Robert Cecil Gunpowder Plotter

Robert Cecil and His Influence Over James I

Eyed Cecil with a mixture of awe and suspicion; he knew Cecil was such a consummate politician, he had engineered the succession and he was a master of espionage and intrigue. 

 It was Cecil, amongst others, who had helped to put him on the throne.

James liked the Earl of Essex, he had been a favourite of Elizabeth and he was also a favourite of King James, but Cecil had destroyed him.

Cecil, however, was more trustworthy than his cousin, Francis Bacon, who had betrayed Essex and then once he realised that Essex was also supporting the bid to make James the king, he had to apologise for his betrayal of his mentor.

Unfortunately, the apology came too late to save Essex’s life and also Bacon’s reputation with King James.

Court life was fraught with traps, trials and tribulations; most of them were avoidable if you had common sense and integrity, both of which were in short supply at court at that time, even James realised.

A pretty face and hunting aplenty were far easier to find.

Robert Cecil and His Influence Over James I was far more trustworthy than most of his compatriots. 

Of course, the King had read ‘The Prince’. James was not sure in whose interests Cecil was working. He knew he would work in the Crown’s interests.

As King of Scotland and England, James worried that the Crown’s interests might not serve James’s interests.

James wondered whether he would be allowed to get his way and fretted over, which issues Cecil would insist on tackling and which James might be allowed to decide for himself, it was a tightrope. Who had ultimate power, himself or ‘His Elf’?

As Cecil cleared his throat, James was unsure of what to expect from his Secretary of State.

His contorted frame made him look like the deformed King Richard. 

Instead, he received a well-rehearsed and well-delivered speech, which epitomised the pragmatism of his best advisor.

The frisson of feelings, safe in his role, yet having to impress this intelligent and competent state servant, made James feel alert and alive.

The King swayed between loving Cecil as a devoted servant, his little ‘elf’ who was as loyal as a ‘beagle’, he was aware of Elizabeth sobriquets; to fearing him and his powerful cadre.

“Our predecessors, my father William Burghley and his grace, Sir Francis Walsingham led the policy that prevented the Papists and their plots from overthrowing the state. Still, I intend to continue that policy, so Your Majesty need fear no let-up in our efforts to keep the crown secure, above all your safety is paramount and that of the Crown is sacrosanct,” Cecil boasted.

Even if, James knew that Cecil could prevaricate where necessary but, nonetheless, he listened attentively, waiting for a chance to make a witty remark or to detect any disloyalty.

His admiration of his chief advisor was obvious; consequently. he chose his words carefully in his reply. “A noble endeavour. The Tudor dynasty that our House of Stuart replaces was well known for being mainly peaceful at home, except during the reign of Mary, and I want my dominions to be the same!”

He nodded, awaiting Cecil’s approval.

He resisted the urge to look up at the stag’s antlers that hung from the white washed walls at either end of the hall.

They underlined Cecil’s contention that his majesty preferred sport to serious thought.

James reassured by Cecil’s remark, and the low bow accompanying it, continued his monologue, a sagacious soliloquy worthy of a Shakespearean character.

“I want Cornwall and Northumberland, Shropshire and Yorkshire to be as loyal as my court here in London.

Though I know you cannot perform miracles, we need no Popish plots and no rebels, no processions down the Strand or dissension in our land.”

“We wish to unite the land.”

I want to see the bishops bring order in all things and for all my subjects to embrace the ‘Divine Right of Kings’.” The King announced gravely. James’s tongue tripped slightly over his words.  As if he spoke with a full mouth, though his wit shone through between the lines.

He knew that history could repeat itself. Both men were aware how fraught diplomacy was.

It was a dangerous vocation being a king.

 James also knew, as everyone at court knew. Walsingham and Robert Cecil’s father William, Lord Burghley, had secured the throne for Queen Bess through their tireless work.

Cecil maintained that trust and perpetuated that consistency.

It was his turn to speak next, and he did so loudly and clearly, setting out his arguments like an experienced and well- trained barrister of law.

“The Hampton Court Conference that you have called will provide ample opportunity to unite the different factions and provide security within the commonwealth and we have managed to secure peace abroad even if negotiations of final settlement take up much time.”

“The Spanish are not easy to negotiate with, but I cannot argue with you. Baron, please continue,” insisted the King, rolling his wrist in encouragement.

“As Your Majesty has so often said the Lord Bishops provide a strong and loyal administrative framework and a brake to the nobles’ power,” Cecil announced this snippet officiously, his voice sounding as if he were addressing the Privy Council or in the courtroom at the Inner Temple summing up his case.

“Would you like to break the nobles or just put a brake on their influence?” James asked cunningly.

He was trying to establish Cecil’s desire and motive, he could not resist a bit of word play along the way.

“The nobles need controlling, as you know and the Lord Bishops help the State to do such, the Lord Bishops are supremely loyal and provide substantial money for the Exchequer.”

“They aid us with both monies and influence, it is true, yet the Puritans oppose them.” James observed wryly as if expecting Cecil to right the wrong.

“Indeed, Your Majesty, it is true,” acknowledged Cecil sincerely.

“What do you propose to do about it?” asked James expectantly.

“The Puritans are opposed by the Lord Bishops who being men of influence and money are my natural allies.

They provide the exchequer with their plate, the collection money all goes to the Crown, and they enforce and keep the country’s laws.

Therefore, I must support my good Lord Bishops and the Puritans must be opposed by the King!”

