Calendar of the Cecil Papers in Hatfield House: Volume 24, Addenda, 1605-1668. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1976.

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'Introduction', in Calendar of the Cecil Papers in Hatfield House: Volume 24, Addenda, 1605-1668, (London, 1976) pp. vii-xvi. British History Online [accessed 21 April 2024]


This second and final volume of Addenda comprises documentary material covering the years from the creation of Robert Cecil as 1st Earl of Salisbury in 1605 to the death of his son William, the second Earl, in 1668. It also brings to an end the Calendar of Salisbury MSS at Hatfield House, of which the first volume appeared in 1883.

Petitions form the main body of the material published in this, as in the preceding, volume. It has already been observed that their value as primary documentary sources is strictly limited. Nevertheless, they do provide a certain amount of circumstantial evidence concerning domestic events during this period.

(1) The Problem of the Recusants

The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 had drawn the more militant and desperate elements within the Catholic community into the open, and its failure had enabled the Government to eradicate them as a potential threat to internal security. By the execution of Henry Garnett, the Jesuit superior of the English province, on a charge of conniving at the conspiracy, it had also conveniently removed the one man whose character and scholarship had not only fortified the resistance of his co-religionists, but had inclined many people to become converts to the Catholic faith. Physical elimination had been followed by legislative retribution. The penal laws against recusants were enforced with greater vigour and enlarged so as to bring their women folk within the range of their penalties. A new oath of allegiance was imposed which, while permitting the Catholics to acknowledge the Pope as their spiritual father, denied him the right to release them from their obedience to James 1 as their temporal king. With public opinion applauding this policy of repression, and with the threat of treason and its obscene punishments hanging over its head, the Catholic minority, it was assumed, would soon become cowed and submissive, and cease to be a problem to the authorities.

This, however, was far from being the case. On the contrary, the years following the Gunpowder Plot showed that the recusants had lost none of their resoluteness, and that their adherence to their faith was as unyielding as ever. But they were cautious enough not to lay themselves open to a charge of treasonable activities against the state. Their contumacy and provocation rarely went beyond the violation of laws which tried to force them into an outward compliance with the ecclesiastical order. It was also true that it was only in those parts of the kingdom where they enjoyed considerable local influence—Yorkshire and the Midlands, Monmouthshire and the Welsh border, and London, that they exhibited their defiance and paraded their opposition. Elsewhere, they had no choice but to endure their persecution in silence and pay their recusancy fines without complaint or redress.

It must have seemed inconceivable to the Government that Newgate prison, selected as the safest place to incarcerate priests in London, should be in danger of becoming a centre of Catholic worship, but the situation was not exaggerated. With the tacit sanction of the Keeper, masses were sung in a chamber within the prison and Catholics from outside admitted to the services. What was more alarming was that the freedom given to the King's subjects to attend the masses had resulted in the conversion of a number of them to Catholicism. (fn. 1) Counter-measures taken by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London in the form of arresting and prosecuting those who frequented the prison for this purpose had little effect, and even led to retaliation on a minor scale. What happened to Francis Harris, who had testified against recusants at the Old Bailey, proved that there could be unpleasant surprises in store for Protestants even in the most Protestant city of Europe.

Meeting with a fellow citizen, William Chapman, he was invited by him to dinner in a city tavern. On their way they passed by St. Bartholomew's Church where the congregation was singing psalms in the approved Anglican manner, whereupon Chapman remarked: "Hark, what a company of yelping whelpes here bee!", an observation which plainly indicated where his religious sympathies lay. At the table he plied his guest with food, drink and tobacco, which he was later accused of having doped, until Harris relapsed into a drunken sleep. Chapman then proceeded to cut pieces out of Harris's doublet, but dissatisfied with this mild operation, "he did then and there also cutt of all the hayre from the crowne of the head of the said Ffrancis Harris close to the skull the breadth of a mans handes, so as the said Harris was enforced to weare a night capp on his head most comonly for a whole moneth untill his said haire was somewhat growne out agayne." (fn. 2)

In the provinces, where it was easier to play fast and loose with Parliamentary legislation and Government directives, the recusants, in particular the Catholic gentry, bound themselves to little more than a perfunctory compliance with the law, enough, in fact, to allow them to hold their own with their conformist neighbours. In the privacy of their homes they dropped all pretence. There they provided secret accommodation for priests who sang masses for the household, baptised their children and taught them the articles of their faith.

