Lord Burghley

William Cecil

(Lord Burghley features prominently, albeit fictitiously, in the novel, When the Time is Ripe by Tony Thistlewood. We meet him early in the book, when he visits an old friend who is on his deathbed. Yet this man is more than a friend; he is the guardian of a secret so incredible that, if it becomes known, it might cost Queen Elizabeth her throne, even her life.)


William Cecil, Lord Burghley was, perhaps, the greatest political survivor of the turbulent 16th century in England and eventually became the master statesman of Europe. Yet, it was not always thus: during the reign of the infant king, Edward VI, Cecil acted as secretary to the Lord Protector, the Duke of Somerset. Upon the latter’s downfall in 1549, Cecil was confined to the Tower of London for three months. The self-proclaimed Duke of Northumberland ordered Cecil’s release and appointed him one of the two Secretaries of State.

Although Cecil despised Northumberland and did not approve of his scheming to preclude both Princess Mary and Princess Elizabeth from the throne in favour of Lady Jane Grey, Cecil nonetheless signed, at King Edward’s insistence, the various instruments of settlement. Fortunately for Cecil, he managed to convince Queen Mary on her accession to the throne that he was an unwilling participant and, moreover, had actively intrigued against the ill-fated Northumberland.

After the accession of Queen Elizabeth in 1559, Cecil quickly became her trusted principal advisor and remained so until his death in 1598.

Cecil’s pious, intelligent and devoted second wife, Mildred, is buried in Westminster Abbey alongside their daughter, Anne. Every inch of their tomb is covered with effusive praise authored by Cecil and his son, Robert. That being so, it is a matter of interesting conjecture why William Cecil, Lord Burghley, chose to be buried over one hundred miles away in Stamford!


Snapshot Bio of William Cecil

Date of Birth:

    13th or 18th September 1520 or 1521(actual date is disputed)
Place of Birth:
    Bourne, Lincolnshire, England (Yes, he was born in Bourne!)
Date of Death:
    4th August 1598
Buried:

    St Martin’s Church, Stamford, Lincolnshire

Titles:

    1st Baron Burghley (created 1571)
    Knight of the Garter (1572)

Education:

    The King’s School, Grantham, Lincolnshire.
    Stamford School, Lincolnshire.
    St John’s College Cambridge (from 1535 to 1541 where he studied under Roger Ascham and John Cheke but failed to gain a degree, although he became well versed in Greek! He later married Cheke’s sister, Mary)
    Studied Law at Gray’s Inn from 1541.

Positions held:

    The Protector’s (Duke of Somerset) Master of Requests (1548)
    Secretary of State (Often referred to as ‘Secretary for the South’)
    For King Edward VI (1550 – 1553)
    For Queen Elizabeth I (1558 – 1572) Chief Minister (1572 – 1598)*
    Lord High Treasurer (1572 – 1598)
    President of the Privy Council*
    Chancellor of Cambridge University (1559 – 1598)
    Master of the Court of Wards and Liveries (1561 – 1598)
    Chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin (1592 – 1598)

* Dates are imprecise because many records were lost when the Palace of Whitehall, the largest palace in Europe, was destroyed by fire in 1698. The Banqueting House is all that remains today of the original buildings.

Married:

    (1) 1541 Mary Cheke (d.1543)
    Children:
    Thomas Cecil, 1st Earl of Exeter (b.1542 d.1623)

    (2) 1546 Mildred Cooke (b.1526 d.1589)

    Children:
    (1) Anne Cecil (b.1556 d.5th June 1588)
    m. Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (19th December 1571)
    (2) Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury (b.1563 d.1512)

Country seat:

    Burghley House, near Stamford, Lincolnshire. The house was designed by Lord Burghley and took thirty-two years to build. On Lord Burghley’s death, it passed to his eldest son, Thomas.

    Burghley House is currently owned by a family charitable trust established in 1975 by David Cecil (1905 – 1981), the 6th Marquess of Exeter, who won a gold medal at the 1928 Olympics. His daughter, Lady Victoria Leatham, lived in the house as Director of the Trust until 2007 when her daughter, Miranda Rock, took over the reins. The house has, therefore, had a continuous association with the Cecil family for over 400 years.Lady Victoria is well known to television viewers as one of the experts on the Antique Road Show.

    Burghley House is open to the public, and the famous Burghley Horse Trials are held annually, usually in September, in the grounds of the house. Since its inauguration in 1961, this three-day event has become one of the top six horse trials held anywhere in the world.

Other houses:

    Cecil House in the Strand, London, passed to Thomas on Lord Burghley’s death in 1598. The house no longer exists. It was approximately on the site of the present day Lyceum Theatre.

    Theobalds House in Hertfordshire was built by Lord Burghley and on his death passed to his younger son, Robert. Unfortunately, King James I/VI took a fancy to Theobalds House, and, in 1607, he persuaded (?) Robert to swap Theobalds for Hatfield Palace, the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth I, which King James did not like.

    Hatfield House is also in Hertfordshire. Robert Cecil had only just finished rebuilding the palace, as the House was then known, when he died in 1612. Hatfield House is now the home of the 7th Marquess of Salisbury, a direct descendent of Robert who was created the 1st Earl of Salisbury in 1604, the same year in which his elder half-brother, Thomas, was created the 1st Earl of Exeter. Hatfield House is also open to the public.



Lord Burghley features prominently, albeit fictiously, in Tony Thistlewood's historical novel:

When the Time is Ripe.



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