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77
SALISBURY, IST EARL OF


part of a general policy of cultivating good relations with the two great rivals of England (one advantage of which was the communication of plots formed against the government), and of maintaining the balance of power between them. It is difficult, however, in the absence of complete information, to understand the exact nature and signification of these strange relations.

As lord treasurer Salisbury showed considerable financial ability. During the year preceding his acceptance of that office the expenditure had risen to £500,000, leaving, with an ordinary revenue of about £3 20,000 and the subsidies voted by parliament, a yearly deficit of £73,000. Lord Salisbury took advantage of the decision by the judges in the court of exchequer in Bates's case in favour of the king's right to levy impositions; and (on the 28th of July 1608) imposed new duties on articles of luxury and those of foreign manufacture which competed with English goods, while lowering the dues on currants and tobacco. By this measure, and by a more careful collection, the ordinary income was raised to £460, o0o, while £700,000 was paid off the debt, leaving at the beginning of 1610 the sum of £300,000. This was a substantial reform, and if, as has been stated, the “ total result of Salisbury's financial administration ” was “ the halving of the debt at the cost of doubling the deficiency,[1] the failure to secure a permanent improvement must be ascribed to the extravagance of James, who, disregarding his minister's entreaties and advice, continued to exceed his income by £I4Q, OOO. But a want of statesmanship had been shown by Salisbury in forcing the king's legal right to levy impositions against the remonstrances of the parliament. In the “great contract, ” the scheme now put forward by Salisbury for settling the finances, his lack of political wisdom was still more apparent. The Commons were to guarantee a fixed annual subsidy, on condition of the abandonment of impositions and of the redress of grievances by the king. An unworthy and undignified system of higgling and haggling was initiated between the crown and the parliament. Salisbury could only attribute the miscarriage of his scheme to the fact “ that God did not bless it.” But Bacon regarded it with severe disapproval, and in the parliament of 1613, after the treasurer's death, he begged the king to abandon these humiliating and dangerous bargaining, “ that your majesty do for this parliament put off the person of a merchant and contractor and rest upon the person of a king.” In fact, the vicious principle was introduced that a redress of grievances could only be obtained by a payment of subsidies. The identity of interests between the crown and the nation which had made the reign of Elizabeth so glorious, and which she herself had consummated on the occasion of her last public appearance by a free and voluntary concession of these same impositions, was now destroyed, and a divergence of interests, made patent by vulgar bargaining, was substituted which stimulated the disastrous struggle between sovereign and people, and paralysed the national development for two generations.

This was scarcely a time to expect any favours for the Roman Catholics, but Salisbury, while fearing that the Roman Church in England would become a danger to the state, had always been averse from prosecution for religion, and he attempted to distinguish between the large body of law-abiding and loyal Roman Catholics and those connected with plots and intrigues against the throne and government, making the offer in October 1607 that if the pope would excommunicate those that rebelled against the king and oblige them to defend him against invasion, the fines for recusancy would be remitted and they would be allowed to keep priests in their houses. This was a fair measure of toleration. His want of true statesmanship was shown with regard to the Protestant Nonconformists, towards whom his attitude was identical with that afterwards maintained by Laud, and the same ideal pursued, namely that of material and outward conformity, Salisbury employing almost the same words as the archbishop later, that “unity in belief cannot be preserved unless it is to be found in worship."[2]

Bacon's disparaging estimate of his cousin and rival was probably tinged with some personal animus, - and instigated by the hope of recommending himself to James as his successor; but there is little doubt that his acute and penetrating description of Salisbury to James as one “ fit to prevent things from growing worse but not fit to make them better, ” as one “greater in operation than in opere, ” is a true one.[3] Elsewhere Bacon accuses him “ of an artificial animating of the negative ” -in modern language, of official obstruction and “ red tape.” But in one instance at least, when he advised James not to press forward too hastily the union of England and Scotland, a measure which especially appealed to Bacon's imagination and was ardently desired by him, Salisbury showed a prudence and judgment superior to his illustrious critic. It can scarcely be denied that he rendered substantial services to the state in times of great difficulty and perplexity, and these services would probably have been greater and more permanent had he served a better king and in more propitious times. Both Elizabeth and James found a security in Salisbury's calm good sense, safe, orderly official mind and practical experience of business, of which there was no guarantee in the restlessness of Essex, the enterprise of Raleigh or the speculation of Bacon. On the other hand, he was neither guided nor inspired by any great principle or ideal, he contributed nothing towards the settlement of the great national problems, and he precipitated by his ill-advised action the disastrous struggle between crown and parliament.

Lord Salisbury died on the 24th of May 1612, at the parsonage house at Marlborough, while returning to London from taking the waters at Bath. During his long political career he had amassed a large fortune, besides inheriting a considerable portion of Lord Burghley's landed estate. In 1607 he exchanged, 'at the king's request, his estate of Theobalds in Hertfordshire for Hatfield. Here he built the magnificent house of which he himself conceived the plans and the design, but which he did not live to inhabit, its completion almost coinciding with his death. In person and figure he was in strange contrast with his rivals at court, being diminutive in stature, ill-formed and weak in health. Elizabeth styled him her pygmy; his enemies delighted in vilifying his “ wry neck, ” “ crooked back” and “ splay foot, ” and in Bacon's essay on “ Deformity, ” it was said, “ the world takes notice that he paints out his little cousin to the life.”[4] Molin, the Venetian ambassador in England, gives a similar description of his person, but adds that he had “a noble countenance and features.[5] Lord Salisbury wrote The State and Dignitie of a Secretaire of Estate's Place (publ. 1642, reprinted in H arleian Miscellany, ii. and Somers Tracts (1809), v.; see also Harleian MSS. 305 and 3 54), and An Answer to Certain Scandalous Papers scattered abroad under Colour of a Catholick Admonition (1606), justifying his attitude towards recusants after the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot (Harl. Misc. ii.; Somers Tracts, v.). He married Elizabeth, daughter of William Brooke, 5th Baron Cobham, by whom, besides one daughter, he had William (1591-1668), his successor as 2nd earl.

No complete life of Robert Cecil has been attempted, but the materials for it are very extensive, including Hist. MSS. Comm. Series, Marquis of Salisbury's MSS. (superseding former reports in the series), from which MSS. selections were published in 1740 by S. Haynes, by Wm. Murdin in 1759, by John Bruce, in The Correspondence of King James VI. with Sir Robert Cecil, in 1861 (Camden Society), and by Ed. Lodge, in Illustrations of English History, in 1838.

The 2nd earl of 'Salisbury, who sided with the parliament during the Civil War and represented his party in negotiations with the king at Uxbridge and at Newport, was succeeded by his grandson James (1648-1683) as 3rd earl. James's descendant, James, the 7th earl (1748-1823), who was lord chamberlain of the royal household from 1783 to 1804, was created marquess of Salisbury in 1789. His son and successor, James Brownlow William, the 2nd marquess (1791-1868), married Frances Mary, daughter of Bamber Gascoyne of Childwall Hall, Lancashire, and took the name of Gascoyne before that of Cecil. He was lord privy seal in 1852 and lord president of the council in 1858-1859; his son and heir was the famous prime minister.

  1. Spedding, Life and Letters of Bacon, iv. 276.
  2. Gardiner, History of England, i. 199.
  3. Spedding, Tnfe and Letters of Bacon, iv. 278 note, 279.
  4. Chamberlain to Carleton, Birch's Court of King James, i. 214.
  5. Cal. of State Papers: Venetian, x. 515.