« PreviousContinue »
SIR ROBERT CECIL,
EARL OF SALISBURY.*
SIR ROBERT CECIL, the son of the celebrated Lord Burghley, is supposed to have been born in 1550. † Deformed from his birth, of a feeble constitution and sickly in his habit of body, he was deemed unfit in early youth for scholastic exercises. He was, therefore, put under a private tutor at home; and thus while he was gradually improving himself in different branches of human learning, from being constantly with his father he acquired an early knowledge of state-affairs. At St. John's College, Cambridge, he received an honorary degree, and was subsequently admitted ad eundem in the sisteruniversity. In the parliaments of 1585, and 1586, he served for the city of Westminster; and for the county of Hertford, in those of 1588, 1592, 1597, and' 1600. In 1588 he was, also, one of the young nobility, who went out as volunteers in the fleet sent
* AUTHORITIES." Wilson's Life of James I.; Weldon's Court and Character of James I.; Hume's History of England; and Collins Peerage.
† Some writers, however, assign his birth to the year 1563.
against the Spanish Armada. We have no authentic account, however, of his appearing in a diplomatic character till about 1585, when he was appointed Secretary to the Earl of Derby, her Majesty's Embassador at the French court. As he must at this time have been thirty-five years of age,
may be concluded, that the Earl of Leicester's hostility to his father had obstructed his promotion. In 1586, on his return from France, her Majesty conferred upon him the honour of knighthood; and he was made Under-Secretary to Sir Francis Walsingham, then in a very impaired state of health. In this office he continued till the death of his principal in 1590, when he succeeded him in the possession of the seals.
Having now obtained a seat in the cabinet, he strained every nerve to disgrace the Earl of Essex, * whom he considered as the chief obstacle to his attainment of plenary power. Lord Burghley, worn out with age and the fatigues of a long and active administration, was upon the verge of the grave; and Essex, a younger man than himself, had the entire monopoly of the Queen's favour. To effect his purpose, therefore, he was obliged to make use of all those base and wicked arts, with which Machiavelian politicians so well know how to ensnare a powerful rival. The impetuosity of that rival rendered him but too easy a prey to his cool and crafty foe: as it is certain that Cecil's misrepresentations of his Irish despatches, and his aggravated accounts of the mal-administration of that kingdom, occasioned those sharp rebukes, which
* Essex had laboured to procure the secretaryslip for Sir Thomas Bodley.
hurried him into acts of desperation, and finally led him to the block.
The new Secretary, like his predecessor, at great expense procured intelligence from all quarters of the world; and, by thus enabling himself to thwart his mistress' foreign and domestic foes, incurred the implacable hatred of the Popish party, who in several libels, printed and manuscript, defamed his character and threatened his life: but he replied, both in Latin and English, that in the cause of his Sovereign and his country he despised and defied their malice.'
Burghley, in order to pave the way for his son's elevation, resigned to him in 1597, with the Queen's permission, the Chancellorship of the Duchy of Lancaster, and about the same time her Majesty likewise delivered to him the privy-seal. In 1598, he was appointed Embassador Extraordinary to the King of France, to mediate a peace between that country and Spain. His father dying during his absence, he succeeded him in all his offices,* except that of Lord High Treasurer, which was continued to his coadjutor Lord Buckhurst: and, during Elizabeth's latter years, by his vigour and prudence he enabled her not only to assist her allies the States, General, when they were ingloriously abandoned by France, but also to defeat a dangerous insurrection in Ireland, which was cherished by powerful assistance from Spain. He was not yet satisfied, however; for perceiving that his royal mistress gave way to a degree of melancholy, which seemed to threaten a
* For the Mastership of the Court of Wards he resigned a better post, the Chancellorship of the Duchy, being so restrained (as he expressed himself) in his new appointment by fresh orders, that he was a ward himself.'
speedy decline, he judged it necessary to his security to conciliate the favour of the presumptive heir to the
This he accomplished by entering into a correspondence with the Scottish Sovereign, unknown to the Queen and the rest of the ministry: and James, who expected an opposition to his claim, not only from the Suffolk family, but likewise from the faction favourable to the pretensions of Lady Arabella Stuart, readily embraced his offers of service. That this correspondence should never have been discovered, is truly surprising; as it's very nature required the frequent passing and repassing of couriers. If it had not been for his singular presence of mind, indeed, we are told, this very circumstance must have exposed it to the knowledge of Elizabeth. As her Majesty was taking the air with him in her coach upon Blackheath, a courier, despatched from his office in London, rode up to deliver his packet. The Queen, hearing that it came from Scotland, was earnest to know it's contents : upon which Cecil, that he might not incur suspicion by delay, called for a knife, and having cut it open, pretended that the papers
“ looked and smelt ill-favoured, by coming out of a filthy budget.” * He therefore advised, that they should be exposed some time to the air, before she perused them. To this she readily consented: upon which he sent them back to the office, and afterward substituted others in their stead.
For the last two months of her life, she complained bitterly of the little attention paid to her by her ser
* See Sir Henry Wotton's Parallel of Robert Devereux Earl of Essex, and George Villiers Duke of Buckingham.' Reliq. Wott. p. 16.
vants, who were all busily employed in writing to Scotland; particularly lamenting, that those upon whom she had bestowed the greatest favours, were the first to neglect her.' Of this number were Sir Robert Cecil, and Lord Buckhurst; and as a good understanding subsisted between them, it is most probable, that when they found her Majesty's recovery hopeless, they reciprocally entrusted each other with the secret of their Scottish correspondence. Immediately upon her demise, the former produced her will, and after reading it publicly, proclaimed James I.; the latter at the same time setting off for Scotland, to carry the glad tidings to that Prince, and to secure the renewal of his patent.
Of the interesting circumstances connected with the death of Elizabeth, and the communication of that event to her successor, a detailed account is subjoined from the memoirs of Cary Earl of Monmouth:
• When I came to court, I found the Queen ill disposed, and she kept her inner lodging; yet she, hearing of my arrival, sent for me. I found her in one of her withdrawing chambers, sitting low upon her cushions. She called me to her; I kissed her hand, and told her “it was my chiefest happiness to see her in safety and in health, which I wished might long continue.' She took me by the hand, and wrung it hard, and said, “ No, Robin, I am not well;" and then discoursed with me of her indisposition, and that her heart had been sad and heavy for ten or twelve days, and in her discourse she fetched not so few as forty or fifty great sighs. I was grieved, at the first, to see her in this plight; for in all my lifetime before I never knew her to fetch a sigh, but when the Queen of Scots was beheaded. Then upon my know