Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Nicholas, Edward

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NICHOLAS, Sir EDWARD (1593–1669), secretary of state to Charles I and Charles II, descended of the Nicholas family of Winterbourne Earls, Wiltshire, was the eldest son of John Nicholas who died at Winterbourne Earls in 1644, and of Susan his wife, a daughter of William Hunton, of East Knoyle (see Pedigree in Hoare, Wiltshire, v. 96). He was born at his father's house on Tuesday, 4 April 1593 (Winterbourne Earls Register; Hoare, ubi supra), and was ‘bred’ there until he was about ten years old, when he was sent with his brother Matthew (see below) to Salisbury grammar school. Two years later they went to school in Sir Lawrence Hyde's house in Salisbury, their father then dwelling in the deanery, and subsequently, when Edward was about fourteen, to Winchester, ‘where we had commons;’ but after a severe illness, six months later, he went home for nine months (1608), and then stayed at the house of his uncle, Richard Hunton, under a schoolmaster called Richard Badcock. On 25 Oct. 1611 he matriculated at Queen's College, Oxford, and in 1612 entered the Middle Temple. After one and a half year's residence at the university he returned to the Middle Temple, studied there till he was ‘above twenty-one,’ and then in 1615 was sent into France, where he remained till midsummer 1616. On his return he was made secretary to Sir John Dacombe, chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Dacombe died in 1617, and Nicholas returned to the Middle Temple till November or December 1618, when he became secretary to Edward, lord Zouch, lord warden, chancellor, and admiral of the Cinque ports. In 1622 he resided in the Barbican (Egerton MS. 2523, No. 17), and he represented Winchelsea in the parliaments of 1620–1 and 1623–4 (Return of Members, 1878, lxii. 455, 461).

Nicholas continued with Zouch until the latter resigned his office of lord warden to George, duke of Buckingham, who, upon Lord Zouch's recommendation, made Nicholas his secretary for the business of the Cinque ports (9 Dec. 1624). Buckingham at once bade Nicholas inform himself of the business of the office of lord high admiral of England, and did ‘always make me wait on his grace when the court was out of town to despatch the business of the admiralty.’ In September 1625 Nicholas succeeded Thomas Aylesbury in the post of ‘secretary for the admiralty.’ In this capacity Nicholas was employed to delay the transfer of Pennington's ships to the French, 16 July 1626. Nicholas seems to have been proud of the part he had played, which was certainly a piece of double dealing (State Papers, Dom. Car. I, xxvii. iii.; Gardiner, Hist. of Engl. v. 384; and Gardiner, Documents relating to the Duke of Buckingham, Camden Soc.). It was doubtless in consequence of his zeal in this employment that Nicholas was recommended by Buckingham to the king to be one of the clerks of the council in extraordinary (1626), with the unusual permission to attend the council at all times so as to give answer concerning admiralty affairs (cf. Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. ii. 297).

In the parliament of 1627–8 Nicholas sat for Dover (ib. ii. 343). In Egerton MS. 2541, No. 24, there is appended to a copy of Charles's speech at the dissolution of this parliament (10 March 1628–9) a poem of twenty-four verses in Nicholas's hand, beginning:

    The wisest king did wonder when he spide
    The nobles march on foot, their vassals ride;
    His majestie may wonder now to see
    Some that would needs be king as well as he.

Nicholas did not sit again in the House of Commons; his inclusion among the members of the Long parliament is an error (Nicholas Papers, Camden Soc. vol. 127, p. 4 n.; Carlyle, Cromwell, iii. 256; Masson, Milton, ii. 159; Return of Members, p. 493, n. 8). In 1628 Buckingham procured for Nicholas from Charles the reversion of the combined office of clerk of the crown and of the hanaper in Ireland. But he soon surrendered the grant for 1,060l. to George Carleton.

After the death of Buckingham, who left Nicholas 500l., Charles put the admiralty into commission, and appointed Nicholas secretary to the commissioners, and so he ‘continued till the Earl of Northumberland was made lord high admiral of England.’ His activity in business attracted Charles, but he declined the king's offer of the mastership of the wards; it was, he wrote, ‘too envious a thing for me at that time to hold two such places together’ (Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. ii. 4). Three years later Nicholas carried on the correspondence respecting the ship-money difficulties (Council Register, 8 Nov. 1635; Gardiner, Hist. of Engl. viii. 92). On 9 Oct. 1635 Charles admitted Nicholas to be one of the clerks of the council in ordinary (Clarendon, Rebellion, vi. 395). In this position he remained till the summer of 1641.

