From notes on Ashley's life written by himself, to be found in the Sloane MSS. in the British Museum (Addit. MS. No. 2105), it seems that he was born at Damerham, on the confines of the counties of Wiltshire, Hampshire, and Dorset, 7 miles from Salisbury: that his father was Anthony Ashley, or Astley, of a knightly family in Dorset, and his mother Dorothy (Lyte), of Lytes Carey, in Somerset.
He further tells us that when a boy he delighted in reading Bevis of Hampton, Guy of Warwick, Valentine and Orson, Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and afterwards the Decameron of Boccace and the Heptameron of the Queen of Navarre. He was at school under Hadrian Saravia, at Southampton.
Wood says he became a fellow commoner of Hart Hall in 1580, and does not speak of his being a member of any other college in Oxford; but from his autobiography it appears that he was of Alban Hall and also of Magdalen College. He left the university without a degree, and was called to the bar by the Middle Temple.
His mind was too mercurial for law, and he gave himself to the study of Dutch, French, Spanish, and Italian. "Finding the practice of law," says Wood, "to have ebbs and tides, he applied himself to the learning of the languages of our neighbours, to the end that he might be partaker of the wisdom of those nations, having been many years of this opinion, that as no one soil or territory yieldeth all fruits alike, so no one climate or region affordeth all kind of knowledge in full measure."
In the preface to his Almansor Ashley speaks of having been in the library of the Escurial, where, he says, he saw a glorious golden library of Arabian books.
Ashley was elected Member of Parliament for Dorchester in 1597.
He lived for many years in the Middle Temple, where he died, without issue. He was buried in the Temple Church, and gave many books to the Temple Library.
His principal works are 'Urania,' in Latin verse, London, 1589, 4to, translated from the French of Du Bartas; 'The Interchangeable Course,' 1594, fol., translated from the French of Louis le Roy; 'Almansor, the learned and victorious King that conquered Spain, his Life and Death,' London, 1627, 4to, translated from the Spanish; 'Relation of the Kingdom of Cochin-China, containing many admirable rarities and singularities of that country,' London, 1633, 4to, translated from the Italian of Christ. Barri; 'David Persecuted,' translated from the Italian of Malvezzi, London, 1637.
- Of Honour (edited by Virgil Barney Heltzel). San Marino, CA: Huntington Library, 1947.
- Guillaume de Salluste Du Bartas, L'Uranie ou muse celeste = Urania sive musa cœlestis. London: Iohn Wolfe, 1589.
- A Comparison of the English and Spanish nation: composed by a French gentleman. London: Iohn Wolfe, 1589; Amsterdam : Theatrum Orbis Terrarum / New York: Da Capo, 1972.
- Louis Leroy, Of the Interchangeable Course; or, Variety of things in the whole world. London: printed by Charles Yetsweirt, 1594.
- Miguel de Luna, Almansor: The learned and victorious king that conquered Spaine. London: W. Stansby, for Iohn Parker 1627.
- Cristoffo Bori, Cochin-China: Containing many admirable rarities and singularities of that countrey. London: Robert Raworth, for Richard Clutterbuck, 1633.
- Virgilio Malvessi, Il Davide perseguitato = David persecuted. London Iohn Haviland, for Thomas Knight, 1637; London: Humphrey Mosely, 1648.
- Mew, James (1885) "Ashley, Robert" in Stephen, Leslie Dictionary of National Biography 2 London: Smith, Elder, p. 172 . Wikisource, Web, Dec. 10, 2016.
- Ashley, Robert (1565-1641) at History of Parliament Online, 1558-1603.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain, the Dictionary of National Biography (edited by Leslie Stephen). London: Smith, Elder, 1885-1900. Original article is at: Ashley, Robert