THE ENGLISH CIVIL WAR
As the English civil war began, Robert Duke of Otterton was the head of the Devonshire branch of the family. He later became known as a
"trimmer," one who trims his sails to fit the political climate of the times.
Robert’s grandmother (step-grandmother actually, but the only paternal grandmother that he knew) was Catharine Prideaux Duke,
daughter of George Prideaux of Nutwell. The Prideaux family were leading Parliamentarians in Devon. Peter Prideaux was a conspicuous
leader of the pro-Parliament faction in the county, and Edmund Prideaux was Cromwell’s Attorney General. However, Robert’s mother,
Margaret Bassett Duke, was the daughter of Sir Arthur Bassett of Heanton, who was one of the three or four most prominent royalist
leaders in Devon. In addition, Robert’s aunt Elizabeth Duke had married Humphrey Walrond, a royalist and father of another strongly
committed royalist, who later lived in Barbados. An aunt, Martha Duke, married Hugh Chichester. The Chichester family was perhaps
the most conservative of all; many of the Chichesters were recusants.
Robert’s wife, Sarah Reynall Duke, was the daughter of Richard Reynall of Creedy Wild. Her brother Thomas Reynall was identified as the
epitome of a trimmer J.P. and M.P., and the family as a whole was active in local government during the Interregnum but could not
be said to be actively pro-Parliament, although Thomas was called “an ardent Presbyterian.”
It seems unlikely that there were many friendly Duke family reunions in Devonshire between 1642 and 1660.
Other members of the family were not so cautious as Robert Duke of Otterton. It has been said that in 1642 a Robert Duke, while a student
at Magdalen College, Oxford University, “threw off his gown and bought him a sword.” The parentage of this “Robert” is not identified in
this source, but it is noted that he was of the Duke of Lake family of Wiltshire.
In 1648 John Duke of Lake House in Wiltshire was implicated in an uprising against the parliamentary
government, and ordered arrested.
In contrast, in the 1650’s Robert Duke of Otterton was among the Assessment Commissioners for Devonshire. At Easter in 1654 he
examined a Newton Poppleford couple in his position of Justice of the Peace. This was apparently a sexual misconduct charge.
However, it has been noted that Robert Duke was “not a specialist in the unmarried sexually active,” apparently a popular specialty
in the days of the Puritan Cromwell.
The rebellious Robert reappeared in 1655. Lt. Col. Robert Duke “took up arms” and was second in command in the defense of Portland
Castle, under Col. Gallop, during Penruddock’s Revolt. This was probably the most conspicuous of the attempts to overthrow the government
of the Protector, but lacked organization and widespread support. The royalists surrendered Portland to the beseigers representing Cromwell.
Robert was convicted of treason on April 18, 1655, and with them was condemned to be beheaded. However, this was commuted to life in
Exeter Gaol for Robert.
Robert is almost certainly the son of Robert Duke who inherited Compton Breamor from George Duke, although parish records have not
survived to preserve the names of his children. Lt. Col. Robert Duke is known to have been a member of the Duke of Lake family from
Wiltshire; his wife, Anne’s, later petition to the government makes reference to this. He attended Magdalen College at Oxford, which is
consistent with this information. (He does not, however, appear in the published Oxford lists, presumably because he never completed his
degree.) Magdalen was favored by the Wiltshire branch of the family; others who attended Magdalen were George, who was involved
in the Salisbury Uprising, and John, son of Edward Duke of Winterbourne Stoke. He established his household in Stuckton, Hampshire,
near the Compton Breamore estate of the older Robert Duke. In addition, it is the Wiltshire rather than the Devonshire or Kent branch
that was heavily involved in attempts to overthrow Cromwell's government.
In Salisbury Penruddock's Revolt involved about 200-400 people who took the Sheriff of Wiltshire prisoner in his nightshirt, along with other
county officials. They proceeded into Devonshire, but were overcome and captured. Among the royalists were John and George Duke of Lake.
Penruddock and his second-in-command, Grove, had been given assurances of pardon for themselves and their troops if they surrendered, but
Penruddock and Grove were ultimately beheaded, after a rather rudimentary trial. The others
were imprisoned at Exeter.
Robert subsequently petitioned Cromwell for parole or exile, and was exiled to Barbados. His successful petitions can probably be
attributed to the influence of his family, and to an abjectly penitent (even groveling) petition:
Petition of Fras. [Francis] Jones and Rob. [Robert] Duke prisoners in Exeter Castle, to the Protector. We owe the
very air we breathe to your clemency, and would rather be torn in pieces than stir a little finger against you. We
beg you to add liberty to life, on our plighting faith and religion, and giving security for good deportment in our
native country; or else to banish us, that our familes may not perish by the expense of our tedious, though
deserved imprisonment. With reference to Council, 2 Nov. 1655.