On 9 Aug. 1641 Charles left London for Scotland. The principal secretary of state, Vane, went with him, and Nicholas was the chief official who remained in London. Before his departure (Nicholas Papers, i. 117) the king communicated his intention of conferring upon him the privy signet (cf. Egerton MS. 2541, f. 264; Hoare, Wiltshire, v. 89). Nicholas's position was powerless and irksome. He had to watch the proceedings of the parliament, forward intelligence to Edinburgh, and carry out instructions. The correspondence which ensued is printed in Bray's edition of Evelyn's ‘Diary,’ vol. iv.; it extends until Charles's return in November. Nicholas urged upon Charles a conciliatory policy in Scotland (Evelyn, iv. 52), and begged him, above all, to make a popular entry into London on his return (ib. p. 70). Nicholas was clearly ignorant of Charles's negotiations with the Irish rebels (Gardiner, Hist. of Engl. x. 8). On 26 Nov. Charles, on his return to London, knighted him at Whitehall (Harl. MS. 6832, ‘List of Knights’), and on the 27th formally conferred upon him Windebanke's secretaryship of state, and called him to the privy council. Soon afterwards Vane was removed from the other secretaryship, and Nicholas became sole secretary (Clarendon, iv. 100). When Charles finally quitted London, Nicholas accompanied him, being, along with Falkland, among the ‘excepted’ in the peace instructions of the Commons sent to Essex (22 Sept. 1642; Clarendon, vi. 50). He signed the protestation of the seceding lords of 15 June 1642, declaring that Charles did not intend to make war on the parliament.

Nicholas continued to act as principal secretary of state until Charles left Oxford. Pembroke College was his own headquarters for most of this period. On him fell the business part of the treaty of Uxbridge, and Charles censured him for yielding too much concerning the militia (see Dugdale, Short View; Clarendon, viii. 211; and Evelyn, iv. 135; Whitelocke, Memorials, p. 125). His function, like that of all members of the privy council at Oxford, was indeed very limited (Gardiner, Civil War, ii. 202; Addit. MS. 18982, f. 64). But in September 1645, on the surrender of Bristol by Rupert, Charles's orders for him to quit the country were directed to Nicholas, who had the sole control of the matter (Evelyn, iv. 163). In November 1644 his goods in London were ordered to be sold by auction, being assessed at 800l. (Cal. of Comm. for Compounding, i. 37, 483).

With the close of 1645 Nicholas lost hope in the king's cause. Up to that time he had been Charles's most hearty supporter. ‘There is none,’ Charles had written to the queen on 18 Jan. 1645–6, ‘doth assist me heartily in my steady resolutions but Nicholas and Ashburnham’ (Charles's Letters to the Queen, Camden Soc. lix. 11). On 24 April 1646 Nicholas wrote to Montreuil on the proposition that Charles should take refuge with the Scottish army (Clarendon State Papers, ii. 209 seq.; Egerton MS. 2545; Gardiner, Civil War, ii. 470). Charles quitted Oxford on 22 April 1646, and on 5 May he entered the Scottish camp. The preparations for the flight were concerted, apparently at the last moment, by Ashburnham and Nicholas (Peck, Desiderata Curiosa, ix. 9, 19, 24); but the secretary's private opinion seems to have been that it were better for Charles to stay and perish honourably (ib. p. 20). Eleven days later the king instructed Nicholas to treat for the surrender of Oxford on the terms of the Exeter surrender. Nicholas read the letter to the lords and gentry of the town on 10 June, and the place yielded on the 24th. Under the terms of capitulation leave to go abroad was given inter alios to Nicholas. His passports gave his wife and six servants permission to accompany him (Hoare, Wiltshire, v. 88–96; Egerton MS. 2541, ff. 330, 335).

Nicholas embarked at Weymouth in October 1646, and intended to make his way to Jersey to attend Prince Charles there. On 16 Aug. the king had written to him from Newcastle that he was ‘confident you will be well received there’ (Evelyn, iv. 178). But if he went to Jersey his stay was brief. He ultimately settled at Caen in Normandy. He remained in name Charles I's secretary of state till the king's execution, and subsequently made vigorous efforts to serve Charles I's son in a like capacity. On 24 Nov. 1648 Charles wrote to him from Newport, enclosing ‘a direction to our son on your behalf, to give you that reception and admission to his confidence which you have had with us’ (Evelyn, iv. 184). From Caen Nicholas constantly corresponded with Chancellor Hyde [see Hyde, Edward, Earl of Clarendon] at Jersey (Clarendon, x. 151).

