Secretary of State

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Office of the Secretary of State
Coat of Arms of the Kingdom of England from 1603 to 1649.png
Coat of Arms of the Kingdom of England from 1603 to 1649 and 1660 to 1701
Admiralty and Marine Affairs Office Home Office Foreign Office
Member ofBoard of Admiralty
Reports toChief Minister of England
NominatorChief Minister of England
AppointerMonarch of England
Subject to formal approval by the King-in-Council
Term lengthNot fixed
Inaugural holderRichard Weston, 1st Earl of Portland

The Secretary of State and previously known as the Principal Secretary of State or the Kings Secretary was first established in 1253. The office holder was responsible for both home and foreign affairs for the Kingdom of England until 1660 when his post was abolished and replaced by two separate secretaries. The Secretary of State for the Northern Department and The Secretary of State for the Southern Department each dealt with home affairs on a geographical basis North of England and South of England and they divided foreign affairs between them.

From the time of Henry VIII, there were usually two secretaries of state. From 1660 to the present all successive new secretaries of state with particular responsibilities originate from the office.


From early fourteenth century the Secretary became the third office of state in the kingdom. Most administrative business went through the royal household, particularly the Wardrobe. The Privy Seal's warrants increased rapidly in quantity and frequency during the late medieval period. The Signet warrant, kept by the Keeper of the Privy Seal, could be used to stamp documents on authority of chancery and on behalf of the Chancellor. During wartime the king took his privy seal on his person wherever he went. Its controller was the Secretary, who served on military and diplomatic missions; and the Wardrobe's clerks assumed an even greater importance.

The sovereigns of England had a clerical servant, at first known as their Clerk, later as their Secretary. The primary duty of this office was carrying on the monarch's official correspondence, but in varying degrees the holder also advised the Crown. Until the reign of King Henry VIII (1509–1547), there was usually only one such secretary at a time, but by the end of Henry's reign there was also a second secretary. At about the end of the reign of Henry's daughter Elizabeth I (1558–1603), the secretaries began to be called "Secretary of State".

After the Restoration of 1660, 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 of the secretaries dealt with internal matters, but they also divided foreign affairs between them. One dealt with northern Europe (the mostly Protestant states) and the other with southern Europe. Following the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the Cabinet took over the practical direction of affairs previously undertaken by the Privy Council, and the two secretaries of state gained ever more responsible powers.

Office Holders

See Also