No Duceys left in Ducey!

No Duceys left in Ducey!

Historical sources tell us the town of Ducey dates back even earlier than  Gallic-Roman days.  The area was a battleground throughout much of its history, particularly during the Hundred Years War from 1337 to 1453, when English invaders razed most of the area.  An original Ducey chateau and its church were destroyed in 1346.  If that was not punishment enough, between 1347 and 1353, the Black Plague decimated millions of Europeans.

As a consequence, there are no historic physical  traces of original Ducey names pre-dating the years cited above to be found in Ducey today.  There are no Ducey names on grave markers, buildings or in town records.  Only the name of the town survives, and its citizens,  in the main, celebrate its history from the time it  began to thrive under the fiefdom of the Montgommery family, who ruled there from 1521 to 1682

However various branches of the Ducey family still exist in other parts of France and can also be found throughout the world.

The history of the Ducey, in France and after, remains disjointed.  What we do have so far, comes from two main sources.

The first that I ever saw, was researched and written over a 10-year period by Sister Agnes Cecilia Ducey, of Omaha, Nebraska and distributed in 1966, in a mimeograph version.  It was later updated and published in 1986.  Using just a typewriter and the postal  mails, she produced an amazing document that starts in Ducey, France and covers our lineage to England, then to Ireland and finally to Canada and the United States.

For the early history of Ducey, she accessed many original French sources, including historians, tax rolls, the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, other libraries, religious institutions and some of the publications cited below. Today, in the age of the internet, we find some gaps in her story, a bit of fantasy in some sections, but above all, a lot of solid research and good reading.  Until we had  read Sister Agnes’ book in 1966, my family always thought the origins of the Duceys were  in Ireland.

In 1999, I gave a copy of the first section of her work to the Mayor of Ducey, Henri-Jacques DeWitt, who was very pleased and surprised to get it.  The only modern historical reference to the town to that date was in a brochure he had commissioned in 1992 about Ducey and its district.  The purpose of the booklet was to touch on historic sites in the area, particularly the  Montgommery castle in Ducey.  Its restoration was almost complete in 1999.  Written by Alain Landurant, a Normandy historian, it is an attractive 32-page booklet with a two-page historical summary containing a few lines about the original Ducey seigneurs, Robert and William, and then dealing with the arrival of  the Montgommery seigneurs in 1524.

The Ducey fief (land holdings) was created between 916 and 1000.  Ancient records reveal that Ducey knights, starting with Ranulfe de Ducey in 1095, to Willam de Ducey, ruled the Ducey lands until 1210-, a period of 115 years.

However  to most “Duceens” of today, the Montgommerys are considered the most important of the Ducey seigneurs. The family ruled the Ducey fiefdom for almost 200 years, from 1524 to 1711. A branch of a Scottish clan, they and their descendants had been in France before serving with William the Conqueor at the Battle of Hasting in 1066.

The current Chateau Montgommery at Ducey was built circa 1626 -42.  It was  refurbished to its present condition during the mayoralty of Henri-Jacques Dewitte  in the 1990s.   Early in this century, Mayor Dewitte took another step in developing the story of Ducey and commissioned a full history of Ducey up to the present.

It was written by Valerie Houlbert and published by the Ducey office of tourism, where she was working when I met her in 2009.  This book was published in 2007 and would make any town of 2200 people very proud to have it

My translation of her section on the early history of Ducey and its first family of seigneurs is contained on this website.  Still, we have very little in the way of a cogent history of those early Ducey land-holders.  They weave in and out of sporadic references in Norman history.  There is, as yet, no clear reference as to when they left Ducey and where they went.

The references we have are based on early Latin records contained in those religious abbeys which fortunately survived centuries of warfare, famine, plague  and decimation.  Unfortunately, the original town of Ducey and its Ducey castle and churchesof the day  did not survive an attack by English invaders in 1346-48 AD.  Nor by then were there believed to be any more Duceys living in Ducey.

What little we have about the family of town’s early founders comes mainly from several sets of historical collections and writing,  published in France between 1831 and 1910..   These histories are based  on original Latin manuscripts, preserved in nearby surviving monasteries including Avranches, Coutances, Pontorson, Savigny and of course the dominant Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel.   ..

These histories tell us that the first recorded  landholder, or seigneur, of the area of Ducey,  was a Norseman knight named Ranulf (or Ranulfe), who lived from about 1095 to 1150 A.D.  Like other Scandinavian warriors who gave service to the King of France, he was given the Ducey lands to own and to rule, while remaining faithful to the monarchy.  His lands or “fiefdom” was centered at Ducey, on the Selune river and within easy riding distance of Mont-Saint-Michel and the key towns of Avranches and Pontorson.  He was known as Ranulf de Ducey (i.e. “Ranulf of Ducey”).

His son, Robert de Ducey (in Latin: Robertus de Duxeio) gave some of the lands from his fiefdom of Ducey to the abbey at Mont-Saint Michel around the year 1125.  We read that on that occasion,  Robert was accompanied by his wife, Cecile, his first  son, William, and.  It is recorded that Robert and Cecile also had a younger son, Robert as well as a daughter, Mathilde.

The most celebrated of the Ducey seigneurs is believed to be that son William, who held the title from 1171 to 1180.  He is said to have been buried at the abbey of Savigny.

One source said he died without any descendants.  However in the Ducey history, authored by  V. Houlebert, another historical source says William had two sons and two daughters and that the eldest son, Herve de Ducey was seigneur de Ducey from 1180 to 1220.  I have been unable to find any other historical references to Herve, surprising since he is said to have ruled for 40 years..