Nicholas left Caen on 8 April 1649 for Havre, en route for Holland (Ormonde Papers, i. 225, 255–8; Nicholas Correspondence, i. 114). He now stoutly opposed Charles's design of hastening to Ireland, fearing that he would capitulate to the catholics, when all things would ‘be managed by the queen, Lord Digby, and Lord Jermyn’ (Ormonde Papers, i. 258, 270–2). He had at first favoured the project as an alternative to the proposals made by the Scottish presbyterians. Throughout his exile he maintained an attitude of hostility to both Scottish presbyterian and Irish catholic.

In May he returned to Caen at Charles's command to await him in France (ib. i. 225). In the middle of the month the queen summoned both Hyde from Jersey and Nicholas from Caen to wait on the prince at the Louvre, ‘though everybody knew his [Nicholas's] presence was no more desired than the chancellor's’ (ib. xi. 23). Hyde met Nicholas, with the old Earl of Bristol and Cottington, at Rouen, and the four lived ‘very decently’ together, waiting instructions from the prince. On finding that the prince had embarked at Calais for Holland, they removed to Dieppe (ib.; {{sc|Peck, Desiderata Curiosa, ix. 48). At the moment of setting out Nicholas was recalled to Caen by a dangerous illness of his wife. On 17 June 1649 he arrived in Paris on a visit to his relative Sir Richard Browne, who still remained chargé d'affaires at the French court. In August 1649 Evelyn met him, Hyde, and Cottington together there (Evelyn, i. 261). In the following month Charles joined his mother at St. Germains, being then ‘strongly resolved’ for Ireland, where he had been proclaimed (Ormonde Papers, i. 295). Nicholas, ‘not having been hitherto employed in, or made acquainted with, any of his majesty's business,’ was desirous of being formally admitted to the council (ib.). Accordingly, in obedience to Charles's command of 11–21 Sept., he waited on Charles in Jersey on 13 Oct. (ib. p. 321; Addit. MS. 4180, f. 10 b). Nicholas read to Charles (31 Jan. 1649–50) a long paper strongly recommending the institution of a sworn council, and defending his own claim to the secretaryship.

Nicholas's honesty and dislike of intrigue had moved the ill-will of the queen (Ormonde Papers, i. 206), and her anger was much increased by his ‘roughness and sharpness’ in pressing Charles II to raise money by selling her jewels (Nicholas Correspondence, i. 156). Her influence led to Nicholas's practical exclusion from the prince's counsels (see Clarendon, Rebellion, xii. 63–5; Nicholas Correspondence, i. 130). Though Charles had promised him the post of secretary at St. Germains, he preferred to employ the queen's private secretary, Robert Long; but gave Nicholas a written promise to enrol a council and establish him as principal secretary of state ‘so soon as we shall dismiss Robert Long from our service’ (14–24 Feb. 1649–50; Evelyn, iv. 191, 194). The diplomatic struggle at Jersey ended in the triumph of the Scottish over the Irish proposal, Nicholas ‘and all the old councillors being against [the former], yet we were outvoted by the king's addition of all the lords here who were not sworn councillors’ (Ormonde Papers, i. 342; Nicholas Correspondence, pp. 160, 163). When Charles left Jersey for Breda, Nicholas followed him, and arrived there in March 1650 before the opening of the negotiations between Charles and the Scottish commissioners; but after the first day's debate he and Lord Hopton were set aside, ‘having given our advice fully and clearly, that he ought not to allow the solemn league and covenant’ (Ormonde Papers, i. 378). The so-called treaty of Breda was therefore managed almost wholly by a junto composed of the Duke of Buckingham, the Duke of Hamilton, and the Marquis of Newcastle. There was at the time a design to appease Nicholas by making him ambassador in Holland, but Nicholas himself meditated retiring altogether (ib.). Charles before embarking for Scotland promised to keep for him the post of secretary, but left him no business to transact nor any allowance of money (Nicholas Correspondence, i. 188).

At the close of 1650 the king directed Nicholas to attend the Duke of York, ‘and to be always about him, because we know you to be well trusted by our friends in England, and to be very acceptable to the Marquis of Ormonde’ (ib. p. 24; Evelyn, iv. 199). The queen, however, was determined not to invite Nicholas to France, and Nicholas, then residing at the Hague and in attendance on the Duke, pressed for permission to retire (Ormonde Papers, i. 411, 418). In face of the queen's expressed dislike of Nicholas, Hyde, and Dr. Stewart, it needed all Ormonde's influence to maintain friendly relations between Nicholas and the Duke of York (Ormonde Papers, i. 440, 450; Nicholas Correspondence, i. 221). In May 1651 the duke required Nicholas to attend him from the Hague into France (ib. ii. 11). The secretary determined to wait on him to Breda and no further, in the absence of any invitation from the queen (ib. ii. 21). He had agreed with Lord Hopton and Hyde to go ‘together in some retirement in or about Wesel.’ He, however, followed the duke from Breda as far as Antwerp—14 June 1651—(ib. p. 29), when the duke went on alone to Paris. Nicholas thereupon settled in Antwerp with Hyde ‘and my little company for two or three months’ (ib. ii. 37). He meditated various removes for the relief of his poverty, but from 16 Oct. 1651 till 30 July 1654 resided at the Hague.

