DUCK, Nicholas (1569-1628), of Lincoln's Inn, London and Mount Radford, nr. Exeter, Devon

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press




Family and Education

bap. 30 Nov. 1569,1 2nd s. of Richard Duck (admon. 20 Apr. 1605) of Heavitree, Devon and his w. Joan; bro. of Arthur*.2 educ. Exeter Coll. Oxf. 1584;3 New Inn; L. Inn 1589, called 1598.4 m. 6 Oct. 1601, Grace, da. of Thomas Walker of Exeter, 1s. d. 28 Aug. 1628.5 sig. Nich[olas] Ducke.

Offices Held

Freeman, Exeter 1609,6 commr. aid 1609,7 piracy, Devon 1611-1614, 1619-20, 1624,8 oyer and terminer, Exeter 1614-15;9 churchwarden, All Hallows, Exeter 1614;10 dep. lt., Exeter by 1625, commr. and collector, Privy Seal loans 1625-6.11

Bencher, L. Inn 1615-d., Lent reader 1618, kpr. of Black Bk. 1624-5, treas. 1627-d.;12 recorder, Exeter 1617-d.13


Duck’s ancestry was probably quite humble, as his pedigree can be traced back through only two generations. However, his father was a minor landowner who claimed gentry status and founded an almshouse near his home in the Exeter suburb of Heavitree.14 Duck trained as a common lawyer, and gave Lincoln’s Inn as his address when applying for a grant of arms in 1602. Nevertheless, he retained strong ties with Exeter, where he was assessed for subsidy that same year at £3 in land. Having already confirmed his local status by marrying an alderman’s daughter, he further enhanced his profile in 1608 by lending the corporation £100 for emergency repairs to the city’s weirs. Created a freeman of Exeter in the following year, he soon became a mainstay of local administration, and in 1614 purchased John Doddridge’s* mansion of Mount Radford, just outside the city walls.15

By now Duck’s London career was thriving, and he became a bencher of Lincoln’s Inn in 1615. For his Lent reading three years later he expounded on the 1540 Act concerning the recovery of rent by executors. He also prepared a set of law reports, though these were never published.16 Duck’s personal reputation rested on the twin pillars of profound learning and exemplary piety. As recorder of Exeter from 1617, he reportedly spent hours in prayer and fasting prior to dispensing capital punishment. Appropriately, he helped to organize the rebuilding of Lincoln’s Inn chapel between 1616 and 1624.17

In 1614 Duck helped to deliver Exeter’s Benevolence money to London. As recorder, he became a key agent for the corporation in the capital. Instructed in 1620 to challenge the right of the alehouse licensing patentees to operate in Exeter, he persisted with this task during the 1621 Parliament, when he also liaised with the city’s Members over other local concerns.18 In the following year, he helped to coordinate a successful lobbying campaign which blocked the bishop of Exeter’s efforts to become one of the city’s magistrates. With this track record behind him, he was elected to Parliament in 1624, the only one of Exeter’s Members during this period not to be drawn from its merchant √©lite.19

With his great experience of the law, Duck contributed confidently to the Commons’ final Jacobean session, securing nomination to 13 bill committees. The majority of these measures concerned legal affairs or private property. On 22 May he was named to consider amendments to the bills on concealed lands and the removal of actions from inferior courts. He also chaired the legislative committees concerned with Wadham College, Oxford and the estates of Toby Palavicino, reporting on 12 Mar. and 20 May. Both measures subsequently reached the statute books. In general, he left economic issues to his more experienced Exeter colleague, John Prowse, but he attended two meetings of the legislative committee on freer fishing in America.20 Duck was appointed to help draft the bills for the assize of bread, and the continuance or repeal of expiring statutes (3 and 25 March). His only other recorded speech, on 26 May, concerned a legal point; following a report from the grand committee for the courts of justice, he concurred with Sir Edward Coke that a particular petitioner’s grievance could be remedied only by an Act of Parliament.21 Behind the scenes, Duck also sought permission from the bishop of Exeter for a new grammar school in his constituency. Unsurprisingly, given recent events, this request was rebuffed, and on 27 Apr. Duck counselled against seeking a parliamentary solution, in view of the number of bills and petitions already before the Commons. For his services during this session he was paid £25 16s. 4d.22

