Nugent, Christopher (Criostóir Nuinseann) (1544–1602), 14th Baron Delvin , was the eldest son of Richard, 13th Baron Delvin, and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Jenico, Viscount Gormanston. The Nugents, whose estates lay on the frontier of the Pale in Co. Westmeath, with their Gaelic tenantry, private army, and bilingualism, straddled Gaelic and colonial society culturally as well as geographically, and were often referred to by the government as a ‘sept’.
When Christopher succeeded his father on 10 December 1559 the opportunity to enhance government influence in the area was taken and he was appointed ward to the lord deputy, Thomas Radcliffe (qv), 3rd earl of Sussex. Delvin matriculated (12 May 1563) as a fellow-commoner of Clare Hall, Cambridge, and was presented to the queen when she visited the university in 1564. At her request Delvin, who spoke Irish fluently, wrote A primer of the Irish language (c.1564), containing the alphabet and words and phrases in Irish, Latin, and English. While in England, he was granted lands as an undertaker in the plantation of Leix and Offaly, and on 3 February 1564 received the castle and lands of Ballycorbet in King's Co. (Offaly) from the crown. In November 1565 he returned to his family estates, bearing with him grants of the lease of the abbey of All Saints and the custody of Sleaught-William in the Annaly, Co. Longford, together with a letter of commendation from the queen to the lord deputy, Sir Henry Sidney (qv).
Despite this careful grooming, Lord Deputy Fitzwilliam (qv) found cause to complain in 1572 that Delvin had led 1,000 men against the O'Farrells in a private quarrel, and that the Nugents had waylaid a government convoy. When the earl of Kildare (qv) was brought to England under arrest in 1575, Delvin, who was both his nephew and his son-in-law, was placed under restraint as a precaution. Shortly afterwards, when protest developed in the Pale against both the increasing exactions (‘cess’) for the support of the army and the lord deputy's household, and the proposals of Sir Henry Sidney to convert these exceptional levies into an annual fixed charge, Delvin joined his uncle, Lord Gormanston, and other Palesmen in promoting a campaign of tax strikes, petitions, and pamphlets denouncing the abuses of the cess and characterising the proposed composition as innovative and unconstitutional. In February 1577 three lawyers were dispatched to London to appeal to the queen, where they were arrested for their impertinence in questioning the prerogative power. Delvin and other Palesmen were summoned to Dublin castle and imprisoned, pending acknowledgement of their fault and agreement to Sidney's demands. Eventually the Palesmen conceded the viceroy's right to impose cess and were released on terms that facilitated a compromise, which seriously undermined the lord deputy's composition policy and contributed to his recall.
In the frenzied atmosphere created by the outbreak of rebellion in 1580, both Delvin's connections with Kildare and the actions of members of his own family placed him at risk; when suspicions mounted of the earl's complicity in the Baltinglass rebellion, Delvin was linked to him. In December 1580, apparently losing patience with officially inspired rumours, Delvin confronted the privy council and challenged its members to prove his guilt: by the end of the month both Delvin and Kildare had been accused of treason and committed to Dublin castle. Extensive interrogations in both Dublin and London, where they were committed to the Tower in June 1582 after an examination by Lord Chancellor Mildmay, yielded nothing of substance. In the meantime, Delvin's brother William (qv) had rebelled and fled to Europe, and his uncle Nicholas (qv), chief justice of the court of common pleas, had been executed for treason. Though the politic Kildare thought Delvin too ‘infected with papistrie’ to be entirely trustworthy (Carey, Surviving the Tudors, 209), there is no firm evidence that he was complicit in any of the various plots.
He and Kildare were released in June 1583, but they were not permitted to return home; and it seems to have been in 1584 that Delvin wrote a tract entitled ‘A plot for the reformation of Ireland’ in which he complained of the lack of discipline of government soldiers and, less predictably, of the absence of a university for the gentry. Like Kildare, he was ‘excused’ from attending the Irish parliament in 1585, but after Kildare's death in December he was set at liberty and came back to Ireland, where he continued to be mistrusted. The lord deputy, Fitzwilliam, expressed doubts as to his loyalty, and Archbishop Adam Loftus (qv) and Bishop Thomas Jones (qv) believed that he was secretly harbouring the catholic bishop of Kilmore. Delvin protested his loyalty, claiming that apart from litigation over disputed lands and serving the queen at the local assizes, his time was entirely devoted to books and building. In the 1590s he departed from this regimen to join his brothers in an unsuccessful attempt to secure the prosecution for treason of Sir Robert Dillon (qv), who had been instrumental in the conviction of Nicholas Nugent and had succeeded him in his office.
When the earl of Tyrone (qv) was proclaimed in June 1595, Delvin was appointed leader of government forces in Westmeath and commended by Sir John Norris (qv) for his actions in defence of the Pale. His position on the Pale border made him vulnerable, and in 1596 he complained that his forces were too weak to resist the rebels. In November 1599 he wrote to the lords justices that he was in the ‘greatest extremity’, unable even to defend his own house from O'Rourke's forces. The Irish council was sympathetic and he was commissioned by Ormond (qv) to parley with Tyrone. Warned of the danger that such a meeting might be used against him, Delvin delegated the responsibility to his lieutenant Thomas Leicester, and it seems that an informal truce was agreed, which may have involved an act of submission. Despite his caution, Delvin's success in preserving his position throughout the conflict gave rise to suspicion and he was arrested by Lord Deputy Mountjoy (qv) on 3 June 1602.
He was already ill and died in Dublin Castle shortly before his trial, either on 17 August or 1 October 1602. He was buried at Castle Delvin. He and his wife Marie, daughter of Gerald, 11th earl of Kildare, who survived until 1 October 1610, had six sons and five daughters. His heir Richard (qv) was created earl of Westmeath in 1621.