NICHOLAS, Edward (1593-1669), of Dover Castle, Kent and King Street, Westminster; later of West Horsley, Surr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press




Family and Education

b. 4 Apr. 1593, 1st s. of John Nicholas, attorney, of Winterbourne Earls, Wilts. and the Middle Temple, London and Susannah, da. of William Hunton of East Knoyle. educ. Salisbury g.s. 1603; privately (household of Lawrence Hyde I*), Salisbury 1605, Winchester 1607-8, Bishopstone, Wilts. (Richard Badcock) 1609-11; Queen’s, Oxf. 1611-13; M. Temple, entered 1611, 1613-15, 1618; travelled abroad (France) 1615-16. m. 24 Sept. 1622 (with £600), Jane (d. 15 Sept. 1688), da. of Henry Jay, Draper and alderman, of Budge Row, London and Holverston, Norf., 6s. (2 d.v.p.) 3da.1 kntd. 26 Nov. 1641; suc. fa. 1644.2 d. 1 Sept. 1669. sig. Edward Nicholas.

Offices Held

Sec. to Sir John Dackombe*, chan. of the duchy of Lancaster, 1617-18,3 to the ld. warden of the Cinque Ports (successively Edward Zouche, 11th Lord Zouche and George Villiers, 1st duke of Buckingham) 1619-28;4 sec. of Admlty. 1624-38;5 clerk of PC (extraordinary) 1627-35, (ordinary) 1635-41;6 commr. maltsters 1637,7 inquiry into money paid by the Crown for freight of ships 1638;8 surveyor, duchy of Lancaster (south parts) 1641/2-60;9 sec. of state 1641-62;10 PC 1641-d.;11 commr. Treas. (roy.) 1642-at least 1643,12 Admlty. (roy.) 1643, 13 wardrobe 1661.14

Sec. Fishery Soc. (jt.) 1632.15

Freeman, Winchelsea, Suss. 1621, Dover, Kent 1628;16 commr. piracy, Hants and I.o.W. 1635,17 array, Wilts. 1642,18 assessment, Wilts. (roy.) 1643,19 Mdx. 1660-1,20 oyer and terminer, Wilts. (roy.) 1644; kpr. Windsor Great Park, Berks. 1645 (roy.), 1660-2;21 commr. to inquire into the estates of delinquents, Oxon., Berks., Bucks., Warws., Northants., Hants, Wilts., Glos., Beds., Herts. and Mdx. (roy.) 1646;22 gamekeeper, Hampton Court, Mdx. 1660; 23 j.p. and custos rot. (roy.) Mdx. 1643, Mdx. and Wilts. 1660-d., Westminster 1662-d.24


Nicholas, whose ancestors were settled in Wiltshire by at least 1419,25 was the grandson of a Marian exile, a friend of Bishop Jewel of Salisbury. His father, a provincial lawyer, was the estate steward to the earls of Pembroke and leased the parsonage of Winterbourne Earls from the bishop.26 Nicholas received a complete gentleman’s education, but he probably owed his career chiefly to the two years that he spent between the ages of 12 and 14 at a private school in Salisbury in the house of Lawrence Hyde I. It may have been Hyde who persuaded his father to improve his professional and social status by entering the Middle Temple as a mature student in 1607 and by taking out a grant of arms five years later.27 As attorney-general to Anne of Denmark, Hyde was in a position to propose Nicholas as secretary to (Sir) John Dackombe, the chancellor of the Duchy and a kinsman of his mother.28 In April 1617 Nicholas entered the service of Dackombe, who subsequently obtained a reversion in the duchy administration for him.29 However, Dackombe died early the following year, virtually bankrupt, leaving Nicholas an annuity of £20 and the responsibility as executor of making the best possible arrangements for his creditors, legatees, and family.30 Nicholas briefly resumed his legal studies while winding up the estate,31 but in January 1619 he returned to government service for good as secretary to Lord Zouche, lord warden of the Cinque Ports. It seems likely that it was the lord warden’s Wiltshire cousin Richard Zouche*, tutor to Nicholas’ younger brother Matthew, who recommended him.32 Nicholas’ duties involved long periods of residence at Dover Castle, though he was also sometimes required to spend time at his master’s London house, in Philip Lane. As well as his official salary, he was the recipient of fees paid by those who wished to curry favour with the lord warden. In July 1620, for instance, the Guestling of the Cinque Ports voted him a gratuity of 5s.33

