NUGENT, Robert (1709-88), of Gosfield, Essex.
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Family and Education
b. 1709, o. surv. s. of Michael Nugent of Carlanstown, co. Meath by Mary, da. of Robert Barnewall, 9th Baron Trimlestown [I]. educ. Fagan’s acad. Dublin. m. (1) 14 July 1730, Lady Emilia Plunkett (d. 16 Aug. 1731), da. of Peter, 4th Earl of Fingall [I], 1s. d.v.p.; (2) 23 Mar. 1737, Anne (d. 22 Nov. 1756), da. and coh. of James Craggs, postmaster gen., sis. and coh. of Rt. Hon. James Craggs, wid. of (i) John Newsham and (ii) John Knight, s.p., assuming add. name of Craggs before Nugent; (3) 2 Jan. 1757, Elizabeth, da. of Henry Drax of Ellerton Abbey, Yorks., wid. of Augustus, 4th Earl of Berkeley, 1da. suc. fa. 1739; cr. Visct. Clare [I] 19 Jan. 1767; Earl Nugent [I] 21 July 1776.
Comptroller of the household to Prince of Wales Nov. 1747-51; ld. of Treasury Apr. 1754-Dec. 1759; P.C. 15 Dec. 1759; jt. vice-treasurer [I] Jan. 1760-July 1765; first ld. of Trade Dec. 1766-Jan. 1768; jt. vice-treasurer [I] July 1768-Mar. 1782.
Nugent came of an old-established Irish Roman Catholic family, kinsmen to the Earls of Westmeath. In 1730 he fled to London to avoid marrying his cousin, Clare Nugent, by whom he had a son whom he never recognized. He is then said to have become a tutor in the family of the Earl of Fingall, whose sister he married.1 After the death of his first wife, he renounced Roman Catholicism and joined the Church of England. His second marriage, to a wealthy widow, brought him £50,000,2 a country estate in Essex and control over one seat at St. Mawes. She was fat and ugly, and he was notoriously unfaithful to her.3 Through her, he became a friend of Pope, and was introduced to Lord Chesterfield. He was soon deep in the counsels of the leaders of the Opposition, who consulted him in the winter of 1740 on the tactics to be followed in the next session of Parliament.4 He addressed verses to Frederick, Prince of Wales,5 and wrote a momentarily famous Ode to Pulteney (1739), describing his own conversion from ‘error’s poison’d springs’ to the principles of the glorious Revolution. When he was returned for St. Mawes in 1741, Chesterfield wrote to him:
I heartily congratulate you as a member of Parliament, and would congratulate my country upon it, if you could propagate your principles in that House as effectually as you have your likeness in many others.6
An able and witty speaker with a strong Irish brogue, he soon came to the fore in debates. Horace Walpole wrote to Mann on 24 Dec. 1741: ‘This modest Irish converted Catholic stallion does talk a prodigious deal of nonsense in behalf of English liberty.’ Nugent had just carried several former government supporters off to the country to prevent their voting in the critical division on the Westminster election petition.7 He spoke against the Hanoverians in December 1742; supported the Address on 1 Dec. 1743; on 6 Dec. 1743 spoke in favour of a motion to disband the Hanoverians; and on 11 Jan. 1744 supported the continuing of British troops on the Continent. He ‘said a few words’ in favour of a Tory bill for ascertaining the qualifications of justices of the peace in March 1745, and talked of ‘impeachments and bills of penalties’ in a debate on an address for the courts martial of Mathews and Lestock the following April.8 He spoke for the Hanoverians in April 1746, when he was classed by Newcastle as a ‘doubtful’ ally, and supported the bill to abolish hereditary jurisdictions in Scotland a year later.9
Re-elected for St. Mawes in 1747, Nugent was given office in the Prince of Wales’s household, speaking against the Address in November 1748. Horace Walpole wrote to Mann on 4 Mar. 1749:
there is a faction in the Prince’s family, headed by Nugent, who are for moderate measures. Nugent is most affectedly an humble servant of Mr. Pelham and seems only to have attached himself to the Prince, in order to make the better bargain with the ministry, he has great parts, but they never know how to disentangle themselves from bombast and absurdities.
In 1751 Walpole writes:
Nugent’s attachments were to Lord Granville; but all his flattery addressed to Mr. Pelham, whom he mimicked in candour, as often as he resembled Lord Granville in ranting.
In February of that year he revived a bill for the naturalization of foreign Protestants, which he had unsuccessfully presented in December 1747, but it was thrown out on the third reading.10 At Leicester House Nugent acted in opposition to the 2nd Lord Egmont, who noted in March 1751 that the Prince had talked ‘angrily to Nugent ... for his conduct in the House in opposing me and continually to be with the other side and to form a party’. Shortly after the death of the Prince, Egmont reported,
Nugent ... gave a dinner to Lord Granville and Henry Fox etc., where they were very merry, laughing at Nugent for having lent money to the Prince, which he had lost—but Nugent denied it.11
He then rallied to the Pelhams, commending the regency bill ‘extravagantly’ in May 1751. In June, he acted as intermediary in the reconciliation between Granville and Pelham.12 Granville asked Pelham for the post of surveyor general of the land revenue for him, but this had already been promised to another. Pelham then offered him the post of treasurer to the board of Ordnance, writing (24 Sept. 1751):
If you like it, I will certainly engage to no other person, but most zealously support your interest with his Majesty. If you do not, there is no hurt done ... Believe me, dear Nugent, it will be a great pleasure to me to have you cheerfully as well as zealously with us, and if at any time you have thought me cold towards you, you have mistook me, and so far done me wrong ... As your friend, and my neighbour [Granville] is not in town, I have spoke of this to no one, but I hear my brother’s thoughts and disposition are the same as mine.
Nugent declined as the salary was lower than had been supposed by Pelham, who replied:
I am exceedingly mortified that things turn out as I now find it. I was in hopes we should have opened this session not only friends but fellow servants, and that upon such a foot as you and your best friends would have thought honourable for us both.13
He supported the subsidy treaty with Saxony in January 1752;14 spoke in favour of the bill for the naturalization of the Jews in April 1753; and in May of that year strenuously opposed Hardwicke’s marriage bill, asking:
Will you confine the great people to marry merely among one another and prevent them from getting a little wholesome blood which they so much want? Will you marry disease to distemper?15
Horace Walpole commented: ‘Nugent shone extremely in opposition to the bill, and, though every now and then on the precipice of absurdity, kept clear of it.’16
On Pelham’s death Nugent was given office by Newcastle. He died in Dublin 14 Oct. 1788, having returned to the Roman Catholic faith.
Ref Volumes: 1715-1754
Author: Eveline Cruickshanks
- 1. Claud Nugent, Memoir of Robert, Earl Nugent, pp. 1-9. See also The unnatural father or the persecuted son. A candid narrative of the most unparalleled sufferings of Robert Nugent jnr. by the means and procurement of his own father, London, 1755.
- 2. HMC Carlisle, 183.
- 3. Walpole to Mann, 7 Jan. 174