Cecil, Robert

, earl of Salisbury, son to the preceding, was born, probably, about the year 1550, and being of a weakly constitution, was tenderly brought up by his mother, and educated under a careful and excellent tutor till he was sent to St. John’s college, Cambridge. Here he had conferred upon him the degree of M. A. and was afterwards incorporated in the same degree at Oxford. In the parliaments of 1585 and 1586 he served for the city of Westminster; as he did afterwards, in 1588, 1592, 1597, and 1600, for the county of Hertford. In 1588 he was one of the young nobility who went volunteers on board the English fleet sent against the Spanish armada. He was a courtier from his cradle, having the advantage of the instructions and experience of his illustrious father, and living in those times when queen Elizabeth had most need of the ablest persons, was employed by her in affairs of the highest importance, and received the honour of knighthood in the beginning of June 1591, and in August following was sworn of the privy-council. In 1596 he was appointed secretary of state, to the great disgust of the earl of Essex, who was then absent in the expedition against Cadiz, and had been zealous for the promotion of sir Thomas Bodley. Whilst he was in that post he shewed an indefatigable address in procuring foreign intelligence from all parts of the world, holding, at his own charge, a correspondence with all ambassadors and neighbouring states. By this means he discovered queen Elizabeth’s | enemies abroad, and private conspiracies at home* and was on this account as highly valued by die queen as he was hated by the popish party, who vented their malice against him in several libels, both printed and manuscript, and threatened to murder him; to some of which he returned an answer, both in Latin and English, declaring that he despised all their threats for the service of so good a cause as he was engaged in, that of religion and his country.

In 1597 he was constituted cbancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. In February 1597-8 he went to France with Mr. Herbert and sir Thomas Wylkes, to endeavour to divert Henry IV. from the treaty at Vervins; and in May 1599, succeeded his father in the office of master of the court of wards, for which he resigned a better place, that of chancellor of the duchy, being so restrained in the court of wards, by new orders, that he was, as he expressed it, a ward himself. He succeeded his father likewise in the post of principal minister of state, and from that time public affairs seem to have been entirely under his direction. During the last years of his queen, he supported her declining age with such vigour and prudence as at once enabled her to assist her allies the States General, when they were ingloriously abandoned by France, and to defeat a dangerous rebellion in Ireland, which was cherished by powerful assistance from Spain. But though he was a faithful servant to his mistress, yet he kept a secret correspondence with her successor king James, in which he was once in great danger of being discovered by the queen. As her majesty was taking the air upon Blackheath, near her palace at Greenwich, a post riding by, she inquired from whence it came; and being told from Scotland, she stopped her coach to receive the packet. Sir Robert Cecil, who attended her, knowing there were in it some letters from his correspondents, with great presence of mind, called immediately for a knife toopen it, that a delay might not create suspicion. When he came to cut it open, he told the queen that it looked and smelt very ill, and therefore was proper to be opened and aired before she saw what it contained; to which her majesty consented, having an extreme aversion to bad smells. Upon her decease he was the first who publicly read her will, and proclaimed king James; and his former services to that prince, or the interest of sir George Hume, | afterwards earl of Dunbar, so effectually recommended him to his majesty, that he took him into the highest degree of favour, and continued him in his office of principal minister; and though in that reign public affairs were not carried on with the same spirit as in the last, the fault cannot justly be charged on this minister, but on the king, whose timid temper induced him to have peace with all the world, and especially with Spain at any rate. But though sir Robert Cecil was far from approving, in his heart, the measures taken for obtaining that inglorious peace, yet he so far ingratiated himself with his sovereign that he was raised to greater honours; being on May 13, 1603, created baron of Essenden, in Rutlandshire; on the 20th of August, 1604, viscount Cranborne, in Dorsetshire (the first of that degree who bore a coronet), and on May 4, 1605, earl of Salisbury.

He shewed himself upon all occasions a zealous servant to his prince, without neglecting at the same time, the real advantage of his country, and never heartily espousing the Spanish interest, though it was the only one countenanced by king James; and some of the courtiers, by encouraging it, acquired great riches. The court of Spain was so sensible of his disinclination to them, that they endeavoured to alienate the king’s favour from him by means of the queen; and it was moved there in council, to send complaints to England of his malignant humour, or envy to the Spanish nation; upon which, if he did not alter his conduct, then a shorter course should be taken with him, by destroying him. Afterwards they entertained great hopes of him, and resolved to omit no means to gain him over to their side. But when all the popish designs were defeated by the discovery of the gunpowder plot, which has since been represented by some of that party as a political contrivance of his, his activity in the detection of it, and zeal for the punishment of those concerned in it, enraged them to such a degree, that several of the papists formed a combination against him. This, however, taking no effect, they again attempted to ruin him in the king’s favour, by reporting that he had a pension of forty thousand crowns from the States of the United Provinces, for being their special favourer and patron. They branded him likewise with the appellation of a puritan, a name peculiarly odious to king James. At last they conspired to murder him by a musquet-shot out of the Savoy, or some | house near, as he was going by water to court. But these nefarious designs proved abortive, though it appears they had not desisted from them in 1609. Upon the death of sir Thomas Sackville, earl of Dorset, lord-high-treasurer, in April 1605, he succeeded him in that post and his advancement to it was universally applauded, a great reformation being expected from him in the exchequer, which he accordingly effected. Finding it almost totally exhausted, he devised several means for replenishing it with money, particularly by causing the royal manors to be surveyed, which before were but imperfectly known: by reviving the custody of crown lands by commissions of assets; by taking care to have the king’s woods and timber viewed, numbered, marked, and valued; by having an exact survey made of the copyholds held of the crown, which he ordered to be printed; by compounding with the copyholders of the inheritance, and the possessors of wastes and commons, originally appertaining to the king; by appointing commissioners to gather in the fines arising from penal laws, and such as accrued from the king’s manors; by improving the customs from 86,000/, to 120,000l. and afterwards to 135,000l. per ann. and by surrendering up his patent of master of the wards to the king, for his benefit and advantage.

