Secretary of State


The ancient English monarchs always had in attendance a learned ecclesiastic, known at first as their clerk, and afterwards as "secretary", who conducted the royal correspondence; but it was not until the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I that these functionaries gained the title "Secretaries of State". Upon the direction of public affairs passing from the privy council to the cabinet after 1688 the secretaries of state began to assume those high duties which now render their office one of the most influential of an administration.

Until the time of Henry VIII, monarchs generally had only one secretary of state, but at the end of his reign a second principal secretary appeared. Owing to the increase of business consequent upon the union of Scotland, a third secretary gained appointment in 1708, but a vacancy occurring in this office in 1746 the third secretaryship disappeared until 1768, when a newly re-instituted Third Secretary began to take charge of the increasing colonial administrative work. In 1782 the office was again abolished, and the charge of the colonies transferred to the Home Secretary; but owing to the war of the First Coalition with France in 1794 a third secretary re-appeared to superintend the activities of the war department, and seven years later the colonial business became attached to his department. In 1854 a fourth secretary of state gained the exclusive charge of the war department, and in 1858 a fifth secretary (for India) began duties.

Office Holder


Sir Thomas Wriothesley and Sir Ralph Sadler 1540-1543
Sir Thomas Wriothesley and William Paget 1543-1544
Sir William Petre and William Paget 1544-1547
Sir William Petre 1547-1548
Sir William Petre and Sir Thomas Smith 1548-1549
Sir William Petre and Nicholas Wotton 1549-1550
Sir William Petre and Sir William Cecil 1550-1553
Sir William Petre, Sir William Cecil, and Sir John Cheke 1553
Sir William Petre and Sir John Bourn 1553-1557
John Boxall and Sir John Bourn 1557-1558
Sir William Cecil 1558-1572
Sir Thomas Smith 1572-1573
Sir Thomas Smith and Sir Francis Walsingham 1573-1576
Sir Francis Walsingham 1576-1577
Thomas Wilson and Sir Francis Walsingham 1577-1581
Sir Francis Walsingham 1581-1586
William Davison and Sir Francis Walsingham 1586-1587
Sir Francis Walsingham 1587-1590
Sir Robert Cecil 1590-1600
Sir Robert Cecil (1st E. Salisbury from 1605) and John Herbert 1600-1612
Robert Carr, 1st E. Somerset and John Herbert 1612-1614
Sir Ralph Winwood and John Herbert 1614-1616
Sir Ralph Winwood and Sir Thomas Lake 1616-1617
Sir Robert Naunton and Sir Thomas Lake 1618-1619
Sir Robert Naunton and Sir George Calvert 1619-1623
Sir Edward Conway and Sir George Calvert 1623-1625
Edward Conway, 1st Lord Conway and Sir Albertus Morton 1625
Edward Conway, 1st Lord Conway (1st V. Conway from 1627) and Sir John Coke 1625-1628
Dudley Carleton, 1st Viscount Dorchester and Sir John Coke 1628-1632
Sir Francis Windebank and Sir John Coke 1632-1640
Sir Francis Windebank and Sir Harry Vane 1640-1641
Sir Edward Nicholas and Sir Harry Vane 1641-1642
Sir Edward Nicholas and Lucius Carey, 2nd V. Falkland 1642-1643
Sir Edward Nicholas and George Digby, 2nd E. Bristol 1643-1649