This petition was granted in an order of November 30:
Order thereon in Council that Gen. Desborow give a warrant to the keeper of the prison to deliver them,
and others in prison at Exeter on the late insurrection, to merchants or others, who will give security to
transport them prisoners to the East Indies, not to return without special license.
There is inconsistency here in the supposed location of the exile of Robert Duke, with virtually all other sources giving Barbados as the
place of exile. Oliver Cromwell had a preference for shipping political dissidents to Barbados, and this is what happened to the
Penruddock Rebellion prisoners:
This practice was continued after the Penruddock rising at Salisbury in 1655. On suspicion of complicity,
about seventy royalist gentlemen were arrested and brought for trial. Owing to lack of evidence, the jury
could not convict them [ed. note: Robert Duke and several others were exceptions; there was abundant
evidence and they were convicted]; ‘yet your petitioners and others’, in the words of their graphic appeal,
‘were all kept prisoners for the space of one whole year, and then on a sudden (without the least preparation)
snatcht out of their prisons, and driven through the streets of the City of Exon [Exeter] … none being suffered
to take leave of them, and so hurried to Plymouth aboard the ship John of London.’ The petition goes on to describe
the terrible conditions of the voyage out to Barbados, and their sufferings as servants on the plantations, ‘grinding
at the Mills, attending the furnaces, or digging in this scorching land, having nothing to feed on (notwithstanding
their hard labour) but Potatoe Roots, being bought and sold still from one Planter to another, or attached as horses
and beasts for the debts of their masters, being whipt at the whipping posts, as Rogues, for their masters pleasure,
and sleep in styes worse than hogs in England.’
In 1656 a George Duke petitioned, in company with Edward Penruddock (brother of John), to be sent from the prison at Exeter to
Virginia rather than Barbados. This introduces the possibility that the wrong George Duke has been identified with the Penruddock
Rebellion by English family historians. Sources usually indicate that the John and George Duke in question were those who resided
at Lake House at this time.
However, this does not appear to be true. John Duke of Lake House did participate in the Rebellion, but he lived undisturbed
at Lake until his death at the age of 94 in 1671. He pled ill-health and advanced age and was exempted from exile. His son
George died at home on October 13, 1655. Exile of the Penruddock prisoners was not even ordered until November 30, 1655,
after Robert Duke’s petition, and a month after George Duke of Lake House, son of John, was dead. Thus, a delay in presenting
the petition to Council could scarcely account for the discrepancy in dates. George Duke, son of John, was not the George of the
Who was the George Duke who petitioned for a change in the location of his exile in 1656? The Committee for Compounding with
Delinquents, which sequestered the estates of royalists and recusants, on September 17, 1652, claimed a share of the Wiltshire estates
of a George Duke, of Salterton, at the same time that they took a share of that of John Duke, of Lake. Earlier, George Duke of
Bulford had been identified as a recusant on January 13, 1648. This George is probably a son of Andrew or John Duke of Bulford,
moving from his father's home at Bulford to another Wiltshire town, Salterton, between 1648 and 1652.
Lt. Col. Robert Duke was not shipped to Barbados on the John of London in 1656 with the other prisoners; a deposition in the Public
Record Office dated 1659 has established the list of prisoners transported on that ship in 1656, and he is not on it. Presumably he was
shipped on some other transport, perhaps with the Francis Jones who joined him in his petition. George Duke also fails to appear on the
list of the John’s passengers. However, George Duke is known to have gone from England to Virginia in 1656, this was the George Duke
of the Penruddock Rebellion.
A number of references during this period reflect the political association of some Devon and Kent Duke family members with the
Commonwealth. In 1658-9 Robert Duke of Otterton was High Sheriff of Devonshire. This is an office that Robert Duke would
not have held had he not maintained cordial relationships with Parliament. Similarly, in 1658 there was a request by George Duke
and other justices of peace at Maidstone [Kent] assizes, to the Commissioners of the Great Seal; for "customary relief to the distressed
petitioners." The Duke family in Kent seems also not to have foregone their customary offices and political functions.
However, the Wiltshire family continued its opposition. On July 9, 1659, Sec.
Nicholas wrote from Brussels to Mr. Mompesson:
I am glad that you and your lieutenant-colonel are so ready to go for England; the time seems now seasonable,
being so great distractions among the rebels, and if we hear truth, the greatest part of the nation, being
of the rebellious government, wish and incline to appear for the King’s restoration … when landed, contrive to get to
your friends, and raise your regiment. By the time you get a number of horse, I hope you may hear of some of the King’s
friends gotten together in a body, whom you should join as soon as you can safely. Edw. Penruddock and Mr. Duke are in
England, and will join you.
