In the south chapel of St. Mary’s Church, West Horsley, is a magnificent memorial, possibly by the great Grinling Gibbons, commemorating Sir Edward Nicholas of West Horsley Manor, Secretary of State to both Charles I and Charles II, and Privy Councillor.  Edward’s biographer, Donald Nicholas writes that the tremendous events of Edward’s day overwhelm his life story, and the pivotal part  he played in the history of the country has been forgotten. The Latin inscription – of around 300 words - on the memorial leaves no doubt as to his lifetime achievements.

Edward Nicholas was born on 4th April, 1593, at Winterbourne Earls, Wiltshire, son of John Nicholas, a successful lawyer with close connections to the bishopric of Salisbury Cathedral. Edward’s maternal grandfather had fled the rule of Queen Mary Tudor, and was exiled in Frankfurt, with John Jewell the famous Bishop of Salisbury. Edward was educated at Salisbury Grammar, Winchester College and in the private households of the Hyde family, and his uncle Richard Hunton.  In 1611 Edward left Oxford and entered the Middle Temple, where his father had chambers. 

At the end of 1618, Edward entered the employ of Edward la Zouche, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, with whom he enjoyed an excellent relationship.  His Parliamentary career began in the 1620s, representing Winchelsea, and pursuing Cinque Port and admiralty business with a genuine interest in the navy.  This is the time when his formidable notetaking skills began, using a personal system of shorthand: the diary and notes in the Nicholas Parliamentary Papers are considered more complete than the official Commons journal of the day.

On the 24th September, 1622, Edward married Jane Jaye, daughter of a London draper and alderman. The couple had known each other since childhood, as, after the death of her parents, Jane lived with her married sister, Elizabeth, who was married to William Hunton, Edward’s cousin. Nevertheless, Edward had to negotiate hard to win Jane’s hand.

When George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham succeeded Zouche as Lord Warden, he retained Edward’s services, recognising and appreciating his administrative and financial skills. Edward’s contemporaries described him as ‘honest to a fault.’ He was greatly saddened by the assassination of the Duke of Buckingham, but managed to retain a position in the government, continuing his responsibility for admiralty affairs and becoming M.P. for Dover in 1628.  In March 1629 Charles I decided to rule without Parliament and amongst the Nicholas Papers was a copy of Charles’s Dissolution speech, with some poetry in Edward’s handwriting attached:

                        ‘The wisest king did wonder when he spide (sic)

                        The noblest march on foot, their vassals ride

                        His majestie may wonder now to see

                        Some that would needs be king as well as he.’

The passion for writing notes and memoranda offers interesting insight into Edward’s private life. He relates his amazement on discovering, while on the Zouche’s country estate, the body of a gamekeeper accidentally shot and killed by George Abbott, Archbishop of Canterbury. Food was a passion, but he was a martyr to gastric problems, stones and gout.  His personal fortunes increased by business ventures, money lending and land speculation, but part of the income gained was faithfully donated to the church. Edward remained loyal and assiduous in his duties throughout the crisis years of the 1630s and was responsible for keeping the king informed of the doings of Parliament while Charles was in Scotland in 1641. Edward was knighted on 26th November 1641 and appointed Secretary of State and Privy Councillor.

It was at this time that Edward and Queen Henrietta Maria started their long feud, which would eventually end his career. Edward was concerned about her interference in state affairs, and probably advised the king, bearing in mind the national mood, to send away her entourage of Capuchin friars.

At the end of July 1641, Charles lost control of government and the Privy Council was suspended. Edward, Jane and family retired to their house in Thorpe, Surrey. But when the queen left for the continent and the Civil War escalated, Edward’s name appeared on the Parliamentary list of those excluded from indemnity and pardon. He took his family to live in the Royalist capital of Oxford. Edward’s position as Secretary of State placed him at the centre of communication and events; as other Royalist officers fled the country, he was at one point the sole remaining secretary at work. Financially he suffered, losing income and properties and receiving no remuneration.  But he remained faithful and was one of Charles’ most wise and loyal advisors.  Eventually he too left England to continue working for the Royalist cause on the continent. Charles sent him a letter of commendation and friendship just before his execution:  Edward described the killing of the king as ‘transcendently abominable.’

News from England came – sometimes in invisible lemon-juice ink - from Edward’s secretary, Nicholas Oudart. In exile, he was party to various plots and conspiracies to regain England, but suffered from his continuing feud with the queen, as she attempted to gain support from Catholic countries and insisted that Edward should receive instructions from her. She did everything to try and turn Charles II against him and Edward became increasingly bitter. Even his long friendship with Sir Edward Hyde was strained by the circumstances of the exile. Eventually he was reduced to poverty and in 1651 his properties in England were confiscated and sold and he was named a traitor.

Finally, against the queen’s wishes, Charles appointed Edward as his Secretary of State at Aix-la-Chapelle in July 1654.  By this time the king was as poor as the other Royalist exiles, as he wandered from one European Royal Court to another vainly seeking support.  Yet another battle with Henrietta Maria ensued as Edward and Hyde tried to prevent the conversion of the thirteen year old Duke of Gloucester to Catholicism. On a happier note, Edward developed an excellent relationship with Elizabeth of Bohemia, who invited one of his daughters to her Court.

In November 1655, Edward was one of the exiles expelled from France under an Anglo-French Treaty.  Gradually, after more fluctuations in fortune his prospects began to improve, and on the 8th September 1658 he was able to tell the king that Cromwell was dead.  The succession of Richard Cromwell produced instability and rumours of risings in England, but differences between the Royalist factions there achieved nothing. Eventually the call came for the Restoration and on 23rd May 1660 King Charles II, and a party including Hyde, Edward and his son John boarded the Royal Charles for England.

As Secretary of State, Edward set about retrieving records for the 1650s governments and preparing the trials of the regicides.  He also worked to secure offices and favours for his family and Royalist friends. But sadly, according to Samuel Pepys, Henrietta Maria was determined to finally get rid of Edward, and she had the support of the powerful Barbara Palmer, Countess of Castlemaine, Charles’ mistress. The king was acutely aware of Edward’s record of loyalty and awarded Edward £10.000. He also offered him a peerage, which Edward refused.

Edward began to look for a house in the country where he could write the history of his times and enjoy his library and collection of paintings. In July 1664 he purchased the Manor of West Horsley from Carew Raleigh. Edward died on the 1st September 1669.

In his diary, Pepys writes about his old acquaintance, Mr. Gregory, ‘an understanding man.’ Gregory had served as secretary to Sir Edward Nicholas and described him as ‘one of the most perfect, heavenly and charitable men in the whole world.’



The Nicholas Papers, Volume 1V, papers

History of Parliament

Donald Nicholas,   Mr. Secretary Nicholas, London: The Bodley Head, 1955


1. Sir Edward Nicholas, after Thomas Simon, 18th century © National Portrait Gallery

2. Sir Edward Nicholas, William Dobson, circa 1645 © National Portrait Gallery

3. George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, Peter Paul Rubens, 1625

4. Henrietta Maria with Sir Jeffrey Hudson, Anthony Van Dyck, 1633 © National Gallery of Art, Washington

5. King Charles II, John Micchael Wright