ADAMS, alias BODRUGAN, Nicholas (by 1521-57/84), of the Middle Temple, London and Townstall, Dartmouth, Devon.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Mar. 1553
Oct. 1553
Apr. 1554
Nov. 1554

Family and Education

b. by 1521, 1st s. of John Adams of Venn, Devon by Catherine, da. and h. of John Stebbing alias Bodrugan of Dartmouth. educ. M. Temple. m. (1) Cecily, da. of Sir John Fulford of Fulford, Devon by Dorothy, da. of John Bourchier, 1st Earl of Bath, 1s.; (2) by 21 Jan. 1547, Mary.2

Offices Held

Counsel to Dartmouth by 1542-51 or later; commr. chantries, Devon 1546.3


Nicholas Adams came of a gentle family long associated with Dartmouth and its neighbourhood. Several of his ancestors had traded from the port and had held office there: his father and he continued this tradition, John Adams serving for many years as town clerk and Nicholas Adams being retained as counsel by the corporation. He also acted for the local gentry and various magnates: he was on especially good terms with John Saintclere, who helped him to expel rival claimants to property at Norton. In 1545 Adams and George Rolle jointly bought lands in south Devon worth £720, including the manor of Townstall where he made his home. Shortly afterwards he was at loggerheads with the vicar of Townstall, who petitioned Chancellor Wriothesley for redress on the plea that Adams was ‘well learned in the law and hath many good friends’. The outcome of this dispute is not known, but in 1547 Adams enfeoffed John Throckmorton I of his lands in Townstall and elsewhere to the use of himself, his wife and his heirs.4

Adams appears to have had his first experience of Parliament in 1547, when he sat for a recently enfranchised Cornish borough. He had no personal ties with West Looe, and his return there was probably due to a combination of circumstances. He was distantly related to John Reskymer who on this occasion was one of the knights for Cornwall. Through his first wife he was connected with Sir Thomas Arundell, receiver-general of the duchy of Cornwall, while his membership of the Middle Temple could have given him access to the lord lieutenant in the west, John, Baron Russell, and to the Queen Dowager, Catherine Parr. No trace of Adams’s role in this Parliament has been found, but during its second session he achieved his place in national history with the publication of the treatise An Epitome of the title that the kynges Maiestie of Englande hath to the souereigntie of Scotlande. One of a group of tracts supporting the union of the two kingdoms, the Epitomewished well to the intervention in Scotland currently being undertaken by the Protector Somerset, with whom the author associated Somerset’s brother Thomas, Baron Seymour of Sudeley, and reminded their critics that the enterprise had the sanction of an Act of Parliament of the previous reign (34 and 35 Hen. VIII, c.27). Although the work bore Adams’s name (complete with alias), the chief responsibility for it, and indeed its authorship, have been attributed to (Sir) Thomas Smith I, the secretary of state, and there is some contemporary evidence to support this ascription. It is most unlikely that such a piece could have been written, still less printed, save with official approval or co-operation, and Adams may well have had a considerably smaller share in it than his ostensible authorship suggests. By the time of the next Parliament, in March 1553, the project of union had failed and the Seymour brothers were dead, but his earlier enthusiasm for them did not prevent Adams’s re-election, this time for Dartmouth, where his own position was reinforced by his connexion with the two knights for Devon, his brother-in-law John Fulford and Sir Peter Carew. Not long after the dissolution he wrote to Cecil about collegiate lands in the south-west.5

On 17 Apr. 1553 Adams was summoned before the Council for disobeying a court of requests order to pay a creditor £200, and shortly before the King’s death he was found to be in contempt and served with a subpoena to appear in the following October. Whether he did so is not known, but by the day appointed he was again a Member and thus protected from any creditor: it may have been the attraction of this privilege which also brought him into the two following Parliaments. He certainly showed no enthusiasm for the new regime: in the autumn of 1553 he was noted as one of the Members who ‘stood for the true religion’, that is, for Protestantism, and a year later he incurred further displeasure by leaving Parliament without permission before the session was over. With his fellow-offenders he was informed against in the King’s bench, but after appearing in court in Michaelmas 1555 and being given until the following term to answer the charge he does not seem to have been further proceeded against.6

In the course of the new reign Adams was himself a plaintiff in Chancery and Star Chamber over the title to Dartington park which he had acquired in 1550 from Henry Peckham: his dispute with John Aylworth, the occupant of Dartington Hall, lasted for several years and at one point cost him a brief spell in prison. Local animosity perhaps cost him the chance to sit again for Dartmouth and he was not to be elected elsewhere. In May 1557 he was dismissed from the Middle Temple, and after this his career becomes obscure. Adams died intestate, and on 12 June 1584 administration of his estate was granted to his widow.7

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Authors: Roger Virgoe / A. D.K. Hawkyard


  • 1. Hatfield 207.
  • 2. Date of birth estimated from first reference. Vis. Devon, ed. Vivian, 9; LP Hen. VIII, xxi; St.Ch.2/20/290.
  • 3. Exeter city lib., Dartmouth ms 2002, ff. 17v, 18v, 22; LP Hen. VIII, xxi.
  • 4. Dartmouth mss 1982, ff. 90 seq.; 2002, ff. 17v seq.; St.Ch.2/20/290, 3/2/14; LP Hen. VIII, xx, xxi; C1/1095/15, 1155/10-11; CPR, 1569-72, pp. 167-8.
  • 5. M. H. Merriman, ‘Eng. and Fr. intervention in Scot. 1543-50’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1975), 253-4; M. Dewar, Sir Thomas Smith, 48; St.Ch.2/20/290; E163/12/14; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 51.
  • 6. Req.2/18/105; Bodl. e Museo 17; KB27/1176.
  • 7. C1/1327/3-4; St.Ch.21/3/55; A. Emery, Dartington Hall, 71; M. T. Recs. i. 110; PCC Admins. 1581-6, f. 108.