Secretary of State (England)

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Secretary of State
Coat of Arms of England (1603-1649).svg
Coat of Arms of the Kingdom of England from 1603 to 1649
Member of Privy Council
Seat Westminster, London
AppointerThe English Monarch
Term length No fixed term
First holder John Maunsell
Final holder George Digby, 2nd Earl of Bristol
Richard Foxe, King's Secretary from 1485 to 1487 Bishop Richard Foxe.jpg
Richard Foxe, King's Secretary from 1485 to 1487

In the Kingdom of England, the title of Secretary of State came into being near the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558–1603), the usual title before that having been King's Clerk, King's Secretary, or Principal Secretary.

Kingdom of England historic sovereign kingdom on the British Isles (927–1649; 1660–1707)

The Kingdom of England was a sovereign state on the island of Great Britain from 927, when it emerged from various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms until 1707, when it united with Scotland to form the Kingdom of Great Britain.

Elizabeth I of England Queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until 1603

Elizabeth I was Queen of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death on 24 March 1603. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the last of the five monarchs of the House of Tudor.


From the time of Henry VIII, there were usually two secretaries of state. After the restoration of the monarchy of 1660, the two posts were specifically designated as the Secretary of State for the Northern Department and the Secretary of State for the Southern Department. Both dealt with home affairs and they divided foreign affairs between them.

Henry VIII of England 16th-century King of England

Henry VIII was King of England from 1509 until his death. Henry was the second Tudor monarch, succeeding his father, Henry VII. Henry is best known for his six marriages, in particular his efforts to have his first marriage, to Catherine of Aragon, annulled. His disagreement with the Pope on the question of such an annulment led Henry to initiate the English Reformation, separating the Church of England from papal authority. He appointed himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England and dissolved convents and monasteries, for which he was excommunicated. Henry is also known as "the father of the Royal Navy"; he invested heavily in the Navy, increasing its size greatly from a few to more than 50 ships.

Restoration (England) 1660 restoration of the English monarchy

The Restoration of the English monarchy took place in the Stuart period. It began in 1660 when the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies were all restored under King Charles II. This followed the Interregnum, also called the Protectorate, that followed the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

Secretary of State for the Northern Department former cabinet position in Great Britain

The Secretary of State for the Northern Department was a position in the Cabinet of the government of Great Britain up to 1782, when the Northern Department became the Home Office.


William Cecil, Lord Burghley, a Secretary of Queen Elizabeth William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley from NPG (2).jpg
William Cecil, Lord Burghley, a Secretary of Queen Elizabeth

From early fourteenth century the Secretary became the third office of state in the kingdom. Most administrative business went through the royal household, particularly the Wardrobe. The Privy Seal's warrants increased rapidly in quantity and frequency during the late medieval period. The Signet warrant, kept by the Keeper of the Privy Seal, could be used to stamp documents on authority of chancery and on behalf of the Chancellor. [1] During wartime the king took his privy seal on his person wherever he went. Its controller was the Secretary, who served on military and diplomatic missions; and the Wardrobe's clerks assumed an even greater importance. [2]

Wardrobe (government) department of the kings household in medieval England

The King's Wardrobe, together with the Chamber, made up the personal part of medieval English government known as the King's household. Originally the room where the king's clothes, armour, and treasure were stored, the term was expanded to describe both its contents and the department of clerks who ran it. Early in the reign of Henry III the Wardrobe emerged out of the fragmentation of the Curia Regis to become the chief administrative and accounting department of the Household. The Wardrobe received regular block grants from the Exchequer for much of its history; in addition, however, the wardrobe treasure of gold and jewels enabled the king to make secret and rapid payments to fund his diplomatic and military operations, and for a time, in the 13th-14th centuries, it eclipsed the Exchequer as the chief spending department of central government.

Lord Privy Seal sinecure office of state in the UK

The Lord Privy Seal is the fifth of the Great Officers of State in the United Kingdom, ranking beneath the Lord President of the Council and above the Lord Great Chamberlain. Originally, its holder was responsible for the monarch's personal (privy) seal until the use of such a seal became obsolete. The office is currently one of the traditional sinecure offices of state. Today, the holder of the office is invariably given a seat in the Cabinet of the United Kingdom.

