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He was educated at Salisbury grammar school, Winchester College and Queens College, Oxford. After studying law at the Middle Temple, Nicholas became secretary to Lord Zouch, warden and admiral of the Cinque Ports, in 1618, and continued in a similar employment under the Duke of Buckingham. In 1625 he became secretary to the admiralty; shortly afterwards he was appointed an extra clerk of the privy council with duties relating to admiralty business, and from 1635 to 1641 he was one of the clerks in ordinary to the council. In this situation Nicholas had much business to transact in connection with the levy of ship-money; and in 1641, when Charles I went to Scotland, a heavy responsibility rested on the secretary who remained in London to keep the king informed of the proceedings of the parliament. On the return of Charles to the capital Nicholas was knighted, and appointed a privy councillor and a Secretary of State, in which capacity he attended the king while the court was at Oxford, and carried out the business of the Treaty of Uxbridge .
Throughout this troubled period he was one of Charles's wisest and most loyal advisers; he it was who arranged the details of the king's surrender to the Scots, though he does not appear to have advised or even to have approved of the step; and to him also fell the duty of treating for the capitulation of Oxford, which included permission for Nicholas himself to retire abroad with his family. He went to France, being recommended by the king to the confidence of the Prince of Wales.
After the king's death Nicholas remained on the continent concerting measures on behalf of the exiled Charles II with Hyde and other royalists, but the hostility of Queen Henrietta Maria deprived him of any real influence in the counsels of the young sovereign. He lived at The Hague and elsewhere in a state of poverty which hampered his power to serve Charles, but which the latter did nothing to relieve.
He returned to England at the Restoration; but although Charles had formally appointed him secretary of state in 1654, this office was now conferred on another, and Nicholas had to content himself with a grant of money and the offer of a peerage, which his poverty compelled him to decline. He retired to a country seat in Surrey which he purchased from a son of Sir Walter Raleigh, and here he lived till his death in 1669.
By his wife Jane, a daughter of Henry Jay, an alderman of London, he had several sons and daughters; his younger brother Matthew Nicholas (1594-1661) was successively dean of Bristol, canon of Westminster and dean of St Pauls.
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