Henry Ashley Clarke was educated at Repton School and Pembroke College, Cambridge, and joined the Diplomatic Service in 1925. He served at Budapest, Warsaw, Constantinople, Geneva (for the General Disarmament Conference) and Tokyo. He was Minister at Lisbon 1944–46 and at Paris 1946–49 under the ambassadors Duff Cooper and Sir Oliver Harvey. From 1949 to 1953 he served at the Foreign Office as assistant Under-Secretary, then deputy Under-Secretary. He was officially present at the funeral of King George VI at Windsor in February 1952. In 1953 he received his last appointment as Ambassador to Italy where he remained for nine years, an unusually long period.
Clarke retired from the Diplomatic Service in 1962 and devoted himself to numerous cultural and artistic activities. He was chairman of the British–Italian Society and of the Royal Academy of Dancing, a governor of the BBC and of the British Institute of Recorded Sound (now the British Library Sound Archive), and served many other organisations. In 1967, however, he dedicated himself to Venice after the serious flooding in November 1966. He and others founded the Italian Art and Archives Rescue Fund which in 1971 became the Venice in Peril Fund of which Clarke was vice-chairman 1970–83 and president 1983–94. He was secretary-general of Europa Nostra 1969–70.
- Clarke died on 20 January 1994. His ashes were taken to Venice and on 26 February were ceremonially carried in a sixteen-oar boat, through thick fog, the length of the Grand Canal and across the lagoon to the funerary island of San Michele, where they were buried in the protestant cemetery. England had lost a brilliant public servant and an exceptional ambassador; Venice, a dedicated protector and a steadfast friend. – Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Clarke was appointed CMG in 1946, knighted KCMG in the Queen's Birthday Honours of 1952 and raised to GCMG in the New Year Honours of 1962. He was given the additional knighthood of GCVO in 1961 on the occasion of the Queen's state visit to Italy. He was awarded the Pietro Torta Prize by the Ateneo Veneto for service to conservation in Venice. He was Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Gregory the Great, cavaliere di San Marco (Knight of St Mark) and freeman of the city of Venice.
Ashley Clarke's first marriage was to an American, Virginia Bell, in 1937. They divorced in 1960. In 1962 he married Frances, daughter of John Molyneux of Stourbridge, Worcestershire, Clarke's birthplace. There were no children of either marriage.
Lady Clarke was co-founder, vice-chairman, and later co-president, of the Venice in Peril Fund. She was awarded the OBE in 1984 and raised to CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours of 2000 – she was invested with the latter award in Rome during the Queen's state visit to Italy in October 2000. She too received the freedom of the city of Venice, in 1996.
- Restoring Venice: the Church of the Madonna dell'Orto (with Philip Rylands), Paul Elek Ltd, London, 1977
- CLARKE, Sir (Henry) Ashley, Who Was Who, 1920–2008; online edn, Oxford University Press, Nov 2012
- Norwich, John Julius. "Clarke, Sir (Henry) Ashley (1903–1994)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/54810. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- Obituary: Sir Ashley Clarke, The Independent, London, 25 January 1994
- Sir Ashley Clarke (obituary), The Times, London, 22 January 1994, page 17
- "No. 33100". The London Gazette. 6 November 1925. p. 7266.
- "No. 39575". The London Gazette (Supplement). 19 June 1952. p. 3371.
- "No. 40043". The London Gazette. 15 December 1953. p. 6817.
- "No. 39555". The London Gazette (Supplement). 5 June 1952. p. 3011.
- "No. 42552". The London Gazette. 1 January 1962. p. 5.
- "No. 42367". The London Gazette. 30 May 1961. p. 3995.
- "No. 49768". The London Gazette (Supplement). 16 June 1984. p. 9.
- Birthday Honours 2000 – Diplomatic and Commonwealth, BBC News
- Frances Clarke, Venice in Peril
- Peril fund president honoured by city, The Times, London, 2 November 1996, page 17
- Portraits of Sir (Henry) Ashley Clarke at the National Portrait Gallery, London
- British Ambassador Presents Credentials, British Pathé, 1953 (British Ambassador in Italy Sir Ashley Clarke with Italian President Luigi Einaudi) (video, no sound)
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