Robert Cecil was born in 1563 and was the son of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley and Mildred Cooke.
Cecil attended St John’s College in Cambridge during the 1580’s but he did not undertake a degree and in 1584 and 1586 he sat representing Westminster and Hertfordshire from 1589 at the House of Commons.
In 1588 Cecil joined Henry Stanley, Earl of Derby, in a diplomatic mission to the Spanish Netherlands to negotiate peace with Spain. This trip was unsuccessful and peace was not reached.
In 1589 Cecil married Elizabeth Brooke and the couple had a son, named William, in March 1591. His wife died when their son was six years old. The couple also had a daughter, Frances.
In 1590 Cecil took on the role of Secretary of State following the death of Sir Francis Walsingham. In 1591 Elizabeth knighted Cecil and he was sworn in as the youngest member of the Privy Council. Cecil took a leading role at Queen Elizabeth’s court after the death of his father in 1598 and served not only Elizabeth but also her successor, King James I.
Cecil saw many crises from the Spanish Armada to the war in Ireland. He also had many run-ins with Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. Devereux was unsuccessful in Ireland after Cecil convinced Devereux to go to Ireland to stop the uprising. With Devereux’s failure and unauthorized return after agreeing a truce with the Earl of Tyrone, Cecil saw this as an opportunity to place Devereux on trial. Later, in 1601 he led the ill fated Essex Rebellion and was sentenced to death.
Cecil’s position at court grew with the death of many of Elizabeth’s closest advisors such as, Robert Dudley, Sir Walter Midmay, Sir Francis Walsingham and even his own father William Cecil. Cecil was pivotal to matters of state security and he oversaw the smooth transition between Elizabeth and James’ rule. It is believed that he was in secret communication with the King of Scotland before Elizabeth’s death as he was to be Elizabeth’s heir, even if she would not publicly name him. Upon the Queen’s death she made a silent gesture to Cecil for him to write to James to invite him to be the next King of England.
Cecil was highly decorated by King James on 20th August 1603 he was created Baron Cecil of Essendon, in 1604 Viscount Cranborne and finally Earl of Salisbury in 1605. James also persuaded Cecil to exchange his home from Theobalds, Hertfordshire for Hatfield Palace which Cecil extensively rebuilt.
Cecil began pushing for the laws of the last monarch regarding Catholics to be reinstated pushing James to believe that Catholics could still not be trusted; this was proven for Cecil with the actions of the Gunpowder Plot. Catholics plotted against the new King and planned to blow up Parliament at the state opening.
Suffering from poor health and scurvy Cecil took a journey to Bath, to take the hot spring water but he died at Marlborough on 24th May 1612 before the trip could be completed and buried in Hatfield parish church. Despite his position at court Cecil died £30,000 in debt and much of his estate was sol off to pay his debts.