Ashley Clarke

Sir (Henry) Ashley Clarke GCMG GCVO FSA (26 June 1903 – 20 January 1994) was a British diplomat who was ambassador to Italy. Later he was chairman of the Venice in Peril Fund.

Sir Henry Ashley Clarke

British Ambassador to Italy
In office
Preceded bySir Victor Mallet
Succeeded bySir John Ward
Personal details
Born(1903-06-26)26 June 1903
Stourbridge, Worcestershire
Died20 January 1994(1994-01-20) (aged 90)
(m. 1937; div. 1960)

Frances Molyneux
(m. after 1962)
ParentsHenry Hugh Rose Clarke
Rachel Hill Duncan
EducationRepton School
Alma materPembroke College, Cambridge

Early lifeEdit

Henry Ashley Clarke was a son of Henry Hugh Rose Clarke (a son of Col. Henry Stephenson Clarke) and the former Rachel Hill Duncan (a daughter of John H. H. Duncan). He was educated at Repton School and Pembroke College, Cambridge.[1]


Clarke joined the Diplomatic Service in 1925.[2] 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.[3] In 1953, he received his last appointment as Ambassador to Italy[4] where he remained for nine years, an unusually long period.

Later careerEdit

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 also an early member of the General Committee of Save Venice Inc., a sister organization of the Venice in Peril Fund, and the secretary-general of Europa Nostra 1969–70.[5]


Clarke was appointed CMG in 1946, knighted KCMG in the Queen's Birthday Honours of 1952[6] and raised to GCMG in the New Year Honours of 1962.[7] He was given the additional knighthood of GCVO in 1961 on the occasion of the Queen's state visit to Italy.[8] 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.[9]

Personal lifeEdit

Clarke was twice married. His first marriage was to an American, Virginia Bell, in 1937.[10] Her father was an American diplomat and her maternal grandfather was the British Brigadier General Sir Herbert Conyers Surtees. Her older sister Evangeline,[11] was married to David K. E. Bruce, the U.S. Ambassador to France, the Federal Republic of Germany, and the United Kingdom.[12] Virginia and Ashley divorced in 1960.[13][14]

In 1962 he married Frances Molyneux, 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[15] and raised to CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours of 2000[16] – she was invested with the latter award in Rome during the Queen's state visit to Italy in October 2000.[17] She too received the freedom of the city of Venice, in 1996.[18]

Clarke died on 20 January 1994.[19] 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.[1]


  • Restoring Venice: the Church of the Madonna dell'Orto (with Philip Rylands), Paul Elek Ltd, London, 1977


  1. ^ a b Obituary: Sir Ashley Clarke, The Independent, London, 25 January 1994.
  2. ^ "No. 33100". The London Gazette. 6 November 1925. p. 7266.
  3. ^ "No. 39575". The London Gazette (Supplement). 19 June 1952. p. 3371.
  4. ^ "No. 40043". The London Gazette. 15 December 1953. p. 6817.
  5. ^ 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.)
  6. ^ "No. 39555". The London Gazette (Supplement). 5 June 1952. p. 3011.
  7. ^ "No. 42552". The London Gazette. 1 January 1962. p. 5.
  8. ^ "No. 42367". The London Gazette. 30 May 1961. p. 3995.
  9. ^ CLARKE, Sir (Henry) Ashley, Who Was Who, 1920–2008; online edn, Oxford University Press, Nov 2012.
  10. ^ Scarborough, Nan (16 May 1937). "DIPLOMAT TO WED MISS VIRGINIA BELL; Daughter of the Late Edward Bell of New York Will Be Bride of H. A. Clarke GERARD ATTENDS PARTY Overseas Visitors in London Are Guests at Reception Given by English-Speaking Union". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 April 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  11. ^ Barron, James (14 December 1995). "Evangeline Bruce, 77, Hostess Known for Washington Soirees". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 April 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  12. ^ Owens, Mitchell (16 March 1995). "AT HOME WITH: Evangeline Bruce; The Improbable Author". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 April 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  13. ^ "Virginia Surtees". 1 December 2017 – via
  14. ^ "Virginia Surtees, scholar of Pre-Raphaelite art – obituary". 25 October 2017 – via
  15. ^ "No. 49768". The London Gazette (Supplement). 16 June 1984. p. 9.
  16. ^ Birthday Honours 2000 – Diplomatic and Commonwealth, BBC News
  17. ^ Frances Clarke, Venice in Peril
  18. ^ Peril fund president honoured by city, The Times, London, 2 November 1996, page 17
  19. ^ Sir Ashley Clarke (obituary), The Times, London, 22 January 1994, page 17.

External linksEdit

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Sir Victor Mallet
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary at Rome
Succeeded by
Sir John Ward