Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cecil, Edward
CECIL, Sir EDWARD, Viscount Wimbledon (1572–1638), naval and military commander, was the third son of Sir Thomas Cecil, second lord Burghley and first earl of Exeter [q. v.], grandson of Sir William Cecil, first lord Burghley [q. v.], and nephew of Sir Robert Cecyll, first earl of Salisbury, whose deviation from the paternal spelling of the name he systematically adopted. He was born on 29 Feb. 1571–2, and entered the military service in the Low Countries about 1596; in 1599 he was appointed captain of a company of English foot-soldiers, and in May 1600 was appointed to a troop of cavalry, which he commanded at the battle of Nieuport, under Sir Francis Vere. In 1601 he commanded a body of one thousand men raised in London for the relief of Ostend, then besieged by the Spaniards, and on his return in September was knighted by Queen Elizabeth. In the spring of 1602 he was colonel of a regiment of English horse under Prince Maurice, and served in the expedition into Brabant and at the siege of Grave. He continued actively serving during the years immediately following, and achieved a high reputation for valour and conduct. In 1610 he commanded the English contingent of four thousand men under Prince Christian of Anhalt, at the siege of Juliers, 7–17 July to 12–22 Aug.
At court his credit stood at least as high as it did in the camp. In March 1612 he was sent, as the prince's proxy, to stand sponsor to the child of Count Ernest of Nassau; in April 1613 he had a commission to receive and pay all moneys for the journey of Lady Elizabeth and her husband, and in November he was ordered to request his lady to attend the electress at Heidelberg. In January 1617–18 he was suitor for the comptrollership, and also in February for the chancellorship of the duchy of Lancaster; but though supported by the Duke of Buckingham he was unsuccessful. In 1620 he was nominated by Buckingham to command the English troops in Germany, but was superseded by Sir Horace Vere on the demand of Count Dohna, the agent of the king of Bohemia in England. A violent quarrel ensued between Cecil and Dohna, in the course of which Cecil assured his opponent that it was only his character as an ambassador which protected him from a demand for personal satisfaction. He has been credited with a speech in the House of Commons (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 5 Feb. 1620–1) on the importance of granting an immediate supply to the Palatinate; a good, honest speech, which was published under Cecil's name (1621, 4to); but Professor Gardiner has been reluctantly forced to the conclusion that it is a forgery (Hist. of England, iv. 29 n.). On 4 June, however, when Sir James Perrot called on the house to declare that if the negotiations then on foot failed, ‘they would be ready to adventure their lives and estates for the maintenance of the cause of God and of his majesty's royal issue,’ Cecil, in seconding the motion, said: ‘This declaration comes from heaven. It will do more for us than if we had ten thousand soldiers on the march.’
During all these years Cecil was markedly supported by the Duke of Buckingham; and in 1625, when the expedition against the coast of Spain was determined on, Buckingham, though nominating himself to the supreme command, as generalissimo, appointed Cecil as his deputy, with the title of lord marshal and general of the sea and land forces; ‘the greatest command,’ it was said, ‘that any subject hath had these hundred years’ (Court and Times of Charles I, i. 53). Buckingham offered indeed to procure him an appointment from the king; but Cecil, ‘not to lessen the duke's honour, took it from himself’ (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 16 March 1629–30). Notwithstanding these high-sounding titles the preparations were wretched in the extreme. The men were raw levies, and the officers, for the most part, no better; the fleet was mainly composed of merchant ships, hastily pressed into the service, and commanded by men ignorant of war and discontented at the part they were compelled to undertake. Even the general had never yet held any independent command, and was totally ignorant of naval affairs. Nevertheless Buckingham anticipated an easy success. The king came down to Plymouth to review the troops and the fleet, and it was officially announced that Cecil was to be raised to the peerage as Viscount Wimbledon.
