Nicholas Papers

Scope and Content

The Nicholas Papers comprise part of the archives of the Nicholas family of West Horsley, Surrey. They relate chiefly to Sir Edward Nicholas (1593-1669), Secretary of State to Charles I and Charles II, to his sons John and Edward, and to the Nicholas estates in West Horsley, Surrey, and Gillingham, Dorset. There are letters to Sir Edward Nicholas as Secretary of State, 1643-4; account books of Edward Nicholas esq. (1662-1726) as Treasurer and General Receiver, 1694-1715; important court rolls for the manor of West Horsley, 1384-1709 (NP/1-13); manorial court records for Gillingham, including a court book, survey, rental, perambulation and accounts, 1468-1725 (NP/64-69); an important collection of documents concerning the anti-enclosure riots at Gillingham, 1642-8 (NP/72-74); and other documents relating to property in West Horsley and Gillingham, including deeds of conveyance, mortgages, leases and accounts.

Administrative / Biographical History

West Horsley lies six miles north-east of Guildford in Surrey. The manor of West Horsley was held by the Windsor family from the twelfth century, but in 1271 it was granted to Ralph de Berners and Christina his wife. It remained in the hands of the Berners family until the early sixteenth century. John Bourchier, 2nd Baron Berners, famed as the translator of Froissart's chronicles, mortgaged the manor to Thomas Unton in 1518. The manor passed through a succession of owners in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Viscount Montagu mortgaged the estates to Sir John Evelyn, and sold West Horsley to Carew Raleigh, son of Sir Walter Raleigh, in 1656. He in turn conveyed the estate to Sir Edward Nicholas, Secretary of State to Charles I and Charles II, in 1664.

Sir Edward Nicholas (1593-1669) was born at Winterbourne Earls in Wiltshire, the son of John Nicholas, ecclesiastical lawyer and estate steward of successive earls of Pembroke. Edward studied at Oxford and the Middle Temple, before serving in secretarial roles to a number of public figures including Sir John Dackombe, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Edward la Zouche, Baron Zouche, Warden of the Cinque Ports, and George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, who bought the wardenship in 1624. Buckingham's patronage ensured that Nicholas's career flourished. In 1626 he became clerk of the council in extraordinary, and sat as MP for Dover from 1627 to 1628. Gradually moving closer to the centre of power during Charles I's Personal Rule, he became a clerk of the council in ordinary in 1635. In November 1641 he was knighted and made one of the King's secretaries of state, retaining this post until Charles's execution, although he had limited influence with the King.

Following the royalist defeat Sir Edward sought exile in France, but he continued to correspond with the King until a few weeks before his execution. He was active in Charles II's government in exile, although he was not among the Prince's closest confidantes and was not sworn as his secretary of state until 1654. Following the Restoration in 1660 Nicholas was re-appointed as secretary of state, but he remained excluded from the King's inner circle. Nevertheless he was a loyal, hard-working servant to Charles II, and was active in the preparations for trying the regicides. He signed the warrants for the execution of Thomas Scot and the disinterment of Cromwell and his fellow regicides. Nicholas was forced to resign in 1662, at the instigation of Henrietta Maria and Castlemain, according to Pepys. He accepted the lump sum of £10,000 in compensation but refused a title. He spent his final years at his estate at West Horsley, Surrey, surrounded by his books and pictures, and he died there on 1 September 1669.

Sir Edward Nicholas's brother Matthew (1594-1661) served as dean of St Paul's in 1660-1. Sir Edward's eldest son, Sir John Nicholas (1623-1704), served as clerk to the Privy Council. John had one daughter and three sons, of whom the eldest, Edward Nicholas (1662-1726) was appointed treasurer to Queen Mary in April 1693 (Calendar of Treasury Books, x, p. 168). In 1703 Edward was formally appointed paymaster of the queen's private pensions and bounties with a salary of £400 (CTB, xviii, 315). He served as MP for Shaston (Shaftesbury), Dorset, from 1689 until he died childless in 1726. In 1749, William Nicholas, Sir Edward's youngest grandson died without heirs, and by his will the estate passed to Henry Weston, son of John Weston of Ockham.

