Origins and education
Nathaniel was the son of Robert Rich of Felsted, Essex, the younger son of Richard Rich, illegitimate son of Richard Rich, 1st Baron Rich. His father having died before 1636, when Nathaniel was still in his minority, his uncle, the Merchant Adventurer Sir Nathaniel Rich (who died in that year) left him the manor of Stondon Massey in Essex. Rich was educated at Felsted School (1632-1637) under the care of the godly minister Samuel Wharton, and at St Catharine's College, Cambridge (where he matriculated in 1637), and was admitted to Gray's Inn in 1639.
Civil War career
At the start of the Civil War, like many other young gentlemen from the Inns of Court, he entered the lifeguards of the Earl of Essex. In the summer of 1643 he received a commission as Captain, raised a troop of horse in the County of Essex, and joined the Earl of Manchester's army. In December 1644 he held the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, and was one of the witnesses on whom Cromwell relied to prove his charges against Manchester. When the New Model Army was formed, Rich, in spite of some opposition from the House of Commons, became Colonel of a regiment of horse. He fought at Naseby, and distinguished himself in an attack on the royalist quarters in March 1646 when he led a party of horse and dragoons that routed a royalist outpost at St Columb Major, Cornwall. He was also one of Thomas Fairfax's commissioners at the surrender of Oxford.
In the quarrel between the army and the parliament Rich at first discouraged petitioning; afterwards, however, he made himself the mouthpiece of the grievances of his regiment, and strongly opposed disbanding. He took part in drawing up the 'Heads of the Proposals of the Army,' and in the negotiations with the parliamentary commissioners. In January 1648 Rich's regiment was quartered in London at the Mews to guard the parliament, and on 1 June it formed part of the army with which Fairfax defeated the Kentish royalists at Maidstone. Rich was then detached to relieve Dover, and recover the castles on the coast which had fallen into the hands of the royalists. He retook Walmer Castle about 12 July, Deal on 25 Aug, and Sandown a few days later.
During the political discussions of the army in 1647 and 1648 Rich was a frequent speaker. He was in favour of the widest toleration, but had scruples about manhood suffrage, and feared extreme democracy. He had doubts about the execution of the King, but appears to have held it necessary that he should be put to trial, and approved of the establishment of the republic. His own religious views inclined towards those of the Fifth-monarchy men. In February 1649 Rich was admitted to parliament as member for Cirencester, having been elected two years previously, but hitherto excluded in consequence of a double return. In December 1650 he was charged with the suppression of a royalist rising in Norfolk.
Edmund Ludlow includes Rich among the honest republican enthusiasts of the army who were deluded by Cromwell to assist him in overthrowing the Long Parliament. In 1655 he became an open opponent of the Protector's government, and was deprived of the command of his regiment, which was given to Colonel Charles Howard. Rich was summoned before the Protector's council in February 1655, charged with opposing the levy of taxes and stirring up disaffection, and then committed to the custody of the serjeant-at-arms. From August to October 1656 he was again in confinement. The reasons for his opposition to the Protector's government and his refusal to give the security demanded are set forth by Rich in a letter to Lieutenant-General Fleetwood.
On the restoration of the Long Parliament in 1659, it offered Rich the post of English resident in Holland, which he refused, and gave him back the command of his regiment. When John Lambert expelled the Long Parliament in October 1659, Rich, who succeeded in retaining his command, seconded the endeavours of Ludlow for the parliament's restoration. In December his regiment was sent by the army leaders to besiege the parliament's commissioners in Portsmouth, but at their colonel's instigation they went over in a body to the parliamentary side, joined the forces in Portsmouth, and marched with them to London. He received the thanks of parliament on 29 December 1659.
In February 1660, perceiving that General George Monck's policy would lead to the restoration of the monarchy, Rich attempted to induce his regiment to declare against it, but Monck cashiered Rich, and appointed Sir Richard Ingoldsby Colonel in his place. Rich was arrested by order of the Council of State. He was liberated in a few days, and as he had not been one of those who had sat in judgement upon the King, he was not excluded from the Act of Indemnity. Nevertheless, his principles made him suspected by the government of Charles II, and on 10 January 1661, during the excitement caused by Venner's plot, he was again arrested.
