Ralph Winwood

Sir Ralph Winwood (c. 1563 – 27 October 1617) was an English diplomat and statesman to the Jacobean court.

Early life

Ralph Winwood was born the son of Richard Winwood at Aynhoe in Northamptonshire, and was educated at St John's College, Oxford (1577), Magdalen College, Oxford (1582), and Padua (1594), studying law at Gray's Inn from 1617.

In 1599 he became secretary to Sir Henry Neville (c. 1562-1615), the English ambassador in France, and he succeeded Neville in this position two years later, retaining it until 1603. He was Clerk of Privy Council (extraordinary) from 1603 to 1608, and (ordinary) from 1608 to 1609. In 1603 Winwood was sent to The Hague as agent to the States-General of the United Provinces, and was appointed a member of the Dutch council of state on the basis of the Treaty of Nonsuch. Winwood's hearty dislike of Spain coloured all his actions in Holland; he was anxious to see a continuance of the war between Spain and the United Netherlands, and expressed both his own views and those of the English government at the time when he wrote, "how convenient this war would be for the good of His Majesty's realms, if it might be maintained without his charge." He was knighted on 28 June 1607.

In June 1608, Winwood signed the league between England and the United Provinces, and he was in Holland when the trouble over the succession to the duchies of Jülich and Cleves threatened to cause a European war. In this matter, he negotiated with the Protestant Princes of Germany on behalf of King James I of England. He was appointed Master of Requests from 1609 to 1614.

Having returned to England Sir Ralph became secretary of state and Privy Councillor from 1614 until his death and a Member of Parliament (MP) for Buckingham.[1] In the House of Commons he defended the king's right to levy impositions. Created principal Secretary of state on Somerset's demise, Winwood held the office from March 1614 to his death during the Addled Parliament. Winwood was responsible for the inquiry into the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury and the release of Raleigh from the Tower in 1616.[2] Raleigh was urged by Winwood to attack the Spanish fleet and the Spanish settlements in South America. Spanish envoys at Court of St James's made several written complaints about the secretary's share in this undertaking to the King at Whitehall Palace. In the midst of this latest foreign policy crisis, Sir Ralph Winwood died in London on 28 October 1617. It can hardly be doubted, wrote Gardiner, that, if he had lived till the following summer, he would have shared in Raleigh's ruin.

Ralph Winwood married Elizabeth Ball, daughter of Nicholas Ball of Totnes, Devon, by whom he had five sons (2 of whom predeceased him) and four daughters. One of Winwood's daughters, Anne Winwood (d. 1643), married Edward Montagu, 2nd Baron Montagu of Boughton, and their son was Ralph Montagu, 1st Duke of Montagu.


  1. "WINWOOD, Sir Ralph (c.1563-1617), of Whitehall, Westminster and St. Bartholomew the Less, London; later of Ditton Park, Bucks". History of Parliament. Retrieved 18 June 2013.
  2. May, Steven W. (1989). Ralegh's Life. Boston: Twayne Publishers. pp. 1–24.
  • Winwood's official correspondence and other papers passed to the Duke of Montagu. From 1899, they were in the possession of the Duke of Buccleuch. They are calendared in the Report of the Historical Manuscripts Commission on the manuscripts of the Duke of Buccleuch. See the Introduction to this Report (1899).


Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
George Gilpin
as English Councillor
on the Dutch Council of State
English agent then ambassador to the United Provinces
With: Sir Richard Spencer
as Joint Commissioner 1607–1609
Succeeded by
Sir Henry Wotton
Government offices
Preceded by
Robert Carr, Lord Rochester
John Herbert
Secretary of State
With: John Herbert 1614–1616
Sir Thomas Lake 1616–1617
Succeeded by
Sir Robert Naunton
Sir Thomas Lake
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