by Daphne Drake

In 1526 a John Drake of Exmouth brought an action at law against a family called Frankcheyney to recover an estate in Musbury, East Devon known as Ash, which he claimed had been wrongfully retained by them after the death of their mother or grand- mother Christiana Billett, whose first husband had been another John Drake of Exmouth, who is said to have been "engaged in trade or piracy". The claimant was successful and recovered the estate; the first Drake to live on it (other than the original "pirate" who had married the heiress of it sometime between 1412-1422) was the claimants son, another John Drake, who was an attorney. At this time it had become obvious to the shrewd that Henry VIII meant to confiscate all the monastery property, an event which took place and is recorded in English history books as the Dissolution of the Monasteries. In several cases where Abbots foresaw the fate of their order, they made the best bargain open to them in the circumstances by selling monastery lands to local gentlemen before the Kings commissioners arrived. They were thus able to raise some capital on which to live, in addition to the small pensions which were granted to most of the dispossessed monks; the King was not anxious to route more local ill-feeling than could be avoided,so that most of these pre-Dissolution sales were not upset. In this way the last Abbot of the Abbey nearest to Ash House, Newenham Abbey, anticipated the seizure of that monastic estate by appointing John Drake (described as Gentleman of Musbury) Steward of the Abbey in November 1533, and following up this appointment two years later by making grants of Abbey Farms for the lives of the Steward and two of his sons. In May 1535 the Prioress of a nunnery near Exeter (Polsloe) made a similar grant to John Drake of the rectory of Withycombe Raleigh and Budleigh.

John Drake married Amy, daughter of Roger Grenville and by this marriage acquired more land. He also bought the Lordship of the Manor of Musbury, and other small estates at Trill, near Axminister, Uplyme, and in Axminister parish. The 17th century Devonshire historians Tristram Risdon and William Pole call him a "man of very great estate". His wife was a descendant in the 8th generation of Edward 1, King of England, by the marriage of the latter's daughter to Humphrey de Bohun.

Newenham Abbey wae finally seized In December 1536 "for the King" by a Robert Drake of Southleigh, who lived at Waddon, a farm in that parish. Some more information is given about this family later.

John Drake of Ashe died in October 1558, and his wife in 1578. They are commemorated by one of the three groups of sculpture on the large Drake monument in Musbury church.Of their six sons only three survived them Bernard, Robert and Richard - but from these three descended such an enormous clan, that it is impossible to give here more than an outline of the various families with indications of the printed sources to be looked at by anyone curious enough to study all the ramifications.

The senior house at Ashe, continued through john's eldest surviving son Bernard, remained in occupation there - acquiring in course of time a baronetcy - until 1733. The last male heir was the 6th baronet, Sir William Drake, born in 1695, He married in June 1726 Anne, daughter of William Peere Williams. It appears that he was an unsatisfactory husband, and a very extravagant man, since a deed of separation was drawn up by which the property was secured to his wife in return for the baronet's debts being paid. He died in October 1732 and his wife, who was childless, remarried Colonel George Speke of White Lackington, Somerset. The only child of this marriage, a daughter, married the Lord North who has gone down in English history as the English Minister who contributed to the establishment of the United States of America, since it was his mismanagement of the colonial question for his master George III which led to the defection of the English colonies in America from English rule. Mrs Speke, who seems to have retained her title as "Dame Anne Drake" appears to have gone to White Lackington to live, and Ashe House was left in charge of a house steward. When Lady Drake died some irregularity in the settlements caused the Ashe estate to be placed in Chancery until 1802, when it was sold to the Tucker family. It subsequently became a farm; it had already suffered damage in the Civil Wars and two fires, and became very neglected and dilapidated. The Chapel was turned into a shed to house the cider-press. About 1926 the house was bought by Mr. Peat the well-known Egyptologist, who very carefully and lovingly restored it. Daphne Drake and Frank Drake visited the house in August 1933 and had permission from Mrs. Peat ( by then a widow ) to photograph It. Mrs. Peat sold it again early in 1950, offering it to Frank Drake, who had regretfully to refuse the opportunity of buying it since the price was beyond his purse.

The last distinguished visitor to Ashe was Mr. Winston Churchill, whose ancestor the Duke of Marlborough was born there, in 1650, and was baptized John after his grandfather John Drake, father of Elizabeth Drake, who married Sir Winston Churchill. The latter, a Dorset gentleman who had been ruined by his loyalty to the Royalist side in the English Civil Wars, had to live at Ashe after his marriage because his own estate had been confiscated. Ashe was partly ruinous because it been attacked early in the Civil War; Dame Eleanor Drake, Elizabeth's mother had been an ardent Parliamentarian and had garrisoned the house with Parliament troops. (Her husband, Sir John, had died in 1636 and bequeathed her a life interest in it.) So her Royalist neighbour, after the outbreak of war, promptly moved against her and succeeded in burning part of the house and damaging much of the rest. A penniless Royalist son-in-law sharing a house with an aggrieved and (by contemporary account truculent mother-in-law, could not have been in a very happy position. Perhaps that is why he occupied his time at Ashe by writing a very large book, occasionally to be found as a calf-bound folio in second-hand book-shops but otherwise never read, which is a history of the Kings of i England and the doctrine of the divine right of Kings upon which Sir Winston Churchill's leader Charles I insisted and so brought himself to the scaffold. The other child of this marriage between Elizabeth Drake and Sir Winston Churchill, a daughter who was christened Arabella in the private chapel at Ashe on 28th Januarys 1648, became the ancestress of a Spanish noble family whose present representative Is the Duke of Berwick and Alba, at one time Spanish Ambassador to Great Britain. Her son was created Duke of Berwick by his father, King James II of England, and married a Spanish noblewoman who brought him the Alba possessions. A gentleman at the court of Charles II (The Comte de Grammont) has left a description of Arabella in his diary: he says she was tall, freckled and plain, but had beautiful legs.

