Francis Ayscough was born the second son of Gabriel Ayscough and wife, Mary, on 19 December 1701 in Surrey. He was baptized less than a week later in St. Olave’s Southwark on 19 December. His early education began at Abingdon School, an all male boarding school. Following the path toward ordination, he enrolled in Corpus Christi college on 28 March 1717. He graduated BA from Corpus Christi on 12 December 1720 and then MA three years later on 24 March 1723. Ayscough’s Ecclesiastical career began on 18 December 1726 when he became an ordained deacon. Following this accomplishment, Ayscough became an elected probationer fellow of Corpus Christi on 16 January 1727 and an ordained priest a year and a half later on 17 June 1728. Despite his steadily rising reputation, Ayscough’s education hit a speed bump in January 1730. With an eight to four vote, the fellows of Corpus Christi voted against granting him a full fellowship at Oxford. Ayscough appealed the decision to the visitor, Richard Willis, and found himself successful although the college argued their right to make such decisions without the discretion of the visitor. This argument was overruled by the bishop, who threatened to “Out everyone man of them” if they did not admit Ayscough within a quarter of an hour (Pyle, 282). Not only was Ayscough reinstated but the fellows were also to personally fund his costs and arrears. Taking full advantage of this opportunity, he completed his Bachelor’s of Divinity on 22 February 1731 and his Doctorate of Divinity in 1735.
His time at Oxford proved beneficial to his social reputation and building of circles. A man of relative well-to-do origins, Ayscough made friends easily in aristocratic circles, including George Lyttelton, the future Baron Lyttelton. In a letter to Dr. Doddridge in 1738, Lyttelton described Ayscough as a man “of great learning, candor, and judgment” (Phillimore, 346). This social connection proved beneficial in 1732 when he was introduced to Frederick, Prince of Wales. Ayscough eventually was included in the Prince’s own circle thanks to his relationship with Lyttelton. While his social reputation was on the rise, Ayscough’s romantic involvements proved less fruitful. Ann Pitt, sister of the infamous William Pitt, rejected his marriage proposal in 1730. Ayscough went on to marry a different Anne, the sister of George Lyttleton, on 21 January 1745 and the couple would have one son named George. Anne brought £6,000 a year to the marriage.
When fellow English clergyman, Benjamin Hoadly, went under fire in 1735 for arguing that Anglican High Priests had distorted the original meaning of the Eucharist, Ayscough came to his defense. Thomas Tovey attacked Hoadly’s attempt to return simplicity to the Eucharist in his pamphlet The Winchester Converts, to which Ayscough replied by acclaiming Hoadly the “Right Reverend Prelate, who has long been the glory, and the envy of our Church” (Gibson, 238). This defense labeled Ayscough as Whig Latitudinarian. He was selected by Frederick in 1736 to deliver the sermon in the House of Commons in commemoration of the martyrdom of Charles I, in which he promoted the liberty of speculation and stated, “are not men to think at all because mad men will think madley, and weak men will think weakly?” (St. John Parker). Frederick appointed Ayscough as chaplain of the ordinary and clerk of the closet in August of that year. This placed him in a position of control over aspects of the prince’s political patronage and allowed him to play a role in the West Country election business during the 1730s and 1740s. The prince was evidently pleased with Ayscough and elected him to the living of Northchurch, Berkhamsted, and Hertfordshire in 1741. Another sign of the prince’s favor of Ayscough was his appointment to tutor of the Prince’s eldest sons: George, the future George III, and Edward.
Ayscough’s position in Frederick’s court gave him intimate knowledge of the prince’s finances and election patronage, which is why he is believed to have authored a political diary that detailed the prince’s involvement in the governmental reconstruction between January 1742 and November 1743. This diary provides valuable insight into the period following Robert Walpole’s resignation and Frederick’s subsequent political maneuverings. During this period, negotiations were taking place to bring Pitt and Lyttelton into the Wilmington ministry. Due to Ayscough’s position and familiarity with both sides, he became the intermediary between parties but Ayscough and Lyttelton had already begun to grow apart. Although Ayscough by this time was the brother-in-law of Lyttelton, his loyalty seemed to lie with the prince. In 1747, Lyttelton joined the Pelham administration, which Frederick opposed. Ayscough took matters into his own hands and attempted to unseat Lyttelton during the 1747 election at Okehampton, but failed. This failure irreparably damaged his relationship with Lyttelton. Although his relationship with his brother-in-law had soured, Asycough remained on good terms with the Pitt family. When Thomas Pitt, his wife’s brother-in-law who was deeply in debt, wanted to lease the borough of Old Sarum to Frederick, Asycough stepped in and made an arrangement in which the Prince would pay Thomas Pitt £3,000 a year in exchange for the “nomination of every M.P. that shall be at the borough of Old Sarum … without any further expense” (St. John Parker).
Ayscough’s position as clerk of the closet had often led others to high positions within the church. After the loyalty Ayscough had shown the prince over the years, it would not be unreasonable for him to expect compensation in the form of a bishopric upon Frederick’s ascension to the throne. Unfortunately, these dreams became unattainable upon Frederick’s premature death on 30 March 1751. Ayscough was immediately replaced as the tutor to George and Edward and was bombarded with criticism, especially by Horace Walpole. Walpole malevolently claimed that Ayscough has failed to teach George to write in English during his period as his tutor. The abundance of letters exchanged between George and his father directly contradicts this exaggerated but invidious statement. Regardless, Walpole had little respect for Ayscough. Ayscough remained without an appointment for five years due to his political inconveniency to Frederick’s former allies and latitudinarian tendencies that did not suit the clergy. He was eventually appointed canon at Winchester by Benjamin Hoadly in 1756 but a significant ecclesiastical appointment had to wait until 1761 when the new king, George III, gave him the deanery of Bristol.
Ayscough passed away on 16 August 1763 in Bristol and was buried in the Bristol Cathedral three days later. His wife received £10,000 upon his death, which passed on to their son upon her death in 1776.
Gibson, William. Enlightenment Prelate: Benjamin Hoadly, 1676-1761. Cambridge: James Clark & Co., 2004. https://books.google.com/books?id=DepggDo4awIC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false.
Hartshorne, Albert and Edmund Pyle. Memoirs of a royal chaplain, 1729-1763 ; the correspondence of Edmund Pyle, D.D. chaplain in ordinary to George II, with Samuel Kerrich D.D., vicar of Dersingham, rector of Wolferton, and rector of West Newton. London: J. Lane, 1905. https://archive.org/details/memoirsofroyalch00pylerich.
Parker, M. St John. “Ayscough, Francis (1701–1763).” M. St John Parker In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online ed., edited by Lawrence Goldman. Oxford: OUP, 2004. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/951 (accessed May 14, 2015).
Phillimore, Robert. Memoirs and Correspondence of George, Lord Lyttelton, from 1734-1773. London: J. Ridgway, 1845. https://archive.org/details/memoirscorrespon00philuoft.