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The Right Honourable
The Earl of Salisbury
Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury by John De Critz the Elder (2).jpg
The Earl of Salisbury by John de Critz the Elder ca. 1602
Lord High Treasurer
In role
4 May 1608 – 24 May 1612
Monarch James I
Preceded by The Earl of Dorset
Succeeded by Commission of the Treasury
The Earl of Northampton, First Lord
Lord Privy Seal
In role
Monarch Elizabeth I
James I
Preceded by The Lord Burghley
Succeeded by The Earl of Northampton
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
In role
8 October 1597 – 1599
Monarch Elizabeth I
Preceded by In commission
Succeeded by In commission
Secretary of State
In role
5 July 1590 – 24 May 1612
Monarch Elizabeth I
James I
Preceded by William Davison
Succeeded by John Herbert
Personal details
Born Robert Cecil
(1563-06-01)1 June 1563
City of London, England
Died 24 May 1612(1612-05-24) (aged 48)
Marlborough, Wiltshire
Spouse(s) Lady Elizabeth Brooke
Relations The Lord Burghley (Father)
Residence Hatfield House
Alma mater St John's College, Cambridge

Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, KG PC (1 June 1563? – 24 May 1612) was an English administrator and politician.

Early life

He was the son of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley and Mildred Cooke. His half-brother was Thomas Cecil, 1st Earl of Exeter and philosopher Francis Bacon was his first cousin.

Cecil attended St John's College, Cambridge in the 1580s, but did not take a degree.[1][2] He also attended "disputations" at the Sorbonne.[3] In 1584 he sat for the first time in the House of Commons, representing his birthplace, the borough of Westminster. In 1589 Cecil married Elizabeth Brooke, the daughter of William Brooke, 10th Baron Cobham, and his second wife, Frances Newton. Their son, William Cecil was born in Westminster on 28 March 1591 and baptised in St Clement Danes on 11 April. Elizabeth died when their son was six years old.[4]

Secretary of State

Following the death of Sir Francis Walsingham in 1590, Burghley acted as Secretary of State, while Cecil took on an increasingly heavy work-load. He became the leading minister after the death of his father in 1598, serving both Queen Elizabeth and King James as Secretary of State.

He fell into dispute with Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, and only prevailed upon the latter's poor campaign against the Irish rebels during the Nine Years War in 1599. He was then in a position to orchestrate the smooth succession of King James, maintaining a secret correspondence.

The Rainbow Portrait of Elizabeth I at Hatfield House has been seen as reflecting Cecil's role as spymaster after the death of Sir Francis Walsingham.[5]

Cecil was extensively involved in matters of state security. As the son of Queen Elizabeth's principal minister and a protégé of Sir Francis Walsingham (Elizabeth's principal spymaster), he was trained by them in spycraft as a matter of course. The "Rainbow portrait" of Queen Elizabeth, decorated with eyes and ears, may relate to this role.

In 1603, his brother-in-law Lord Cobham was implicated in both the Bye Plot and the Main Plot, an attempt to remove James from the throne and replace him with Lady Arbella Stuart. King James raised him to the peerage on 20 August 1603 as Baron Cecil, of Essendon in the County of Rutland, before creating him Viscount Cranborne in 1604 and then Earl of Salisbury in 1605.[6]

Quartered arms of Sir Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, KG

James persuaded Salisbury to exchange his Hertfordshire House Theobalds for the royal palace at Hatfield, a relatively old-fashoned property. Cecil proceeded to rebuild Hatfield Palace as Hatfield House.

Salisbury served as both the third chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin and chancellor of the University of Cambridge[7] between 1601 and 1612. In addition, the Cecil family fostered arts: they supported musicians such as William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons and Thomas Robinson.[8]

His motto was "Sero, sed serio", which can be translated as 'late but in earnest'.[9]

The Kingdom of Ireland was a major source of concern and expense during his time in government. The Nine Years War there ended with the leader of the rebels Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone submitting to the Crown and being restored to his estates following the Treaty of Mellifont (1603). Four years later Tyrone led his followers into exile during the Flight of the Earls. The response of the government was to plan a Plantation of Ulster, to share out Tyrone's lands between the Gaelic Irish lords and settlers from Britain. In 1608 Sir Cahir O'Doherty launched O'Doherty's Rebellion by attacking and burning Derry. In the wake of O'Doherty's defeat at Kilmacrennan a much larger plantation was undertaken.