Her grandmother, Dame Eleanor Drake, was shut up in lyme Regis for eight weeks in 1644 when that town was besieged by a Royalist army. A diary of the siege was kept by Edward Drake of Southleigh who was also in the town. This diary turned up at White Lackington in 1786, when it was copied - fortunately since the original has since been lost. From this copy a version has been printed in Hutchins' History of Dorset, published In 1861.

The only other member of the principal family which there is room to notice bere is BERNARD DRAKE who is interesting on his own account and also because of his acquaintance with Admiral Sir Francle Drake. He was the son of John Drake of Ashe who died in 1558, and succeeded him in the estate there. He was one of Queen Elizabeth's Naval Commanders, and she knighted him at Greenwich in January 1585, for his services'against the Spaniards inan action off Newfoundland. It is evident that he knew Sir Francle Drake well because in 1585 he borrowed 600 pound from him, giving him a mortgage upon Ashe. The deeds were lodged with a Sir Richard Martyn. A year later Sir Bernard Drake died. In 1596 his son John repaid the principal, but put forward a claim to have the outstanding interest remitted on account of an agreement said to have been made with his father by the Admiral to "forgive the interest if he (Sir Francis) made a saving voyage". (He was about to embark In the "Elizabeth Bonaventure" for an attack on Spanish possessions In the New World.) This claim was repudiated by the Admiral's brother and heir, Thomas Drake, who refused to allow the return of the deeds of Ashe until he was paid the Interest due. He won his case; and the resulting ill-feeling between the two families may account for a spiteful story told by a distant connection of the Drake family [a] to the effect that when Sir Francis Drake was knighted he wished to adopt the arms borne by the Drakes of Ashe, a red winged dragon on a silver ground, and that Sir Bernard refused his permission. Therefore a special coat of arms was designed for the Admiral, including a ship "in the rigging whereof Is hung up by the heels a wivern gules" i.e., in heraldic language a red winged dragon, In derision. The same story says that Sir Bernard boxed Sir Francis Drake's ears and "that within the verge of the Court".

[a] This tale is told by John Prince, author of a book entitled " Worthies of Devon". His stepmother was a Janet Drake, and his godfather was Sir John Drake, first baronet, 1625-1669, greatgrandson of Sir Bernard. Prince says his godfather told him the story.

The two brothers of Sir Bernard founded two of the many distinct families based on that founded at Ashe by the first John Drake there. Richard Drake obtained a Court appointment as Equerry to Queen Elizabeth in 1577, married a Miss Ursula Stafford whose mother Lady Dorothy Stafford had been the Queen's Lady of the Bedchamber for many years, and bought an estate in Esher. He received a ransom of 2,500 pounds for a distinguished Spanish prisoner who was captured after the defeat of the Armada and housed with Richard Drake for four-and-a half years until his exchange with an English prisoner in the hands of the Spaniards. The family of Drake of Shardeloes in Buckinghamshire are descendants of this Richard.

John Drake's second son Robert settled at Wiscombe Parks Southleigh, an estate of about 370 acres. He died in 1600 and there is still in Southleigh Church a very handsome tomb to his memory. The last descendant of this branch of whom there is any record is Thomas Drake, son of Dennis Drake, who was born at Churchstanton and died childless in 1720.

Also at Southleigh was another family named Drake, who lived at a farm named Waddon, were on friendly terms with the family at Ashes, but claimed no relationship. (They may have been illegitimate relations.) The first of these minor Southleigh Drakes to be recorded was Robert Drake "Gentlman" who made entry for the King into Nevenham Abbey when it was confiscated by the Crown in 1536. He died in 1558 leaving eight children,about whom nothing much is known except for the eldest son,Edward Drake, who married in 1558. His son John, who died in 1607 and was buried at Yeovil, left a son Edward, who was an attorney-at-law at Colyton, Devon. It was this Edward who was caught at the siege of Lyme Regis and kept a diary of his eight weeks confinement in the town, which has already been described on page 39. He was married three times, and was survived by two daughters, Mrs. Bowdge and Mrs. Bond. The last-named is buried at Musbury. Edward Drake is buried at Colyton, where he died in 1668, Nothing more is known of this Southleigh family except that they seem to have had some relations at Seaton, one of whom - another Edward Drakes perhaps a newphew witnessed Edward Drake senior's will.