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Nugent, Nicholas (DNB00)


NUGENT, NICHOLAS (d. 1582), chief justice of the common bench in Ireland, was the fifth son of Sir Christopher Nugent, and uncle of Christopher Nugent, fourteenth Baron Delvin [q. v.] He was educated for the legal profession, and his name first occurs in a commission for determining the title to certain lands in Ireland on 19 Nov. 1564 (Cal. Fiants, Eliz. p. 684). He obtained a grant during pleasure of the office of principal or chief solicitor to the crown, vice Luke Dillon, on 5 Dec. 1566 (ib. 962), and on 30 June 1567 he was placed on a commission for inquiring into the causes of certain constantly recurring differences between Thomas Butler, tenth earl of Ormonde [q. v.] and Gerald Fitzgerald, fifteenth earl of Desmond [q. v.] He was appointed a commissioner for the government of Connaught on 24 July 1569; for shiring the Annaly on 4 Feb. 1570; and for rating certain lands in Westmeath into plow-lands on 3 March in the same year (ib. 1092, 1417, 1486, 1493). On 18 Oct. 1570 he was created second baron of the exchequer (ib. 1595); but he offended the government by taking part in the agitation against cess in 1577–8, was for some time imprisoned in Dublin Castle, and was deprived of his office by the lord-deputy, Sir Henry Sidney (Cal. Carew MSS. ii. 103, 133, 355). On Sidney's retirement he was successfully recommended by the lord chancellor, Sir William Gerard [q. v.], for the office of chief justice of the common pleas, as ‘sober, learned, and of good ability’ (Cal. State Papers, Ireland, Eliz. ii. 172). The appointment, highly gratifying to the gentry of the Pale, was not relished by the higher officials in Dublin. Wallop, who, it was said, never believed an Irishman was telling the truth unless charging another with treason, asserted that the appointment was a job for which Gerard had received 100l. (ib. ii. 279). The fact that he was a Roman catholic, and uncle of William Nugent [q. v.] and his scarcely less obnoxious brother Christopher, fourteenth lord Delvin, was sufficient to condemn him in the general opinion. He was arrested on the information of John Cusack of Alliston-read, co. Meath, a double-faced traitor, who had played a conspicuous part in William Nugent's rebellion; and on 28 Jan. 1582 he and Edward Cusack, son and heir of Sir Thomas Cusack [q. v.], were committed to the castle (ib. ii. 346). They were tried before a special commission at Trim on 4 April. The only witness against Nugent was the aforementioned John Cusack, who had already obtained a pardon for his share in the rebellion, by whom he was charged with being privy to William Nugent's rebellion, and with planning the assassination of Sir Robert and Sir Lucas Dillon. Nugent objected that the evidence of one witness—his personal enemy—was insufficient. But his objection being overruled, he denied the truth of Cusack's accusation, ‘shewing ye weeknes and unliklihood of euerie p'te by probable collections and circūstances wth great lerninge, couradge, and temperancie to his owne great comendation and satisfaction of most of his audience’ (Narrative of an Eye-witness, Sloane MS. 4793, f. 130). The lord deputy, Arthur Grey, fourteenth Lord Grey de Wilton [q. v.], who ‘sate vpon the benche to see justice more equallie mynistered’ (State Papers, Ireland, Eliz. xci. 22), addressed the jury, and ‘praid God, like an vpright judge and a noble gentleman, to pute in ye juries harts to do as they ought, p'testing yt he had rather Mr N. weare found trew than otherwise’ (Narrative, Sloane MS. 4793, f. 130). Thereupon the jury retired, and it soon appearing that they were in favour of an acquittal, Sir Robert and Sir Lucas Dillon compelled them by menaces to alter their verdict. Judgment followed, and two days later, on Easter eve, 6 April, Nugent was hanged, ‘to wch death he went resolutly and patiently, protesteinge yt sith he was not found trew, as he said he ought to have ben, he had no longinge to liue in infamie’ (ib. f. 132). His death, and the manner of his trial, caused a profound sensation, and there is little reason to doubt that the popular opinion attributing his death to the private malice of Sir Robert Dillon was well founded. After his death his widow Ellen, daughter of Sir John Plunket, chief justice of the king's bench, succeeded notwithstanding the remonstrances of Wallop, in obtaining a reversal of his attainder; and on 27 Aug. 1584 the queen granted his estate to her for life, with remainder to her son Richard.

Richard Nugent (fl. 1604), son of the above, is said by Lodge (Peerage, ed. Archdall, i. 231) to have succeeded his mother on 9 Nov. 1615. He received a good education, and was apparently the author of ‘Ric: Nugent's Cynthia, containing Direfull Sonnets, Madrigalls, and passionate intercourses, describing his repudiate affections, expressed in Loues own Language,’ London, 1604, wrongly ascribed (Hunter, MS. Chorus Vatum, vi. 120) to Richard Nugent, fifteenth baron Delvin and first earl of Westmeath [q. v.] The grounds for attributing it to Nugent are: (1) the sonnets bear traces of having been written long before they were published, and, as the Earl of Westmeath was only twenty-one when they were published, it is not likely they were written by him; (2) the dedication is to ‘the Rt. Hon. the Lady of Trymleston,’ whom we can hardly be wrong in conjecturing to be Catherine Nugent, wife of Peter Barnewall, sixth lord Trimleston, who was old enough to be the mother of the Earl of Westmeath; (3) one of the ‘passionate intercourses’ is addressed in familiar language to ‘Cosin Maister Richard Nugent of Donower,’ who died in 1616, about sixty years of age, and was therefore, as the verses require, Nugent's contemporary. It is uncertain when he died. He married Anne Bath, daughter of Christopher Bath of Rathfeigh, co. Meath, and left issue Christopher.

[Lodge's Peerage, ed. Archdall, i. 231; Cal. State Papers, Ireland, Eliz.; Cal. Carew MSS.; Kilkenny Archæol. Soc. Proceedings, 1855, p. 341; Cal. Fiants, Eliz.; Sloane MS. 4793, ff. 127–40; Addit. MS. 24492.]

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