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The Search for Penelope Ashley-Cooper

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The Purpose of this Study

This study was created to examine the story and existence of Penelope Ashley-Cooper, said in some accounts to have been the base born child of Anthony Ashley-Cooper. She is said to have immigrated to colonial Virginia, married Peter Massie and bore him children. Some believe the account to be baseless and without any supporting evidence. We will attempt to examine the existing documentation and evidence in the hopes of determining the roots and truth of this interesting story.


Lord Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 1621-1683, was a prominent member of the English Parliament during the reign of the Stuart Dynasty. Possessed of a brilliant legal mind, he was created the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, a title which continues into the modern day. On a more personal note the King of England himself, Charles, II, openly stated on Ashley's sex habits, "I believe, Shaftesbury, thou art the wickedest dog in England." And, Shaftesbury was "...the greatest rogue in England." King Charles was indeed an expert on this subject as he himself had many illegitimate children. [1]: Or as the old saying goes, "Takes one to know one." From this seed of the King's colorful comment we will examine the old story that Lord Ashley fathered illegitimate twin daughters named Penelope and Lucretia. Advocacy for the Penelope and Lucretia novella was advanced by Judge Frank Massey of Fort Worth, Texas in his 1974 volumes on the Massey families in England and America. [2] Judge Massey was not actually descended from the line in question therefore he had no ulterior motive to validate the story of Ashley's twins. But as the narrative begins Rev. Andrew Massie, Sr. was minister at Auchterless in 1647. "Officers of the Marischal College and University of Aberdeen, 1593-1860", Aberdeen University Press, 1897. Andrew Massie was given by Kennedy as admitted in 1623</ref> Note: In the "Qratio Funebris" , printed by Raban in 1623, William Ogston is styled Professor of Moral Philosophy; William Wedderburn, of Greek; Andrew Massie, of Logic; and James Sibbald, of Natural Philosophy ; these being the four regents. [3] [4] Two of his children were William Massie and a daughter whose first name is unknown. William desired entry into the service of Lord Ashley. He and his sister left Edinburgh and moved to London about 1646. The liaison reportedly occurred at about this time. The twin girls were named Penelope and Lucretia. Judge Massey writes that Lucretia likely never married. However Penelope later married her apparent cousin Peter Massie. It is not known if Peter's wife died in England or Virginia. The Great London Fire of 1666 destroyed close to 100 parish churches and their records. To make matters worse Peter Massie migrated to New Kent County, Virginia where most of their colonial records were destroyed by fire in 1787 and then burned again in 1865 during the American Civil War. Coincidentally Lord Ashley died in 1683 and Peter Massie departed England for Virginia about 1687. Judge Massey writes, "In view of the enhanced status of the (Massie) family it is probably correct to give credit to the report that Penelope, the wife of Peter of New Kent, was in fact the natural daughter of Anthony Ashley-Cooper, First Earl of Shaftesbury, as created for him by King Charles II,....Shaftesbury was one of the Lords Proprietors of Virginia and the Carolinas and the man for whom the Ashley and Cooper Rivers which join at Charleston, South Carolina, were named."

Disputed Parentage

The first Earl Ashley-Cooper was married three times not to mention his other lady friends as noted by King Charles II. His descendants the 10th Earl of Shaftesbury (died in 2004) and his son Nicholas the 12th Shaftesbury both deny that the first Earl ever had descendants in America. Scoffers like to point out that the first Shaftesbury never mentioned any illegitimate children in his writings. Are you kidding me? There would be more reason NOT to mention them. Being "base born" held a greater stigma at that time. Illegitimate children had no legal claims to the estate of their natural father however there were exceptions under certain circumstances. The risk of litigation was still there. One Wikitree contributor noted that there was supposedly found no birth or christening records for a Penelope and Lucretia in Dorset. So why would Miss Massie absolutely have to give birth there ? Perhaps she went home to Aberdeenshire, Scotland to deliver her children ? Or some other place ? In the wake of a scandal were the births ever even recorded ? So what is the evidence that the first Earl Ashley-Cooper had twin illegitimate daughters ?

