NICHOLAS, Edward (1662-1726), of Donhead Lodge, Gillingham, Dorset and West Horsley, Surr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1689 - 3 May 1715
19 May 1715 - 20 Apr. 1726

Family and Education

b. 24 Feb. 1662, 1st s. of Sir John Nicholas† of West Horsley, clerk of PC, by Lady Penelope, da. of Spencer Compton†, 2nd Earl of Northampton; bro. of William Nicholas*. educ. New Coll. Oxf. matric. 1679; travelled abroad 1682; Padua Univ. 1685; DCL Oxf. 1702.  m. Rachel (d. 1741), da. of Thomas Wyndham*, sis. and coh. of Hopton Wyndham*, s.psuc. fa. 1705.1

Offices Held

Treasurer to Queen Mary 1693–1702; paymaster of Queen Anne’s pensions and bounties 1702–7, 1713–14; treasurer to Prince George of Denmark 1702–7; jt. commr. privy seal 1711–13.2

Freeman, Winchester, 1713–d.3


Nicholas was descended from an ancient Wiltshire family which had been propelled from obscurity by his grandfather, Secretary Sir Edward Nicholas†. Nicholas’ father inherited the manor of Winterbourne Earls in Wiltshire, together with a shared interest in Gillingham manor, four miles from Shaftesbury, but although the family had owned the latter property since 1661, no attempt had been made to establish an electoral interest there until 1689 when Edward Nicholas was returned for the first time. His position then became so secure that he represented the borough in every Parliament until his death: Robert Grove†, the prominent Wiltshire Presbyterian, perceptively declared to Lord Weymouth (Thomas Thynne†) that Nicholas could always depend upon the advantage of his neighbouring estate. At the beginning of the 1690 Parliament he was classed as a Court supporter by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†), and in December of that year as likely to support the minister in the event of an attack on him in the Commons. In April 1691 Robert Harley* concurred, listing Nicholas as a Court supporter. He was named to prepare several bills during the 1691–2 session. He appears on one list of placemen in 1692 even though he held no office, the explanation being that he was expected to support the Court because he was the son of Sir John Nicholas, the clerk of the Privy Council. On 24 Nov. he presented a bill designed to suppress hawkers and pedlars. From this time, however, until 1698 the presence in the House of George Nicholas prevents a positive identification of ‘Mr Nicholas’ in the Commons Journals, but it is likely that Edward was the more active Member. Grascome’s list of 1693 classed Nicholas as a placeman, following his appointment in April 1693 as treasurer to Queen Mary with a salary of £400, a reward for arranging government loans. Following the Queen’s death in December 1694 the King allowed all the officials of her household to retain their places at full salary, although as the work connected with the late Queen’s affairs lessened, Nicholas found that his department was used to pay out as much as £30,000 p.a. in bounties and pensions for the King and as poor relief to French Protestant refugees. Indeed, he continued to arrange loans for the government, being paid £15,000 in August 1696 for loans settled by him against money appropriated from the excise. At the end of the 1694–5 session his name appears on a list of Henry Guy’s* ‘friends’, probably in connexion with the parliamentary attack on Guy.4

Nicholas topped the poll at Shaftesbury in 1695, fully justifying his comment to John Ellis* in September 1693 that ‘my corporation is very hearty, notwithstanding this country here about is as bad as any place in England for ill people’. However, the election itself was arduous, and after the election Nicholas was called to answer charges of having procured the vote of a number of unenfranchised townsmen. Jarred by the experience, he subsequently likened Shaftesbury to ‘the land of the Philistines’. In the first session of the new Parliament he was forecast as a probable opponent of the government in the division over the proposed council of trade on 31 Jan. 1696, but he signed the Association in February and voted with the Court on fixing the price of guineas at 22s. in March. On the most important question of the following session, Sir John Fenwick’s† attainder, Nicholas was possibly placed in something of a dilemma which he solved by absenting himself from the division. Taken with the other divisions of 1696, his pattern of voting followed that of the Tory followers of the Duke of Leeds (formerly Carmarthen), suggesting a similarity of Court Tory outlook. In the spring of 1697 he may have been the Edward Nicholas granted leave to travel abroad ‘for some time’ with a pass to visit Italy and Germany. If so, he had probably returned by 10 Jan. 1698 when a ‘Mr Nicholas’ was named to a conference committee. On 29 Apr. he was the sole Member given the task of drafting a bill to erect workhouses and houses of correction in Shaftesbury, which he subsequently managed through all its stages in the House, carrying it to the Lords on 9 June. He was listed as a placeman and as a Court supporter in a comparative list of the old and new Parliaments in about September 1698. Following the 1698 election, he was the only Nicholas in the House. He voted against the third reading of the disbanding bill on 31 Jan. 1699. On 9 Mar. he acted as a teller in favour of rejecting the Old East India Company’s bill. In the following session he was teller again on 23 Jan. 1700 in the tied division against bringing in a bill prolonging the time for prohibiting the export of corn. An analysis of the Commons into ‘interests’ merely confirmed his status as a placeman.5