The sovereigns of England had a clerical servant, at first known as their Clerk, later as their Secretary. The primary duty of this office was carrying on the monarch's official correspondence, but in varying degrees the holder also advised the Crown. Until the reign of King Henry VIII (1509–1547), there was usually only one such secretary at a time, but by the end of Henry's reign there was also a second secretary. At about the end of the reign of Henry's daughter Elizabeth I (1558–1603), the secretaries began to be called "Secretary of State".

Clergy leaders within certain religions

Clergy are some of the main and important formal leaders within certain religions. The roles and functions of clergy vary in different religious traditions but these usually involve presiding over specific rituals and teaching their religion's doctrines and practices. Some of the terms used for individual clergy are clergyman, clergywoman and churchman. Less common terms are churchwoman, clergyperson and cleric.

The Crown is the state in all its aspects within the jurisprudence of the Commonwealth realms and their sub-divisions. Legally ill-defined, the term has different meanings depending on context. It is used to designate the monarch in either a personal capacity, as Head of the Commonwealth, or as the king or queen of his or her realms. It can also refer to the rule of law; however, in common parlance 'The Crown' refers to the functions of government and the civil service.

After the Restoration of 1660, the two posts came to be known as the Secretary of State for the Northern Department and the Secretary of State for the Southern Department. Both of the secretaries dealt with internal matters, but they also divided foreign affairs between them. One dealt with northern Europe (the mostly Protestant states) and the other with southern Europe. Following the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the Cabinet took over the practical direction of affairs previously undertaken by the Privy Council, and the two secretaries of state gained ever more responsible powers.

Secretary of State for the Southern Department position in the cabinet of the government of Kingdom of Great Britain up to 1782

The Secretary of State for the Southern Department was a position in the cabinet of the government of Kingdom of Great Britain up to 1782, when the Southern Department became the Foreign Office.

Glorious Revolution 17th Century British revolution

The Glorious Revolution, also called the Revolution of 1688, was the overthrow of King James II of England by a union of English Parliamentarians with the Dutch stadtholder William III, Prince of Orange, who was James's nephew and son-in-law. William's successful invasion of England with a Dutch fleet and army led to his ascension to the throne as William III of England jointly with his wife, Mary II, James's daughter, after the Declaration of Right, leading to the Bill of Rights 1689.

Cabinet (government) group of high ranking officials, usually representing the executive branch of government

A Cabinet is a body of high-ranking state officials, typically consisting of the top leaders of the executive branch. Members of a cabinet are usually called Cabinet ministers or secretaries. The function of a Cabinet varies: in some countries it is a collegiate decision-making body with collective responsibility, while in others it may function either as a purely advisory body or an assisting institution to a decision making head of state or head of government. Cabinets are typically the body responsible for the day-to-day management of the government and response to sudden events, whereas the legislative and judicial branches work in a measured pace, in sessions according to lengthy procedures.

List of officeholders

Sir John Maunsell, Provost of Beverley Minster, was a king's clerk and a judge. He served as chancellor to King Henry III and was England's first secretary of state.

Franciscus Accursius Italian jurist

Franciscus Accursius (1225–1293) was an Italian lawyer, the son of the celebrated jurist and glossator Accursius. The two are often confused.

Sir John de Benstede KB (c.1275 –1323/4) was a prominent member of the English royal household in the late 13th and early 14th century. He was Prebendary of Sandiacre from 3 February 1297 until, presumably, 1308, when he married. He was also King's Secretary, and he served variously as keeper of the Great Seal and controller of the wardrobe. He also served as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1305-1306, and as a royal judge from 1309 onwards.

Lancaster and York



Commonwealth & Protectorate

For the subsequent period see:

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  1. M. Keen, Medieval England, p. 3
  2. Keen, p. 32
  3. Wikisource-logo.svg Pollard, Albert Frederick (1911). "Burghley, William Cecil, Baron"  . In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica . 4 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 816–817.
  4. Ian W. Archer, ‘Smith, Sir Thomas (1513–1577)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 accessed 15 April 2016
  5. Simon Adams and Alan Bryson and Mitchell Leimon, 'Walsingham, Sir Francis (c.1532–1590)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2009 accessed 15 April 2016
  6. Pauline Croft, 'Cecil, Robert, first earl of Salisbury (1563–1612)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2008 accessed 15 April 2016
  7. Wikisource-logo.svg Yorke, Philip Chesney (1911). "Bristol, George Digby, 2nd Earl of"  . In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica . 4 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 576–577.

Further reading