« AnteriorContinuar »
THE CORRESPONDENCE OF CHARLES I.
SIR. EDWARD NICHOLAS.
FEw more valuable or more interesting illustrations of English history have been at any time made public than the Private Correspondence between Charles I. and his secretary-of-state, Sir Edward Nicholas. These letters were found at Wotton, with the correspondence of Evelyn; his father-in-law, Sir Richard Browne, whose papers he inherited, having been connected by marriage with Mr. Secretary Nicholas; and since their publication they have been quoted and commented upon by every historian or critic of the period on which they throw so much curious and important light. In no respect illustrating or forming part of Evelyn's history, the reason which existed for modernising the spelling in the case of the “Diary and Letters” did not here apply. These papers are strictly historical documents, and, as such, are presented in all respects precisely as they were found; with the king's apostils, by way of answer or remark to his secretary's information, printed as written in the margin of the secretary's dispatches; with the queen's notes and messages appended; with the occasional ciphers as in the originals; and, throughout, whether in these particular letters or in the few additional ones of later date, with a strict adherence to the exact orthography of the individual writers. The date of the commencement of the letters is one of the most critical in the life of the king. It was that of the journey to Scotland, which preceded the fatal attempt to arrest the five members. The king's motives for this journey have been variously surmised and stated; but that, besides his hope of effecting a better understanding with the Scotch parliament by personal communication with its members, they also included an attempt by means of the new anticovenanting Scotch party which had been secretly formed by Montrose, to obtain evidence available against the popular leaders in England, may be gathered from a study of the present correspondence. The feeling entertained in the House of Commons as to what was involved in the king's departure became manifest as soon as it was ascertained to have actually taken place; commissioners being immediately named and appointed to proceed to Scotland, ostensibly to treat with the Scots concerning the satisfaction of the treaty under discussion, but really to thwart as far as possible the king's suspected intentions. The new secretary-of-state, Nicholas, appointed
on the flight of Windebank, had it left to him in charge by his royal master to furnish diligent information, during his absence, of what was going on in London; and his letters, noted and answered in the margin by Charles, and posted back to the writer, form the bulk of the succeeding correspondence. They begin with the king's first letter from Edinburgh, written five days after he quitted London, and continue during the whole of the stay in Scotland. After Charles's return there is a considerable interval in the correspondence, but it is resumed at the period of the treaty of Uxbridge, for which Nicholas was appointed one of the commissioners; and is continued through the vicissitudes and disasters of the war, up to the king's detention by the army of the Scots, and his imprisonment at Holdenby and in the Isle of Wight. Of Sir Edward Nicholas, who plays so prominent a part in this correspondence, and of whom Clarendon remarks that he was appointed secretary upon the king's observation of his virtue and fidelity, and without any other recommendation, some brief account may be expected by the reader. He was the eldest son of John Nicholas, Esq., of Winterbourne Earls, in the county of Wilts; was born in April, 1592-3, educated at Oxford, and entered of the Middle Temple; resided some time in France, and on his return to England, directed his thoughts to public business. His first official appointment was in the time of James I. He was named one of the six clerks in chancery; and afterwards became secretary to Lord Zouch, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, who surrendered that employment to please the king, by enabling him to confer it on the Duke of Buckingham. The duke continued Nicholas in his office, and advanced him to be secretary to the Admiralty. The commissioners appointed to administer the affairs of the Admiralty, on the duke's death, also continued Nicholas as their secretary; and he retained the office till 1636, when Algernon, Earl of Northumberland, being appointed Lord High Admiral, he was removed to the clerkship of the council. This brought him more within the personal view and knowledge of the king, from which resulted his selection for the office of secretary-of-state, when the flight of Windebank left it vacant in 1641. He received his knighthood at Whitehall, at the close of November, 1641, the day after the king's return from Scotland. For his activity and earnestness in the execution of his duties, he had meanwhile become obnoxious to the Parliament, and was one of those excepted in the terms which they offered to the king after he had raised his standard at Nottingham. Notwithstanding this exception, however, they did not refuse to receive him as one of the king's commissioners at the treaty of Uxbridge. He was at Oxford during the time it was besieged by the parliament forces. On the death of the king he went to France, and afterwards joined the exiled prince at Rouen, on his arrival there from Jersey.
In this service he remained, discharging it at various places in France and Holland, till the treaty of Breda, when Charles went to Scotland. On his return, Nicholas again joined him at Aix; and when the Restoration came, in 1660, he was continued as secretary. In October 1662, being then about seventy years of age, he finally resigned the secretaryship, in which he was succeeded by Bennet, afterwards Earl of Arlington. He refused a peerage offered him by the king; and retiring to his seat at West Horsley, in Surrey, an estate which he had purchased of Carew Raleigh, Esq. (son of Sir Walter), died there in September 1669. In the church of that parish are monuments erected to him and his descendants, who continued there till 1749. He left four sons. In 1641, it would appear from the letters now printed, he had a house at Thorpe, in Surrey.
The reader of these letters will scarcely need to be told that he was not only a devoted servant of Charles I., but a diligent and faithful adviser, never scrupling to offer his opinion, and that a conscientious and honest one. It is to the king's credit that he allowed him to do so, commending his openness, though unhappily for himself he did not always attend to the advice so given. It was Charles's greatest misfortune to have had few counsellors sojudicious, industrious, and experienced as Nicholas; of such unimpeachable integ. rity, or of a temper so unambitious and averse to intrigue.
The King to Sir Edward Nicholas.
NICoEAs, Your aduertisments to me,' is so far from displeasing to me, that I comand you to continew it, & that as often as conuenientlie ye may. Deliuer thease incloseds. (I hope ye know by that yesterday that on [one] is to my Wyfe.) So I rest Your friend, CHARLEs R. EDEN. 15 Aug. 1641.
* This letter is evidently the first sent by Charles to Sir Edward Nicholas, in answer to his first communication respecting the proceeedings subsequent to the King's departure. The royal journey was by no ineans agreeable to the Parliament; for, so late as the 7th of August, the Commons desired the Lords to join with their in an attempt to delay the King's departure for fourteen days, Charles however, gave