The Yorkshire recusants occasionally threw discretion to the wind. At Egton, for instance, they organized themselves into a group of itinerant stage players, and travelled throughout the North Riding performing interludes which were certainly not calculated to inspire their audiences with respect for the law of the land and the tenets of the established church. Two of their most notable patrons were Sir Richard Cholmondeley, of Roxby, and Sir John York, of Gouthwaite. What gave the latter particular pleasure was a play in which a Protestant minister and a Catholic priest met head-on in a theological confrontation. The issue of the debate, and the eventual destination of the disputants and those who shared their respective beliefs, were never in doubt, the minister being dragged away by devils and the priest escorted from the scene by exultant angels. (fn. 3)

In the county of Huntingdon, where a number of gentlemen met in friendly conversation at the house of Sir Robert Payne at Midloe, it did not seem temerarious that they should fall to discussing Robert Parson's book, in which he criticized the new oath of allegiance, and the scholarly reply to it by John Williams, Bishop of Lincoln. But the arguments became heated because of intemperate remarks, and there was a lively exchange of buffets and sword-thrusts. (fn. 4) Tempers were, not unexpectedly, more excitable in Monmouthshire, that notorious haven of Welsh recusants, where another exchange of views almost ended in the murder of a Protestant preacher at Abergavenny. (fn. 5)

The reaction of the Government to provocations of this kind was to make life harder for recusants, and to counter Catholic proselytism through priests and the printing press by all the religious channels at its disposal. The first was perhaps easier done than the second, for the law authorized the Crown to seize two-thirds of the property of any person indicted and found guilty of recusancy. To an impecunious king like James, this was a most welcome supplementary source of revenue, and a way of rewarding meritorious services without harassing an already exhausted Exchequer. But it also led to an intensive hunt of recusants who had hitherto succeeded in escaping the vigilance of the law, and to the inevitable proliferation of informers and spies. Not that these were always to be trusted. They were as susceptible to bribes as the very pursuivants of the Ecclesiastical Commission, who were known to arrest priests and then release them, together with their books and propaganda material, for money. In the course of time the limited number of recusants available for this kind of exploitation made itself felt. "They are so hardly found, casuall by prevention being found," wrote one aggrieved petitioner to the Earl of Salisbury in 1608, "and will sodainely conforme themselves, that there is scant any hope of good in pursueing them. Ffurther, Mr Spiller (Henry Spiller, an official of the Exchequer) telleth me, since I was with your Lordship, that he cannot nor knoweth not where or when to furnish me with any, so as I am hopeles that way." (fn. 6) He suggested that instead of recusants he should be granted enough wood in Leicestershire to pay his debts.

Since the observance of Catholic rites and the regularity of the devotions of the faithful depended much upon the ministrations of the priests, to curtail the number and reduce the influence of the latter became one of the principal objectives of the Government. A serious effort was made, for instance, to prevent the entry of priests and seminarists who had been educated abroad, notably at the college in Douai, and those caught were imprisoned or banished. (fn. 7) But regular supervision of the movements of priests was not always practicable, and there were loopholes in the existing system of Customs and passenger control which enabled them to travel to and fro across the Channel with relative impunity.

