NICHOLAS, John (1624-1705), of Spring Garden, Westminster and West Horsley, Surr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Oct. 1679

Family and Education

bap. 19 Jan. 1624, 1st s. of Sir Edward Nicholas, sec. of state 1641-62, of Winterbourne Earls Wilts. by Jane, da. of Henry Jay, of Holverston, Norf. alderman of London 1613-20. educ. Broughton (Morgan Owen) 1632, Dinton (Philip Pinckney) 1633-7; Winchester 1637-40; Queen’s, Oxf. 1641; travelled abroad (France) 1644; M. Temple 1647. m. 23 May 1661, Lady Penelope Compton (d. 26 Nov. 1703), da. of Spencer Compton, 2nd Earl of Northampton, 3s. 1da. KB 23 Apr. 1661; suc. fa. 1669.1

Offices Held

Clerk of the signet 1655-d., of the Privy Council July 1660-d.2

J.p. Wilts. 1661-June 1688, Surr. 1665-d.; commr. for assessment, Mdx. 1661-9, Westminster 1661-80, 1689, Wilts. 1661-80, Cornw. 1663-78, Dorset and Surr. 1664-80, the Household 1671, Dorset, Surr. and Wilts. 1689-90, corporations, Cornw. and Yorks. 1662-3; keeper, Windsor Great Park 1669-71; dep. lt. Dorset 1672-4, Surr. 1702-d.; freeman, Portsmouth 1681, Wilton 1685.3


Nicholas did not claim descent from the long-established gentry family of which Oliver Nicholas was a scion. His great-grandfather is said to have accompanied John Jewel into exile under Mary, and was granted a lease of Winterbourne Earls when Jewel became bishop of Salisbury. His grandfather, a lawyer, acted as steward on some of the Earl of Pembroke’s manors and obtained a grant of arms in 1612. But it was his father, a faithful and diligent servant of the crown before, during and after the Civil War, who raised the family from obscurity. From his Winchester days, when he was ‘noted in the school for one of the best and discreetest’, Nicholas never gave his father the slightest cause for anxiety and fitted perfectly into the mould designed for him. He spent the Interregnum in exile, acting for a time as secretary to Sir Edward Hyde, who referred to the embryonic civil servant as ‘my tutor’. Great efforts were made to secure Nicholas’s return to the Cavalier Parliament. As early as September 1660 he was mentioned as a candidate for Oxford University, but he refused to oppose Hyde’s nominees, though he ‘would easily have carried it, if he had stood it out’. In Wiltshire he enjoyed the interest of the Earl of Pembroke; though of little effect with the unreconstructed corporation of Salisbury, it ensured the return of Nicholas and Thomas Mompesson, his father’s ward, at Wilton. Nicholas was also returned for West Looe, presumably on the Trelawny interest, and for Ripon, where he had the support of the archbishop of York, and eventually chose the latter seat. He was not an active Member, being appointed to only 47 committees and making no recorded speeches. Most of his important committees were in the first session, while his father was still in office. He helped to consider the corporations and uniformity bills, the bill of pains and penalties, and the bill for the execution of those under attainder. When his father was forced to resign in 1662, Daniel O’Neill wrote that ‘the disappointment Sir Edward Nicholas had, in not leaving his son to succeed him, troubles him more than his parting with his place’. He was listed as a court dependant in 1664, though ‘the two little employments he has are both together of very small value’ and his salary was often years in arrear, a serious matter to a family man whose total income before his father’s death was estimated at only £500 p.a. A conservative Anglican, he disapproved of a proposal for religious comprehension in 1667, and of the impeachment of Hyde, now Lord Clarendon: ‘It was the parallel case of my Lord of Strafford, and I much fear we are acting that tragedy over again; the face of things looks dismally’. The questioning of his father’s title to some Middlesex property at this juncture was probably intended to prevent any active support for Clarendon. Nevertheless he continued to vote for supply. On 22 Feb. 1668 he wrote to his father: ‘`Twas so excessive hot by reason of the fulness of the House that it was very uneasy duty, but rather than not have voted an aid to his Majesty many of us would have undergone much more’. His name appears on both lists of court supporters in 1669-71, and an opposition writer described him as ‘inheritor of his good father’s vast estate, got by abusing the poor Cavalier pensioners’. He was included in the Paston list of 1673-4 and the list of King’s servants in the Commons in 1675, the year in which he was appointed to a committee for appropriating the customs to the use of the navy. Shaftesbury marked him as ‘thrice vile’ in 1677, and in A Seasonable Argument it was alleged, most implausibly, that he had ‘got by the Court £40,000’. In the spring session of 1678 he took part in preparing a summary of England’s international commitments and in the autumn he was one of the committee appointed to translate Coleman’s letters. He was again on both lists of the court party, and if he stood at the ensuing general election he was unsuccessful.4

Nicholas sat for Wilton in the second and third Exclusion Parliaments, but without leaving any trace on their records, though he presumably opposed exclusion. He was again elected to James II’s Parliament, in which he was named to the committee for St. James, Piccadilly. He is not known to have spoken, but he probably opposed the King’s policy on Roman Catholic officers, for on 7 Jan. 1686 the second Earl of Clarendon (Henry Hyde) urged his brother Rochester (Laurence Hyde) to soften James’s displeasure towards Nicholas:

You know there are very few people for whom my father would have been more concerned, had he now been living. Let me beg you to do what you can for him, if there be occasion; you will never repent of doing good, especially to worthy people.

Rochester seems to have succeeded, for Nicholas retained his place, receiving his salary regularly up to the Revolution, even though Luttrell reported on 7 Mar. 1687 that he had been dismissed. He was still at his post when the Prince of Orange entered London, and he brought to Sir John Bramston the summons for all Members of Charles II’s Parliaments to meet the Prince at St. James’s Palace. He took the oath to the new regime on 20 Feb. 1689 and retained his offices till his death. But he was defeated at Wilton in 1690 and neither he nor his descendants sat in Parliament again. He died on 9 Jan. 1705, and was buried at West Horsley.5

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: P. A. Bolton


  • 1. Hoare, Wilts. Alderbury, 96; D. Nicholas, Mr Secretary Nicholas. 77, 107, 190; Westminster City Lib. St. Mary le Strand par. reg.
  • 2. CSP Dom. Add. 1660-85, p. 471; 1660-1, p. 139.
  • 3. Cal. Treas. Bks. iii. 812, 841-2; CJ, viii. 287; HMC 8th Rep. pt. 1 (1881), p. 275; CSP Dom. 1671-2, p. 236; 1685, p. 99; R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 366.
  • 4. Nicholas, op. cit. 11; CSP Dom. 1640, p. 62; 1660-1, pp. 275, 530, 547, 562; Cal. Cl. SP. ii. 144; Bodl. Carte 32, f. 82; Clarendon Corresp. i. 205; Cal. Treas. Bks. vii. 1281; Hoare, Repertorium Wiltonense, 15; Eg. 2539, ff. 121, 135, 139, 160; Harl. 7020, f. 46.
  • 5. Clarendon Corresp. i. 205; Luttrell, i. 397, 504; Cal. Treas. Bks. viii. 2012; Bramston Autobiog. (Cam. Soc. xxii), 343.