Marchmont Nedham, also Marchamont or Needham (1620 – November 1678) was a writer, publisher, and political commentator of the middle seventeenth century. A "highly productive propagandist," he was significant in the evolution of early English journalism, and has been strikingly (if hyperbolically) called the "press agent" of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell.
Nedham was born in Burford in Oxfordshire, and was educated at All Souls College of Oxford University. After college he became an usher at the Merchant Taylors' School, and then a clerk at Gray's Inn. He also studied medicine and pharmacology. His first major entry into journalism was the weekly Mercurius Britannicus, which he published every Monday from August 1643 through the end of 1646. His attacks on prominent Royalists earned him imprisonment for seditious libel during the English Civil War; reportedly Nedham obtained an audience with King Charles I, and gained a royal pardon. He thereafter printed a Royalist periodical, the Mercurius Pragmaticus, starting in September 1647 and continuing for two years. It was "one of the wittier and less ephemeral" of the "Cavalier weeklies."
The triumph of the Parliamentarians in the Civil War led to Nedham's incarceration in Newgate Prison in June 1649; he gained his release in November, by switching sides again. The result was his most significant enterprise, the weekly periodical Mercurius Politicus, which he used as a platform for the Commonwealth regime. (Nedham received a government payment of £50 in May 1650, probably to start this venture.) This third Nedham weekly began in June 1650, on a light note: "Why should not the Commonwealth have a Fool as well as the King had?" — but soon settled into a more serious vein as a voice of the republican movement of the day. He rested the case for the Commonwealth on arguments similar to those of Hobbes: that "the Sword is, and ever hath been, the Foundation of all Titles to Government", and that it was hardly likely that the Commonwealth's adversaries would ever succeed in their designs. Politicus continued for the next decade, the term of the Commonwealth era, under alternative titles like the Public Intelligence or Public Intelligencer. In 1655 Cromwell rewarded Nedham with an official post, so that Nedham was then perceived as a spokesman for the regime.
Nedham was associated with a set of influential republican writers of his generation, a circle that included Algernon Sidney, Henry Nevile, Thomas Chaloner, Henry Marten — and John Milton. Milton, as a secretary to the Council of State in the early 1650s, would have overseen Nedham's publishing activity; later, the two men reportedly became personal friends.
Nedham was notable as an advocate of the commercial interests of emerging capitalism in preference to the pillars of the older order. In 1652, he wrote that commercial interest "is the true zenith of every state and person...though clothed never so much with the specious disguise of religion, justice and necessity." Consistent with this outlook, Nedham translated John Selden's Mare Clausum (1636) as Of the Dominion or Ownership of the Sea (1652).
With the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Nedham fled to the Netherlands, but was able to return to England after obtaining a pardon (allegedly purchased with a bribe). He devoted his later years to the practice of medicine, and also wrote on medical subjects.
Nedham's later reputation was colored by the apparent cynicism and opportunism of his wavering allegiances, and by hostility toward his republicanism from subsequent generations of English critics. Yet even some hostile critics have conceded his literary talent and his influence. Sympathetic modern commentator Paul Rahe has called Nedham "the world's first great journalist."