William Cecil, 2nd Earl of Salisbury
Early years, 1591-1612
Cecil was the son of
Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisburyand Elizabeth (née Brooke), the daughter of William Brooke, 10th Baron Cobham. He was born in Westminster on 28 March 1591 and baptizedin St Clement Daneson 11 April. William's mother died when he was six years old, and he was subsequently raised by his aunt, Lady Frances Stourton. He was educated at Sherborne Schooland at St John's College, Cambridge, where he started his terms in 1602, at age eleven.
James I raised Cecil's father to the
Peerage of England, creating him Baron Cecilin 1603; Viscount Cranbornein 1604; and Earl of Salisburyin 1605. As a result, in 1605, William received the courtesy titleof Viscount Cranborne. In 1608, aged 17, Cranborne's father sent him to France, but quickly recalled him to Englandto marry Catherine, the daughter of Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolkin December 1608. His father was determined that Cranborne should spend two years living abroad, and instructed him to return to France following his marriage. However, in mid-1610, James I determined to have his son Henry installed as Prince of Walesand Salisbury (who was currently serving as Lord High Treasurer) instructed his son to return for the ceremony: Cranborne subsequently held the king's train for the ceremony. Following this ceremony, Cranborne returned to Europe, this time to Italy, travelling first to Venice, then to Padua. At Padua, he fell ill, and returned to England resolving never to go abroad again.
Early years as Earl of Salisbury, 1612-40
Cranborne's father died in 1612, making him the 2nd Earl of Salisbury. He was soon named
Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire, where he gained a reputation for punctilious service to the king. James I made him a Knight of the Garterin 1624.
Salisbury continued to find favour under James' successor, Charles I, who named Salisbury to his privy council in 1626. Salisbury subsequently conformed during the
Personal Rule. He was annoyed when he was not named master of the Court of Wards and Liveries, but was more pleased when he was named Captain of the Honourable Band of Gentlemen Pensioners, a post which he held until 1643.
Salisbury spent much of the 1630s in improving his ancestral seat,
Hatfield House. He also made Hatfield House a cultural centre, serving as patron for painter Peter Lely, musician Nicholas Lanier, and gardener John Tradescant the elder.
Role in the
English Civil War, 1640-49
In the wake of the
Bishops' Wars, Salisbury leaned towards the moderate party in the House of Lordswhich supported the House of Commons in its attempt to remove the elements of arbitrary government introduced into England during the Personal Rule. However, Salisbury resisted throwing in his lot with any of the political factions, and thus remained vulnerable. When the First English Civil Warbroke out in 1642, Salisbury's estates at Cranbornein Dorsetsuffered depredations.
In 1648, Salisbury served as a member of a deputation charged with negotiating with Charles at the
Isle of Wight. These negotiations failed. However, Salisbury refused to approve of the regicide of Charles I.
Following the king's execution, Salisbury decided to support the
Commonwealth of England, and agreed to take the Engagement. This decision was influenced by several facts: two of his sons had sided with the parliamentarians during the English Civil War; Parliament voted to indemnify Salisbury's friend Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembrokefor his losses during the war; and several of his close friends, especially Algernon Percy, 10th Earl of Northumberland(his son-in-law) had sided with Parliament.
Career during the
English Interregnum, 1649-56
Salisbury was a member of the
English Council of Statefrom 1649 to 1651 (serving as its president for a while). He became Member of Parliamentfor King's Lynn in the Rump Parliament.
Salisbury was, however, excluded from public life under
The Protectorate: he was elected in 1656 as MP for Hertfordshirein the Second Protectorate Parliament, but Salisbury was not allowed to take his seat.
Later years, 1656-68
Salisbury subsequently retired to his home at Hatfield House.
The Restorationof 1660, Charles II appointed him high steward of St Albansin 1663.
Salisbury died at Hatfield House on 3 December 1668.
He was succeeded as Earl of Salisbury by his grandson, as his son had predeceased him.
Lord Salisbury married Lady Catherine Howard, a daughter of the 1st Earl of Suffolk, on
1 December 1608. They had twelve children, including:
*James Cecil, Viscount Cranborne (b. & d. 1616)
*Charles Cecil, Viscount Cranborne (1619–1660), father of the 3rd Earl of Salisbury.
*Lady Anne Cecil (d. 1637), married the 10th Earl of Northumberland and had issue.
*Lady Diana Cecil (1622–1633), died young.
*Lady Catherine Cecil (d. 1652), married the 3rd Earl of Leicester and had issue.
*Lady Elizabeth Cecil (d. 1689), married the 3rd Earl of Devonshire and had issue.
*Algernon Cecil (d. 1676)
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