Sir Arthur Aston, 1590-1649

Imperious Royalist offiicer, bludgeoned to death at the siege of Drogheda with his own wooden leg.

The Astons were a Catholic family originally from Cheshire. Arthur Aston was the younger son of Sir Arthur Aston of Fulham in Middlesex, a soldier who was killed on the Ile de Rhé expedition of 1627. Arthur Aston the younger became a professional soldier during the 1610s. He served the Tsar of Russia until about 1618 then fought for Sigismund III of Poland against the Ottoman Turks in a force of Scottish and Irish troops commanded by his father. Around 1630, Aston was authorised to raise an English regiment for Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, which served in northern Germany. Aston returned to England in 1639 and bought an estate at Cattenhall in Cheshire.

In April 1640, Aston was commissioned sergeant-major-general to Viscount Conway in the Second Bishops' War and fought at Newburn. In December 1640, he was discharged from the King's service because of sensitivity over his Catholicism. However, he was knighted in February 1641.

Aston offered his services to King Charles on the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642. Despite concerns over his religion, Prince Rupert persuaded the King to grant him a commission. Aston was appointed colonel-general of dragoons a few days before the battle of Edgehill (October 1642). Aston's dragoons fought on the Royalist left wing and beat off Parliamentarian dragoons to clear the way for Wilmot's charge. Later that year, Aston was appointed governor of the strategically-important town of Reading. During the winter of 1642-3, Aston strengthened Reading's defences, blowing up the abbey church to obtain stone and bullying the soldiers and citizens into carrying out the work. In April 1643, Reading was besieged by the Earl of Essex. During the siege, Aston was struck on the head by a falling brick and rendered speechless, so the dishonour of surrendering the town went to his second-in-command, Colonel Fielding. Despite rumours that Aston's injury was feigned, he was appointed major-general to Prince Rupert and fought at the siege of Bristol and the first battle of Newbury.

In August 1643, Aston was appointed governor of Oxford at the request of Queen Henrietta Maria, who preferred that the post should be held by a Catholic. As at Reading, however, the soldiers and citizens quickly grew to resent Aston's severity and imperiousness. According to one report, he was confined to his chamber In February 1644 after beating up the Mayor of Oxford. Aston continued as governor of Oxford until September 1644 when he broke a leg in a riding accident. Gangrene set in and the leg was amputated. The King granted him a pension of £1,000 per year and he was replaced as governor by Sir Henry Gage. Although Aston made every effort to discredit Gage and undermine his authority, he was not re-appointed to the governorship when Gage was killed during a skirmish in January 1645.

He had the fortune to be very much esteemed where he was not known, and very much detested where he was; and he was at this time too well known at Oxford to be beloved by any.Clarendon on Aston's appointment as governor of Oxford

On Rupert's recommendation, Aston joined the service of the Marquis of Ormond, who in 1649 was preparing Ireland to be a new Royalist power base. Aston was appointed governor of Drogheda, which occupied an important strategic position at the mouth of the River Boyne between Dublin and Ulster. Cromwell himself attacked Drogheda in September 1649. Aston refused the summons to surrender and was killed during the storming of the town — bludgeoned to death with his own wooden leg, which the Parliamentarian soldiers believed to be filled with gold coins.


Basil Morgan, Sir Arthur Aston, Oxford DNB, 2004

G. Ridsdill Smith & M. Toynbee, Leaders of the Civil Wars 1642-48 (Kineton 1977)

P. Young & W. Emberton, Sieges of the Great Civil War (London 1978)

With thanks to Richard Brzezinski for clarification of Aston's early military career in Europe.


Biography of Aston