Shortly after the king’s announcement in November 1620 that a Parliament would meet early in the New Year, William Leonard† promised Nicholas the support of the mayor of Dover if he would be prepared to stand as the lord warden’s candidate.34 In the event, however, it was to Winchelsea that he was assigned by the lord warden. Nicholas thereupon drafted a letter in his own commendation as ‘worthy of the place of a burgess of your town’ for the third Jacobean Parliament. Subsequently elected for Winchelsea in his absence, he agreed to serve without wages.35 From the official Journal and the diaries of the Parliament kept by individual Members, it might appear that Nicholas played little part in the Commons in 1621. Indeed, he was appointed to only two committees, both on 18 Apr. and both of local importance. One was to consider a bill to unite two Dover parishes, the other to draft an address declaring the Dungeness lighthouse a grievance.36 Moreover, he made only one recorded speech, on 14 May, in which he proposed that a petition from the Cinque Ports against the Merchant Adventurers should be referred to the committee for free trade.37 However, it is clear from the parliamentary diary that he himself kept that Nicholas was an extremely conscientious Member, attending each of the 98 days recorded in the Journal and recording an additional 14 days not covered by it. His diary, published in 1766 from the original at his old Oxford college, is among the fullest of the many accounts of this Parliament, and is particularly helpful in recording both the business of committees over the Easter recess and also the full titles of bills, in which the Journal is often deficient. However, its author was inevitably selective in what he chose to jot down. There is no record of the call of the House on 10 Feb., for instance, and during the 15 Feb. debate in grand committee on supply Nicholas omitted to record speeches given by at least ten Members.38 Why Nicholas kept this diary is unclear. Possibly he was already a compulsive note-taker, but it may be that he decided to compile the diary for his employer, Lord Zouche. However, both his handwriting and his copious use of shorthand symbols must have presented difficulties of interpretation to anyone other than himself.39

By early 1623 Nicholas, having spent four years in Zouche’s service, was eager to gain further advancement. In February he petitioned to be appointed receiver of the greenwax to Prince Charles, and subsequently enlisted the help of Charles’ secretary, Francis Cottington*, to secure for him a place about the prince. These overtures proved unproductive, however, and during the first half of 1624 Nicholas became increasingly depressed about his prospects, not least because Zouche was making arrangements to retire and declined to recommend Nicholas to his successor.40

Nicholas was re-elected to Parliament for Winchelsea in 1624. Although his return was unopposed, the second seat was contested by John Finch I* and Sir Alexander Temple*. Throughout the Parliament, Nicholas was named to no committees, and made his only speech in the debate on the Winchelsea election on 3 Mar., when he urged that the mayor should be ‘sent for by a friend, and not as a delinquent’.41 His diary for this Parliament, now among the State Papers, is no less valuable than its predecessor, and shows him in attendance for 74 days out of 79.42 Following the Parliament, Zouche at last promised to recommend Nicholas to his successor, the lord admiral, the duke of Buckingham.43 Later he also rewarded him for his faithful service with the stewardship of several West Country manors, said to have been the foundation of his personal fortune.44 In December the lord wardenship was transferred to Buckingham, who not only kept Nicholas on as his secretary for the Cinque Ports, but instructed him to familiarize himself with naval affairs, as he had promised that he would soon promote the then Admiralty secretary, Thomas Aylesbury. Over the course of the next ten months, Nicholas took over Aylesbury’s duties whenever the latter was absent or required to remain in London.45

