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Secretaries of State

The Secretaries of State were responsible for dealing with the king’s personal and official correspondence, taking decisions on many matters of state and advising the king on both domestic and foreign affairs. They controlled the Signet Office, where Signet Clerks prepared correspondence for the Signet Seal (a smaller seal than the Privy Seal; used for personal letters as well as major communications). Although two secretaries had been appointed from 1640, their work was more formally divided from 1640, when one became responsible for the Northern Department of foreign affairs (i.e for Protestant countries) and the other for the Southern Department (for Catholic countries). The Northern Secretary (N), who was the junior partner, was always promoted to the Southern Department (S) on the resignation of its holder. By the seventeenth century, the office had grown in stature to rival those of the Lord Treasurer and the Lord Chancellor.