In the autumn of 1649 Nicholas had sent his wife to England to relieve their straits by compounding for his forfeited estates (Nicholas to Ashburnham, 8 March 1648–9, Nicholas Correspondence, i.; for particulars of his estates see ib. pp. 114, 119, 131; Collect. Top. et Gen. i. 291; Egerton MS. 2541, ff. 333, 383). On 30 Oct. Jane, his wife, made application to the committee for compounding for the fifths of her husband's estates in Hampshire and Wiltshire, with arrears from 24 Dec. preceding. The request was granted (Cal. of Comm. for Compounding, p. 2588). It does not appear, however, that the negotiation was completed. In November 1651 his rents were still detained by the county commissioners (ib. pp. 2895, 3160), and by October 1652 all his lands and leases, worth 1050l. per annum, and in which his mother had part interest, had been sold (Nicholas Correspondence, i. 310).

After the failure of Charles's English expedition, he graciously summoned Nicholas to meet him in Paris (April 1652). But Nicholas's poverty kept him at the Hague. Throughout his residence there he kept up a busy correspondence with Hyde in France and with royalist spies in England (ib. ii. 1–7). In November 1653 he obtained leave for Middleton to transport arms to Scotland in aid of the abortive rising of Glencairn. But this was practically all he accomplished. He could only advise the king to have patience, and ‘for God's sake’ to stay away from the Hague (ib. p. 13). In November 1653, as some means of alleviating his poverty, Charles conferred upon him a baronetcy, with an understanding that he should sell it, but he could not find a purchaser for the dignity (ib. p. 26). By March 1653–4 he had not received a ‘shilling from the king these 3 years or more,’ and, being wasted to nothing, proposed to retire to Cleves. Lord Craven advised him to remove to Cologne or Frankfort; the latter place he seriously considered, ‘because my grandfather and Bishop Jewel lived there in Queen Mary's time.’ During the year he strongly opposed the design of the queen and the catholic faction to make the young Duke of Gloucester a catholic. For his activity in this affair Nicholas incurred the renewed hate of Henrietta Maria. At her command, apparently, the princess royal declined any longer to countenance him (ib. p. 63). In June 1654 came rumours of Gerard's and Vowel's plot, and Nicholas wrote to Hyde to express a hope that Charles would be in readiness upon the expected assassination of Cromwell. On 31 July 1654 Nicholas left the Hague, was at Breda 3–13 Aug., Antwerp 16–18 Aug., and then proceeded to Aix-la-Chapelle to meet Charles.

While staying at Aix from 25 Aug. to 8 Oct., he was formally reappointed secretary of state by Charles, and accompanied the court to Cologne (see Egerton MS. 2542, f. 233, ‘Instructions for Sir Edward Nicholas for the Conduct of the Royal Household’). It is quite apparent, however, that Nicholas was not taken into confidence, and was overshadowed by Hyde (ib. pp. 141–235), who during Nicholas's long suspension from office had transacted the work of secretary (ib. p. 176, 16–26 Jan. 1654–5; Clarendon, xiv. 156). Clarendon speaks of himself as having kept the privy seal out of friendship for Nicholas, and in order that it might be restored to him. Their relations certainly continued friendly to the last. Late in February 1655 Charles secretly removed from Cologne to Düsseldorf and Middleburg to be ready to take part in the intended royalist rising in England, and only Hyde and Nicholas were conversant with the step. Charles removed from Cologne again in the following April, but Nicholas appears to have resided there till December (1655), when he was present at the examination of Thurloe's spy, Henry Manning (Clarendon, Rebellion, xiv. 145). In September 1657 he was at Bruges; in the following June at Brussels entreating Hyde to accept the office of lord high chancellor (ib. xv. 84). He was in the chancellor's company at Brussels in November 1659 (see Ormonde Papers, ii. 215, 279).