The new lord warden made no attempt to find Nicholas a Commons’ seat in 1625, but instead permitted Sir Ralph Freeman to succeed Nicholas at Winchelsea. He evidently had other plans for his new secretary, for in mid-July Nicholas was dispatched on a delicate diplomatic mission. Buckingham and the king had agreed to lend to the French one warship and six hired merchantmen, but they were determined to delay the handover until the French king had made peace with the Huguenots of La Rochelle to prevent English ships from being used against fellow Protestants. Sent to Dieppe to handle the negotiations, Nicholas was secretly ordered to give the appearance of hastening the handover of the ships while actually encouraging their commander, Capt. John Pennington, to raise as many obstacles as possible.46 Nicholas found this task highly disagreeable, and begged to be replaced, or at the very least ‘not to be again trusted with an employment so much above his abilities’,47 but his protests were ignored. At the beginning of August, news having reached England that the French king had made peace with the Huguenots, the ships were handed over and Nicholas returned to England. Although it soon transpired that no firm peace had in fact been made, this was scarcely the fault of Nicholas, with whom Buckingham had good reason to feel pleased. Consequently, in September, following Aylesbury’s appointment as master of Requests, Nicholas was promoted to the office of Admiralty secretary.

In early December 1625 Nicholas lay ill ‘of a burning fever’ at his parents’ home in Wiltshire.48 It is not known when he became fit enough to travel to London, but it may be that he was still absent from work in early January, by which time a fresh Parliament had been summoned. If this was the case, it may help to explain the delay in dispatching Buckingham’s letters of nomination to the Cinque Ports, as a result of which only five of the duke’s 11 nominees were returned. However, Nicholas was back behind his desk by 10 Jan., the day on which the letters of nomination were sent, as he annotated the list of candidates selected by Buckingham.49

Nicholas was not himself one of the candidates chosen by Buckingham for election, and therefore was not a Member of the second Caroline Parliament. However, in April 1626 he appeared as a witness before the committee for evils under the chairmanship of Christopher Wandesford*, which was investigating the loan to the French of the eight English warships the previous year. Charged with threatening some of the ship masters at Dieppe and receiving bribes from the French ambassador, Nicholas denied issuing the threats, but admitted having been given by the ambassador a diamond ring and a hatband of diamonds to the value of 100 marks, though ‘he knows not for what service’. He refused to say any more without express permission from the king or Buckingham.50 He subsequently drew up detailed instructions for Capt. John Pennington, who was also interrogated by the committee regarding his role in the affair,51 and provided Buckingham with written advice on the matter of evidence and witnesses in his forthcoming impeachment.52

Nicholas assisted in the preparations for Buckingham’s expedition to the Ile de RĂ© in 1627. Before the duke’s departure, he was appointed an extraordinary clerk of the Privy Council, with a watching brief to attend at all times so that he might ‘on all occasions be ready to give account and receive orders concerning Admiralty affairs’.53 Together with his father, he was also granted the monopoly of licensing a certain ploughing gin.54 During Buckingham’s absence, Nicholas was responsible for the issue of letters of marque to privateers.55 He also kept his master regularly informed of the preparations being made for the duke’s relief, in which business he himself was deeply involved.56 Buckingham read these dispatches from his servant avidly, ending each one ‘with a large discourse of "Honest Nicholas"’.57 Following the duke’s return to England in November, Nicholas received a further mark of favour, for over the winter he was given a patent for life of the office of engrossing leases of recusants’ lands.58