The Evidence

The testimony to support the story that the First Earl Ashley-Cooper had twin illegitimate daughters comes from---of all places---the records of the Quakers. Peter Massie, Sr. and his family were members of St. Peter's Anglican Church in New Kent County, Virginia in the early 1700's. A number of the Massies were lured away to the new liberal religion of Quakerism. The Anglicans tolerated the Quakers so long as they continued to pay their tithes to the Church of England as required by law. Though Peter Massie, Sr. never became a Quaker some of his children ended up on the rolls of the Society of Friends. These records survived and have been transcribed in Hinshaw's Quaker Encyclopedia. According to this source elder Peter Massie in fact had a daughter named Lucretia Massie("Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy", vol. VI, page 251- by Hinshaw). The reader will recall the story that Penelope had a sister Lucretia. Therefore apparently Peter's daughter Lucretia was named after her maternal aunt Lucretia. So the proven Lucretia in the Quaker record helps to support the existence of the elder Lucretia. Oddly, though The Quaker entry names a daughter for Peter Massie, Sr., neither the Friends Society nor the vestry book for St. Peter's Church ever names Peter's wife. It is presumed that she predeceased him. According to the the St. Peter's Vestry book and Quaker entries Lucretia Massie (born c1677) married John Johnson. The same sources list one of their proven sons as Ashley Johnson, believed to have been named after the Earl. As a matter of fact from 1661 to 1672 the Earl dropped the Cooper from his style of address and was referred to as "The Lord Ashley"(Wikipedia). This Ashley Johnson had an older brother John Johnson, Jr. (bap. 1702 at St. Peter's). John Johnson, Jr. married Elizabeth Ellyson and they named their first born son, that's right, Ashley Johnson (they must have been proud of that name for some reason). Again this naming pattern is proven by the Quaker entries, St. Peter's Vestry book of New Kent County, Va. and the vestry book of adjoining St. Paul's Parish in Hanover County, Va. Point being the passing down of the name Ashley credits the Lord Ashley story. Two of Lucretia (Massie) Johnson's children were named Massie Johnson (daughter) and Ashley Johnson(son). Obviously Lucretia named a child Massie (Quaker listing) as this was her family surname. By the same line of reasoning she named another child Ashley (Quaker listing) because that too was a family name. But Lucretia's mother's first name is not so much important as compared to who the mother really was. Later generations--may?--not have passed down her given name due to the mark of being base born. It seems unlikely that Lucretia's mother would have gone by the surname of Ashley-Cooper. It is more likely she went by her mother's surname of Massie / Massey. The wife of Peter Massie would apparently have died in England sometime between the birth of Lucretia (C1677) and the arrival of her husband in Virginia (c1687). This is why there appears in the St. Peter's Vestry book no wife for Peter Massie. Peter Massie was about 50 years old when he came to America which is old for that time period. There is no indication in the Virginia vestry book that he ever remarried. Hinshaw's Quaker records list the following of this Johnson family, Ashley Johnson born c1713 Ashley Johnson born c1726 Ashley Johnson born 1745 Ashley Johnson born 1766. It was a common practice at that time that parents would often give surnames of ancestor's as given names to their children. Examples would be Massie Johnson, Ashley Johnson, and Gerard Johnson. The wife of John Johnson, Jr. (b. 1702) was Elizabeth Ellyson who was a direct descendant of Doctor Thomas Gerard of Westmoreland County, Virginia. Doctor Gerard was also the physician to the Lee family which lived adjacent to him. While the Johnson's passed down the Ashley name the Massie's, it seems, did not. This might be explained in terms of religion. The Massie's were stalwart Anglicans. However the first Ashley-Cooper though an Anglican (by law) professed himself an "Arian", a belief which espoused that Jesus was not God in the flesh and thus a "Heresy". It might be unlikely that the Massie's would pass down the name of an ancestor which they deemed as a "heretic". The Johnsons however became anti-Anglican Quaker dissidents, many of which shared Ashley's theological position. Therefore perhaps one reason why the Johnsons carried on his name. So how did the Ashley name get into the Johnson family ? No Ashleys, as far as this writer knows, were living near the Massies and Johnsons in New Kent County, Virginia at the time. Therefore the name had to have originated in England. The following is from, "Memoirs, Letters, and Speeches of Anthony Ashley Cooper: With Other Papers", by John Murray, 1859, "...he (Ashley Cooper) had several daughters. It is also documented that he had at least one illegitimate son, Charles, born during his first marriage." Doug Tucker, in his "The House Empire Through The Ages", writes that Ashley's mother-in-law by his third wife was named Penelope and that she had a sister Lucretia. The implication being that the twins were named after them. If true that would up the twins estimated birth date at c1655. That would still work regardless as junior Penelope's daughter Lucretia Massie Johnson was born c1677-1683. It might also suggest that Peter Massie was prior married and that Penelope was a second or later wife. Tucker writes, "Coincidence ? Perhaps, but it adds to my willingness to accept the essence of the family legend claim of the Ashley Cooper bloodline." And is it also a coincidence that the Massey's and Johnson's both apparently came from Aberdeenshire, Scotland ?

