In the UK, a title held by a number of ministers; for example, the secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs.
Originally the title was given under Elizabeth I of England to each of two officials conducting the royal correspondence. In the USA the secretary of state deals with foreign affairs.
Historically secretaries of state were the constitutional channel of communication between the crown and its subjects. The office resulted from the expansion of the royal household as the king's business grew. A king's secretary existed in the reign of Henry III. Under Henry VIII the office was considerably enhanced and its holder designated principal secretary.
The title ‘secretary of state’ appears to have developed in the 18th century. In 1801 there was one for home affairs, one for foreign matters, and a third for war and colonial work; in modern times the number of secretaries of state has been considerably increased.
Each secretary of state is a member of the cabinet and is assisted by at least one minister of state, one or more parliamentary undersecretaries, and by a permanent undersecretary and official staff.
Scotland Scottish affairs were originally the responsibility of the home secretary and various other departments, but a Scottish Office and secretary for Scotland were created in 1885, and the latter became a secretary of state in 1926. Following devolution in 1999, the secretary of state for Scotland retains responsibility for a number of ‘reserved matters’, including foreign affairs, defence, the constitution, and taxation and economic management.
Wales A minister of Welsh Affairs was created in 1951, but the post was usually combined with another portfolio. In 1964, however, a Welsh Office was established and a secretary of state for Wales appointed. Since devolution in 1999, the secretary of state's role is to liaise with the National Assembly for Wales, and represent Welsh interests in the UK government.
Northern Ireland Following devolution in 1999, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland retains direct responsibility for political and constitutional matters, law and order, security, and electoral matters.