In contrast to 1626, Buckingham’s electoral patronage in the Cinque Ports in 1628 was efficiently organized.59 Nicholas himself tested the mood at Portsmouth, and received a hopeful response from the mayor, Henry Holt, who was employed as a deputy by the victualler of the Navy.60 However, after Sir William Beecher* decided to stand for New Windsor, Buckingham nominated Nicholas for a seat at Dover, thereby almost guaranteeing his return. The corporation was delighted to have him, he ‘being so well acquainted with our customs, liberties, and privileges as few portsmen are better’, and arranged for him to be sworn a freeman by commission, since his busy schedule prevented him from making a personal appearance. The mayor and jurats also requested his further assistance in a dispute with the town’s water bailiff over the choice of an unsuitable deputy, which efforts they would ‘thankfully requite’.61 Doubtless at Nicholas’ behest, the lord warden referred the town’s petition to the Privy Council. The latter, however, merely suggested that the dispute should be resolved at law, a solution which, as Dover’s Common Council observed, was likely to prove ‘tedious and expensive’. Consequently, in June, Dover’s corporation moved that its petition be presented to the House of Commons by the town’s parliamentary representatives as soon as possible. 62 However, the dispute continued for several years without resolution.

Nicholas is not known to have served on any committees in this Parliament, but he spoke several times on behalf of Buckingham. In a committee of the whole House on 5 June he refuted the allegation that papists had been given commands in the Navy: ‘I know not one; nay, the duke commanded me to inquire if any such were’. Four days later he was called on to explain the defence of the Narrow Seas and the costs involved and said the lord admiral would be glad of the advice of the House in this matter. He attempted an explanation of Capt. Richard Plumleigh’s actions aboard the St. Anthony in 1627, denying that he was a recusant as ‘he received the sacrament’. Two days after that he leapt to deny allegations against the duke himself:

For his religion, he has converted his lady. He has adventured his person for our religion and parted with his estate. For not guarding of the seas, it has been often propounded no money nor means are assigned to him. For the foreign soldiers, he never sent any direction to the captain to reinforce them; a letter indeed went from the Lords to take in voluntaries, but that was countermanded.

On 11 June he further certified that ‘the king’s ships were never so strong by 20 sail’.63

Once again Nicholas kept a parliamentary diary. Written in five small notebooks, each measuring four inches by 11 inches, it is now among the State Papers. Compared with his earlier diaries it is, as some have observed, ‘a thin account’, and perhaps reveals a marked decline in his respect for Parliament. He was often late, and was absent on more than a third of the days on which the Commons sat. Only when the debate was critical for the king’s interests did he arrive early and leave late. Learned constitutional debates failed to hold his attention, allowing extraneous matter, such as recipes, to creep into his notes, which he would hardly have permitted if he had been compiling them for any other eyes than his own.64

Shortly after the session ended, Buckingham procured for Nicholas the reversion to the office of clerk of the Hanaper and clerk of the Crown in Ireland, which Nicholas later sold for £1,060. The grant was enrolled on 20 Aug., 65 only three days before Nicholas witnessed the ‘miserable accident’ of his patron’s assassination. Indeed, he was one of those men about the duke who prevented the murderer, John Felton, from being cut down on the spot.66 Nicholas was devastated by Buckingham’s death, and wrote to Secretary Conway the next morning with ‘a trembling hand guided by a sad heart’.67 The duke’s murder did not bring his career to an abrupt end, though, for he was ordered to remain in office as Admiralty secretary.

Nicholas attended the parliamentary session of 1629 rather more assiduously than he had that of 1628, although from his diary it seems that he was nevertheless absent on 30 Jan. and 2 Feb., and that he arrived late on several occasions.68 His main purpose in attending was doubtless to help speed a grant of Tunnage and Poundage, which duty Parliament had failed to vote the king at the beginning of the new reign as custom demanded. Following the debate on 26 Jan., a hopeful Nicholas was left with the distinct impression that the House would ‘speedily fall into consideration of the heads and points of a bill of Tunnage and Poundage’, but as Notestein, Relf and Simpson observed, ‘such an inclination cannot be discovered from other accounts’. Nicholas was present in the Commons during the tumultuous events of 2 Mar. 1629, when he casually recorded in his diary that ‘the House being unwilling to adjourn and the Speaker leaving the chair was forced into it again’.69