At the restoration Nicholas returned to England with Charles II, and in June 1660 was granted lodgings in Whitehall (Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. vii. 26). On 16 May 1661 he received from Frederick III of Denmark a grant of a yearly pension of fifteen hundred thalers (Egerton MS. 2543, f. 47). On account of his extreme age and ‘late sickness,’ however, he was set aside from the secretaryship on 15 Oct. 1662, and succeeded by Sir Henry Bennet (afterwards Earl of Arlington) [q. v.], a creature of Lady Castlemaine's, to whose influence Pepys covertly attributes the dismissal of Nicholas (Diary, ii. 364–5, 375). He still continued in attendance as a privy councillor (Egerton MS. 2543, ff. 143–56). On 12 Oct. 1662 Charles ordered him to receive a gift of 10,000l. under a privy seal, to be advanced on the farm of the London excise (see grant in Hoare, Wiltshire, ubi supra), and further offered him a barony, which Nicholas declined as an honour which his small estate could not bear. He retired to East Horsley, Surrey, where he bought Sheep-Leze from Carew Raleigh, son of Sir Walter Raleigh (Manning and Bray, Surrey, iii. 36), and where he formed a collection of pictures. Here in September 1665 Evelyn paid him a visit (Evelyn, i. 420). Nichols died on 1 Sept. 1669, and was buried in the chancel on the south side of the parish church of West Horsley, where an inscription was placed to his memory. His wife Jane, third daughter of Henry Jay of Holston, Norfolk, esquire and alderman of London, whom he married at Winterbourne Earls on 24 Nov. 1622, died on 15 Sept. 1688, aged 89, and was buried in her husband's grave. Of his children there is mention in the Winterbourne Earls Register of John (afterwards Sir John), baptised on 19 Jan. 1623; Edward, baptised on 6 March 1624 (Nicholas Correspondence, i. 318); Susannah, baptised on 15 May 1627, and buried on 21 June 1640; Matthew, born at Westminster and baptised at Winterbourne Earls on 4 Feb. 1630; Henry, baptised on 22 June 1632. Of three other daughters, Susannah married George Lane, who was knighted at Bruges on 27 March 1657, and created Viscount Lanesborough in 1676 (ib. ii. 325); a second daughter married to Lieutenant-general Middleton (ib. ii. 93); and a third to Lord Newburgh (see Harl. MS. 2535, f. 165).

Matthew Nicholas (1594–1661), dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, London, younger brother of Sir Edward, was born on 26 Sept. 1594, and elected scholar of Winchester College in 1607. He matriculated as scholar of New College, Oxford, on 18 Feb. 1613–14, graduated B.C.L. on 30 June 1620, and D.C.L. on 30 June 1627. He became rector of Westden, Wiltshire, in 1621; of Boughton, Hampshire, in 1629; master of St. Nicholas hospital in Hernham, Wiltshire, in 1630; prebendal rector of Wherwell, Hampshire, in 1637; vicar of Olveston, Gloucestershire, canon of Salisbury and dean of Bristol in 1639; canon of Westminster in 1642, being deprived at the rebellion; and canon and dean of St. Paul's in 1660. He died on 15 Aug. 1661, and was buried at Winterbourne Earls, Wiltshire, having married in February 1626–7, Elizabeth, daughter of William Fookes, by whom he had two sons, George and John (Foster, Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Le Neve, Fasti Eccl. Angl.)

[The main outline of Nicholas's life is sketched in a short paper entitled Memoirs of the Life of Sir Edward Nicholas, written by himself, and a paper of ‘Memoranda in my course of life,’ referred to in the text above as ‘notes,’ both of which are printed in the Appendix to the Preface of Warner's Nicholas Correspondence (Camden Soc.). The first paper, transcribed by Dr. Thomas Birch from the original manuscript, is in Addit. MS. 4180. The second paper is in Egerton MS. 2558, f. 19, partly in shorthand. The originals of Nicholas's correspondence, only in part as yet edited for the Camden Society, occur interspersedly in vols. 2533–9, 2541–3, 2545 of the Egerton MSS. The Ormonde Papers contain a long series of his letters to the Marquis of Ormonde; of Nicholas's Letters to Hyde only a few are preserved in the Clarendon State Papers at the Bodleian; see Calendar of them. The correspondence between Charles I and Nicholas in the summer and autumn of 1641 is reprinted in vol. iv. of Evelyn's Diary. For the continuation of the correspondence of Elizabeth with Nicholas, printed in part in Evelyn, see Egerton MS. 2548. The covers of seventeen out of forty-four of these letters are preserved in Egerton MS. 2546. See also in State Papers, Dom., Car. I, cxxxv. 46, a letter of Nicholas's, being ‘letters to his mistress, Jane Jay,’ of the year 1622; Rushworth's Hist. Collections; Thurloe's State Papers; Hist. MSS. Reports; State Papers, Domestic; Parliamentary Journals, and authorities cited.]

W. A. S.