A more constructive approach to the recusant problem was to meet the Catholic priests and polemicists on the field of theological disputation, and win exegetical victories which would demonstrate the intellectual superiority, and confirm the supremacy, of the established church and throw the recusants on the defensive. This was the kind of policy which commended itself to James, who enjoyed nothing more—except hunting—than a good argument on doctrinal matters. It was for this reason that he had refounded the collegiate church at Ripon and endowed it with a liberal gift of land, so that its Dean and prebendaries could concentrate on the work of combating Catholic influence in Yorkshire. Such intervention was certainly needed in that county, and its effects were encouraging to the King and his ministers. "The cuntrye is ignorant and full of papists, and have beene longe untaught, the parishe great of 10,000 publicke, the act honorable to God, the Kinge, our religion and state, the notice of it publicke and published over all that cuntrye to the daunting of papists." (fn. 8) It was likewise to produce a team of competent theologians capable of refuting Catholic theses, that the King had previously supported the erection of a college at Chelsea and appealed for subscriptions for its maintenance from the English dioceses. (fn. 9) Neither did James minimize the importance of education as a means of counteracting the instruction of young noblemen in the Catholic faith. In the case of the 11 year old John Mordaunt, heir of Henry Mordaunt, Lord Mordaunt, who had been suspected of complicity in the Gunpowder Plot and imprisoned in the Tower, the King did not hesitate to separate him from his mother and entrust him and his education to the Bishop of London. "It is no smale parte of our care," he wrote to the Bishop, "that the nobilitie of this realme be bred both in such sort as becometh their ranck and in so good instruction of the religion established in our kingdome, as that by receiveing the corruption of superstitious and daungerous opinions they be not made unservicable." (fn. 10) Mordaunt eventually renounced his Catholicism and conformed, but James would not have believed that he would one day take up arms for Parliament against his son.

(2) The Freedom of the Press

Sir Robert Cecil had inherited an excellent library from his father, Lord Burghley, and spared no expense in enlarging it with the best available selection of works on history, divinity, law and kindred subjects. His son William emulated him in this respect, and the titles of the volumes purchased or acquired by him show a predilection for contemporary literature and political affairs.

That it was possible to accumulate so many books, published in England and on the continent, was due to the increasing activity and efficiency of the printing presses in Western Europe. Much of what they printed was academic or scholarly, and therefore relatively innocuous in the eyes of authority, so that the liberty of the press was rarely interfered with. This was particularly true of France, where Henry IV was partial towards the press and tolerant enough to be able to enjoy the lampoons directed against him and his ministers. But there were occasions when no monarch or government could suffer the deliberate flouting of the accepted or decreed canons of religious and social conduct, and careless or reckless printers were made to smart for their transgressions.

In England censorship was a half-hearted affair, and often left to the investigations of clerical subordinates and lay officials whose zeal sometimes outran their remuneration. (fn. 11) They were not helped by the uncontrolled distribution of paper, imported for the most part from France, which the London merchants sold to anyone who asked for it without caring whether it was required for printing or not. What is more, it was thought, with every justification, that the quires of paper which streamed into the kingdom from abroad often concealed "seditious and traitorous books, libells and letters of and for intelligence". (fn. 12)

No interested party was more perturbed about the inadequacy of the measures to deal with this situation than the Company of Stationers, which already had its hands full in detecting those of its members who broke the Company's own regulations. What alarmed and exasperated the Stationers, as it did the Government, was the growth in unlicensed printing and in the dissemination of unauthorized books. "Consideringe what great abuse there is in the arte of printinge for want of some officer to looke to the same, the which abuses, as the Stationers say, are cheefly comitted by thos that print in secret," (fn. 13) it was considered that the best solution would be the appointment of one person by the Government, with full power to examine every printed book and to stamp it officially if he approved of its contents and typographical qualities. There is little doubt that the proposal originated with the Stationers who may have regarded it as the only possible expedient for attaining two objectives: a monopoly of the printing trade, which they wished to enjoy; and the means of promoting some person sympathetic to their interests and amenable to their advice, to a post which could help to reduce the number of books issued by their hidden competitors, the unlicensed printers. The proposal failed in its purpose, but it may well have suggested to the authorities that if they were looking for a qualified and vigilant agent to exercise some sort of press control, they could do no better than delegate it to the Company of Stationers itself. It was, however, a quarter of a century after the death of Cecil that the decree "Concerning Printing", agreed upon by the Privy Council, permitted the Company to tighten up control over the publication and distribution of books. (fn. 14)