His indefatigable application to business having ruined his constitution, he died at Marlborough in his return from Bath, May 24, 1612, and was buried at Hatfield. He was undoubtedly a very able minister, but not very popular while living, nor characterised with much praise since his death. Dr. Birch, however, appears his ablest advocate, in his “Historical View of the Negociations,” &c. and his researches being carried farther than perhaps those of any modern writer, what he advances seems more entitled to credit.

It will be but justice, says Dr. Birch, to the character of so eminent a person as the earl of Salisbury, to consider him as he now appears to us from fuller and more impartial lights than the ignorance or envy of his own time would admit of; and which may be opposed to the general invectives and unsupported libels of Weldon and Wilson, the scandalous chroniclers of the last age. He was evidently a man of quicker parts, and a more spirited writer and speaker than his father, to whose experience he was at the same time obliged for his education and introduction | into public business, in the management of which he was accounted, and perhaps justly, more subtle, and less open. And this opinion of his biass to artifice and dissimulation was greatly owing to the singular address which he shewed in penetrating into the secrets and reserved powers of the foreign ministers with whom he treated; and in evading, with uncommon dexterity, such points as they pressed, when it was not convenient to give them too explicit an answer. His correspondence with king James, during the life of queen Elizabeth, was so closely and artfully managed, that he escaped a discovery, which would have ruined his interest with his royal mistress, though he afterwards justified that correspondence from a regard to her service. “For what,” says he, “could more quiet the expectation of a successor, so many ways invited to jealousy, than when he saw her ministry, that were most inward with her, wholly bent to accommodate the present actions of state for his future safety, when God should see his time!” He was properly a sole minister, though not under the denomination of a favourite, his master having a much greater awe of than love for him; and he drew all business, both foreign and domestic, into his own hands, and suffered no ministers to be employed abroad but who were his dependents, and with whom he kept a most constant and exact correspondence: but the men whom he preferred to such employments, justified his choice, and did credit to the use he made of his power. He appears to have been invariably attached to the true interest of his country, being above corruption from, or dependence upon, any foreign courts; which renders it not at all surprising, that he should be abused by them all in their turns; as his attention to all the motions of the popish faction made him equally odious to them. He fully understood the English constitution, and the just limits of the prerogative; and prevented the fatal consequences which might have arisen from the frequent disputes between king James I. and his parliaments. In short, he was as good a minister as that prince would suffer him to be, and as was consistent with his own security in a factious and corrupt court; and he was even negligent of his personal safety, whenever the interest of the public was at stake. His post of lord treasurer, at a time when the exchequer was exhausted by the king’s boundless profusion, was attended with infinite trouble to him, in concerting schemes | for raising the supplies; and the manner in which he was obliged to raise them, with the great fortune which he accumulated to himself, in a measure beyond perhaps the visible profits of his places, exposed him to much detraction and popular clamour, which followed hi ui to his grave; though experience shewed 1 that the nation sustained an important loss by his death since he was the only minister of state of real abilities during the whole course of that reign. He has been thought too severe and vindictive in the treatment of his rivals and enemies: but the part which he acted towards the earl of Essex, seems entirely the result of his duty to his mistress and the nation. It must, however, be confessed, that his behaviour towards the great but unfortunate sir Walter Raleigh is an imputation upon him, which still remains to be cleared up; and it probably may be done from the ample memorials of his administration in the Hatfield library.

A more elaborate apology for the earl of Salisbury was written soon after his decease, and addressed to king James, by sir Walter Cope. This may be seen in Gutch’s “Collectanea Curiosa,” vol. I. from which, as well as from the account of his death in Peck’s “Desiderata,” the ambitious may derive a salutary lesson. His “Secret Correspondence” with king James, was published by lord Hailes in 1766, and the conclusion which his lordship thinks the reader will draw is, that Salisbury was no less solicitous to maintain his own power than to settle the succession to his aged benefactress queen Elizabeth. Various letters, speeches, memorials, &c. from his pen are mentioned in our authorities. Lord Salisbury married Elizabeth, sister tp the unhappy Henry Brooke, lord Cobham, by whom, who died in 1591, he had a daughter Frances, married to Henry Clifford, earl of Cumberland, and an only son, William, second earl of Salisbury. His descendant, James, the seventh earl of Salisbury, was advanced to the title of marquis in 1789. 1


Biog. Brit.—Park’s Royal and Noble Authors.—Secret Correspondence, by sir D. Dalrymple, 1766, 12mo.—Birch’s Negociations.—History of Q. Elizabeth, and Life of Prince Henry.—Harrington’s Nugæ Antiquæ.