William Cecil was the first illustrious Cecil, men from an ordinary background who managed, by determination, hard work, guile, ambition and not a little luck to reach very near the top in English history. William worked as a young lawyer with the Dukes of Somerset and Northumberland. He was born in 1520 and was made Secretary of State at thirty. He cleverly avoided the fates of both his bosses (executed for some reason or other) and when Henry VIII’s daughter by Catherine of Aragon – Mary – became Queen he rapidly became a fair imitation of a devout Roman Catholic by conversion.
Mary Tudor died (rather fortunate for England, for she had been Bloody) and Elizabeth her half sister, born of Anne Boleyn, became Queen. She made him her Chief Secretary of State, and for the following forty years he was her chief advisor, counsel, and loyal subject. He was also the architect of her successful reign as he kept an iron grip on the Administration, influenced the Queen’s pro-Protestant foreign policies, and got rid of the troublesome Mary Queen of Scots by getting Elizabeth to sign the essential death warrant. The Queen, as always, sat on various fences at once by using special Tudor skills of her own, and bitterly complained after the execution that William had ‘tricked her into signing’. This was the nearest that he sailed into the wind, and indeed he was banned from the Court for a while, but Elizabeth soon needed him again. Working closely with the cunning Francis Walsingham (q.v.), who ran the 16th century forerunner of the SIS, he knew all about King Philip of Spain’s intention to invade Britain, and made more than adequate preparations for the country’s defence against the Gran Armada. Continue reading