White, Nicholas (DNB00)

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WHITE, Sir NICHOLAS (d. 1593), master of the rolls in Ireland, described as of Whites Hall, near Knocktopher, co. Kilkenny, a descendant of one of the early Pale settlers, was a relative apparently, perhaps the son, of James White of Waterford, gentleman, to whom Henry VIII in 1540 granted a lease of the rectory of Dunkitt in co. Kilkenny (Cal. Fiants, Hen. VIII, p. 154). He is surmised to be identical with the ‘Nicholas Whyt’ mentioned in the codicil to the will of James Butler, ninth earl of Ormonde and Ossory (Morrin, Cal. Patent Rolls, i. 133). He is mentioned in April 1563 as a justice of the peace for the counties of Kilkenny and Tipperary, and the following year as recorder of the city of Waterford (Cal. Fiants, Eliz. Nos. 542, 666). Visiting England subsequently, he made a favourable impression on Elizabeth and Cecil. On 4 Nov. 1568 the queen directed him to be appointed to the seneschalship of Wexford and the constableship and rule of Leighlin and Ferns, in the room of Thomas Stucley [q. v.] On 18 Jan. following he obtained a grant of the reversion of the lands of Dunbrody in co. Wexford, and of sundry other leases (cf. Cal. Fiants, Nos. 1527, 1537, 1543, 1558, 1562, 1572, 1638), with instructions at the same time to be admitted a privy councillor (Cal. State Papers, Irel. Eliz. i. 392, 400). It is noteworthy that his advancement was attributed to the influence of the Earl of Ormonde (ib. i. 404).

On his way back to Ireland he had a curious interview with Mary Queen of Scots at Tutbury in February 1569, of which he sent a detailed account to Cecil (Haynes, Burghley Papers, pp. 509–12). During the Butlers' war his property was plundered, and he himself obliged for a time to take refuge in Waterford (Cal. State Papers, Irel. Eliz. i. 406, 412). On 28 May, in consideration of his losses, he obtained a grant of the lands of St. Katherine's, Leixlip (Cal. Fiants, Eliz. No. 1369; cf. Cal. Hatfield MSS. i. 413), where he afterwards established his residence. As seneschal of Wexford he kept a firm hand over the Kavanaghs (Cal. State Papers, Irel. Eliz. i. 426), and by his conduct at the siege of Castle Mocollop in May 1571 won the approbation of the lord justice, Sir William Fitzwilliam (ib. i. 457). In September he repaired, with permission from the state to be absent six months, to England. On 14 July 1572 he was appointed master of the rolls in Ireland (patent, 18 July) in succession to Henry Draycott, with concession to retain the office of seneschal of Wexford for the further space of eight months, ‘in the hope that he may more effectually prosecute those that murdered his son-in-law, Robert Browne’ (Cal. Patent Rolls, i. 548; Smyth, Law Officers, p. 60; see also under O'Byrne, Fiach MacHugh). At the same time the lord chancellor was directed to accept a surrender from him of his lands in counties Tipperary, Waterford, and Kilkenny for a regrant of them to him in fee-simple.

After his return to Ireland in the autumn of 1572 a dispute arose between him and Archbishop Adam Loftus [q. v.], on the death of the lord chancellor, Robert Weston [q. v.], as to the custody of the great seal, which Loftus claimed ex officio (Cal. State Papers, Irel. Eliz. i. 506, 509). The incident caused bad blood between him and the officials of English birth, and was followed by disastrous consequences for him. A year or two later he supported the agitation of the gentry of the Pale against cess by refusing to sign the order for their committal [see under Nugent, Sir Christopher, 1544–1602], and drew down upon him the wrath of Sir Henry Sidney, who described him to Walsingham as ‘the worst of Irishmen’ (ib. ii. 117). He offered an explanation of his conduct to Burghley on 13 June 1577, alleging that he had no intention to impugn the queen's prerogative (Hatfield MSS. ii. 154, 186). But Sidney, who from the first had disliked him as belonging to the faction of his enemy, the Earl of Ormonde, was in no humour to brook opposition from him, and a charge being preferred against him by the attorney-general, Thomas Snagge [q. v.], of remissness in the execution of the duties of his office and of maintaining any cause that touches his countrymen ‘how foul soever it be’ (Cal. State Papers, Irel. Eliz. ii. 124, 126), he was in April 1578 suspended from the mastership of the rolls (Cal. Fiants, Eliz. No. 3267). He found, however, a friend in Sir William Drury [q. v.], and in September received permission to repair to England to plead his cause with Burghley (ib. No. 3509). He succeeded in clearing himself of the charges preferred against him by Snagg; but returning to Ireland, and being reinstated in his office, he found a bitter enemy in Sir Henry Wallop [q. v.], who protested strongly against a concordatum of a thousand marks that had been allowed him (Cal. State Papers, Irel. Eliz. ii. 223). He was with the army under Sir William Pelham [q. v.] in Munster during the summer of 1580, corresponding regularly the while with Burghley, to whom he sent Dr. Sanders's ‘sanctus bell, and another toy after the manner of a crosse supporting a booke,’ discovered at Castle Island (ib. ii. 236), from which it may be inferred that so far as his religion was concerned there was nothing to find fault with. His misadventure in the matter of the cess did not prevent him generously pleading the cause of Chief-justice Nicholas Nugent [q. v.] to Burghley (ib. ii. 300), and it was probably owing to this circumstance that he was fiercely denounced by Wallop as ‘a solicitor for all traitors’ (ib. ii. 415). Even his successful management of Fiagh MacHugh, the O'Conors, and Kavanaghs, as reported by the council, received from Wallop a sinister interpretation. ‘The cawse,’ he wrote to Walsingham, ‘that moved him to apprehend the bad fellowes we comende him for in owr joynt letter, grywe by menes that I dyd openly in counsell, the end of the last terme, charge him upon his evell delynge with us bothe in impoynyng and crosynge owr doynges, that he was a comon advocate for traytors and evell men, that he never apprehendyd, or cawsed to be apprehended, anye traytor, rebell, or evell dysposed parson, nor ever woulde come to the examynatyon or araynement off any traytor or conspyrator’ (ib. ii. 428). It might have been deemed by Wallop sufficient pledge for his loyalty that he was the author (ib. iv. 292) of the extraordinary trial by combat in September 1583 between Teige MacGilapatrick O'Conor and Conor MacCormack O'Conor (Cal. Carew MSS. ii. 361), in which both combatants lost their lives.