Nicholas was somewhat harder pressed than usual in the first 1701 election by the intervention at Shaftesbury of a wealthy West India merchant, Sir Edmund Harrison, but the latter’s money proved of no avail against the Nicholas interest. Nicholas was listed as likely to support the Court over the ‘Great Mortgage’, and was subsequently blacklisted for opposing preparations for war. In December 1701, he was listed as a Tory by Harley. He was more active in this Parliament, being named in February 1702 to prepare a bill for the repair of piers at Whitby, and was subsequently a teller for the bill’s passage (24 Apr. 1702). He voted in favour of the motion on 26 Feb. vindicating the Commons’ proceedings in the impeachment of the King’s ministers in the former Parliament. Finally, between March and May, he managed through the House a relief bill relating to Irish forfeited estates.

After the death of William III, Nicholas’ office of treasurer to the late Queen was abolished but he was kept on as paymaster of Queen Anne’s private pensions and bounties at the same salary of £400, and in June 1702 was granted the additional office of treasurer to Prince George of Denmark. Later in the summer he was made Doctor of Civil Law during Anne’s visit to Oxford. On 24 Nov., presumably by virtue of his office in Prince George’s household, he presented to the Commons the letters patent by which the Prince’s settlement had been made. He acted as a teller for the Court on 23 Dec. 1702 against a motion to bring in a place bill excluding all office-holders. He was a teller in two further divisions this session: on 28 Jan. 1703 in favour of the Tory candidate for Plympton Erle, and on the following 19 Feb. for adjourning the debate on advancing the war in the West Indies. The previous week, on 13 Feb., he voted against agreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the bill for enlarging the time for taking the oath of abjuration. In the third session, he reported on 9 Nov. 1704 from a committee on a private naturalization bill, but on the most important issue of the session he was forecast as a likely opponent of the Tack, and, having been sounded out by Lord Godolphin (Sidney†) before its second reading, did not vote for it on 28 Nov.

Listed as a placeman and a ‘Churchman’ in 1705, Nicholas was joined in the Commons by William Nicholas, again making identification more difficult during this Parliament. He remained loyal to the Court and followed Godolphin’s directions in voting for a Whig Speaker on 25 Oct., despite a strong plea from his Tory friend, Lord Digby (William Digby*), who wrote on the 10th:

Bromley [William II*] is gone up, I believe, and has been told by several he may depend upon your vote. I hope he will not be deceived, for your sake, for this I find will be the test of men’s integrity. Your opinion is so well known, and if your vote should not go with it, the world will ascribe it to something that is not very honourable. I know temptations will be placed in your way; but give me leave to say there can be no temptation to a man in your circumstances; nor can there be a price for a man’s integrity in any condition. This, I know, you are sufficiently sensible of . . . but what passed between us at S[haftesbu]ry upon this subject had made me a little uneasy, and given me some apprehensions lest a wrong notion of gratitude, or some other false argument, should mislead you in a thing of so much concern both to yourself and your country. For I do think a great deal more depends upon this than the having a Sp[eaker] our friend. All the world sees now which way things are tending (and particularly by this last step) and there is nothing so likely to stop this cancer as a majority of the H[ouse] of C[ommons] appearing against it.

Later in the same session he showed his true sympathies when he voted on 16 Feb. 1706 against the Whigs on the Bewdley election petition but he continued to support the Court on the ‘place clause’ of the regency bill two days later. In April 1707 he lost both his offices, his position having become increasingly difficult as Godolphin moved into closer alliance with the Whigs.6