In poor health, Salisbury went on a journey to take the waters at Bath. He died at Marlborough, Wiltshire, on 24 May 1612. He was buried in Hatfield parish church in a tomb designed by Maximilian Colt.[3]


  • He appears as the character "Lord Cecil" in the opera Roberto Devereux (1837) by Gaetano Donizetti; he also appears in the opera Gloriana (1953) by Benjamin Britten.
  • In the BBC TV drama serial Elizabeth R (1971), "Sir Robert Cecil" is played by Hugh Dickson.
  • In the HBO miniseries Elizabeth I, Cecil is played by Toby Jones.
  • In the alternate history novel Ruled Britannia, predicated on the victory of the Spanish Armada in 1588, he and his father organise the English resistance movement against the Spanish with the help of William Shakespeare.
  • Robert Cecil was portrayed as the unsympathetic, conniving antagonist of the play, Equivocation, written by Bill Cain, which first premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2009. In the play, it is suggested that Cecil was behind the conspiracies of the gunpowder plot to kill King James and the royal family. Cecil was first portrayed by Jonathan Haugen. The character in the show was given a serious limp, and is said to hate the word "tomorrow" and to know every detail about everything that goes on in London.
  • He is portrayed extremely unsympathetically in "The Desperate Remedy: Henry Gresham and the Gunpowder Plot" by Martin Stephen (ISBN 0-316-85970-2), as malevolently self-centred, exploiting the plot to try to bolster his own position in face of his unpopularity.
  • He is a minor character in the children's novel Cue for Treason by Geoffrey Trease, where he is portrayed positively.
  • Robert Cecil is portrayed sympathetically in the historical mystery series featuring Joan and Matthew Stock, written by Leonard Tourney, where he is a patron to the main characters. The first novel is The Players' Boy is Dead
  • Sir William Cecil features prominently in Irish playwright Thomas Kilroy's play 'The O'Neill' (1969), in which Kilroy uses Cecil to challenge the myth surrounding Gaelic Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone just after the latter's victory over the English at The Yellow Ford. Cecil's dramatic function is to demonstrate the complexity of history as opposed to simplistic pieties that would turn O'Neill into yet another victim of the English. Cecil 'obliges' O'Neill to reenact the past so the audience witnesses the moral dilemma of a man torn between two cultures and keenly aware of the advance of modernity in a troubled political, cultural and religious context.
  • He is portrayed unsympathetically by Edward Hogg as a malevolent hunchbacked villain in Roland Emmerich's movie Anonymous.
  • He was a major character at the 2012 Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, portrayed by actor Nate Betancourt.[10]
  • He was a major character at the 2012 New York Renaissance Faire, portrayed by actor J. Robert Coppola[11]
  • He is portrayed sympathetically in the novel 1610 by Mary Gentle.
  • He was played by Christopher Peck in the premier of the musical "Remember Remember" by Lewes Operatic Society in Autumn 2008


  1. ^ "Cecil, Robert (CCL581R)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b Croft, Pauline. "Cecil, Robert, first earl of Salisbury (1563–1612)." Pauline Croft in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed., edited by Lawrence Goldman, October 2008. Accessed 16 November 2014 (subscription required).
  4. ^ G. D. Owen. "Cecil, William, second earl of Salisbury (1591–1668)," in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004–2007.
  5. ^ Grahm-Dixon, Andrew. "Elizabeth I: The Rainbow Portrait attributed to Isaac Oliver". Retrieved 16 November 2014. 
  6. ^ "When James gained the throne, he displayed his gratitude for Cecil's help by elevating him to the peerage as Baron Cecil of Essindene in 1603, and later bestowing upon him the title of Viscount Cranborne in 1604, and the Earldom of Salisbury in 1605."
  7. ^, "Chancellors of the University of Cambridge"
  8. ^ William Casey (pub.), Alfredo Colman (pub.), Thomas Robinson: New Citharen Lessons (1609), 1997 Baylor University Press, Waco, Texas, ISBN 0-918954-65-7
  9. ^ National Portrait Gallery web site.[1]
  10. ^
  11. ^

Further reading

  • Croft, Pauline. Patronage, Culture and Power: The Early Cecils (2002)
  • Croft, Pauline. "The Religion of Robert Cecil." Historical Journal (1991) 34#4 pp: 773.
  • Croft, Pauline. "The Reputation of Robert Cecil: Libels, Political Opinion and Popular Awareness in the Early Seventeenth Century." Transactions of the Royal Historical Society (1991) 1: 43+
  • Haynes, Alan. Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury (1989)
  • Loades, David, ed. Reader's Guide to British History (2003) 1: 237–39, historiography

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Sir Francis Walsingham
Secretary of State
Succeeded by
Sir Ralph Winwood
In commission
Title last held by
Sir Thomas Heneage
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
In commission
Title next held by
Sir John Fortescue
Preceded by
The Lord Burghley
Lord Privy Seal
Succeeded by
The Earl of Northampton
Preceded by
The Earl of Dorset
Lord High Treasurer
In commission
Honorary titles
Title last held by
The Lord Burghley
Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire
Succeeded by
The Earl of Salisbury
Preceded by
The Viscount Howard of Bindon
Lord Lieutenant of Dorset
With: The Earl of Suffolk
Succeeded by
The Earl of Suffolk
Peerage of England
New creation Earl of Salisbury
Succeeded by
William Cecil
New creation Viscount Cranborne
New creation Baron Cecil
Head of State of the Isle of Man
Preceded by
Henry Howard
Lord of Mann
Succeeded by
William Stanley

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.