Ashton, who succeeded Andy Robinson as head coach just a fortnight ago, has made an immediate impact with the first squad of his reign.
Wasps prop Phil Vickery will skipper England instead of Leicester's Martin Corry, whose 14 Tests in charge included the dismal autumn series earlier this season which produced Twickenham defeats against New Zealand, Argentina and South Africa and cost Robinson his job.
Vickery, who led England to victory against Argentina in Buenos Aires in 2002, said: "It's a huge honour to be asked to captain England. Everyone knows what a fantastic guy Martin Corry is - he led from the front in a tough autumn when he was getting a lot of stick and I feel very privileged to follow him.
"But I don't just want the title. I want to be part of a successful team and I am looking forward to working with everyone to create that. I have always got on well with Brian and I have enormous respect for him.
"I am under no illusions about the challenge we all face but it's also an extremely exciting time. This is a huge opportunity for people to stick their hands up and stake their claim."
Vickery's fellow World Cup-winner Jason Robinson, meanwhile, returns to England duties some 15 months after quitting Test rugby. The 32-year-old Sale Sharks full-back won 39 caps before stepping down in September, 2005.
The Six Nations squad also includes uncapped Saracens centre Andy Farrell, London Irish fly-half Shane Geraghty and fellow rookies Tom Rees and Dan Ward-Smith, in addition to an injury-plagued Jonny Wilkinson, but Lawrence Dallaglio misses out.
Ashton finds no room for Wasps number eight Dallaglio in either the senior squad or an England Saxons - formerly known as England A - party, which features World Cup trio Ben Cohen, Ben Kay and fit-again Saracens flanker Richard Hill.
Cohen and Kay are not the only players who miss out on a Six Nations squad place after being involved during the autumn.
Worcester flanker Pat Sanderson, Sale lock Chris Jones and Sharks prop Stuart Turner, together with Gloucester centre Anthony Allen are also in the Saxons group for games against Italy A and Ireland A next month, while former Leeds Rhinos rugby league star Chev Walker, now at Bath, gains a place.
On Robinson's return, Ashton said: "Jason knows what it takes to be at the top of the world game in professional sport.
"Apart from being a fantastic rugby player, he has outstanding values as a person which will be important to the England team in the coming year."
And on 30-year-old Vickery's appointment as leader, Ashton added: "Phil is a player of massive experience who has been at the top of the world, and he has a great desire to lead England back there again.
"He showed in the autumn that he is back playing international rugby well, and both as a player and a captain, he is the right man to take England forward.
"During the autumn, Martin Corry handled the captaincy situation really well in what was a difficult period, and I thank him for that.
"He is still a vital member of the senior elite player squad, and we will be looking to him for support and advice in what will be a very challenging year ahead."
There are six changes to the elite player squad announced last August, with Robinson, Hill, Ward-Smith, Paul Sackey, Matt Stevens and Alex Brown all selected. Dallaglio, Simon Shaw and Mark Van Gisbergen all drop out, together with injured trio Andrew Sheridan, Charlie Hodgson and Michael Lipman.
The senior squad will train at Twickenham from January 22-24, with England launching their Six Nations campaign against Scotland on February 3.
Ashton said: "I am delighted to welcome back players like Richard Hill, Alex Brown and Matt Stevens to the EPS squad, but I am sure that those players left out will see this as a gauntlet thrown down to prove they are good enough to be part of England's defence of the World Cup."