Ashley-Cooper in Colonial America

According to the web site, "The House Empire Through The ages", "In 1670, he organized a colonizing effort (based from Barbados where Ashley-Cooper also held property) and sent nearly 200 'mostly' Quakers to establish a new colony on the Carolina coast. There, they founded the Charleston colony on a peninsula between two rivers which were named the Ashley River and the Cooper River--names they carry to this day." Ashley even laid out the street plan for Charleston. Lord Anthony Ashley-Cooper planned to leave England and retire in Carolina. He requested (and did receive), "12,000 acres in some convenient healthy fruitful place upon the Ashley River." This gigantic tract was located on the upper reaches of the Ashley River. In recent years archaeologists have done much work in the area. The present Mateeba Gardens House sits upon a part of the Ashley Barony. Middleton Plantation is located nearby. Lord Ashley wrote, "My thoughts were to have planted on Ashley River." However Ashley became disgruntled when he learned that his workers had built his manor house about 2 miles from the river. He then resolved to make his seat on the Edisto River. This goal was never realized as the Earl died in 1683 in Amsterdam never having the chance to see South Carolina. In 1698 the Honorable Maurice Ashley acquired the 12,000 acres. He held it until 1717 and then sold it to a Samuel Wragg. In 1669 Ashley co-owned most of the vast land between what is now Virginia and Florida. The area that became South Carolina contains about 20 million acres. Ashley had planned to be seated on the upper reaches of the Ashley River near Charles Town (Charleston). Each of the eight proprietors would own four fifths of the region which later evolved into the Colonies North and South Carolina. Therefore Ashley would have owned roughly 3 million acres in South Carolina from the coast and far inland. His holdings would include Charleston which explains why he was the one who laid out the cities original street plan. Not to mention his sugar plantation in Barbados. Ashley also owned a trade ship called "The Rose"(See "Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina" in Wikipedia article. Anthony-Ashley Cooper might have been a Crypto (secret)-Jew. According to the book, "When Scotland Was Jewish", by Hirschman & Yates, pages 91-92, it contains this passage on the Earl's main mistress, "Like the Stuart monarch Charles II, Shaftesbury had difficulty producing an heir of his body and rather greater facility in forming scandalous relationships. And like 'Old Rowley' and other Cavaliers, Shaftesbury remained true to his main mistress, after a fashion, and acknowledged the more attractive and ambitious of his bastards. His Nell Gwyn was Lucretia Massey. The illegitimate offspring of this teen-age liaison, evidently his first love, all made brilliant marriages and founded long lines that blended with the First Families of Virginia, specifically Bollings(Boleyn), Howards, Johnstons, Walkers and Pocahontas' people." On the Jewish question it is interesting to note that Ashley died 1683 in Amsterdam in the home of a merchant named Abraham Keck. "Keck" is a German Jewish surname (see book, "Shaftesbury the First Earl", by Traill, p. 198-199, pub. 1888, on his death). If Miss Massey was a life-long mistress of Ashley then it is possible that the twins could have been born as late as the 1660's. This would in turn fit well with daughter Lucretia Massie Johnson being born c1677-83, and her proven son John Johnson (Jr.) being born 1702 according to the St. Peter's Vestry Book of New Kent Co. Va.

