Sir Christopher Nugent, 6th (or 14th) Baron Delvin (1544–1602) was an Irish nobleman and writer. He was arrested on suspicion of treason against Queen Elizabeth I of England, and died while in confinement before his trial had taken place.
Family and early years
He was the eldest son of Richard, 5th (or13th) Baron Delvin, and Elizabeth, daughter of Jenico Preston, 3rd Viscount Gormanston, and widow of Thomas Nangle, styled Baron of Navan. Richard Nugent, fourth or twelfth Baron Delvin, was his great-grandfather. He succeeded to the title on the death of his father, on 10 December 1559, and during his minority was the ward of Thomas Ratcliffe, third earl of Sussex, for whom he conceived a great friendship.
He was matriculated a fellow-commoner of Clare Hall, Cambridge, on 12 May 1563, and was presented to the queen when she visited the university in 1564; on coming of age, about November 1565, he repaired to Ireland, with letters of commendation from the queen to the lord deputy, Sir Henry Sidney, granting him the lease in reversion of the abbey of All Saints and the custody of Sleaught-William in the Annaly, co. Longford, as a reward for his good behaviour in England. As an undertaker in the plantation of Leix and Offaly, he had previously obtained, on 3 February 1563–64, a grant of the castle and lands of Corbetstown, alias Ballycorbet, in Offaly (King's County). In the autumn of the following year he distinguished himself against Shane O'Neill, and was knighted at Drogheda by Sir Henry Sidney. On 30 June 1567 he obtained a lease of the abbey of Inchmore in the Annaly and the abbey of Fore in co. Westmeath, to which was added on 7 October the lease of other lands in the same county.
Suspicions of disloyalty and treason
In July 1574 his refusal, with Lord Gormanston, to sign the proclamation of rebellion against the Earl of Desmond laid his loyalty open to suspicion. He grounded his refusal on the fact that he was not a privy councillor, and had not been made acquainted with the reasons of the proclamation. But the English Privy Council, thinking that his objections savoured more of 'a wilful partiality to an offender against her majesty than a willing readiness to her service', sent peremptory orders for his submission. Fresh letters of explanation were proffered by him and Gormanston in February 1575, but, being deemed insufficient, the two noblemen were in May placed under restraint. They thereupon confessed their 'fault,' and Delvin shortly afterwards appears to have recovered the good opinion of government: for on 15 December Sir Henry Sidney wrote that he expected a speedy reformation of the country, 'a great deal the rather through the good hope I conceive of the service of my lord of Delvin, whom I find active and of good discretion'; and in April 1576 Delvin entertained Sidney while on progress. Before the end of the year, however, there sprang up a controversy between government and the gentry of the Pale in regard to cess, in which Delvin played a principal part.
It had long been the custom of the Irish government, to support the army, to take up provisions, &c., at a fixed price. This custom had become irksome to the inhabitants of the Pale. In 1576, at the instigation chiefly of Delvin, they denounced the custom as unconstitutional, and appointed three of their number to lay their grievances before the queen. The deputation met with scant courtesy in England. Elizabeth I was indignant at having her prerogative called in question, and, after roundly abusing the deputies for their impertinence, clapped them in the Fleet. In Ireland a similar course was pursued by Sir Henry Sidney, and in May 1577 Delvin, Baltinglas, and others were confined in the castle. There was, however, no intention on Elizabeth's part to push matters to extremities, and, after some weeks' detention, the deputies and their principals were released on expressing contrition for their conduct. But with Delvin, 'for that he has showed himself to be the chiefest instrument in terrifying and dispersuading the rest of the associates from yielding their submission', she was particularly angry, and left it entirely to Sidney's discretion whether he should remain in prison for some time longer. Finally an arrangement was arrived at between the government and the gentry of the Pale, and to this result Delvin's 'obstinacy' no doubt contributed. His conduct does not seem to have damaged him seriously; for in the autumn of 1579 he was entrusted with the command of the forces of the Pale, and was reported to have done good service in defending the northern marches against the inroads of Turlough Luineach O'Neill. His 'obstinate affection to popery,' however, told greatly in his disfavour, and it was as much for this general reason as for any proof of his treason they possessed that the Irish government, in December 1580, committed him, along with his father-in-law, Gerald Fitzgerald, eleventh earl of Kildare, to the castle on suspicion of being implicated in the rebellious projects of Viscount Baltinglas. The higher officials, including Lord-deputy Grey, were firmly convinced of his treason; but with all their efforts they were unable to establish their charge against him. Accordingly, after an imprisonment of eighteen months in Dublin Castle, he and Kildare were sent to England in the custody of Marshal Bagenal. At home the Nugent family's traditional enemies, notably the Dillons, moved against his relatives. His uncle Nicholas Nugent, the Chief Justice of the Irish Common Pleas, was suspended from office, and, in an unprecedented move, tried for treason and hanged. Delvin's younger brother William Nugent was driven into open rebellion, but eventually obtained a pardon.