After many delays the fleet finally got to sea on 8 Oct., with vague instructions to undertake some operation against the coast of Spain. On 20 Oct., after rounding Cape St. Vincent, a council of war was at last held, in order to determine on what point the attack should be made. It was decided to land at St. Mary's (Puerto de Santa Maria), in Cadiz Bay, and from it to march to San Lucar, a distance of twelve miles. Orders were therefore given out to anchor at St. Mary's. But as the fleet arrived at its station a number of ships were seen in the outer harbour of Cadiz. No orders had provided for this contingency. Essex, who was leading in the Swiftsure, stood towards them, interchanged a few random shot, and, with his topsails brailed up, waited in hopes of being ordered to attack; but receiving no instructions, and the ships of his squadron showing no signs of supporting him, he fell back to his station and anchored off St. Mary's.
Meantime the Spaniards cut their cables and fled up the inner harbour. Had the Swiftsure been supported, the enemy must have been destroyed. Cecil attempted afterwards to throw the blame on the captains of the squadron, and especially on the merchant skippers. He alleged that he went in among them and called on them to follow the Swiftsure, but that they tacitly refused to obey and let go their anchors. This statement is, however, at variance with that of Essex, and almost all the other superior officers of the army. It was suspected from the flight of the ships that Cadiz was without defence, as indeed it was, and it was proposed to attack it at once. Essex, Sir John Burgh, and Lord Cromwell urged this measure with vehemence; but Cecil was incapable of any resolution, and determined rather to attack the fort of Puntales, which commanded the entrance of the harbour. But even this attack was made in a very half-hearted way. Orders were sent to twenty of the merchant ships to support five Dutch ships and to cannonade the fort. The orders were never delivered; and though the officer sent with them was Sir Thomas Love, the captain of the Royal Anne, carrying Cecil's flag, Cecil was apparently left in ignorance till the next morning. Essex with his squadron and some other ships were then ordered in, but no care was taken in stationing them, and the cannonade was weak and desultory. It was not till towards evening that the fort capitulated to a body of troops landed in its rear under the command of Sir John Burgh.
On the following morning, 24 Oct., the soldiers were landed at Puntales. The general's hope was vaguely to reduce the town by blockade; but on an alarm of an approaching enemy he turned to meet them. He had given orders that on landing every man was to carry provisions in his knapsack; but no care had been taken to see that the orders were obeyed, no instructions had been issued as to where the provisions were to come from, and the pursers of the ships had refused to supply them without proper warrant; and thus, though some few companies may have had their day's provisions with them, by far the greater part of the force, consisting of raw soldiers and ignorant officers, was absolutely destitute.
As the English advanced, the Spaniards fell back along the narrow causeway which connected Cadiz with the village of San Fernando and the bridge beyond. The English followed nearly as far as the village, a distance of six or seven miles. And here it was apparently that the superior officers first discovered that the men had no provisions. Cecil was informed of it, and answered angrily that this was no time to be thinking of provisions with the enemy in their front. But the men were utterly exhausted: many of them, who had been landed with Sir John Burgh the day before, had been upwards of twenty-four hours without anything to eat, and the march under the noonday sun had completely knocked them up. Some wine was found in the village, and Cecil ordered a measure to be served out all round. But no examination was made, and it was not found out that the place was the great store for the use of the West India fleet until the soldiers were all mad drunk. Then, indeed, an attempt was made to stave the casks, but amid riot and confusion indescribable. Fortunately the enemy remained ignorant of the condition of the army, and the next morning the men, still without food, were for the most part sufficiently sober to stagger back to Puntales.
The Spanish ships had meantime warped into a creek at the head of the harbour, and sunk a merchantman at the entrance. They as well as the town seemed now unassailable; the troops were therefore re-embarked, and on the 29th the fleet took its departure. Two days later the Spanish treasure-ships, keeping well to the southward, got safely into Cadiz, while Cecil with the English fleet was watching for them broad off Cape St. Vincent. And he continued to watch till 16 Nov., when, his ships being foul and leaky, the rigging and sails rotten, and the provisions putrid, he gave the order to return to England. But before it could be carried into effect want had produced sickness, which assumed the proportions of a pestilence. Many of the ships, thus left without men sufficient to work them, were either lost or exposed to the greatest danger. The Anne Royal, having buried 130 men, with 160 sick, and leaking like a sieve, got into Kinsale on 11 Dec. Having partly refitted, sent the sick on shore, and received the crews of some of the ships which had been cast away, she put to sea on 28 Jan. 1625–6. A gale of wind drove her to the westward, and she got with some difficulty into Berehaven, where she lay till 19 Feb., and did not arrive in the Downs till the 28th.