This presumably refers to Edward Penruddock, brother of John, and to the George Duke with whom he petitioned
the Council in 1656. John Duke of Lake House was at this time about 82 years old, and unlikely to have been
travelling the world. Both Lt. Col. Robert Duke and George Duke of Lake House were dead. The George Duke of
the Rebellion seems to have been exiled to Virginia in 1656, and it was certainly this exile from which he
was returning. There are no indications that he later returned to Virginia.
In 1660 Charles II assumed the British throne, restoring the monarchy. In that year Anne Duke, widow of
Lt. Col. Robert Duke, and his five children petitioned Parliament in October for estates in Hants.
(Hampshire) to replace those lost. Anne reported that Robert died in exile prior to that time:
Anne, widow of Robert Duke. For a lease for 99 years of Ellingham Manor, and of the Abbey Lands,
Christ Church, co. Hants [Hampshire], forfeited by attainder of John Lisle. Her husband suffered
much in the late wars, was engaged in Col. Penruddock’s rising in the west, and sentenced to death,
but reprieved and banished to the East Indies, where he has lately died.
The five children of Robert Duke, to the same effect.
It is scarcely surprising that Robert died in exile, given the conditions of the transport and servitude in
Barbados. However, Anne’s request was not granted, or if any lease was granted it was for a very short time:
This John Lisle the regicide, created Viscount Lisle by Cromwell, was attainted at the Restoration, but escaped
to the Continent, where he was assassinated in 1664. Subsequently Ellingham was restored to his son John, who
died in 1709….
Evidence that Anne and her children remained in Stockton, Hampshire, where they lived when Robert was arrested,
is found in the lists of Oxford graduates. In 1671 John Duke, listed as son of Robert Duke of Stuckton,
gentleman, matriculated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and received his B.A. in 1674, his M.A. in 1677,
and a B.D. in 1687. In 1696 he was Rector of Bishops Waltham, Hants. This is certainly one of Robert's
children, probably the oldest son. There was no other Duke family in Stuckton. John was 17 when he matriculated,
and would have been born in 1654, the year before Robert's arrest.
It clearly was not possible for Robert, or any others exiled after the Penruddock affair, to take their
families with them to Barbados, and it would have been years -- probably until the Restoration in 1660 --
before those who survived could have sent for their families had they chosen to remain in Barbados.
The Duke family in Devon continued to prosper through the Stuart Restoration. This was noted in 1664:
Bishop Ward compiled a list of 14 presbyterians and ‘Oliverians’ who had survived the 1650’s [as J.P.’s and
members of Parliament]; to their number could be added Robert Duke of Otterton, Sir John Northcote, who
was prominent in debates in Parliament on religion and who thought of deans and chapters as mere parasites,
and probably Sir Francis Drake and John Maynard.
In 1661 Robert Duke of Otterton was pardoned by Charles II for taking up arms against the king.
He was buried at Otterton 1665, and succeeded by his son Richard. In the 1660’s Richard Duke was
described as having been among gentry purchasing land to consolidate ancestral estates. Later, he
was the focus of an interesting disagreement between Magdalen College and the king. On March 16, 1681,
King Charles II wrote to the President of Magdalen College, requiring him to admit Richard Duke into
the place of steward of that college. On March 28, 1681, President Clarke of Magdalen, March 18, wrote
to the King that his letter arrived too late, that he had made another appointment and could not appoint
Richard Duke steward of Magdalen College. Then, on April 8, 1681, Charles II wrote to President Clarke
of Magdalen, that this was unacceptable, and that he was to appoint Richard Duke. This ended the exchange;
presumably the king won.
The Duke Family and the Duke of Monmouth
Histories associate the Duke family of Devonshire with James Duke of Monmouth, a son (probably illegitimate)
of James II who attempted to overthrow his half-brother Charles. In in the early 1680’s he frequently visited
Mr. Duke of Ottery, near Colyton, in Exeter, Devon:
It was soon noticed that the manor doors opened to Monmouth were those either of the traditionally
Parliament squires, such as Strode, Prideaux, or Duke, or of those few, who from deep conviction, had
supported the Whigs. With the exception of Sir Edmund Prideaux and Sir Thomas Thynne of Longleat, not
one of these could be classed as a ‘great’ squire. They were men of moderate estates with gross incomes
in the neighborhood of £3,000 or £4,000 a year, and none of them had ever played a part or cut a figure
in the world of politics and power.
Monmouth was killed at Sedgemoor in 1685 and his followers were either hanged, drawn and quartered, or,
again, sold into indentured service in Barbados. Only one member of the Duke family, a John Duke of Colyton,
is listed among those who were intended for arrest after Sedgemoor. There is no evidence that he was tried
THE ENGLISH DUKE FAMILY IN LATER TIMES.