From this point, the Ducey family history get murky, with contrasting stories about who, if anyone, may have  succeeded Herve.  There is a reliable citation that records a William de Ducey pledging support of the Ducey fief  to King Phillip III at Tours, France in 1272.  Bear in mind that this was 92 years after the death of the aforementioned William de Ducey.

According to research done by Sister Agnes Ducey, the last of the Ducey seigneurs, also said to be named William de Ducey, sold his inherited Normandy landholdings in 1326 to his brother John (Johanne de Ducey) who had already inherited property at Ducy-Ste. Marguerite, located a few miles northeast of Ducey town.  Ducey families still existent in France today, are believed to be descendants of this John de Ducey.  But, on the other hand, some of them could be descended from any of the William de Ducey lines.

I would hope that the several Ducey family geneaologists currently active in France may be able to shed more light than I can about their ancestral history.

In any case, through the marriage of Mathilde (daughter of Robert)  to William de Husson , the remaining Ducey lands passed into the Husson family, who became seigneurs of Ducey in 1302.

We now leave France and look at the question of how the Ducey family surfaced in England.

Research uncovered by Sister Agnes Ducey  led her to conclude that William de Ducey III, in return for helping Queen Isabella of England (also sister of the then-king of France), received some 300 acres of land near Willenhall, England. It may have been an offer he could not refuse.  However all during the period dating from the Norman invasion of England in 1066, there were constant comings and goings of  sea-borne traders, families, royalty,  military and religious groups between France and England.

Sister Agnes postulates that it was from this William de Ducey, that versions of the name spelled as Ducye, Ducy and Ducie, come into view in England.  We know that a Henry Duce paid taxes while living in Willenahll in 1543.  His family then included wife Majorie, sons John and James and daughters Elizabeth and Agnes.  But by 1666, no Duceys were left in Willenhall.

However, the most illustrious of our English ancestors was Robert Ducie, b. 29 May, 1575, the son of a Henry Ducey and Mary Hardy.  He amassed a large fortune, and through links to the King of England, eventually became Sherriff (1620) and then Lord Mayor of London(1631).  For his friendship with and financial support of King Charles 1 of England, he had been created the 1st Baronet of Ducie on Nov. 28, 1629.

The Baronet of Ducie eventually passed into the Moreton family.  The 7th Earle of Ducie, David Leslie Moreton, is apparently the last Earl of Ducie.  A son born to his wife, Helen Duchesne, in 1981, was styled as Lord Moreton in 1991.

Now, we turn our attention to the Irish Duceys, including those whose descendants moved to Canada and the United States.   And there were plenty of them.  And as mostly poor farmers, their names were spelled many different ways.

Again we turn to Sister Agnes to find a link between England and Ireland, but again, she does not quite deliver the factual goods.  But on the other hand, she may have been lucky — and correct!

Almost 30 years before debut of the internet, Sister Agnes postulates that a reference to a “Capten Dowse” in 1642 provides the link.  She writes that this “Dowse”  was Robert Ducye, “closely related to Sir Robert Ducie, former Lord Mayor. of London.”  This was conjecture on her part.  Dowse appears as a common name in England during the period and after.  Moreover, the form “Ducye” had largely given way to the spelling “Ducie” in England.

She identified this “capten dowse” as a victim of incorrect spelling (something very common then and later).  The reference source was Sir Richard Boyle, the first Lord of Cork, who initially came Ireland in 1588 as a coloniser and a trader. A supporter of King Charles I of England, Boyle bought huge tracts of south-western  Irish land from Sir Walter Raleigh about 1602.  In 1642, Boyle’s diary refers to his two sons and their troops heading out of Youghal  in defense of the city of Cork against Irish rebels.  Boyle four other ‘captens’  by name, including “capten dowse.”

Sister Agnes theorizes that this must have been Robert Ducye, a soldier-servant to Richard Boyle.  Maybe she was correct but she offers no proof, other than to suggest he was closely related to the very rich Lord Mayo rDucie of London, who had died in 1634.  Today, the internet reveals to us that among the four sons who survived the former Lord Mayor and first Earl of Ducie, was a son Robert Ducie. He certainly may have been “capten dowse.”  So again, credit Sister Agnes!

However, the next Irish Ducey that Sister Agnes can find is Dennis and a brother, both believed born around 1700 and living in County Waterford.

But thanks to the internet, we have been able to document that a John Ducey was registered as living in Lahardan, near Dungarven in 1665.  His name is listed in a book now available on the internet:  Tipperary’s Families, Being the Hearth Money Records from 1665-6-7, printed in Dublin by James Duffy & C., 1911.

More about the Irish Duceys in the next section.



My branch of the family emigrated from Tipperary Co., Ireland, to Lindsay, Ontario before 1840 and then moved on to Lindsay, Nebraska in 1885.   Our great-grand parents are buried there.  My grandfather, Thomas James Ducey, was one of 13 children, born in Ontario in 1870, who moved to Nebraska with their parents.  Through circumstances, he was the only one of his siblings who eventually returned permanently to Canada, dying here in 1962, age 90.

Growing up, we always thought of our Ducey family as “Irish,” at least until 1966.  That was when Sister Agnes Ducey, with the help of Donald J. Ducey of Omaha, Nebraska, published in mimeograph form, an 86-page family history that traced the Ducey family name from Normandy to North America.  Until then, my family had never heard of Ducey, France!

Hopefully this website will introduce you to the parts of the family history that have so far been discovered.   Much remains yet to be done.

If you are a member of the world-wide Ducey family, perhaps you can assist us.

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