Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Duckenfield, Robert

DUCKENFIELD, ROBERT (1619–1689), colonel in the army of the parliament, the eldest son of Robert Duckenfield of Dukinfield, Cheshire, and Frances, daughter of George Preston of Holker, Lancashire, was born in 1619, and baptised at Stockport on 28 Aug. of that year. He joined Sir William Brereton on the side of the parliament on the outbreak of the civil war. Along with other Cheshire gentlemen he lent his aid in defending Manchester at the siege in 1642, and was engaged at the siege of Wythenshawe Hall, near Stockport, the seat of the Tattons, which held out more than a year, and was not taken until 25 Feb. 1643-4. He was also at the storming of Beeston Castle and other royalist garrisons in Cheshire. On 25 May 1644 he was posted with his troops at Stockport bridge to bar the advance of Prince Rupert into Lancashire; but he suffered defeat at the hands of the prince. In the previous year he had been appointed one of the commissioners for Cheshire for sequestrating the estates of the delinquents, and for raising funds for the parliament. He wrote several letters at this time and later complaining of the arrears of his soldiers' pay, and of the difficulty he had in keeping his men together. But in spite of all discouragements he proved his zeal for the parliament. In May 1648 he had a meeting with the gentlemen of Cheshire, and promised to raise three regiments of foot and one of horse. He served as high sheriff of Cheshire in 1649, and was appointed governor of Chester in 1650, and soon afterwards took the command of the militia raised in the Broxton and Wirral hundreds. As governor of Chester he was charged with the duty of summoning and attending the court-martial to try the Earl of Derby, Captain John Benbow, and Sir T. Featherstonhaugh. Duckenfield seems to have tried, but in vain, to save Lord Derby, or at all events to delay the trial. The court-martial was held at Chester on 29 Sept. 1651, and the earl was executed at Bolton on 15 Oct. following. Before the sentence was carried out Duckenfield was ordered to proceed to the Isle of Man, of which he was designated governor, and through treachery he succeeded in reducing the island and taking the Countess of Derby and her children prisoners, for which he received the thanks of parliament. Lord Derby, while waiting in prison, wrote to his wife advising her that it would be best not to resist the forces sent against the isle, adding that ‘Colonel Duckenfield, being so much a gentleman born, will doubtless for his own honour's sake deal fairly with you.’

He was returned in July 1653 as one of the members of parliament for Cheshire, and in the same month was placed on Cromwell's council. In a letter from Duckenfield, 23 March 1654–5, addressed to Cromwell in answer to an invitation to serve in a regiment of horse, he wrote: ‘I am not afraid of my own life or estate, and to improve the talent I have I should be glad to serve your lordship in any foreign war within the continent of Europe rather than within this nation’ (Noble, Regicides, ii. 196). In September 1655 he was nominated a commissioner for ejecting scandalous and insufficient ministers and schoolmasters in Cheshire (Cal. State Papers, 1655, p. 321). He was associated with General Lambert in 1659 in suppressing Sir. George Booth's ‘Cheshire Rising’ in favour of the exiled king, and had 200l. voted to him for his services. Immediately after the Restoration he was tried as one of the officers who sat on the court-martial on the Earl of Derby, when he denied that he had in any way ‘consented to the death or imprisonment of that honourable person’ (Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. 116). He was released from custody, but in August 1665 was sent to the Tower, and afterwards to Chester Castle, on suspicion of being concerned in a plot to seize the king and restore the parliament. He seems to have been imprisoned more than a year (Cal. State Papers, 1664–5, 1665–6, 1666–7). After this date he lived quietly at Dukinfield Hall, taking part in public affairs only as a leader of the nonconformists of the district. He died on 18 Sept. 1689, aged 70, and was buried at Denton, Lancashire.

He married as a first wife Martha, daughter of Sir Miles Fleetwood of Hesketh, Lancashire, and by her he had eight children, of whom the eldest, Robert, was created a baronet on 16 June 1665, two months before his father's imprisonment. He took as a second wife, in 1678, Judith, daughter of Nathaniel Bottomley of Cawthorne, Yorkshire, by whom he had six children. One of them became a nonconformist minister, but subsequently conformed and died vicar of Felixkirk, Yorkshire, 1739. He published in 1707 a little book entitled ‘The Great Work of the Gospel Ministry Explain'd, Conform'd, and Improv'd.’

A portrait of Colonel Duckenfield was published by Ford of Manchester in 1824.

[Earwaker's East Cheshire, ii. 13, 20; Ormerod's Cheshire, 1st edit. iii. 397; Calendar of State Papers, Dom. Series, 1649–67; House of Lords' Journals, xi. 87, 88, 91, 97, 119; Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. 95, 116; Rushworth's Hist. Col. vii. 946, 1127; Whitelocke's Memorials, 1732; Noble's Regicides, 1798, i. 192; Barlow's Cheshire, 1855, pp. 121, 159; Stanley Papers (Raines), Chetham Soc. vol. ii.; Fairfax Corresp. (Bell), iii. 79; Memorials of the Great Civil War (Cary), i. 281; Palatine Note-book, iii. 89, 194; Booker's Denton, Chetham Soc., xxxvi. 115; Cheshire Sheaf, 1883, ii. 281.]

C. W. S.