On 22 June 1582, Delvin was examined by Sir Walter Mildmay and Gerard, Master of the Rolls. No fresh evidence of his treason was adduced, and Wallop heard with alarm that it was intended to set him at liberty. But, though not permitted to return immediately to Ireland, he was apparently allowed a considerable amount of personal liberty, and in April 1585 he was again in Ireland, sitting as a peer in the parliament that was then held. During the course of the year he was again in England; but after the death, on 16 November 1585, of the Earl of Kildare he was allowed to repair to Ireland, 'in company of the young Earl of Kildare, partly for execution of the will of the earl, his father-in-law, partly to look into the estates of his own lands, from whence he hath been so long absent'. He carried letters of commendation to the lord-deputy, Sir John Perrot; and the queen, 'the better to express her favour towards him,' granted him a renewal of the leases he held from the crown. He was under obligations to return to England as soon as he had transacted his business. But during his absence many suits to his lands had arisen, and, owing to the hostility of Sir Robert Dillon, Chief Justice of the Irish Common Pleas, and Chief Baron Sir Lucas Dillon, his hereditary enemies, he found it difficult to put the law in motion. However, he seems to have returned to England in 1587, and, having succeeded in securing Burghley's favour, he was allowed in October 1588 to return to Ireland. Lord-deputy Sir William Fitzwilliam was not without his doubts as to the wisdom of this step. He hoped, he wrote to Burghley, that Delvin would "throughly performe that honorable and good opynion it hath pleased yr Lp. to conceave of him, wch no doubt he may very sufficiently do, and wth all do her matie great service in action, both cyvill and martiall, if to the witt wherewth God hath indued him and the loue and liking wherewth the countrey doth affect him, he applie him self wth his best endevor." All the same he included him in his list of 'doubtful men in Ireland.' One cause that told greatly in his disfavour was his extreme animosity against Chief Justice Dillon, whom, rightly or wrongly, he regarded as having done to death his kinsman Nicholas Nugent. To Burghley, who warned him that he was regarded with suspicion, he protested his loyalty and readiness to quit all that was dear to him in Ireland, and live in poverty in England, rather than that the queen should conceive the least thought of undutifulness in him. He led, he declared, an orderly life, avoiding discontented society, every term following the law in Dublin for the recovery of his lands, and serving the queen at the assizes in his own neighbourhood. The rest of his time he spent in books and building.
All this was probably quite true; but the extreme violence with which he prosecuted Chief-justice Dillon certainly afforded ground to his enemies to describe him as a discontented and seditious person, especially when, after the acquittal of Dillon, he charged the lord-deputy with having acted with undue partiality. However, in 1593 he was appointed leader of the forces of Westmeath at the general hosting on the hill of Tara, and during the disturbed period (1593–7) that preceded the rebellion of Hugh O'Neill, earl of Tyrone, he displayed great activity in his defence of the Pale, he was warmly commended for his zeal by Sir John Norris. He obtained permission to visit England in 1597, and in consequence of his recent chargeable and valourous services, he was, on 7 May, ordered a grant of so much of the O'Farrells' and O'Reillys' lands as amounted to an annual rent to the crown of 100/. ; but, by reason of the disturbed state of the country, the warrant was never executed during his lifetime. On 20 May he was appointed a commissioner to inquire into abuses in the government of Ireland. On 17 March 1598 a commission (renewed on 3 July and 30 October) was issued to him and Edward Nugent of the Dísert to deliver the gaol of Mullingar by martial law, for 'that the gaol is now very much pestered with a great number of prisoners, the most part whereof are poor men ... and that there can be no sessions held whereby the prisoners might receive their trial by ordinary course of law'. On 7 August 1599 he was granted the wardship of his grandson, Christopher Chevers, with a condition that he should cause his ward 'to be maintained and educated in the English religion, and in English apparel, in the college of the Holy Trinity, Dublin'; in November he was commissioned by the Earl of Ormonde to hold a parley with the Earl of Tyrone.
