CECIL, Hon. Robert (1670-1716), of St. Anne’s, Westminster and King’s Walden, Herts.
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Family and Education
bap. 6 Nov. 1670, 2nd s. of James Cecil†, 3rd Earl of Salisbury, by Lady Margaret, da. of John Manners†, 8th Earl of Rutland. m. lic. 28 July 1690, Elizabeth, da. and h. of Isaac Meynell of Meynell Langley, Derbys., wid. of William Hale of King’s Walden, Herts. 3s. 2da.1
Commr. taking subscriptions to land bank 1696; trade and plantations 1702–7.2
On the death of his father, Cecil inherited £6,000 in cash together with £300 p.a., although the annual income was somewhat uncertain because it was to be raised from lands held by his brother James, the 4th Earl, with whom he seems to have been on the worst of terms. Their differences stemmed from Salisbury’s conversion to Catholicism in 1688. Cecil, who had himself remained a Protestant, promoted a bill in October 1690 to prevent his brother cutting off the entail of the family estates, to which he was then heir presumptive. In the preamble to the first draft of the bill he claimed that his brother, having made recoveries of part of the estate, and
continuing a Papist and persisting in his zeal for that party, and having conceived a very great prejudice against and hatred unto your supplicant for no other reason in the world but your supplicant being a Protestant and zealous for their Majesties’ service and the present government . . . doth intend . . . to suffer several other common recoveries of all the residue of the said estate, . . . on purpose to bar your supplicant of the said remainder and with a design to settle the said estate upon some person of his own religion or convey the same to the use and service of the Romish party, he the said now Earl, having seriously and publicly declared that he would leave your supplicant a poor Earl and disinherit your suppliant all he could.
During the committee stage, counsel for Salisbury denied the expressions of hatred for his brother, but admitted that the Earl did intend to cut the entail. Consequently the bill was passed but the wording was modified to leave out the sections reciting the state of personal relations between the brothers. The whole proceeding was shortly afterwards rendered void by the birth of an heir to the Earl.3
Cecil’s parliamentary ambitions originally centred on the county of Hertfordshire, which he unsuccessfully contested in both 1695 and 1697, on the Whig interest. He then switched his attention to Steyning in the January 1701 election, but his bidding came ‘too late’, and he had to wait for a by-election at Castle Rising in April to enter the Commons, courtesy of the Howard family. During his parliamentary career his activity is obscured by the presence of his Cecil kinsmen in the chamber. He did not stand in the second election of 1701, but in December was appointed a commissioner of trade, with a salary of £1,000 p.a., in which capacity he authored the proposal put before the House in November 1704 for continuing the restraint on trade with France.4
In 1702 when Cecil was acting as trustee for his brother, Charles, then living in Rome, he refused to honour his brother’s instructions to pay off debts owed to a certain John Wotton. Wotton wrote on 19 Mar. to the 9th Earl of Rutland (John Manners†):
Mr [Robert] Cecil will not give me anything but abuse me; though he be earnestly desired to do justice by his wife . . . and several other persons, none can prevail. He rails at me and writes me abusive letters . . . I have not seen him these two months, nor his sister Ranelagh [Margaret, Lady Ranelagh], nor will not; they are so abusive. They hate me because they have abused me, and then rail at me because they hate me, and sure there can be nothing more severe and unchristianlike than he is.
In April 1707 he was removed from the commission of trade, but in the following year came in for Wootton Bassett, on the interest of Henry St. John I*. His return was accurately counted as a gain for the Whigs by Lord Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*), since he voted in 1709 for naturalizing the Palatines and in 1710 in favour of the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell.5
Cecil did not stand for Parliament again. For much of his adult life he was ‘commonly called fat Cecil’ and was dogged by ill-health. Lady Cowper reported in 1704 that he ‘was so fallen away of his flesh that many scarce know him: from weighing 30 stone, he is now wasted to 23 stone’. Within months another commentator reported that he was ‘in so dangerous a condition that [his] physicians despair of [his] recovery’. Cecil drew up his will on 8 June 1714, requesting a private funeral with a hearse and three mourning coaches and leaving all his possessions and estate to his widow, Elizabeth, for whose hand he had once duelled and been wounded, whom he named his executrix. He died on 23 Feb. 1716.6
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Paula Watson
- 1. VCH Herts. Fams. 118; PCC 94 Exton.
- 2. CSP Dom. 1700–2, p. 475; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxii. 141; CJ, xii. 508.
- 3. HMC Lords, iii. 141–6; HMC Egmont Diary, ii. 333; CJ, x. 487, 505.
- 4. Add. 28886, f.168; CJ, xiv. 431.
- 5. HMC Rutland, ii. 170; Beaufort mss at Badminton House, William Walsh* to Earl of Coventry, 24 Apr. 1707.
- 6. PCC 22 Fox; Northants. RO, Isham mss IC 3314, newsletter 22 July 1690; HMC Egmont Diary, 333; Herts. RO, Panshanger mss D/EP F, p. 283; Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 27, f. 447.