As his circumstances improved, Nicholas was able to devote a fixed proportion of his income to pious uses and to invest in land and the money-market.70 During the mid-1630s he was appointed a Privy Council clerk in ordinary and given special responsibility for supervising the collection of Ship Money.71 However, on the appointment as lord admiral of Algernon Percy*, 10th earl of Northumberland in 1638, he was replaced as Admiralty secretary, and thereby lost a valuable part of his income.72 At the Sandwich election of March 1640 Nicholas was rejected on ‘a most false and scandalous aspersion’ that he was ‘a rank Papist, and had not been to church these 16 years’.73 On the eve of the Civil War he was knighted, and succeeded the crypto-Catholic Sir Francis Windebank† as secretary of state. He served until the collapse of the royalist cause, and thereafter joined the Prince of Wales in Jersey, remaining in exile throughout the Interregnum. The friendship of Edward Hyde† counteracted the persistent hostility of Queen Henrietta Maria, and he was reappointed in 1654. However, after the Restoration he was obliged to hand over office to Sir Henry Bennet†, another crypto-Catholic.74 Ample pecuniary compensation - the king made him a free gift of £10,000, for instance - enabled him to buy the manor of West Horsley, in Surrey in 1664 from Carew Ralegh† for £9,750 and to form a notable art collection.75 In his will, drawn up in 1667, he expressed penitence for his sins and a belief in his salvation as a member of ‘this elect’. He died on 1 Sept. 1669, and was buried at West Horsley.76 His sons, John and Edward, sat in the Cavalier Parliament for Ripon and Old Sarum, faithful to his behest ‘never to depart from the obedience they owe unto the king and his successors’.77

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Sabrina Alcorn Baron / Andrew Thrush


