Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury

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Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, KG, PC (1 June 1563? – 24 May 1612), son of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, and half-brother of Thomas Cecil, 1st Earl of Exeter. After his education at St John's College, Cambridge,[1][2] Salisbury 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 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. For most of his working life he served as spymaster for King James.

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. Lord Salisbury was extensively involved in matters of state security. The son of Lord Burghley (Queen Elizabeth's principal minister) and a protégé 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 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 Arbella Stuart.

Salisbury served as both the third chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin and chancellor of the University of Cambridge [3] between 1601 and 1612. In addition, the Cecil family fostered arts: they supported musicians such as William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons and Thomas Robinson [4].

Cecil married Elizabeth, the daughter of William Brooke, 10th Baron Cobham in 1589. Their son, William Cecil was born in Westminster on 28 March 1591 and baptized in St Clement Danes on 11 April. Elizabeth died when their son was six years old.[5] He succeeded his father as Earl of Salisbury.


  • He appears as the character "Lord Cecil" in the opera Roberto Devereux (1837) by Gaetano Donizetti
  • In the TV miniseries Elizabeth I, Cecil is played by Toby Jones.
  • 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 in order 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.
  • Robert Cecil also appeared in the book Cue for Treason by Geoffrey Trease, where he was the head of the secret service and has a major role as to what Peter Brownrigg does.
  • 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 Earl O'Neill 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.

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