Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Nethersole, Francis

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NETHERSOLE, Sir FRANCIS (1587–1659), secretary to the Electress Elizabeth, born in 1587, was second son of John Nethersole of Winghamswood or Wimlingswold, Kent, by his wife Perigrinia, daughter of Francis Wilsford. Elected to a scholarship at Trinity College, Cambridge, on 12 April 1605, he obtained a minor fellowship there in 1608 and a major fellowship on 23 March 1609–10. He proceeded B.A. in 1606, and M.A. in 1610, and became a popular tutor. On 11 Dec. 1611 he was elected public orator of the university. In the following year he published an address in Latin prose which he had delivered before the vice-chancellor on the death of Prince Henry, and added a short epitaph in verse by himself, and elegies in Latin and Greek by Andrew Downes. The title of the volume ran: ‘Memoriæ Sacra Illustrissimi Potentissimi Principis Henrici … Laudatio Funebris’ (Cambridge, by Cantrell Legge, 1612).

In 1613 Nethersole engaged in a curious correspondence with the wife of Sir Michael Hicks [q. v.] respecting their son William, who was in Nethersole's charge at Cambridge (Lansdowne MS. 93). Next year Nethersole—although, according to Chamberlain, a proper man, ‘thinking well of himself’—offended the king, when on a visit with his son to the university, by addressing the Prince of Wales as ‘Jacobissime Carole,’ and ‘Jacobule’ (Hardwicke, State Papers, i. 395). In his ‘Grave Poem,’ 1614, Corbet parodied the curious oration, in which Nethersole welcomed the royal visitors, in verses beginning:

    I wonder what your Grace doth here,
    Who have expected been twelve year;
    And this your son, fair Carolus,
    That is so Jacobissimus.

(Cf. Nichols, Progresses, iii. 58, 69.). But Nethersole's literary taste was sufficiently respected to lead Edmund Bolton to nominate him in 1617 as one of the class of ‘essentials’ in his projected academy of literature.

In 1619 Nethersole resigned his offices at Cambridge, and accepted the post of secretary to James Hay, viscount Doncaster, afterwards Earl of Carlisle [q. v.], who had been selected to visit the Elector Palatine with a view to settling on a peaceful basis his relations with his catholic neighbours. Nethersole was a staunch protestant, and readily became an enthusiastic advocate of the cause of the elector and of his wife, the Princess Elizabeth. On his return with Doncaster Nethersole was knighted at Theobalds, Hertfordshire, on 19 Sept. 1619, and was at the same time appointed the English agent to the princes of the Protestant Union, and secretary to the Electress Palatine, in succession to Sir Albertus Morton [q. v.] He thenceforth devoted himself with the utmost chivalry to the interests of the electress. James granted him a pension of 200l. in consideration of his anticipated services to his sister (22 Sept. 1619), and 165l. as English agent to the union (Cal. State Papers, 1619–1623, p. 79). Nethersole did not take up his duties in attendance on the electress until her husband had accepted the crown of Bohemia. Late in the summer of 1620 he travelled to Prague, and practically became English minister at the court there. His despatches to the English government were very full and frequent. He was at first sanguine that the elector would come forth victorious from the struggle, but in August 1620 he was writing to James I that his son-in-law's position was hopeless. In May 1621 the elector sent Nethersole to England to beg for aid in the defence of the Palatinate. He returned with an unfavourable answer (Green, Lives of the Princesses of England, v. 365). On 24 Sept. 1622, four days after the fall of the elector's capital of Heidelberg, Nethersole landed again in England, and was dismissed a few days later by Buckingham, with an assurance that England would at once intervene in the German war in the elector's behalf. Next year, although still retaining his office as agent to the electress, Nethersole permanently settled in England, in the belief that he might thus influence the English government more effectually in her behalf. He maintained for the next twelve years a voluminous correspondence with the electress.

Some of his leisure Nethersole now devoted to English politics. On 31 Jan. 1623–4 he was elected M.P. for Corfe Castle, Dorset. He was re-elected for the same constituency to the first and third of Charles I's parliaments (in 1625 and 1628 respectively). In the opening days of the latter parliament Nethersole took a prominent part in the debate on the king's claim to imprison persons without showing cause. He argued that cases of disturbance due to the existence of perilous conspiracies had arisen, and might arise again, when the executive government must of necessity be entrusted with the power of arbitrary committal. Early next year Nethersole pointed out to the electress the serious consequences likely to follow the growing divergence between the king and the parliament on questions of religion.

In 1628 Nethersole gave practical proof of his devotion to the electress by selling his own plate, some of which he had received as a gift from the French king, in order to pay her pressing debts (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1627–8, p. 579). In May 1633, in his capacity of agent to the princess, Nethersole sought and obtained permission from Charles I to raise a voluntary contribution or benevolence for the recovery of the Palatinate. He induced two London merchants ‘to advance 31,000l. on the security of the expected contributions, and in reliance upon an engagement which he offered in the name of the wealthy Lord Craven, Elizabeth's most enthusiastic champion’ (Gardiner). Before the legal documents authorising the levy of the money were made out, Nethersole's scheme was betrayed to the public. Lord Craven's support proved uncertain, and Nethersole perceived that his chances of success were very small. He angrily charged Lord Goring, a member of the queen's household, with treacherously revealing the plan before it was ripe for execution. The queen took Goring's side in the quarrel. Charles was easily persuaded that Nethersole had misled him in the business. He at first ordered him to keep his house, and then directed him to apologise formally to Goring. Finally he revoked his assent to the benevolence (cf. Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep.; Cowper MSS. ii. 20–4).