In the meantime there was little to prevent the circulation of prohibited or unauthorized works except the fortuitous discovery of the responsible press and the arrest of the printers. Some places in England became notorious for illegal printing—London and Warwickshire, for example, and the apprehension of a German printer in the latter county is also further evidence of the movement of craftsmen between countries at that time. (fn. 15)

One amusing sidelight on the question of press control was that it could sometimes rebound to the disadvantage of the person most interested in enforcing it when he thought it advisable—the King himself. James was incensed by a book that appeared in France late in 1610 and which, in his view, contained slanderous statements about him. He came to the conclusion that the author was none other than Pierre Matthieu, the renowned French historian, and immediately devised a scheme to have him arrested and punished. Knowing that Henry IV would be reluctant to push matters to such extremes, and that Matthieu was in Lyons, James directed Cecil to write to Villeroy, the French Secretary of State, and request him to communicate his desire for Matthieu's arrest to his son who was then Governor of Lyons. Even this secretive procedure was not enough for the King of England. The Duke of Guise, Governor of Provence, was also to be asked to seize Matthieu if he should stray within his jurisdiction, and James had no doubt that the Duke would be most willing to do so, "in regard of the neerenes of blood between his Maty and him." (fn. 16)

The freedom of the press in France was therefore to be tampered with, in this roundabout fashion, because it had issued a book which was not to the taste of the King of England. James must have been equally annoyed when he discovered that same year that the French press could retaliate and for a similar reason. He had reissued his Apology—the work in which he categorically denied the claims of the Papacy to exercise any authority over secular princes, and wished it to be published in its French version. For this purpose he commissioned a Monsieur de Tourval to engage a press in France which would be prepared to do so, and directed him to act in the matter with the greatest discretion and secrecy. De Tourval travelled from town to town in France, and took every precaution to hide his traces. To his astonishment, perhaps, he found that no printer would accept such a book "pour or ou pour argent", even if it were written by the King of England. The subject matter may have been too inflammatory for their taste or too controversial to be worth the risk of printing. After hawking the book around the country, de Tourval returned to Paris by night, and concealed himself. He had every good reason to lie low in that city, for the Jesuits had got wind of his mission and were hunting for him everywhere. Eventually he managed to find an accommodating secret press, and remained in Paris for three months to supervise the printing of the book. (fn. 17)

(3) Cecil's Good Works

No sooner was the 1st Earl of Salisbury dead than a crowd of detractors fell on his reputation and tried to tear it apart. It was inevitable that his unchallenged authority and alleged affluence should have generated envy and hostility in many quarters. Amongst other things he was accused of financial misdemeanours and of exploiting his offices of Lord Treasurer and Master of the Wards to amass a private fortune. What is demonstrably true is that Cecil lived beyond his means and left an enormous debt to be discharged by his heir. That he profited from the privileges and perquisites of his offices is, of course, indisputable, and there were other sources of income at his disposal as well. (fn. 18) But if he had depended upon his official salary for the upkeep of his family and himself and the maintenance of his position and dignity as principal officer of state, he would have cut a ridiculous figure indeed. (fn. 19) And although he collected a number of small offices and sinecures for himself, his motive in doing so was to exercise influence and patronage to his own advantage, and not to derive financial benefits which were, in any case, minimal and sometimes non-existent. (fn. 20) There was no credible evidence produced, in Cecil's lifetime or afterwards, that he was guilty of those fraudulent appropriations of public monies which led to the scandal of 1618 and the dismissal and imprisonment of Lord Treasurer Howard, Earl of Suffolk. Whatever the defects his enemies and calumniators claimed to discern in him, self-indulgence in fiscal irregularities was not one of them, however persistent the charges and rumours. Neither was parsimony, for debts amounting to £38,000 or thereabouts are usually incurred by a man who finds pleasure in spending money irrespective of whether he has money to spend. And there was no lack of opportunities for Cecil to build up a solid cohort of creditors around him.

