Table of contents
1 United Kingdom
2 United States

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, a Secretary of State is a senior Cabinet Minister in charge of a Government Department.

The ancient English monarchs always had in attendance a learned ecclesiastic, known at first as their clerk, and afterwards as "secretary", who conducted the royal correspondence; but it was not until the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (reigned 1558 - 1603) that these functionaries gained the title "Secretaries of State". Upon the direction of public affairs passing from the privy council to the cabinet after 1688 the secretaries of state began to assume those high duties which now render their office one of the most influential of an administration.

Until the time of Henry VIII (reigned 1509 - 1547), monarchs generally had only one secretary of state, but at the end of his reign a second principal secretary appeared. Owing to the increase of business consequent upon the union of Scotland, a third secretary gained appointment in 1708, but a vacancy occurring in this office in 1746 the third secretaryship disappeared until 1768, when a newly re-instituted Third Secretary began to take charge of the increasing colonial administrative work. In 1782 the office was again abolished, and the charge of the colonies transferred to the Home Secretary; but owing to the war of the First Coalition with France in 1794 a third secretary re-appeared to superintend the activities of the war department, and seven years later the colonial business became attached to his department. In 1854 a fourth secretary of state gained the exclusive charge of the war department, and in 1858 a fifth secretary (for India) began duties.

Secretaries of State, 1540-1649

  • Sir Thomas Wriothesley and Sir Ralph Sadler 1540-1543
  • Sir Thomas Wriothesley and William Paget 1543-1544
  • Sir William Petre and William Paget 1544-1547
  • Sir William Petre 1547-1548
  • Sir William Petre and Sir Thomas Smith 1548-1549
  • Sir William Petre and Nicholas Wotton 1549-1550
  • Sir William Petre and Sir William Cecil 1550-1553
  • Sir William Petre, Sir William Cecil, and Sir John Cheke 1553
  • Sir William Petre and Sir John Bourn 1553-1557
  • John Boxall and Sir John Bourn 1557-1558
  • Sir William Cecil 1558-1572
  • Sir Thomas Smith 1572-1573
  • Sir Thomas Smith and Sir Francis Walsingham 1573-1576
  • Sir Francis Walsingham 1576-1577
  • Thomas Wilson and Sir Francis Walsingham 1577-1581
  • Sir Francis Walsingham 1581-1586
  • William Davison and Sir Francis Walsingham 1586-1587
  • Sir Francis Walsingham 1587-1590
  • Sir Robert Cecil 1590-1600
  • Sir Robert Cecil (1st Earl of Salisbury from 1605) and John Herbert 1600-1612
  • Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset and John Herbert 1612-1614
  • Sir Ralph Winwood and John Herbert 1614-1616
  • Sir Ralph Winwood and Sir Thomas Lake 1616-1617
  • Sir Robert Naunton and Sir Thomas Lake 1618-1619
  • Sir Robert Naunton and Sir George Calvert 1619-1623
  • Sir Edward Conway and Sir George Calvert 1623-1625
  • Edward Conway, 1st Lord Conway and Sir Albertus Morton 1625
  • Edward Conway, 1st Lord Conway (1st Viscount Conway from 1627) and Sir John Coke 1625-1628
  • Dudley Carleton, 1st Viscount Dorchester and Sir John Coke 1628-1632
  • Sir Francis Windebank and Sir John Coke 1632-1640
  • Sir Francis Windebank and Sir Harry Vane 1640-1641
  • Sir Edward Nicholas and Sir Harry Vane 1641-1642
  • Sir Edward Nicholas and Lucius Carey, 2nd Viscount Falkland 1642-1643
  • Sir Edward Nicholas and George Digby, 2nd Earl of Bristol 1643-1649

Current Positions

Obsolete Positions

United States

In the United States of America federal government, the Secretary of State main role is to supervise and conduct foreign policy.

In the individual states of the United States, the Secretary of State is normally an administrative officer responsible for certifying elections and maintaining corporate registrations. In some states, the Secretary of State handles driver's licenses and license plates and certifies state documents and notaries public. Ordinarily this not a particularly powerful position, however, because the Secretary of State is generally responsible for certifying elections, this position can occasionally become important. For example, the Secretary of State of Florida, Katherine Harris, played a important role in deciding the outcome of the 2000 Presidential election.