With the arrival of Sir John Perrot as deputy in 1584 White's prospects improved. From Perrot he received the honour of knighthood at his taking the oath in Christ Church on 21 June. His gratitude naturally inclined him to take the part of the lord deputy in the many disputes in which the latter was involved almost from the beginning of his government. But neither his gratitude nor his admiration of Perrot's good qualities blinded him to the defects in his character (cf. Cal. State Papers, Irel. Eliz. iii. 138). Going the Leinster circuit in the autumn of the same year (1584), White caused forty-eight of the hundred and eighty-one prisoners sent up for trial to be executed, and in the fulfilment of his duty even ventured to visit the redoubtable Fiagh MacHugh O'Byrne in his fastness of Ballinacor, ‘where law never approached’ (ib. ii. 531). In December he was sent down into Connaught in order to investigate the charges of extortion preferred against the late governor, Sir Nicholas Malby [q. v.], and on 15 July 1585 was appointed a commissioner for compounding for cess in that province (ib. ii. 542; Cal. Fiants, No. 4745). In September 1586 he and Sir Lucas Dillon attended the lord deputy thither, greatly to the annoyance of Sir Richard Bingham [q. v.], who confidentially described them as ‘fit instruments’ in Perrot's hands to discover anything against him (ib. iii. 182). Dillon besought Burghley not to let ‘the place of our birth scandalise our faithful service;’ but the fact that they were regarded as wholly subservient to Perrot rendered any cordial action between them and the English section in the council impossible. Everything that White did was misinterpreted. His account of the quarrel between the lord deputy and Marshal Bagenal in the council chamber, though certainly the fairest, was impugned, and an attempt even made to deprive him of the custody of Duncannon Fort, which formed part of his estate at Dunbrody, under the pretence that ‘it was unmeet that the same should be put into the hands of any of this country's birth’ (ib. iii. 449). Perrot's successor, Sir William Fitzwilliam, shared the general prejudice against him, alleging that neither he nor Sir Lucas Dillon would set their hand to any letters ‘wherein Sir John Perrot is mentioned not to their liking’ (ib. iv. 116). In 1589 he was included in the commission for effecting a pacification with the Burkes, whom the alleged arbitrary conduct of Bingham had caused to revolt. In announcing the ill-success of their efforts to Burghley, he remarked that there was a general inclination to lay the blame on Bingham; for himself, he afterwards inclined to take Bingham's part in the matter, as being in his opinion ‘altogether inclined to follow the mildest course’ (ib. iv. 161, 263, 276). Shortly afterwards he was involved in the revelations of Sir Denis O'Roughan in the charge of high treason preferred against Perrot, and Fitzwilliam, who was apparently too glad of an excuse for removing him, caused him in June 1590, though extremely ill, to be placed under restraint, at the same time taking effective measures to prevent any personal application on the part of his son to the queen (ib. iv. 343, 354, 357). Two months later he was sent over to England, and, after examination by Sir John Popham (1531?–1607) [q. v.], was committed to the Marshalsea (ib. iv. 359, 388). In a subsequent examination in the Star-chamber he admitted that Perrot had complained that the queen's fears hampered his service; but otherwise nothing of material importance was elicited from him (ib. iv. 439). He was not deprived of his office, and, being allowed to return to Ireland, he died there at the end of March or the beginning of April 1593 (cf. Cal. Fiants, Nos. 5820, 5836).

White married a niece of Arthur Brereton of Killyon, co. Meath, by whom he had two sons—Thomas, educated at Cambridge and died in November 1586, and Andrew, likewise educated at Cambridge, who succeeded him—and two daughters, one of whom married Robert Browne of Mulcranan, co. Wexford, the other being the wife of Christopher D'Arcy of Platten, co. Meath.

[Authorities as quoted.]

R. D.