Rejected by the Court, Nicholas made successful overtures to the High Tories, reportedly making his peace with the Earl of Rochester (Laurence Hyde†) via the good offices of Francis Gwyn*. Indeed, on two separate lists of the post-Union House he was listed as a Tory. Further, the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (Anthony, Lord Ashley*) was informed that Nicholas was now ‘entirely Lord Rochester’s creature; the Treasurer has done with him’. For the 1708 election, perhaps afraid that the government might support a candidate against him, he entered into a formal alliance with Shaftesbury (whose influence in the borough could usually secure the return of one Member) that neither would oppose the other’s interest. There had been a tacit agreement for some time but now he gave a specific undertaking not to oppose Shaftesbury’s candidate, Sir John Cropley, 2nd Bt.*, though Cropley himself considered Nicholas’s fears of possible Court intervention ill-grounded. Although Shaftesbury was aiming towards an alliance with the Tory faction in the town, the liaison between the two was criticized as ‘unacceptable and not cared for by the town’. However, after a slight alarm created by the appearance of Henry Cornish*, Nicholas and Cropley were duly returned. Again the only Nicholas in the Commons, he acted in the first session as a teller on three disputed election cases, at Bramber (15 Jan. 1709), Abingdon (20 Jan.) and Newcastle-underLyme (1 Feb.), on each occasion on the Tory side. In the 1709–10 session he voted against the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell, and was a teller on 21 and 22 Mar. against motions to give thanks to the managers of the trial and that the Commons should demand judgment of the Lords.7

Classed as a Tory on the ‘Hanover list’ in 1710, Nicholas was teller for Sir Francis Child’s election at Devizes (16 Dec. 1710), against referring the Weymouth election petition to the committee of elections (28 Apr. 1711), and for allowing the Queen to appoint the South Sea Company’s first board of directors (25 May). He also carried to the Lords a bill confirming the purchase by Brasenose College, Oxford, of advowsons in Stepney. He was listed as a ‘Tory patriot’ who opposed the war and as one of the ‘worthy patriots’ who helped to detect the mismanagement of the previous administration. He was also a member of the October Club, which seems out of character, but he may well have been a Harley plant. Whatever the situation, he was rewarded or bought off in December 1711 with appointment as a commissioner of the privy seal during the bishop of Bristol’s absence at Utrecht. In the second session, on 22 May 1712, he was teller in favour of a ways and means resolution for additional duties on imported skins and parchment. In the last session he voted for the French commerce bill on 18 June 1713, and on 8 July was teller in favour of a motion to go into a committee of the whole on the bill to regulate the army. When his privy seal office expired he was compensated with his former post of paymaster of pensions, although it had been suggested that he would be appointed a commissioner of trade upon the bishop’s return. Joined by John Nicholas in the 1713 Parliament, it is impossible to tell if he was the ‘Mr. Nicholas’, who acted as a teller on three occasions in the 1714 session, including on 23 June on an amendment to the schism bill. However, he was classed as a Tory in the Worsley list. His continued loyalty to the ministry was rewarded by Harley in June 1714 with a grant of £1,500.8

Nicholas continued to represent Shaftesbury after 1715 as a Tory until his death. By 1721, however, he was spending much of his time between his house at Spring Gardens, London, and Bath, where first his wife and then he himself sought remedies for various ailments. He died childless on 20 Apr. 1726; no will or administration of his estate has been found.

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Paula Watson / Henry Lancaster


  • 1. Manning and Bray, Surr. iii. 41; Hoare, Wilts. Alderbury, 96; Boyer, Anne Annals, i. 77.
  • 2. Cal. Treas. Bks. x. 168, 1033; xvii. 133–4, 406; xxi. 250; xxv. 600; Cal. Treas. Bks. and Pprs. 1731–5, p. 283; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iii. 84; vi. 165; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist., vi. 584; London Gazette, 22–25 June 1702; Post Boy, 18–20 Dec. 1711; 15–18 Aug. 1713.
  • 3. Hants RO, Winchester corp. recs. viii. f. 122.
  • 4. PCC 35 Gee; Cal. Treas. Bks. x. 436, 1033, 1054; xi. 186, 225; xii. 122, 129, 197, 291; Lexington Pprs. 55; Hutchins, Dorset, iii. 617; Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 26, f. 341; A. Browning, Danby, iii. 185; Luttrell Diary, 258; Cal. Treas. Bks. xi. 225.
  • 5. Add. 28878, f. 244; 28879, f. 254; 28881, f. 391; Cal. Treas. Bks. xii. 100; CSP Dom. 1697, p. 105.
  • 6. Add. 28886, ff. 184, 203, 213, 228; Egerton 2540, f. 136.
  • 7. PRO 30/24/20/356–7; 30/24/21/25–30, 356–7.
  • 8. PRO 30/24/21/150, 235; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 361, 497; Hist. Jnl. iv. 192; Longleat House, Portland misc. pprs. f. 196; BL, Trumbull mss. Alphab. mss 54, Ralph Brydges to Sir William Trumbull*, 25 Apr. 1712.