SANDERS, NICHOLAS (c. 1530-1581), Roman Catholic agent and historian, born about 1530 at Charlwood, Surrey, was a son of William Sanders, once sheriff of Surrey, who was descended from the Sanders of Sanderstead. Educated at Winchester and New College, Oxford, he was elected fellow in 1548 and graduated B.C.L. in 1551. The family had strong Catholic leanings, and two of Nicholas's sisters, who must have been much older than he was, became nuns of Sion convent before its dissolution. Nicholas was selected to deliver the oration at the reception of Cardinal Pole's visitors by the university in 1557, and soon after Elizabeth's accession he went to Rome where he was befriended by Pole's confidant, Cardinal Morone; he also owed much to the generosity of Sir Francis Englefield (<?..). He was ordained priest at Rome, and was, even before the end of 1550, mentioned as a likely candidate for the cardinal's hat. For the next few years he was employed by Cardinal Hosius, the learned Polish prelate, in his efforts to check the spread of heresy in Poland, Lithuania and Prussia. .In 1565, like many other English exiles, he made his headquarters at Louvain, and after a visit to the Imperial Diet at Augsburg in 1566, in attendance upon Commendone, who had been largely instrumental in the reconciliation of England with Rome in Mary's reign, he threw himself into the literary controversy between Bishop Jewel (q.v.) and Harding. His De visibili Monarchia Ecclesiae, published in 1571, contains the first narrative of the sufferings of the English Roman Catholics. Its extreme papalism and its strenuous defence of Pius V.'s bull excommunicating and deposing Elizabeth marked out Sanders for the enmity of the English government, and he retaliated with lifelong efforts to procure the deposition of Elizabeth and restoration of Roman Catholicism.
His expectations of the cardinalate were disappointed by Pius V.'s death in 1572, and Sanders spent the next few years at Madrid trying to embroil Philip II., who gave him a pension of 300 ducats, in open war with Elizabeth. " The state of Christendom," he wrote, " dependeth upon the stout assailing of England." His ardent zeal was sorely tried by Philip's cautious temperament ; and Sir Thomas Stukeley's projected Irish expedition, which Sanders was to have accompanied with the blessings and assistance of the pope, was diverted to Morocco where Stukeley was killed at the battle of Al Kasr al Kebir in 1578. Sanders, however, found his opportunity in the following year, when a force of Spaniards and Italians was despatched to Smerwick to assist James Fitzmaurice and his Geraldines in stirring up an Irish rebellion. The Spaniards were, however, annihilated by Lord Grey in 1580, and after nearly two years of wandering in Irish woods and bogs Sanders died of cold and starvation in the spring of 1581. The English exiles were disgusted at the waste of such material: " Our Sanders," they exclaimed, " is more to us than the whole of Ireland." His writings have been the basis of all Roman Catholic histories of the English Reformation. The most important was his De Origine ac Progressu schismatis Anglicani, which was continued after 1558 by Edward Rishton, and printed at Cologne in 1585; it has been often re-edited and translated, the best English edition being that by David Lewis (London, 1877). Its statements earned Sanders the nickname of Dr Slanders in England ; but a considerable number of the " slanders " have been confirmed by corroborative evidence, and others, e.g. his story that Ann Boleyn was Henry VIII.'s own daughter, were simply borrowed by Sanders from earlier writers. Itiiis not a more untrustworthy account than a vehement controversialist engaged in a life and death struggle might be expected to write of his theological antagonists.
See Lewis's Introduction (1877); Calendars of Irish, Foreign and Spanish State Papers, and of the Carew MSS. ; Knox's Letters of Cardinal Allen; T. F. Kirby's Winchester Scholars; R. Bagwell's Ireland under the Tudors; A. O. Meyer's England und die katholische Kirche unter Konigin Elisabeth (1910); and T. G. Law in Diet. Nat. Biogr. i. 259-261 where a complete list of Sanders's writings is given.
(A. F. P.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)