Nau, Claude de la Boisseliere (DNB00)

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NAU, CLAUDE de la BOISSELIERE (fl. 1574–1605), secretary of Mary Queen of Scots, was descended from an old French family originally settled in Touraine, but subsequently in Paris under the patronage of the house of Guise. He was educated for the law, and for some time practised in the courts of parliament. After acting as secretary to the Cardinal of Lorraine, he entered the service of the king of France, by whom he was made counsellor and auditor of the Chambre des Comptes (M. De La Chenaye-Desbois, Dictionnaire de la Noblesse, Paris, 1775, s.n.) On the death of Queen Mary's secretary Raullet, in 1574, he was, on the recommendation of the Cardinal of Lorraine, chosen to succeed him, and entered upon his duties in the spring of 1575. Mary was then a prisoner in the Earl of Shrewsbury's house at Sheffield. Besides succeeding to the secretarial duties of Raullet, he was entrusted with the management of the queen's accounts. He was also her confidant and adviser in all important matters of policy. He showed himself both zealous and able, but a letter to his brother in 1577 indicates also supreme devotion to his own personal interests. He advised his brother, for whom he was desirous to obtain the office of treasurer to the queen, whenever he talked to any of the king's servants about him, ‘to always complain of my stay here, and that I am losing in this prison my best years, and the reward of my services and all hopes of advancement’ (Leader, Captivity of Mary Stuart, p. 397).

In 1579 Nau was sent by Mary on a mission to Scotland, the removal of Morton from the regency having aroused hopes that her cause might win the support of the new advisers of the king of Scots. On 17 June he presented himself at the castle of Edinburgh, desiring to speak with the master of Gray, but was refused an audience (Moysie, Memoirs, p. 23). He therefore, on the 19th, passed to Stirling; but as the communication sent by Mary to King James was merely addressed ‘To our Son the Prince of Scotland,’ the king, with the advice of the privy council, declared ‘the said Franscheman unworthy of his Hienes presence or audience, and to deserve seveir puneisment for his presumptioun, meit to be execute presentlie upoun him war it nocht for the respect of his dearest suster, the Queene of England, and hir servand that accumpanyis him’ (Reg. P. C. Scotl. iii. 186). He again undertook a mission to Scotland after the final fall of Morton, leaving Sheffield on 4 Dec. 1581 (Cal. State Papers, Scott. Ser. p. 932), and returning again on 3 Dec. 1582 (ib. p. 935). In 1584, after long negotiations, he was permitted an interview with Elizabeth, chiefly to present complaints of the Scottish queen against Lady Shrewsbury (Sadler, State Papers, ii. passim). After a favourable reception he returned to Wingfield on 29 Dec.

Nau, aided by his subordinate, Curle, was supposed to be the chief agent in carrying on the correspondence with Anthony Babington [q. v.] in connection with the conspiracy against Elizabeth. Both were apprehended, along with Mary Queen of Scots, on 8 Aug. 1586. They were sent up to London, and were several times examined as to their knowledge of the plot. Nau was stated to have confessed that Mary wrote the letter to Babington with her own hand (Cal. State Papers, Scott. Ser. p. 1010), and that he admitted her knowledge of the plot is substantially borne out by the report of the trial (evidence against Mary Queen of Scots in Hardwicke, State Papers, i. 224–57); but he nevertheless, on 10 Sept., addressed a memorial to Elizabeth, in which he protested that Mary ‘had no connection or concern with the designs of Babington and others’ (Labanoff, Letters of Mary Stuart, vii. 194–5). Mary asserted that Nau had been induced by threats of torture to make untrue confessions against her. He seems to have ingeniously defended himself against the accusation of betraying her, by explaining that such confessions as he was induced to make were really more beneficial to her than absolute silence. The fact, however, that he received his liberty while she was condemned seems to indicate that with him the main consideration was his own safety. Nau sent certain papers to Mary from London in vindication of his conduct, and she forwarded them for examination to the Duke of Guise, who declared his conviction that the suspicions against Nau were not justified (manuscript in British Museum, Cottonian Library, Calig. D. fol. 89 b, quoted in Stevenson's preface to Nau, Hist. of Mary Stewart). The general impression among the friends of Mary was, however, that Nau had betrayed her. It was also stated that he had taken advantage of his opportunities, as manager of Mary's finance, to enrich himself; that when taken prisoner at Chartley, Staffordshire, twenty thousand livres, all in hard cash, were found in his wardrobe, together with thirty costly mantles; that when he crossed over to France he carried with him ten thousand livres, and that he had property in France amounting to one hundred thousand livres, all amassed within twelve years (‘La Morte de la Royne d'Écosse,’ in Jebb, Collections, ii. 661).

Nau was set at liberty about 7 Sept. 1587 (Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser. 1581–90, p. 424), and immediately crossed over to France. On his return he was nominated councillor and intendant of finances, and on 1 July 1600 secretary in ordinary of the chamber of the king. By Henry IV he was ennobled by letters dated at Fontainebleau in May 1605. In the same year he visited England, when he addressed a memorial to James I in vindication of his conduct in reference to Mary Stuart.

By his wife, Anne du Jardin, Nau had a son, James, and three daughters, Claude, Martha, and Mary. During his residence at Chartley he vainly paid addresses, in 1586, to Bessie Pierrepoint, who was in attendance on the Queen of Scots (ib. Scott. Ser. passim).

A manuscript in the British Museum entitled ‘An Historical Treatise concerning the Affairs of Scotland, chiefly in Vindication of Mary Queen of Scots’ (Caligula B. iv. 94–129), was published by Joseph Stevenson, S.J., as the work of Nau, under the title ‘History of Mary Stewart from the Murder of Riccio until her flight into England,’ Edinburgh, 1883. Mr. Stevenson is of opinion that it was authoritatively the work of Mary herself. He also states that Nau seems to have intended to write an account of the royal house of Stuart from the accession of King Robert II to his own time, and that with that view ‘he began his collections by translating into French the Latin history of Bishop Leslie’ (MS. Cot. Vesp. Calig. xvi. fol. 41, from A.D. 1436 to 1454), to which ‘he added a continuation, a few fragments of which remain.’ Besides his skill as a financier, Nau had special linguistic qualifications for Mary's service, could read and speak English and Italian, and was also a specially good latinist. He was reputed to be ‘quick spirited’ and ‘ready,’ but given to ostentation (Sadler, State Papers, ii. 523).

[Cal. State Papers, Scott. Ser.; Hardwicke State Papers; Letters of Mary Stuart, ed. Labanoff; Sadler's State Papers; M. De La Chenaye-Desbois's Dictionnaire de La Noblesse, Paris, 1775; Stevenson's Preface to Nau's Hist. of Mary Stewart.]

T. F. H.