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Robert Cecil Salisbury, 1st earl of

Salisbury, Robert Cecil, 1st earl of, 1563–1612, English statesman; son of William Cecil, Baron Burghley. He entered Parliament and came gradually to rank second only to his father as adviser to Queen Elizabeth I. About 1589 he began to perform the duties of secretary of state, and he was officially appointed to that position in 1596. He became chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster in 1597 and in 1598 succeeded his father as principal secretary, despite the rivalry of Francis Bacon and the 2d earl of Essex. The fall and execution of Essex in 1601 cleared the way for Cecil to enter into secret negotiations with James VI of Scotland and arrange the latter's peaceful accession to the English throne as James I on the death of Elizabeth (1603). After the accession of James, Cecil was created Baron Cecil (1603), Viscount Cranborne (1604), and earl of Salisbury (1605). His influence over James was due to his abilities, not, as in the case of the earl of Somerset and the 1st duke of Buckingham, to a personal ascendancy over the king. For the remainder of his life virtually the entire administration of the government was in his care. The duties of lord treasurer devolved upon Salisbury in 1608. He exhibited great financial skill, reducing the king's debt and attempting to restrain James's extravagance. However, his practice of levying impositions (customs duties) without parliamentary consent raised a storm in Parliament. In 1610, Salisbury negotiated the so-called Great Contract with Parliament, by which James was to receive a settled income in return for abandoning his feudal revenues. The agreement was broken off, however, because of mutual suspicions. In foreign affairs Salisbury ended (1604) the war with Spain and thereafter attempted to maintain a balance of power between France and Spain. After 1604 he received a pension from Spain, but his hope that England might lead a Protestant alliance led him to support the marriage (1612) of James's daughter Elizabeth to the elector palatine. Salisbury planned and had built the great Jacobean mansion Hatfield House in Hertfordshire.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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