On 18 August 1662 Rich was transferred to the charge of the governor of Portsmouth. His confinement was not very strict, and in 1663, being now a widower with three children, he married Lady Elizabeth Kerr, daughter of Robert Kerr, 1st Earl of Ancram. In a letter to her brother William, Earl of Lothian, she described Rich as a prisoner 'for no crime, but only because he is thought a man of parts' and 'so resolved upon his duty to His Majesty, that I am assured if it were in his power it would never be in his heart ever to act against him directly or indirectly'. Thanks to the influence of his new connections and the intervention of Lord Falmouth, Rich obtained his release in 1665.
His will was proved in March 1702.
By his first wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Edmund Hampden, knight, and cousin of John Hampden of Hampden the parliamentarian, he had two sons, Nathaniel and Robert, and one daughter. Robert succeeded in 1677 to the estate and baronetcy of his distant relative and father-in-law, Sir Charles Rich. The daughter married John Lorkin.
By his second wife Lady Elizabeth Kerr, who was his partner for 35 years and overlived him, Rich had no issue. At his death he still occupied the manor of Stondon Massey in Essex and granted it to his widow for life before it should descend to his heirs.
In 1648 Nathaniel Rich purchased Eltham Palace and the lands attached to it. By this time the parks had been broken up and the deer destroyed. A few years later in 1656 John Evelyn wrote in his Diary: "Went to see his Majesty's house at Eltham; both the palace and chapel in miserable ruins, the noble wood and park destroyed by Rich the rebel." After the Restoration, the manor of Eltham was leased by Charles II to Sir John Shaw.
- J. Foster, The Register of Admissions to Gray's Inn, 1521-1887 (Hansard, London 1889), fol. 961 at p. 223.
- J.R. Browne, 'Sir Nathaniel Riche', Notes and Queries Series 5 Vol. 10, p. 31 (John Francis, London 1878); W.D. Pine, 'Sir Nathaniel Rich - Col. Nathaniel Rich', Notes and Queries 8th series Vol. I, p. 66-67. (1892).
- 'Stondon Massey: Manor', in W.R. Powell (ed.), A History of the County of Essex Vol. 4 (Ongar Hundred) (V.C.H., London, 1956), pp. 242-45, (British History Online accessed 29 May 2016). See also E.H.L. Reeve, A History of Stondon Massey in Essex (Wiles & Son, Colchester 1900).
- For Wharton see T. Webster, Godly Clergy in Early Stuart England. The Caroline Puritan Movement, c.1620–1643 (Cambridge University Press 1997), pp. 33-34 and passim. Will of Sir Nathaniel Riche of Dalham, Suffolk (P.C.C. 1636), see H.F. Waters, Genealogical Gleanings in England, Vol. II (New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston 1901), pp 871-74.
- J. & J.A. Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses Part 1 Vol 3 (Cambridge University Press 1924), p. 449.
- C.H. Firth (ed.), The Memoirs of Edmund Ludlow, 1625-1672, 2 Vols (Clarendon Press, Oxford 1894), I, p. 39.
- Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts Report no. 7 (HMSO 1879), Part I, pp. 558 no. 679; 565 no. 793; 578, 24 August 1643.
- W.D. Hamilton (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles I, 1644-5, Charles I, Vol. 503, November to December 1644 (London, 1890), p. 155.
- '28 February 1645', Journal of the House of Commons, Vol. 4, 1644-1646 (London, 1802), pp. 64-65. (British History Online accessed 28 May 2016).
- J. Sprigg, Anglia Rediviva: England's Recovery (original London 1647), New edition (Oxford University Press, 1854), pp. 43, 217, 264.
