Nugent, Sir Richard (1583–1642), 1st earl of Westmeath , politician, was eldest son of Christopher Nugent (qv), Lord Delvin, and Marie, daughter of Gerald Fitzgerald (qv), 11th earl of Kildare. His father, accused of treasonable correspondence with Hugh O'Neill (qv), 2nd earl of Tyrone, died in prison in August 1602 while awaiting trial. Richard succeeded to the Delvin title, and was knighted by Charles Blount (qv), Lord Mountjoy, on 29 September 1603 in Christ Church cathedral, at a ceremony that also saw Ruaidhrí O'Donnell (qv) raised to the earldom of Tyrconnell. He married Jane, daughter of Christopher Plunkett, Lord Killeen; they had seven children – Christopher, Bridget, Mary, Francis, John, Laurence, and Ignatius. The loss of a land dispute with the O'Ferralls of Longford embittered Delvin towards the Dublin administration, and he became involved in a plot with the northern earls. Imprisoned in Dublin castle in 1607, he escaped after two weeks and fled to Cloughoughter, Co. Cavan, remaining a fugitive for four months. Government officials considered him ‘a dangerous young man . . . for he is composed of the malice of the Nugents and the pride of the Geraldines’ (CSPI. 1606–8, 356). He eventually surrendered and received a full pardon from James I in November 1608.
He was closely associated with Richard Burke (qv), 4th earl of Clanricarde and Luke Plunkett, 1st earl of Fingal. These prominent landowners, linked by blood and marriage to most of the Pale gentry, exercised an enormous influence on Irish political affairs in the early decades of the seventeenth century. A hostile source at this time described Delvin as ‘a vehement papist and of popular carriage among the Irish’ (quoted in Clarke, 36). In the 1613 parliament he helped organise catholic opposition to the lord deputy, Arthur Chichester (qv), and was summoned to London early the following year to answer for his conduct. Exonerated by James, Delvin was subsequently created earl of Westmeath (September 1621). Over the next three years he opposed the duke of Buckingham's plantation policies in Ireland, presenting an unsuccessful petition to the king in the summer of 1624. After the accession of Charles I (1625), Westmeath played a crucial role in negotiating an agreement between the king and his Irish catholic subjects. In 1626 he joined Sir John Bathe (qv) in England and obtained a promise of concessions from Charles in return for financial assistance. It took a further two years before details could be agreed, and in late 1627, with the negotiations at a critical stage, Westmeath accompanied Buckingham's expedition to the Isle de Rhé in a conspicuous display of loyalty. A number of the concessions – the ‘graces’ – that eventually emerged from the talks in England were subsequently withheld by the Dublin administration.
In 1632 Westmeath emerged as a pivotal figure in the attempt by Irish catholics to forge an alliance with the new lord deputy, Thomas Wentworth (qv). In November 1632 he travelled to England with an offer of a subsidy and the cooperation in parliament of the lords and gentry of the Pale. He returned to Ireland convinced that Wentworth had agreed in return to implement all the graces. His miscalculation was cruelly exposed during the 1634 parliament, and the earl, bitterly disappointed with developments, went on a pilgrimage to Loreto in an effort to revive his failing health. He played no significant role in political affairs thereafter, and refused to make common cause with his co-religionists in the rebellion of October 1641. Almost blind, and suffering from palsy, he was advised in his final months by the catholic bishop of Meath, Thomas Dease (qv), a bitter opponent of the rebels. Westmeath did try, however, with Ulick Burke (qv), 5th earl of Clanricarde, to mediate in the conflict, but local hostility forced him to leave his home in Clonyn. Attacked by rebels near Athboy as he made his way towards Dublin in May 1642, Westmeath died shortly afterwards. He was succeeded by his grandson and namesake, Richard (qv), as his eldest son Christopher had died in 1625.