The failure of this costly expedition gave rise to much popular indignation, the weight of which fell, not undeservedly, on Buckingham. But no censure of Buckingham can absolve Cecil from the blame which must attach to the gross incapacity which he displayed under circumstances of no peculiar difficulty. To his incompetence the Spaniards owed it that every ship in the harbour was not taken or burnt, that Cadiz was not sacked, and that the treasure-ships were not captured. The superior officers of the expedition, especially the Earl of Essex, did not hesitate to prefer a formal charge of misconduct against the general. It appears to have been cursorily examined by the king in council, but no evidence was taken; the favour of the Duke of Buckingham and Cecil's denial of every point were held to be sufficient to warrant a full acquittal; and thus, far from receiving every censure, his credit at court rose and continued to rise till, a few years later and after the more disastrous failure at the Isle of Ré, even the people began to consider him as an heroic leader of armies. His elevation to the peerage had been announced before the fleet sailed, and he had since been even officially addressed as Lord Wimbledon, though his patent as Baron Cecil of Putney was not dated till 9 Nov., while the fleet was vainly looking out for the treasure-ships off Cape St. Vincent, nor was he actually created Viscount Wimbledon till 25 July 1626. On 18 Dec. 1626 he received a commission as lieutenant of the county of Surrey. In 1627 he held a command at the siege of Groll, and at Bois-le-Duc in 1629. On 30 July 1630 he was appointed governor of Portsmouth, an office which he held till his death, 15 Nov. 1638. During this time he seems to have been recognised as the highest English authority on military affairs. He was a member of numberless committees and councils of war; even Buckingham did not disdain to receive advice from him (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 12 Oct. (?) 1627), and Sir Kenelm Digby wrote (21–31 Jan. 1636–7) to the effect that ‘England is happy in producing persons who do actions which after ages take for romances; witness King Arthur and Cadwallader of ancient time, and the valiant and ingenious peer, the Lord Wimbledon, whose epistle exceeds anything ever done by so victorious a general of armies, or so provident a governor of towns.’
He was three times married, the last only two years before his death (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1636–7, p. 149); but leaving issue only four daughters, all by the first wife, the title became extinct (ib. 1638–9, p. 106). His last wife, Sophia, daughter of Sir Edward Zouch, who was described (27 Nov. 1638) as a rich young widow, lived to a ripe old age, and died in November 1691 (Collins, Peerage (1768), iii. 118).[Wimbledon's own account of the Cadiz Expedition is his Journal and Relation, &c. (1626, sm. 4to); another account, which must be considered as to a great extent also Wimbledon's, is The Voyage to Cadiz, by John Glanville, edited by Rev. A. B. Grosart (Camden Society, 1883), the introduction to which contains a summary of nearly all that is known as to Wimbledon's life; The charge delivered by the Earl of Essex and nine other Colonels at the Council Table against the Viscount Wimbledon, general of the last Cales voyage, with his answer, containing a full relation of the defeat of the same voyage is printed in Lord Lansdowne's Works (1732), ii. 249. The original manuscript is in the Brit. Mus. Harl. 37, f. 88. Copies of the Journal of the Swiftsure are in Harl. MS. 354, No. 34, and in S. P. Dom. Charles I, xi. 22; see also Gardiner's Hist. of England, vi. 1–24, where there is an excellent map of Cadiz. A Life of Cecil, Viscount Wimbledon, by Mr. Charles Dalton, was published in two volumes in 1885.]