- C.H. Firth (ed.), The Clarke Papers. Selections from the Papers of William Clarke Vol. I, Camden Society, New Series XLIX (1891), pp. xx.
- Clarke Papers Vol. I, pp. 62, 74, 109.
- Clarke Papers Vol. I, pp. xli, 148.
- John Rushworth, Historical Collections of Private Passages of State Vol. 7, 1647-48 (London, 1721), p. 966 (15 January). (British History Online, accessed 28 May 2016)
- Private Passages of State Vol. 7, p. 1137. (British History Online, accessed 28 May 2016)
- Private Passages of State Vol. 7, p. 1228. (British History Online, accessed 28 May 2016). Report on the Manuscripts of the Duke of Portland Vol. 1, Historical Manuscripts Commission 13th report, Appendix, Part I (HMSO 1891), pp. 456, 481. H. Cary, Memorials of the Great Civil War in England Vol. 2 (Henry Colburn, London 1842), pp. 3-5.
- Clarke Papers Vol. I, pp. 315, 320; Vol. II, pp. 105, 152, 166, 169.
- Journal of the House of Commons Vol. 6, 1648-1651 (London, 1802) p. 144. (British History Online accessed 28 May 2016)
- Z. Grey, An Impartial Examination of the Fourth Volume of Mr Daniel Neal's History of the Puritans (A. Bettesworth and C. Hitch, London 1739), Appendix (2nd pagination), pp. 105-07.
- Memoirs of Edmund Ludlow, 1625-1672, I, p. 345.
- Memoirs of Edmund Ludlow, 1625-1672, I, p. 380. Clarke Papers Vol. II, p. 245.
- Memoirs of Edmund Ludlow Vol II, p. 10.
- 'Draught of a letter to General Fleetwood' (11 May 1657), T. Birch, A Collection of the State Papers of John Thurloe, Vol. 6, January 1657 - March 1658, p. 251. (British History Online accessed 28 May 2016)
- M.A. Everett Green (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Interregnum, 1658-9, Vol 203: June 1659 (HMSO, London 1885), pp. 377, 387, 388.
- Memoirs of Edmund Ludlow 1625-1672 Vol. II, pp. 148, 163, 174, 183.
- Journal of the House of Commons Vol. 7, 1651-1660 (London 1802), p. 799. (British History Online accessed 28 May 2016)
- Journal of the House of Commons Vol. 7, 1651-1660 (London 1802), p. 866 (British History Online accessed 28 May 2016). Memoirs of Edmund Ludlow Vol II, p. 238. E. Phillips (ed.), A Chronicle of the Kings of England... by Sir Richard Baker, Knight, with continuations, 5th Revised Impression (Printed for George Sawbridge at the Bible on Ludgate-Hill, and Thomas Williams at the Bible in Little-Britain, Aldersgate, London 1670), p. 712.
- M.A. Everett Green (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles II, 1660-1 (HMSO, London 1860), p. 520; Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles II, 1661-2 (HMSO, London 1861), pp. 61, 82.
- Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles II, 1661-2, p. 483.
- The Old Dictionary of National Biography article calls her Lady Anne Kerr, but the correspondence cited shows that Nathaniel's wife was Lady Elizabeth Kerr.
- Correspondence of Sir Robert Kerr, First Earl of Ancram, and his son William, Third Earl of Lothian, 2 Vols (Private, Edinburgh 1875), II (1649-1667), pp. 453-55, 457-59, 464-65.
- Correspondence of Sir Robert Kerr, II, pp. 471-71, 477-78, 479-80.
- Will of Nathaniell Rich of Stondon Massey, Essex (P.C.C. 1701 (Old Style)).
- W.H. Rylands, The Visitation of the County of Buckingham made in 1634 (etc.), Harleian Society Vol. LVIII (1909), pp. 68-71, at pp. 70-71.
- E. Walford, 'Eltham, Lee and Lewisham', Old and New London Vol. 6 (1878), pp. 236–248. (British History Online, accessed 28 May 2016)