Secretary of State (United Kingdom)

In the United Kingdom, a Secretary of State is a Cabinet Minister in charge of a Government Department (though not all departments are headed by a Secretary of State, e.g. HM Treasury is headed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer). There is in theory only one office of Secretary of State, and legislation generally refers only to "the Secretary of State". In practice, there are a number of Secretaries of State, each of whom can exercise the functions of the Secretary of State, and formally titled "Her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for ...". These positions can be created without primary legislation, nowadays at the behest of the Prime Minister.


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 (reigned 1558–1603) 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 (reigned 1509–1547), 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 with Scotland, a third Secretary gained appointment in 1708, but, with 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.

Principal Secretary of State (c. 1253–1539)

* John Maunsell 1253
* John de Benstede 1299
* William de Melton 1308
* Robert Braybrooke 1379
* John Profit (1402–1412)
* John Stone (1415–c. 1420)
* William Alnwick (c. 1420–c. 1422)
* William Hayton (?–1432)
* Thomas Beckington (1439–1443)
* Thomas Manning (1460–1464)
* William Hatcliffe (1464–1480)
* Oliver King (1480–1483)
* John Kendal (1483–1485)
* Richard Foxe (1485–1487)
* Oliver King (1487–1492) (probably)
* Thomas Routhall (1500–1516)
* Richard Pace (1516–1526)
* William Knight (1526–1528)
* Stephen Gardiner (1528–1531)
* Thomas Cromwell (1533–1536)
* Thomas Wriothesley (1536 – January 1544)

Two Secretaries of State, 1539–1668

* Sir Ralph Sadler (April 1540 – 23 April 1543)
* Sir William Paulet (23 April 1543 – April 1548)
* Sir William Petre (January 1544 – March 1557)
* Sir Thomas Smith (17 April 1548 – 15 October 1549)
* Nicholas Wotton (15 October 1549 – 5 September 1550)
* Sir William Cecil (5 September 1550 – July 1553)
* Sir John Cheke (served as a third Secretary of State June 1553 – July 1553)
* Sir John Bourne (July 1553 – April 1558)
* John Boxall (March 1557 – November 1558)
* Sir William Cecil (November 1558 – 13 July 1572)
* Sir Thomas Smith (13 July 1572 – 12 August 1577)
* Sir Francis Walsingham (December 1573 – April 1590)
* Thomas Wilson (12 November 1577 – 16 June 1581)
* William Davison (September 1586 – February 1587)
* Sir Robert Cecil (5 July 1590 – 24 May 1612)
* John Herbert (10 May 1600 – 9 July 1617)
* Sir Ralph Winwood (29 March 1614 – 27 October 1617)
* Sir Thomas Lake (3 January 1616 – 16 February 1619)
* Sir Robert Naunton (8 January 1618 – 14 January 1623)
* Sir George Calvert (16 February 1619 – January 1625)
* Sir Edward Conway (14 January 1623 – 14 December 1628)
* Sir Albertus Morton (9 February 1625 – 6 September 1625)
* Sir John Coke (9 September 1625 – 3 February 1640)
* Dudley Carleton, 1st Viscount Dorchester (14 December 1628 – 15 February 1632)
* Sir Francis Windebank (15 June 1632 – December 1640)
* Sir Henry Vane (3 February 1640 – December 1641)
* Sir Edward Nicholas (27 November 1641 – 1646 when he left England; he was reappointed by King Charles II September 1654 – 2 October 1662)
* Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland (8 January 1642 – 20 September 1643)
* George Digby, 2nd Earl of Bristol (28 September 1643 – 1645)

After the English Restoration, the two posts came to be known as the Secretary of State for the Northern Department and the Secretary of State for the Southern Department. Both dealt with Home Affairs, but they divided Foreign Affairs, so that one dealt with the Protestant states of northern Europe and the other with the Catholic states of southern Europe. In 1783, responsibilities were reallocated between a new post of Secretary of State for Home Affairs and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

Current positions

*Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (usually referred to as the Foreign Secretary) (1782; took current name 1968)
*Secretary of State for the Home Department (usually referred to as the Home Secretary) (1782)
*Secretary of State for Scotland (1926)
*Secretary of State for Defence (1964)
*Secretary of State for Wales (1964)
*Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1968; took current name 2001)
*Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (1972)
*Secretary of State for Transport (1976; name not used 1979–1981; subsumed in other Departments 1997–2002)
*Secretary of State for Health (1988)
*Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (1992; took current name 1997)
*Secretary of State for International Development (1997)
*Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2001)
*Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (2006)
*Secretary of State for Justice (2007)
*Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (2007)
*Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (2007)
*Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (2007)
*Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (2008)

The honorific title First Secretary of State is awarded occasionally.

Obsolete positions

*Secretary of State for the Northern Department (1660–1782)
*Secretary of State for the Southern Department (1660–1782)
*Secretary of State for the Colonies (1768–1782 and 1854–1966; merged into Commonwealth Affairs)
*Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1782–1968; merged into Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)
*Secretary of State for War (1794–1801 and 1854–1964; merged into Defence)
*Secretary of State for War and the Colonies (1801–1854; divided)
*Secretary of State for India (1858–1947; from 1935 known as India and Burma)
*Secretary of State for Air (1918–1964; merged into Defence)
*Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs (1925–1947; merged into Commonwealth Relations)
*Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (1947–1966; merged into Commonwealth Affairs)
*Secretary of State for Industry, Trade and Regional Development (1963–1964)
*Secretary of State for Education and Science (1964–1992; renamed Education)
*Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (1964–1969)
*Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs (1966–1968; merged into Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)
*Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity (1968–1970; renamed Employment)
*Secretary of State for Social Services (1968–1988; divided)
*Secretary of State for the Environment (1970–1997; renamed Environment, Transport and the Regions)
*Secretary of State for Employment (1970–1995; merged into Education and Employment)
*Secretary of State for Energy (1974–1992; merged into Trade and Industry)
*Secretary of State for Trade (1974–1983; merged into Trade and Industry)
*Secretary of State for Industry (1974–1983; merged into Trade and Industry)
*Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection (1974–1979)
*Secretary of State for Social Security (1988–2001; renamed Work and Pensions)
*Secretary of State for Education (1992–1995; merged into Education and Employment)
*Secretary of State for National Heritage (1992–1997; renamed Culture, Media and Sport)
*Secretary of State for Education and Employment (1995–2001; split into Education and Skills and Work and Pensions)
*Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (1997–2001; divided)
*Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (2003-2007), renamed (with additional jurisdiction) Justice
*Secretary of State for Education and Skills (1964-2007), split into Children, Schools and Families and Innovation, Universities and Skills
*Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1970-2007), renamed Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.