In December 1633 Nethersole received from the private secretary of Elizabeth an importunate letter entreating him to secure aid for her in England with the utmost speed. Nethersole forwarded an extract from the letter to the king's secretary, Sir John Coke [q. v.], and appended a message of his own supporting its appeal, in which he suggested that if no help were sent to the princess her son might be justified in attributing his ruin to her kinsfolk's inaction (4 Jan. 1633–4; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1633–4, p. 393). Charles was offended by the remark, and he issued an order for Nethersole's arrest. In order to place his papers in safe custody Nethersole for a few days evaded capture, but he was soon taken and sent to the Tower. He was released at the end of April, but not until Charles had obtained a formal promise from his sister, who had done what she could to defend him, never to employ him in her service again (cf. Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1633–4, p. 496; Cowper MSS. ii. 43–4 in Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep.). His public life was thus brought to a premature close.

Thenceforward Nethersole lived chiefly at Polesworth, Warwickshire, on property which his wife inherited. On 28 March 1636 he wrote thence to Secretary Windebanck, protesting in very humble language his loyalty to the king (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1635–1636, p. 333). His religious views, always sternly protestant, in later life tended towards presbyterianism. He used his influence to obtain the vicarage of Polesworth for one Bell, subsequently one of the ejected ministers, and Richard Baxter wrote of Bell ‘that he needed no other testimonial of his loyalty than that he was pastor to Sir Francis, and this is equally a proof of his learning also’ (Palmer, Nonconformists' Memorial, iii. 347). On his father's death he inherited Nethersole House, in the parish of Wimlingswold. Although he fully sympathised with the king's cause, he took no part in the civil wars; but in the autumn of 1648 he endeavoured, in a series of pamphlets, to advocate a peaceful solution of the desperate crisis. On 15 Aug. 1648 he published, under the signature ‘P.D.,’ an address to the lord mayor, aldermen, and common councilmen of London, entitled ‘Problems necessary to be determined by all that have or have not taken part on either side in the late unnatural War.’ On 17 Aug. 1648 he published ‘A Project for an equitable and lasting Peace, designed in the yere 1643 … with a Disquisition how the said Project may now be reduced to fit the present Conjuncture of Affairs … by a cordiall Agreement of the King, Parliament, City, and Army, and of all the People of this Kingdom among our selves.’ ‘A strong Motive to the passing of a General Pardon and Act of Oblivion, found in a Parcell of Problemes selected out of a greater Bundle lately published by P. D.’ appeared on 30 Oct. 1648; ‘Another Parcell of Problemes concerning Religion necessary to be determined at this time,’ on 3 Nov. 1648; and ‘Parables reflecting upon the Times, newly past and yet present,’ on 13 Nov. 1648.

On 11 Jan. 1648–9 Nethersole, throwing off the veil of anonymity, openly attacked John Goodwin's defence of the army's resolution to bring the king to the scaffold in ‘Ὁ Αὐτοκατάκριτος. The self-condemned, or a Letter to Mr. Jo. Goodwin, shewing that in his Essay to justifie the Equity and Regularnes of the late and present Proceedings of the Army by Principles of Reason and Religion, he hath condemned himselfe of Iniquity and Variablenesse in the highest degree untill he shall explaine himself in publicke.’ In a postscript (p. 8) Nethersole avowed himself the author of the earlier pamphlets issued under the signature P. D. Goodwin retorted in ‘The Unrighteous Judge,’ 25 Jan. 1648–9 [see Goodwin, John].

In 1653 Nethersole, after protracted litigation, finally compounded for his estates. About the same time he built and endowed, in accordance with his wife's desire, a free school at Polesworth, and he endowed the benefice. He died at Polesworth in August 1659. An inscribed stone in his memory was placed in the church in 1859. Nethersole married Lucy, daughter and heiress of Sir Henry Goodere of Warwickshire. She died on 9 July 1652, aged 58, and was buried in Polesworth Church. He had no children, and left his estates to his nephew, John Marsh, son of his sister Ann by Thomas Marsh of Brandred.

Nethersole's classical learning is well displayed in his political pamphlets. Verses by him are prefixed to Giles Fletcher's ‘Christ's Victory,’ 1632. Some letters from him to Henry Oxenden, dated in 1652 and 1654, are among Brit. Mus. Addit. MSS. 28001–28003. His despatches as secretary to the electress are summarised in Mrs. Green's ‘Life of the Princess Elizabeth.’

[Cole's Athenæ Cantab. in Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 5877, f. 13; Hunter's Chorus Vatum in Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 24492, f. 117; Hasted's Kent, iii. 712–13; Berry's Kent Genealogies, p. 104; Gardiner's Hist. of England; Strafford Papers, i. 177, 243; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1619–33; Dugdale's Warwickshire, ii. 1116; Green's Lives of the Princesses of England, v. 300 seq.; information kindly sent by the vicar of Polesworth.]

S. L.