Ashbury, Joseph (1638–1720), actor and manager, was born in London of a good family and educated at Eton. He became an army officer, one of those who, in search of a political settlement, seized Dublin castle in December 1659. After the restoration of the monarchy he received patronage from the lord lieutenant, the 1st duke of Ormond (qv), and became (1662) deputy master of the revels in Ireland. He was one of the actors in the first production of the Smock Alley theatre on its reopening (Octsober 1662) by John Ogilby (qv), and by 1675 he had become manager as well as leading actor. He organised in 1677 the first tour by an Irish company to Oxford (where Ormond's position as chancellor of the university proved useful); and in 1681, during the Smock Alley company's four-month-long visit to Edinburgh, he is said to have trained the 16-year-old Princess Anne for her part in court theatricals in Holyrood House. Ashbury's relations with the aristocracy and the Dublin government were usually good. In 1684 he became joint master of the revels in Ireland, a post he was to hold under five monarchs. He closed Smock Alley early in 1689 and left Dublin for the duration of the war, returning to put on a free performance of (‘Othello’) in December 1691, which he repeated on 31 March 1692 as part of the official celebrations of William III's (qv) victory. Twenty years later (1712), he was refused permission by the tory administration then in power to have a prologue celebrating the anniversaries of William's birth, marriage and landing in England read on stage on 4 November (though in fact a member of the audience obliged and was duly prosecuted).
Ashbury was an actor for fifty-eight years, and for forty-five years (as manager of Smock Alley) the most important person in the Irish theatre. His significance was almost as great in the history of the British stage; he was regarded by contemporaries as preeminent as a teacher of acting, and launched many younger actors, including Robert Wilks (qv), Barton Booth, and James Quin (qv). He was also the first to produce plays by George Farquhar (qv) and William Philips (qv).
Ashbury's first wife was a sister of his fellow actor John Richards; she died (probably in 1679) following childbirth, having had several children who died young. He then married (7 October 1684) Ann, daughter of John Darling, dean of Emly. She became an actress and had several children who died young, as well as Boyle (b. 1693) and Frances, who married Thomas Elrington (qv). Charles Ashbury (d. a. 1704), joint master of the revels with his father, was a son by the first wife. The family lived first in Smock Alley, then in Bowling Green House, Oxmantown, Dublin, where Joseph Ashbury died 24 July 1720. He was buried in St Michan's, Dublin.