Nugent, Thomas (1668?–1752), 4th earl of Westmeath , soldier, and catholic activist, was second son of Christopher Nugent, of Delvin, Co. Westmeath and his wife Mary, daughter of Richard Butler of Kilcash. She was a niece of James Butler (qv), 1st duke of Ormond. The Nugents, a Norman clan, were granted extensive lands around Delvin in the twelfth century and acquired the title of Baron Delvin. The family was further ennobled in 1621 when the 15th baron was created earl of Westmeath (qv). Thomas Nugent is variously stated to have been aged 96 or about 83 when he died in 1752, implying a date of birth of c.1656 or c.1668. The latter appears the more likely, given that his parents are stated to have married in 1665, that he had an elder brother, and that he was stated to be under age (i.e. under 21) when he sat in King James's (qv) parliament in 1689. But a date of c.1668 also means that he was hardly 16 when he married in 1684.
Having commanded, with the rank of colonel, a regiment of foot in James's army, Nugent found himself in 1691 with the remnants of the Irish army under siege at Limerick. In the ensuing treaty negotiations he was one of the hostages handed over to the Williamites as an earnest of the good faith of the Jacobite side. Choosing not to follow his king into exile, he was restored to his estates under the articles of Limerick and, though a catholic, continued to enjoy them for the rest of his life. A committee of the Irish house of lords reported in 1697 that he had reversed his outlawry. He succeeded as earl of Westmeath on the death of his elder brother, a Capuchin friar, in 1714.
After many years of apparent inactivity as an absentee in London and elsewhere, Nugent burst on the public scene in Dublin in July 1727 when he was the prime mover in organising an address of loyalty from catholics to the new king, George II. Though fiercely opposed by a Jacobite faction headed by Sylvester Lloyd (qv), it was signed by some of the nobility and chief catholics around Dublin, variously estimated at thirty and sixty persons. Nugent then proceeded to London, where he presented the address to the lord lieutenant, who in turn handed it to the king. The latter received it very graciously and directed that Nugent be assured that his majesty desired nothing more than to make all his subjects easy and happy under his government. Nugent remained in London with the intention, it is claimed, of submitting a petition to the king in the name of Irish catholics for leave to purchase lands and to take long leases. A petition on similar lines was (according to Lloyd) introduced in the Irish house of commons in the 1727–8 session but was hissed with indignation out of the house. However, Nugent, undeterred, continued to lobby Cardinal de Fleury, the chief minister of France, with a view to his using his good offices to have the petition accepted by the British government.
An international congress began at Soissons, north-east France, in June 1728; the expectation that religious toleration would be on its agenda brought the question of an oath for catholics to the fore again in Britain and Ireland. Nugent departed for Soissons about July 1728 with the intention of advocating such an oath in return for some relief from the penal laws. However, his efforts and the opposing efforts of Lloyd both proved abortive when it became clear that the congress would not be considering toleration.
In the early 1730s, according to the chief secretary, Walter Carey (qv), Nugent called several times, with Lord Carlingford, on the lord lieutenant for the purpose of lobbying against a number of anti-catholic bills, in particular the catholic solicitors bill that became law in 1734. However, Carey reported, the two peers never opened their lips against a bill for closing loopholes in the act for disarming catholics. It became law in 1739. The acquiescence was due to the selfish expectation that they personally would be looked after through the licensing provisions in the bill. Nugent died on 30 June 1752 (O.S.).
He married (1684) Margaret, daughter of John, Baron Bellew of Duleek (qv); they had two sons, Christopher and John (both of whom, unmarried, predeceased their father), and two daughters, Mary (who married Lord Athenry) and Catherine (who married Andrew Nugent of Dysart, near Delvin, Co. Westmeath).