Ashton succeeds Andy Robinson, who was forced to resign three weeks ago following a poor spell in charge that saw England plummet to seventh in the world rankings.
The 60-year-old Lancastrian, regarded as one of the most forward-thinking coaches in the game, served under Robinson as attacking coach before Wednesday's promotion to the top job.
Ashton said: "It's a massive privilege and honour to be asked to do the job.
"I recognise the challenges ahead of us and along with the other coaches in the team my focus now is to prepare England to play Scotland on February 3."
The task of finding the right candidate to become England's new head coach fell to Rob Andrew, the Rugby Football Union's director of elite rugby.
Andrew made his recommendation to a RFU management board meeting this morning and his proposal to elevate Ashton was rubbed stamped by the Twickenham top brass.
He said: "Brian is the most experienced coach in England, has enormous respect with the players and has massive international and club experience.
"The current coaching team have only been together since May and I believe Brian is the right man to lead the coaches and players into a new period for English rugby."
Ashton's first opportunity to transform England's fortunes will be the RBS 6 Nations opener against Scotland at Twickenham, on February 3.
His only other experience as an international head coach was an unsuccessful stint with Ireland between 1997 and 1998 and he went on to join England's staff under Sir Clive Woodward shortly after.
He then landed an appointment as RFU national academy manager before linking up with England again seven months ago following a short second period in charge at Bath.
Andrew's search was narrowed when leading overseas candidates Warren Gatland, Nick Mallett and Eddie Jones distanced themselves from the position.
Dean Richards was touted as a credible figure to take up a management role within the existing coaching structure but the Harlequins director of rugby revealed he had not been approached by the RFU.
Weighing heavily in Ashton's favour was the continuity he provided with little time before the Six Nations and England's World Cup defence to undertake a radical overhaul of the current structure.
Ashton will continue to work alongside forwards coach John Wells and defence chief Mike Ford.