DNA Research

The Ashley family in South Carolina claims direct ties to the first Ashley- Cooper. The Ashley family in America has offered to compare their DNA results with the Ashley-Cooper line in England. However the present Earl of Shaftesbury (Nicholas) has declined to participate in a DNA comparison. He also maintains that his research does not indicate that the first Earl had descendants in America.


What are some historical facts that are consistent with the report ? The following is from the history of Shaftesbury written by Benj. Martyn, and another history of him by W.D. Christie,

  1. King Charles II and Ashley were sharing the same mistress(Lady Castlemaine). Also, Ashley was managing one of the King's mistresses(a Miss Robert's, daughter of a clergyman). This is according to Ashley's associates Bishop Burnett, & Sir Paul Neal, of the Royal Science Society of London. "...Sir P. Neal, who, from his constant attention in entertaining the Earl's mistresses when they walked in Hyde Park"..
  2. The King's statement of Ashley's sexual nature. The old anecdote, "As Lord Shaftesbury was coming into the presence, the King said aloud to the Queen, 'Here, Madam, is the greatest whoremaster in England.' Lord Shaftesbury, bowing to the Queen, gravely replied, 'Of a subject, Madam.'
  3. The fact that the reported liaison which produced the twins occurred when Ashley was about 24 or 25 years old at which time he would have been hormonally high-strung.
  4. The Massies were an upper class family with connections in London.One of Ashley's fellow Carolina proprietors was Sir Edward Hyde, the Earl of Clarendon ( d. 1674). Clarendon was a Massey descendant. His wife was also of a Massey family. Edward Massie was a General under parliament and King Charles II, contemporary with Ashley. Lastly, Ashley served in parliament with Sir William Brereton of Cheshire, who was a Massey relative.
  5. The Earl was a religious nonconformist at heart. Biographer W.D. Christie, Esq., wrote in the 1850's comparing the morals of Ashley to his last wife(Spencer), "She is described as a woman of exemplary virtue and strong religious feelings. Though these feelings were probably not shared by Shaftesbury."
  6. The Earl died in 1683 while intending to move to America. Peter Massie sailed to America in c1683 (Peter is not listed on the 1683 English Visitation).
  7. The Earl had a relative in England named Penelope.
  8. The story, in all its various versions, has been very persistent and traceable at least back to the 1800's.
Is there a timeline for the reported affair ?
In Mar. 1644 Ashley-Cooper resigned all of his posts under the King over Catholic favoritism. He traveled to Hurst Castle, the headquarters of the parliamentarians in Hampshire, south of London. At this time Ashley and

his wife had been separated for a year.

In Jul. 1644 the House of Commons gave Ashley permission to leave London. He later went to Dorset (near Hampshire), and was involved in military operations through 1644.  :In 1645 he resigned. It was during this time that he became actively interested in overseas plantations and invested in Barbados in 1646.
Wikipedia says that after this, "...Little is known of Cooper's activities." One possible rough date for Ashley-Cooper's reported sexual escapade could have been the summer of 1644 just before departing for military service. Or, upon his return in 1645. The fact that he invested in the remote island of Barbados in 1646 is curious due to the rumor that the twins were born in Barbados, or were sent there. According to, "NCPedia", "He (Ashley Cooper) co-owned a

205-acre sugar plantation in Barbados, which at one point employed 21 servants and 15 slaves. Cooper sold his share of the plantation in 1654."