It was during the last four years of his life that Hatfield House was erected and the final architectural and decorative touches given to the residence. At the same time, he was engaged in finishing Salisbury House in the Strand, which he had begun in the previous reign, and in building Britain's Burse or New Exchange, also in the Strand. Cecil obviously intended that the latter should be a commercial rival to the Old Exchange or Royal Exchange in the city of London, and hopefully anticipated a steady income from the leasing of its shops. Despite the blaze of publicity at its official opening, which was attended by the King, and although it was placed advantageously to serve the citizens of Westminster, it made little impact on the powerful trading and financial interests entrenched around Cornhill. Cecil was prepared to seek far and wide for suitable materials to erect and embellish these buildings. Choice stone was brought from Caen in Normandy and marble from Carrara in Italy, (fn. 21) while building stone of good quality was conveyed by sea and land from Berwick, Canterbury and a quarry in Sussex. The cost of materials, the wages of labourers, craftsmen and artists, and transport charges particularly from abroad, were colossal. It is estimated that Cecil's building operations between 1607 and 1612 cost him about £63,000, of which two-thirds were spent on Hatfield House alone. (fn. 22)

At Hatfield, and to a lesser extent at Salisbury House, Cecil also entered into expensive schemes for beautifying the immediate vicinity of the residencies with trees and gardens, the latter containing varieties of flowers and fruits of both domestic and foreign provenance, and objects to please the eye. John Tradescant, the naturalist and one of the best known gardeners of the time, was employed by Cecil at Hatfield, and sent expressly to the Low Countries to purchase trees. (fn. 23) Sycamore and cherry trees were amongst those planted, and two French gardeners were hired to demonstrate their horticultural talents in a practical manner. A sundial was bought, and a notable French engineer and architect, Salomon de Caux, commissioned to construct an ornamental fountain in the East Garden. (fn. 24) All this cost money, but it was expenditure on artistic and other laudable projects; later the second Earl of Salisbury was to show the same reluctance as his father to curtail expenses in this field. This was very much to his credit, for in his case the family residence at Cranborne was so badly damaged and thoroughly pillaged by Cavaliers and Roundheads during the Civil War, that it had to be partly rebuilt, a necessity which strained the Earl's finances considerably.

Patronage of the arts had an irresistible appeal to a man of taste and learning like Cecil. He was living at a time when Elizabethan and early Jacobean culture had reached its most brilliant and productive period, and like many of his class he welcomed the opportunity of being associated with the works of the leading poets and artists of the day, and of having part of their success attributed to his active promotion of their creative talents. In May, 1608, he entertained the King on a magnificent scale at Salisbury House. The library was converted into a temporary theatre with all the paraphernalia of a stage, and a play, written by Ben Jonson and staged by Inigo Jones, was performed by some of London's well known players. Knowing the King's taste for something more exciting than Jonson's verse, Cecil also hired a juggler or "magician" to titillate James's curiosity. A year or so later, the presence of the King at the opening ceremony in Britain's Burse was celebrated with another work by Jonson, and again Inigo Jones assisted in its presentation.

In the world of painting and music Cecil was the patron of foreign and English artists alike. John de Critz, the Flemish painter, Maximilian Colt or Poultrain, the French sculptor, and Rowland Buckett, the English painter, were amongst those who found employment in his service and were handsomely rewarded, although Cecil's secretary did not always share his indulgence towards artists. (fn. 25) But it was, perhaps, in music that Cecil took the greatest interest. Speaking of his own partiality for it, his secretary Michael Hicks acknowledged in a letter that, "it is true that to your own noble disposition to music I added my best endeavour to draw you on to erect a consert [? orchestra]." The letter is a plea for the reinstatement in Cecil's service of a young musician who had forfeited his patron's confidence and a pension because of what may have been a hasty marriage without Cecil's approval. (fn. 26) Further on in his letter Hicks writes: "You have always been honorably affected to the house of Oxford, show some favour for the name of Oxford." This would suggest that the misguided young man was probably Henry Oxford, a player of stringed instruments. Hicks's appeal—or Cecil's disinclination to lose a promising young musician—won the day, and Oxford was taken back into his household.