  • 1. D. Nicholas, Mr. Secretary Nicholas, 11-17, 24, 29-30; Wilts. Vis. Peds. (Harl. Soc. cv), 144-5; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p.427
  • 2. Nicholas, Mr. Secretary Nicholas, 147, 199.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 518.
  • 4. Add. 37818, f. 7; 37819, passim.
  • 5. SP16/117, f. 103; Add. 64916, f. 15.
  • 6. APC, 1627, p. 287; CSP Dom. 1635, p. 420.
  • 7. CSP Dom. 1636-7, p. 404.
  • 8. Cal. of Docquets of Ld. Kpr. Coventry 1625-40 ed. J. Broadway, R. Cust and S. Roberts (L. and I. Soc. spec. ser. xxxiv), 49.
  • 9. Duchy of Lancaster Office-Holders ed. R. Somerville, 77.
  • 10. CSP Dom. 1641-3, p. 186; 1661-2, p. 524; F.M.G. Evans, Sec. of State, 123, 126.
  • 11. PC2/53, p. 196.
  • 12. CSP Dom. 1641-3, p. 394; Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6 ed. W.H. Black, 14, 60.
  • 13. Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6, p. 109.
  • 14. CSP Dom. 1661-2, p. 33.
  • 15. Ibid. 1631-3, p. 388.
  • 16. E. Suss. RO, WIN 55, f. 235; Add. 29623, f. 79.
  • 17. C181/5, f. 24.
  • 18. Northants. RO, FH133.
  • 19. Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6, p. 16.
  • 20. SR, v. 216, 334.
  • 21. Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6, pp. 406-7; CSP Dom. 1661-2, pp. 309, 508.
  • 22. Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6, p. 283.
  • 23. CSP Dom. Addenda 1660-70, p. 650.
  • 24. Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6, p. 108; C220/9/4; C193/12/3.
  • 25. Vis. Wilts. 141.
  • 26. Nicholas, Mr. Secretary Nicholas, 11.
  • 27. Ibid. 14, 17; Grantees of Arms ed. W.H. Rylands (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 182.
  • 28. For Hyde’s connection with the Dackombe family, see Add. to the Vis. Dorset ed. F.T. Colby and J.P. Rylands, 24.
  • 29. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 518; Duchy of Lancaster Office-Holders, 77.
  • 30. PROB 11/131, f. 19; SP14/95/53.
  • 31. Nicholas, Mr. Secretary Nicholas, 20.
  • 32. For evidence that Matthew was being tutored by Richard Zouche in 1617, see Nicholas, 20.
  • 33. Cal. of White and Black Bks. of Cinque Ports ed. F. Hull (Kent Recs. ix), 424.
  • 34. SP14/117/74.
  • 35. Add. 37818, f. 52v; SP14/118/21, 26.
  • 36. CJ, i. 579b, 581a.
  • 37. Ibid. 620b.
  • 38. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, pp. 30, 48-9. Nicholas’ account of the subsidy debate appears thin when compared with CD 1621, ii. 86-91.
  • 39. For the shorthand symbols employed by Nicholas, see the list printed between pp. 106-7 in CD 1629.
  • 40. Nicholas, Mr. Secretary Nicholas, 31, 33, 35; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 427; 1623-5, pp. 119, 168, 175.
  • 41. CJ, i. 726b.
  • 42. SP14/166.
  • 43. SP14/173/49.
  • 44. Nicholas, Mr. Secretary Nicholas, 35.
  • 45. Nicholas Papers ed. G.F. Warner (Cam. Soc. n.s. xl), p. xiv.
  • 46. R. Lockyer, Buckingham, 253-5.
  • 47. CSP Dom. 1625-6, pp. 69, 72.
  • 48. CSP Dom. Addenda 1625-49, p. 73.
  • 49. Lockyer, 304; J.K. Gruenfelder, ‘The Lord Warden and Elections 1604-28’, JBS, xvi. 17-18; Add. 37819, f. 17v.
  • 50. Procs. 1626, iii. 35-6, 39.
  • 51. Documents Illustrating the Impeachment of Duke of Buckingham in 1626 ed. S.R. Gardiner (Cam. Soc. n.s. xlv), 294-5.
  • 52. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 345.
  • 53. Nicholas Pprs. xv.
  • 54. CSP Dom. 1627-8, pp. 221-3.
  • 55. CD 1628, iv. 120 n.32.
  • 56. CSP Dom. 1627-8, pp. 292-5.
  • 57. Lockyer, 372.
  • 58. CSP Dom. 1627-8, pp. 472, 505.
  • 59. Lockyer, 426.
  • 60. Procs. 1628, vi. 159.
  • 61. Ibid. 145.
  • 62. Add. 29623, f. 79.
  • 63. CD 1628, iv. 117, 201, 210, 250, 275.
  • 64. Ibid. i. 29-30.
  • 65. CSP Ire. 1625-32, pp. 367, 374; T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 3, p. 26; Nicholas Pprs. xviii.
  • 66. J. Howell, Epistolae Ho-Elianae, 254.
  • 67. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 267.
  • 68. For evidence of lateness, see CD 1629, pp. 132, 135, 140, 146.
  • 69. Ibid. 170.
  • 70. CSP Dom. 1629-31, p. 36.
  • 71. CSP Dom. 1635, pp. 420, 437, 469.
  • 72. Add. 64916, f .15.
  • 73. Nicholas, Mr. Secretary Nicholas, 119.
  • 74. Evans, 123, 126.
  • 75. CSP Dom. 1661-2, p. 513; Surr. Arch. Colls. xxi. 106; VCH Surr. iii. 354; Manning and Bray, Hist. and Antiqs. of Surr. iii. 36; Nicholas, Mr. Secretary Nicholas, 308-9.
  • 76. Brayley and Walford, A Topographical Hist. of Surr. i. 290; Nicholas, Mr. Secretary Nicholas, 310.
  • 77. PROB 11/330, f. 106.