On the outbreak of Tyrone's rebellion his attitude at first was one of loyalty, but the extreme severity with which his country was treated by Tyrone on his march into Munster, early in 1600, induced him to submit to him; and, though he does not appear to have rendered him any active service, he was shortly afterwards arrested on suspicion of treason by Lord-deputy Mountjoy, and confined in Dublin Castle. He died in confinement before his trial, apparently on 17 August 1602, though by another account on 5 September or 1 October and was buried at Castle Delvin on 5 October.
Marriage and issue
Delvin married Lady Mary FitzGerald, daughter of Gerald FitzGerald, 11th Earl of Kildare, and Mabel Browne who died 1 October 1610. By her he had issue: Richard Nugent, 1st Earl of Westmeath (1583–1642), Christopher of Corbetstown, Gerald, Thomas, Gilbert, and William; also Mabel, who married, first, Murrough McDermot O'Brien, 3rd Baron Inchiquin: secondly, John Fitzpatrick, second son of Florence Fitzpatrick, Baron Upper Ossory; Elizabeth, who married Gerald FitzGerald, 14th Earl of Kildare; Mary, first wife of Anthony O'Dempsey, heir-apparent to Terence, first Viscount Clanmalier; Eleanor, wife of Christopher Chevers of Macetown, co. Meath; Margaret, who married a Fitzgerald; Juliana, second wife of Sir Gerald Aylmer of Donade, co. Kildare.
Delvin was the author of:
1. A Primer of the Irish Language, compiled at the request and for the use of Queen Elizabeth. It is described by John Thomas Gilbert as a 'small and elegantly written volume,' consisting of 'an address to the queen in English, an introductory statement in Latin, followed by the Irish alphabet, the vowels, consonants, and diphthongs, with words and phrases in Irish, Latin, and English.'
2. A Plot for the Reformation of Ireland, which, though short, is not without interest, as expressing the views of what may be described as the moderate or constitutional party in Ireland as distinct from officialdom on the one hand, and the mere Irishry on the other. He complains that the viceroy's authority is too absolute; that the institution of presidents of provinces is unnecessary; that justice is not administered impartially; that the people are plundered by a beggarly soldiery, who find it to their interest to create dissensions; that the prince's word is pledged recklessly and broken shamelessly, and, above all, that there is no means of education such as is furnished by a university provided for the gentry, "in myne opynion one of the cheifest causes of mischeif in the realme."
This incorporates the article by Robert Dunlop in the old DNB, who used the following sources:
- Lodge's Peerage, ed. Mervyn Archdall, i. 233-7;
- Charles Henry Cooper, Athenae Cantabr.. ii. 331-3, and authorities there quoted;
- Calendar of State Papers, Ireland, Eliz.;
- Cal. Carew MSS.;
- Morrin's Cal. Patent Rolls, Eliz.;
- Cal. Fiants, Eliz.;
- Annals of the Four Masters, ed. O'Donovan;
- Annals of Loch Cé, ed. Hennessy;
- Fynes Moryson, Itinerary;
- Stafford's Pacata Hibernia;
- Gilbert's Facsimiles of National MSS. of Ireland, iv. 1;
- Richard Bagwell, Ireland under the Tudors.
- Hickey, Elizabeth (1978). The Green Cockatrice.
- Nugent, Brian (2008). Shakespeare was Irish!. ISBN 978-0-9556812-1-9.
- David Mathew, The Celtic peoples and renaissance Europe (London, 1933).
- Helen Coburn-Walsh The rebellion of William Nugent in R. V. Comerford (ed.) Religion, Conflict and co-existence in Ireland (Dublin, 1990).
- Dunlop 1895.
- "Nugent, Christopher (NGNT563C)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
- Cal. Carew MSS. i. 490
- ib. ii. 31.
- ib. ii. 106.
- Morrin, Cal. Patent Rolls, ii. 114.
- ib. ii. 106.
- State Papers, Ireland, Eliz. cxxxvii. 38.
- Cal. State Papers, Ireland, Eliz. iv. 420.
- Cal. Fiants. Eliz. 6215, 6245, 6255.
- ib. 6328
- cf. manuscripts in Cambridge University Library, Kk. 1. 15, ff. 425, 427.
- Annals of the Four Masters, vi. 2147.
- Account of Facsimiles of National MSS. of Ireland, p.187.
- Preserved in 'State Papers,' Ireland, Eliz. cviii. 38, and printed by Mr. J. T. Gilbert in Account of National MSS. of Ireland, pp. 189–95.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Dunlop, Robert (1895). "Nugent, Christopher (1544–1602)". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography 41. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 256–259.