There he shared his duties with Nicholas Lanier, one of the numerous family of that name who were prominent members of the group of King's instrumentalists; his son John also received an annuity from Cecil. Another recipient of the latter's bounty was John Coprario, reputedly an Englishman who had been trained in Italy for many years, and who was eventually to win recognition as a fine composer. Not all Cecil's proteges achieved their ambition of making their way in the musical world. There was the case of the boy singer for whom Cecil arranged board and tuition with Innocent Lanier, another of that family. Unfortunately all Lanier's efforts to train him proved abortive, and Cecil was forced to dispense with the youth. But his chagrin could not have been as great as that of the disappointed teacher. "I am sorie for the boy with whome I have taken such paynes, but it lay not in my power to keepe his voyce," he confessed to Cecil's steward. (fn. 27)

For a person who rarely moved outside Court and government circles, Cecil showed a marked sympathy for a class of people with whom he could only have had a limited contact and known little of their conditions of living—the poor and depressed citizens of England. For the old, the maimed and the impotent he built a hospital at Theobalds and an almshouse at Waltham, besides distributing money at Hatfield and elsewhere. A more practical plan was to provide work for the unemployed at Hatfield, and this Cecil did by advancing money to the two Morrells, who undertook to train a number of local people in the art of weaving cloth. (fn. 28) Subscriptions towards enlarging the parish church at St. Martin's-inthe-Fields to accommodate the increasing population there, and towards maintaining the preacher in the Italian church in London were other examples of his benevolence in good causes.

There was, perhaps, no more striking expression of his generosity and sympathy—and none that was more appreciated and put to better purpose, than the annual sum of money which he distributed throughout the prisons of London at Christmas. He was not ignorant of the dreadful conditions which prevailed in them; he had learned of some of them from the petitions of persons whom he himself had committed to detention. (fn. 29) His attendance in the Star Chamber had also made him conversant with the callous treatment of prisoners who were powerless to defend themselves or find others to do so. Prison reform was well-nigh impossible at a time when gaols were leased as rentable property, and keepers were not called to account for the way they dealt with the ordinary felon or delinquent. (fn. 30) But Cecil had the satisfaction, at least, of knowing that he had contributed towards the alleviation of human suffering.


  • 1. PRO. Star Chamber, James I, 16/17.
  • 2. PRO. Star Chamber, James I, 16/15.
  • 3. Ibid., 12/11 and 19/10.
  • 4. Ibid., 11/23.
  • 5. See infra, p. 242.
  • 6. See infra, p. 144.
  • 7. See infra, pp. 85, 86, 90,
  • 8. See infra, p. 40.
  • 9. H.M.C. Salisbury MSS, Vol. XXII, pp. 57–8.
  • 10. See infra, p. 189.
  • 11. H.M.C. Salisbury MSS, Vol. XIX, p. 281.
  • 12. See infra, p. 24.
  • 13. See infra, p. 108.
  • 14. Cyprian Blagden. The Stationers' Company, pp. 118–25.
  • 15. See infra, p. 26.
  • 16. Cal. S.P. Dom., 1603–10, Vol. 55, pp. 263–4.
  • 17. Ibid., Vol. 57, p. 7.
  • 18. Menna Prestwich. CranfieldPolitics and Profits under the Early Stuarts, pp. 24–48.
  • 19. See infra, p. 201.
  • 20. See infra, p. 134.
  • 21. See infra, pp. 90, 179, 190.
  • 22. Prestwich op cit., p. 20.
  • 23. See infra, p. 210.
  • 24. See infra, p. 212.
  • 25. See infra, p. 185.
  • 26. H.M.C. Salisbury MSS, Vol. XX, pp. 149–50.
  • 27. See infra, p. 152.
  • 28. See infra, p. 164 and H.M.C. Salisbury MSS, Vol. XX, p. 286.
  • 29. See infra, pp. 7 and 101.
  • 30. In Presteign, Radnorshire, the keeper actually armed his prisoners and led them in an assault on a neighbour.