galmore, and they had one son and one daughter. His daughter, Elizabeth St. George Ashe (1690 – 1741), married Sir Ralph Gore, bart of Manor Gore.
His son, also called St. George Ashe (1698 – 1721), was never in good health. He was taken on a four year Grand Tour of the Continent from 1716 to 1720 by George Berkeley (Junior Fellow of Trinity College in 1707, ordained in 1709, and appointed Bishop of Cloyne in 1734). They left a London that was celebrating (or mourning) the defeat of the 1715 Jacobite invasion and where anyone suspected of Jacobite sympathies like Berkeley (correctly or not) might find themselves in serious trouble. Their travels led them to Florence, Rome, Naples, Taranto, and Sicily (they witnessed the eruption of Vesuvius in 1717) . However, in the summer of 1720 George Ashe was not improving in health and Berkeley had orders to return to London. St. George Ashe did not regain his health and died a few months after the end of the tour.

Bishop St. George Ashe, DD, died in Dublin in 1718, his remains being interred in Christ Church. In condoling with Swift on the death of the distinguished bishop, Addison wrote, “He has scarce left behind him his equal in humanity, agreeable conversation and learning.” Sir A. Fountaine said to Swift that there was not a bishop in England with half his wit.