Cecil warning changed the atmosphere dramatically, searching around the half circle of peers for approval. There was much nodding of heads and the odd murmur of ‘hear, him’.

These puritans are non-conformists, they refuse to attend our churches or sign the books there.” the King keenly offered.

He despised the Presbyterians in Scotland, and he thought that the Puritans were cut from the same cloth; they wore the same drab clothes at the very least.

“This seems your only course of action. However, the works of those who would undermine the commonwealth continue to form our main concern,” continued Cecil soothingly.

“As always,” agreed the King reflectively, “we are keen to stamp out sedition and trample on treason.”

“The Puritans and Anabaptists provide the need for too much attention: avoiding attendance at services, costing plate and spreading sedition.

Their pamphlets cause unrest and consternation within the Commonwealth. Their machinations cause much mischief and distress in a state that needs calm and conformity,” Cecil asserted.

He knew his last sentence would hit home like a crossbow bolt in a target.

Cecil was managing to build up a strong case for attacking religions that might undermine the power afforded to the bishops whilst never betraying his mounting irritation at James’s uncalled for and continuous interruptions.

Cecil in full flow was impressive.

“There is much to be made of their desire for a presence and power at court.”

James agreed readily, not realising the torment that his interruptions caused in Cecil’s mind.

“Their support is growing in our parliament and their influence spreads throughout the land. These Puritans and their strict ways are worrying. We must curb them.”

The King knew of the raids on Anabaptist homes, and the rumours of Puritan dissent, Cecil had provided him with the reports of all their activity, their pamphlets full of protestation and sedition were excellent evidence, the more fanatical the better for Cecil’s needs.

He had carefully constructed a picture of ‘trouble-makers’.

He was fully aware of James’s detestation of the Scottish Presbyterians and their wish to undermine the authority of the monarchy.

Cecil was able to build on that hatred.

Everyone knew about their parsimony and their severe lifestyle. It did not want their influence, banning dancing and the theatre, frivolity and fun.

Cecil controlled the information James received in the hope that he would be more malleable. Elizabeth tended to procrastinate. Even so, Cecil did not take this influence for granted.

Statecraft demanded a cool head and a firm grip on all subjects especially those who held sway at court. One whispered remark could win or lose the confidence of the King James.

In his view, James, still, too readily favoured the opinion of favourites. He allowed them to influence him far too much. James was also well aware of the Puritans views on dance, drink, plays and parties.

It was another reason to despise them.

“You embrace the Catholics as you should,” Cecil continued. Feeling for the first time that he might be making headway in his plans.

“Indeed, toleration is demanded,” agreed James readily.

There has been too much persecution on both sides during the last dynasty and it does not bode well for security.

However, I feel our leniency over recusancy needs to be reversed.”

Robert Cecil and His Influence Over James I by Michael Fitzalan

About the Author

Michael Fitzalan has been writing adventure stories since he was fourteen. He lives in south London, where he was born. His Irish parents were doctors and they settled on the West Side of Clapham Common.


Michael Fitzalan’s first novel gained cult status and here are some others: Waterwitch was a hit with those who have ever sailed; two brothers battle storms and Spanish support for the Malvinas in an attempt to meet up with their girlfriends in Ibiza. They have to get from The Algarve to Ibiza, all very straightforward until engine failure and storms threaten to sink all their plans. The Taint Gallery tells the story of a modern Romeo and Juliet; the story is set in Cheslea and Fulham, not Verona, nevertheless, it is a doomed relationship. The book was shunned by big publishers for its highly charged and graphic sexual content and the small publisher who produced the book folded, copies are rare. A reprint is planned for its twentieth anniversary next year; it is still as pertinent and shocking today as it was back in 1996. Switch is an amazing mixture of Franz Kafka realism yet it reads like a Raymond Chandler thriller. Joe Ederer falls for a French girl but he is recovering from being dumped by his English girlfriend. A fish out of water in London, he chases her home only to be rejected. He hooks up with a suffocating drug addict and that is when his nightmares begin. Major Bruton’s Safari is the story of innocents abroad; a family invited to celebrate the coronation of the Kabaka of Buganda become indoctrinated into the ways of Africa. With an acerbic observer on hand, the family experience the warmth and ways of Uganda that help them to understand themselves a little better. IPG – Innocent Proven Guilty is about a teacher, Philip Hayward whose brother sold their shared flat and ran off to America with the proceeds. Philip bumps into his brother’s ex-girlfriend and she tells him his brother is back. Racing to the address she gave him, he arrives to find his brother with a knife in his back. As he leaves, his shoes leave bloody footprints and the police come looking for him. Carom – Finn McHugh and his team take on a swindler and smuggler, Didier, who is depraved in so many ways. They know he is smuggling art and drugs; he must be stopped before others take him out. The Cubans, want him dead, Finn wants to break the smuggling ring. Who will win? Remember the Fifth November – Guy Fawkes was innocent, Catesby was a broken man who brought his children up in the Anglican faith, yet Robert Cecil arranged for them to be portrayed as terrible villains. With a spy service second to none and with moles everywhere how could someone hatch a plot like this and fail to be discovered? The answer, they could not. Read the truth! One – Bullying does not go on anymore in schools. I would not bet on it. Weep as you read the terrible story of a school bully and the misery he dispenses to all the boys. Then, cheer as one of his victims takes revenge. Take a trip to a prep school in a time when kids built tree houses, danced and swung on Tarzan ropes!

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