Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury


Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury (June 1,1563 -May 24, 1612), son of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley and half-brother of Thomas Cecil, 1st Earl of Exeter, statesman, spymaster and minister to Elizabeth I of England and James I of England. Robert Cecil is the one who tore down most of the old palace of Hatfield House and built the new one.

Robert Cecil was vilified by some of his contemporaries and, as is still common today, some of his less attractive physical features were exaggerated to make an ideological point. His appearance in 1588 is described in Motley's History of the Netherlands this way: "A slight, crooked, hump-backed young gentleman, dwarfish in stature, but with a face not irregular in feature, and thoughtful and subtle in expression, with reddish hair, a thin tawny beard, and large, pathetic, greenish-coloured eyes, with a mind and manners already trained to courts and cabinets, and with a disposition almost ingenuous, as compared to the massive dissimulation with which it was to be contrasted, and with what was, in aftertimes, to constitute a portion of his own character..."

Queen Elizabeth is said to have referred to him as "my elf" or "my pigmy", the latter term not to his liking.

Cecil was made Secretary of State following the death of Sir Francis Walsingham in 1590, and he became the leading minister after the death of his father in 1598, serving both Elizabeth and James as Secretary of State. James raised him to the peerage on August 20,1603 as Baron Cecil of Essendon, before advancing him to Viscount Cranborne in 1604 and then Earl of Salisbury in 1605.

Cecile was extensively involved in matters of state security. The son of William Cecil, Lord Burghley (one of Elizabeth's spymasters) and a protege of Sir Francis Walsingham (Elizabeth's principal spymaster), he was trained by them in matters of spycraft as a matter of course.

In 1603 his brother-in-law Henry Brooke, Lord Cobham, was implicated in both the Bye Plot and also the Main Plot, which were an attempt to remove James from the throne and replace him with Lady Arabella Stuart.

Cecil and the Gunpowder Plot

In 1605 Cecil was extensively involved in events surrounding the Gunpowder Plot, as naturally would be the case with someone in his position. There are some who argue that Cecil was in point of fact the eminence gris behind the plot itself. On the one hand, if James I lived through it, it would perhaps be a mechanism to move James I's position from one of relative tolerance of the catholics to one of repression. On the other hand, if James I was assassinated, then his heir, Elizabeth of Bohemia would be made sovereign, someone more closely associated with the 'Rosicrucianist' networks spreading through Europe, and likely a more pliable sovereign for the English parliamentary state's interests. A number of these arguments are interesting but ultimately inconclusive. Certainly it would not be the only occasion when the agenda of the British secret service was somewhat less desirable than would appear to be for the greater public good.

One of the arguments used to attempt to inculpate Cecil in the plot are the death-bed allegations of Robert Catesby's servant stating that Cecil and Catesby, one of the principal Gunpowder Plotters, met on three separate occasions in the period leading up to the events of the night of November 5 1605. This allegation may of course be entirely unfounded given that the witness may well have been attempting to smear Cecil.

More interesting however, are the circumstances of the death of another person arrested in connection with the Plot, Francis Tresham, who some argue may well have been an agent working for Cecil. His death was officially listed as one of natural causes, although some have argued that he was poisoned in order to prevent him from making revelations which would not have been in either Cecil or Lord Monteagle's interests.

Preceded by:
In Commission
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
Succeeded by:
In Commission
Preceded by:
The Lord Burghley
Lord Privy Seal
Succeeded by:
The Earl of Northampton
Preceded by:
The Earl of Dorset
Lord High Treasurer
Succeeded by:
In Commission
(First Lord: The Earl of Northampton)

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Preceded by:
New Creation
Earl of Salisbury Succeeded by:
William Cecil

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