Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Nicholas, Robert
NICHOLAS, ROBERT (1595–1667), judge, was son of John Nicholas of Devizes and Roundway in the parish of Bishop's Cannings, Wiltshire, and was baptised at St. James's, Southbroom, in that parish, on 21 Sept. 1595. On 23 Oct. 1640 he was elected to the Long parliament for Devizes, being described as ‘of Devizes’ (Official Returns, i. 495). In the same year he was commissioner in Wiltshire for raising money for the defence of the realm and payment of debts undertaken by parliament (Statutes of the Realm, v. 89, 156), and held the farm of All Cannings in the same county (Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser. 1640, p. 253). According to Noble (Regicides, ii. 98, 101) he was declared a rebel by Charles I in 1642, along with Humphrey Mackworth [see under Mackworth, Sir Humphrey]. In 1643 he was appointed one of the managers of Laud's impeachment, prosecuting the second and third parts of the evidence against him (ib. 1641–3, p. 518); according to Wood, ‘he had in his pleadings some sense, but was extream virulent, and had foul language at command.’ In November 1646 he was member of the sub-committee of accounts for Wiltshire, and on 30 Oct. 1648 was created by the commons serjeant-at-law; in the same year he was nominated one of the king's judges, but does not appear to have attended the trial. On 2 May 1649 he was appointed one of the counsel for the Commonwealth against Lilburne, Prynne, and others, and on 1 June became a judge of the upper bench. In 1650 he was commended for the charges he delivered while on circuit. In 1655 Nicholas was made a baron of the exchequer, and on 29 May in the same year was appointed commissioner of oyer and terminer. While on circuit at Salisbury he and others were captured by Colonel Penruddock [q. v.] and his band of royalists, some of whom wished to put them to death. Other counsels prevailed, and they were soon set at liberty.
In 1657 Nicholas is referred to as chief justice (ib. 1657, p. 156); but this is a mistake, and, according to Noble, Cromwell ‘laid him aside.’ On 27 Nov. 1658, however, he again appears as a judge, was sent on circuit in 1659, and was restored to the upper bench on 17 Jan. 1659–60. At the Restoration it was proposed to except Nicholas from the Act of Indemnity (Hist. MSS. Comm. App. to 7th Rep. pp. 123 b, 137 b, 171 b); but this suggestion was not acted on; a warrant for his pardon was issued, and he frequently appears during 1660 as a member of the commission in Wiltshire for raising money (Statutes of the Realm, v. 221, 274, 282). On 3 Dec. 1664 he was accused of boasting that he had drawn up the charge against Charles I, and would do so again if needful; these words were said to have been spoken in May 1664 ‘behind St. Clement's in the Strand,’ and a warrant against him was applied for. The issue is not known. Nicholas resided in later life at Seend, Wiltshire, where he made his will 6 May 1667. He was buried on 28 Dec. 1667 in accordance with the provision of his will in the church of St. James's, Southbroom, where he had been baptised. He left a son Oliver, who was afterwards knighted, and a daughter Catherine, who married Sir Thomas Brodrick of Wandsworth, Surrey, great-great-grandfather of Alan Brodrick, viscount Midleton [q. v.]
Nicholas is identified by a writer in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ (1785, i. 163) with the person who is said in the ‘Spectator,’ No. 313, to have escaped a flogging from Busby when at Westminster school by the intervention of a schoolfellow, and subsequently to have saved the life of his benefactor, who was implicated in Penruddock's rebellion; but the identification is very doubtful (cf. Welch, Queen's Scholars, p. 568; Hoare, Wiltshire, vi. 425).[Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser. passim; Statutes of the Realm; Whitelocke's Memorials, passim; Noble's Regicides, ii. 98–101; Wood's Athenæ, ed. Bliss, iii. 129–30; Foss's Lives of the Judges; Woolrych's Series of Lord Chancellors, etc., pp. 46, 48, 50, 51; Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. App. pp. 123 b, 137 b, 171 b; Hoare's Wiltshire, passim; Parl. Hist. iv. 1068; State Trials, iv. 525, 1052; Welch's Queen's Scholars, p. 568; Exchequer Books.]