Already a feoffee of Lincoln’s Inn’s buildings, Duck was promoted in the autumn of 1624 to the prestigious keepership of the Black Book, the Inn’s official record. However, he remained active on Exeter’s behalf, in April 1625 formally offering the city’s high stewardship to the 3rd earl of Pembroke.23 At the elections for the first Caroline Parliament, Duck was returned as the city’s senior Member, the other seat going to a nominee of Exeter’s commonalty, Ignatius Jourdain. As the latter did not enjoy the corporation’s confidence, Duck became by default the city’s official spokesman, and his four committee appointments and three speeches embraced a wider range of topics. On 29 June he was named to consider a petition against the imposition on imported wine, an issue of local concern, while two days later he was appointed to help draft a bill on impressment and muster masters. Nevertheless, he continued to approach business from a lawyer’s perspective. The Sabbath observance bill was committed on 22 June ‘upon an exception by Mr. Duck that the law extended not to any provision for the levying of the penalties [for offences] committed by country men within towns corporate, unless they had goods in the same place’. Similarly, on 9 July he helped to dissuade the House from authorizing the release from the Fleet prison of debtors who were threatened by plague, since this constituted an infringement of their creditors’ legal rights, and the Commons should not be ‘charitable of other men’s estates’. At the Oxford sitting, he voiced his disapproval of the pardon granted to some Catholics imprisoned at Exeter, complaining of the insolence of the people who delivered this document for inspection by the Commons. His parliamentary wages this time amounted to £24 5s.24

Duck was not re-elected in 1626, Exeter reverting to its customary choice of two local merchants. However, his legal career was now at its height, and in November 1627 he became treasurer of Lincoln’s Inn. In the following summer, while still in office, he was taken ill at Exeter. Surprisingly, he opted to replace his existing will with a nuncupative one, in which he instructed his brother Arthur and his friend William Noye* to make suitable provision for his wife and son. Among his few specific bequests, he left £20 to his father’s almshouse, and another £15 to the local poor. Duck died in August 1628, and was buried at All Hallows, Exeter. None of his descendants are known to have sat in Parliament.25

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: George Yerby / Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. IGI (Devon).
  • 2. PROB 11/105, ff. 180-1v; IGI (Devon).
  • 3. Al. Ox.
  • 4. LI Admiss.; LI Black Bks. ii. 56.
  • 5. Vis. Devon (Harl. Soc. vi), 98; Vivian, Vis. Devon, 309-10 (this pedigree is largely unreliable).
  • 6. Exeter Freemen ed. M.M. Rowe and A.M. Jackson (Devon and Cornw. Rec. Soc. extra ser. i), 114.
  • 7. SP14/43/107.
  • 8. C181/2, ff. 140, 201, 348; 181/3, ff. 2, 130.
  • 9. C181/2, ff. 206v, 223v.
  • 10. H. Reed, ‘Allhallows Church, Exeter’, Reps. and Trans. Devon Assoc. xxxv. 600.
  • 11. E401/2586, p. 250.
  • 12. LI Black Bks. ii. 169, 197, 253, 275, 277.
  • 13. Devon RO, ECA Act Bk. 7, pp. 259, 706.
  • 14. Vivian, 309; PROB 11/105, ff. 180-1v; D. and S. Lysons, Devonshire, 265.
  • 15. Grantees of Arms ed. W.H. Rylands (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 77; W.G. Hoskins, Exeter Tax and Rate Assessments (Devon and Cornw. Rec. Soc. n.s. ii), 4; Devon RO, ECA Act Bk. 6, p. 334; J.J. Alexander, ‘Exeter MPs’, Reps. and Trans. Devon Assoc. lxi. 211; H. Reed, ‘Ancient Exeter Buildings’, Reps. and Trans. Devon Assoc. lxiii. 281.
  • 16. Readers and Readings in the Inns of Ct. and Chancery ed. J.H. Baker (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. xiii), 136; W.R. Prest, Rise of the Barristers, 357; BL, Harg. 51.
  • 17. J. Prince, Worthies of Devon, 338; LI Black Bks. ii. 181, 201, 450.
  • 18. HMC Exeter, 323; Devon RO, ECA Act Bk. 7, pp. 384, 399-400.
  • 19. C.F. Patterson, Urban Patronage in Early Modern England, 135-7; HMC Exeter, 118-27.
  • 20. CJ, i. 683b, 708b, 791b, 793a; C.R. Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, PPE 1604-48 ed. Kyle, 220.
  • 21. CJ, i. 677a, 750b; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 228.
  • 22. Devon RO, ECA Ancient Letters, 60d, f. 243; J.J. Alexander, ‘Parl. representation of Devon’, Reps. and Trans. Devon Assoc. lxviii. 108.
  • 23. LI Black Bks. ii. 226; Devon RO, ECA Act Bk. 7, p. 610.
  • 24. CD 1628, ii. 121; Procs. 1625, pp. 218-19, 268, 282, 360, 363, 375; Alexander, ‘Exeter MPs’, 202.
  • 25. PROB 11/160, ff. 15v-16; Reed, 600.