DENNYS, Nicholas (1616-92), of Barnstaple and Derworthy, Milton Damerel, Devon.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

bap. 13 Nov. 1616, 3rd s. of Thomas Dennys, yeoman (d.1632), of Ilfracombe, by 2nd w. Joan Rice. educ. Pembroke, Oxf. 1634; I. Temple 1635, called 1646. m. (1) c.1647, Jane (bur. 1 July 1674), da. of William Squire of South Molton, 1s. d.v.p. 3da.; (2) 6 July 1675, Jane, da. of one Richards of Dunkeswell, wid. of Sir Benjamin Oliver of Exeter, s.p.1

Offices Held

Deputy recorder, Barnstaple ?1656-74, freeman Mar. 1660; commr. for assessment, Devon Aug. 1660-80, 1689-90, corporations 1662-3; bencher, I. Temple 1662-9; commr. for charitable uses, Devon 1667, recusants 1675; recorder, Bideford bef. 1682-at least 1685.2


Dennys may have been descended from a gentry family which provided a Member for Barnstaple in 1449, but the descent has not been traced, and his grandfather described himself as a mere husbandman. At his father’s death Dennys inherited property in Ilfracombe and elsewhere, but he became a professional lawyer in practice at Barnstaple. He did not openly take sides during the Civil War, although his brother was removed from the mayoralty as a Royalist in 1651. Returned for the borough at the general election of 1660, doubtless as a supporter of the Restoration, Dennys was inactive in the Convention. He made no recorded speeches, and was named to only five committees. He was among those ordered to prepare a clause on foreign vessels for the book of customs rates, and served on the committee that produced the navigation bill.3

Re-elected in 1661, Dennys was again inactive, being appointed to only 31 committees of secondary importance in the Cavalier Parliament. In the opening session he took the chair in the large committee to consider a confirmatory bill for draining the Great level of the fens, and also reported a Devonshire estate bill. His most important committee politically was on the bill to prevent mischiefs from Quakers. Thereafter his activity declined, though he was among those ordered to consider bills to regulate the manufacture of Devon stuffs in 1663 and to prevent legal delays in 1664. In 1669 he was disbenched at his own request upon payment of a fine of 100 marks, ‘having declared to the treasurer his resolution not to come any more to the bench table nor to read’. He seems henceforward to have devoted himself to local affairs. He defaulted on a call of the House in 1671. After his first wife’s death he retired from practice and settled in Milton Damerel. He was named to the committees on the bill for uniting Exeter parishes both in 1673 and 1674. It was hoped to recruit him for the court party in 1675 through the lord keeper, but Shaftesbury marked him ‘worthy’ in 1677. As recorder of Bideford he signed loyal addresses following the Rye House Plot and the accession of James II. He was buried at Milton Damerel on 31 May 1692. He was the only member of this family to sit in Parliament; but a grandson, William Fortescue, sat for Newport, I.o.W. from 1727 to 1736.4

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Authors: M. W. Helms / J. S. Crossette


  • 1. Devon and Cornw. N. and Q. xxiii. 148-51; Soc. of Genealogists, Exeter Mar. Lic. Feb. 1671.
  • 2. HMC 5th Rep. 371; T. Wainwright, Barnstaple Recs. i. 231; Cal. I. T. Recs. iii. 63; Devon and Cornw. N. and Q. xxiii. 149; Trans. Devon Assoc. xlvii. 318-21.
  • 3. Devon and Cornw. N. and Q. xxiii. 116-17, 145-7; J. B. Gribble, Mems. Barnstaple, 271.
  • 4. CJ, viii. 270, 302; Cal. I. T. Recs. ii. 273; Trans. Devon Assoc. xlvii. 318-21; information from Mr R. O. Dennys, Somerset Herald.