And lastly, the supportive family naming patterns. The Earl's full name was Anthony Ashley-Cooper. Judge Frank Massey writes that the Earl had twin illegitimate daughters named Penelope and Lucretia, "From report in the family history from his son Charles.."(son of Peter Massie), "Massey Genealogy Addendum", p. 205, Judge Frank Massey, Fort Worth, TX.
Ashley Johnson, born c1713.
Ashley Johnson, born c1726.
Ashley Johnson, born c1745.
Ashley Johnson, born c1766.
Lucretia Massie Johnson, born c1677.
Penelope Johnson, born 1684, daughter of Edward Johnson (Chamberlayne, p. 363).
  • In 1755 a "Penelepy Johnson" was disowned by the Friends for marrying a non-Quaker, according to, "Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy", vol. VI, p. 253, Cedar Creek Monthly Meeting.
Anthony Johnson, born 1694 (Chamberlayne, p. 363).
All of the above information leads us towards the story, not away from it. And based upon the weight of evidence Penelope Massie should remain listed as the wife of Peter Massie and the natural daughter of Earl Anthony Ashley-Cooper.

The above written by Dennis C. Stewart, Etowah, TN., Nov. 2018.


  1. Stiven "The Clerk" JOHNSTON of Caskieben; Founder of family in Aberdeenshire "Stephen"., "The Scottish Nation: Or, The Surnames, Families, Literature, Honours, and ..." By William Anderson, page 18-19
  2. "My Massey family in England, by Judge Frank A. Massey", Fort Worth, Texas
  3. The New Statistical Account of Scotland (1845), Volume XII - Aberdeen, The Marischal College and University of Aberdeen, William Knight, LL. D
  4. Officers and Graduates of University & King's College, Aberdeen MVD-MDCCCLX., King's College (Aberdeen, Scotland), University of Aberdeen, New Spalding Club, 1893

See Also:

  • Research: 2018 by David Douglas, Dallas, TX. (Massie Family).
  • "Genealogies of Virginia Families", vol. III, by Wm. & Mary Quarterly (Massie Family).
  • Old New Kent County"(VA.), vol. I, by Harris.
  • "Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy", vol. VI, p. 251,etc., by Hinshaw.
  • Book: My Massey Family in England--Book II, Massey Families in America", by Judge Frank A. Massey of FT. Worth, TX., pub. 1974.
  • "Massey Genealogy Addendum", by Judge Frank A. Massey.
  • "Vestry Book and Register of St. Peter's Parish New Kent and James City Counties Virginia 1684-1786", by Chamberlayne.
  • "Hanover County, Virginia St. Paul's Parish Vestry Book 1706-1786", by Chamberlayne.
  • "The Baronies of South Carolina", by Henry A.M. Smith.
  • "The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, Oct. 1910.
  • "Ministers in Aberdeen", by McBain, National Library of Scotland.
  • Historic Charleston Foundation, Lord Ashley Site.
  • South Carolina Plantations (Net), Mateeba Gardens House.
  • "A Massie Family History: Descendants of James R. Massie of Virginia".
  • NCPedia(net).
  • "The House Empire Through The Ages"(net).
  • "Memoirs, Letters, and Speeches of Anthony Ashley Cooper: With Other

Papers", by Christie.

  • "Cooper, Anthony Ashley (First Earl of Shaftesbury), by Brian Anderson,

North Carolina State University, 2013.

  • "Ashley Cooper : He Wasn't Just A Pair Of Rivers", (Net).
  • "Shaftesbury's Aristocratic Empire", by Thomas Leng, from book,

"Anthony Ashley Cooper, First Earl of Shaftesbury 1621-1683", by John Spurr.

  • "When Scotland Was Jewish", by Hirschman & Yates.
  • Wikipedia article, St. Giles House, Wimborne St. Giles (Notes that Penelope

and Lucretia, born c1660 ? are daughter's of Anthony Ashley-Cooper and wife Margaret Spencer. Her mother was Penelope Wriothesley Spencer.

  • "A Life of Anthony Ashley Cooper, First Earl of Shaftesbury, 1621-1683",

by Wm. D. Christie (mentions Ashley being separated from his wife for a year).*"The Life of The First Earl Of Shaftesbury", vols 1&2, by Martyn and Kippis.

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