Sources: Edward W. Brayley, A topographical history of Surrey, vol. 2 (London: G. Willis, 1850), pp. 77-8, 92-8; H.E. Malden (ed.), A history of the county of Surrey, vol. 3 (London: Constable, 1911), pp. 353-7; David Hayton, Eveline Cruickshanks, Stuart Handley, The history of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 1027-30, article on Edward Nicholas MP; S.A. Baron, 'Nicholas, Sir Edward (1593-1669)', Oxford dictionary of national biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004):


The system of arrangement adopted when the collection was received by the Library has been maintained. Items were first arranged in accession number order, and within each accession number items were placed in approximate chronological order. The documents were numbered consecutively, NP/1, NP/2, etc. There is some evidence of an earlier system of arrangement. NP/79 was previously numbered 385-392, while NP/80, /81 and /82 were numbered 377, 433 and 374 respectively.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The collection was purchased by the John Rylands Library at the Messrs Hodgson & Co. auction held on 22 May 1919, through Bernard Quaritch Ltd, for £74 8s, plus commission (lots 1-3, 6-7, 9-10, 15, 17 and 18); Rylands accession nos R45808-45817. A copy of the auction catalogue is kept with the collection (NP/89).

Other Finding Aids

The hand-list of the Nicholas Papers was originally published in Robert Fawtier, Hand-list of charters, deeds and similar documents in the possession of the John Rylands Library, I: documents of which the provenance has been ascertained (Manchester, 1925).

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The History of the Nicholas Papers after the death of Sir Edward Nicholas (1593-1669) is not fully understood. A rough schedule of the papers was compiled by Edward Nicholas in 1720-3; this is now British Library Egerton MS 2562. At that time they included such important material as correspondence between Sir Edward Nicholas and Charles I during the Civil War, and letters from Charles II, which in the late 19th century belonged to W.J. Evelyn esq., MP, of Wotton, a few miles from the Nicholas family's former seat at West Horsley. Indeed, it appears that before the end of 1750 the whole of the Nicholas Papers had passed to Sir John Evelyn of Wotton. G.F. Warner, editor of the Nicholas Papers among the Egerton MSS, thought it probable that Sir John Evelyn, after selecting the most valuable material for himself, returned the bulk of the papers to West Horsley.

Related Material

Some of the family and personal papers of the Nicholas family are held by the British Library, Manuscript Collections (reference: Add MSS 37816-37823, 41202, 44925-44926; Egerton MSS 2533-2562; Egerton Ch. 417-426, 486-503). Other papers of Sir Edward Nicholas and Sir John Nicholas are held at the Surrey History Centre (reference: G52/2/19; G85/5/2; 1287). An online catalogue of 1287 is available on the National Archives website at


The correspondence of Sir Edward Nicholas was published in G.F. Warner (ed.), Correspondence of Sir Edward Nicholas, Secretary of State, The Camden Society, New Series, vols 40 (1886), 50 (1892) and 57 (1897) and 3rd Series, vol. 31 (1920).

Hodgson & Co., auctioneers, A catalogue of valuable and interesting autograph letters, MSS and documents comprising... documents connected with the Raleigh and Nicholas families... which will be sold by auction by Messrs Hodgson & Co... on Thursday, May 22nd (1919).

The Nicholas Papers, and especially the Gillingham material, are discussed in Robert Fawtier, 'Some Dorset deeds in the John Rylands Library at Manchester', Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club, vol. 47 (1926), pp. 148-54.

Donald Nicholas, Mr. Secretary Nicholas (1593-1669): his life and letters (London: Bodley Head,1955).

S.A. Baron, Nicholas, Sir Edward (1593-1669), Oxford dictionary of national biography, Oxford University Press, 2004:

David Hayton, Eveline Cruickshanks, Stuart Handley, The history of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 1027-30, article on Edward Nicholas MP.