William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley

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The Lord High Treasurer Baron Burghley with a white staff as an insignia of power
Signature William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley.PNG

William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley KG , PC (born September 13, 1521 (according to other sources: 1520) in Bourne (Lincolnshire) , † August 4, 1598 in London ) was an English politician and leading statesman during most of the reign from Queen Elizabeth I.


Cecil was born in Lincolnshire in 1521 as the only son of Richard Cecil, Lord of the Manor of Burghley, and his wife Jane Heckington. He grew up first in Burghley, then in Northamptonshire and finally in Cambridgeshire .

From 1535 to 1540 he studied law at St John's College , Cambridge under John Cheke as his tutor and Roger Ascham as his student colleague, and after six years without a degree he moved to Gray's Inn in London . He had an extraordinary "Greek knowledge". He married, probably still a student at Gray Inn, first Mary Cheke, the sister of his tutor, who gave birth to a son named Thomas, and who died after about two years of marriage. Three years later he married Mildred, the eldest of five daughters of Sir Anthony Cooke , who was considered one of the most educated women in England. Her sister Anne became the wife of Sir Nicholas Bacon , Lord Keeper of the Great Seal and mother of the famous Sir Francis Bacon . Cheke, Ascham and Cooke were all tutors of Crown Prince Edward who opened the doors to William Cecil for his future career in the service of the Crown when he was at the court of Henry VIII with Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset , a brother of the future Queen Jane Seymour , was in the service and became his personal secretary. From 1547 to 1552, Cecil was a member of the House of Commons as Burgess for Stamford . Cecil was a Protestant and belonged to the party around Archbishop Thomas Cranmer . When the Duke of Somerset (now Lord Protector ) during the reign of his nephew Edward VI. , fell out of favor (1549), Cecil transferred to the camp of John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland and soon became the first Secretary of State in his government. He also became the mighty duke's closest confidante. The Duke of Northumberland assigned him the management of Princess Elizabeth's property, which made her appreciate him as a confidante. Cecil was in 1550 for Knight Bachelor beaten and had from 1552 to 1553 the Office of the Chancellor of the Order of the Garter held. During the succession crisis to Lady Jane Gray in July 1553, he used the absence of the Dukes of Northumberland to thread the decisive turnaround in the Privy Council that led to the proclamation of Mary I in London. During the reign of Queen Maria I, he accepted the Catholic faith and took on minor diplomatic tasks. In 1555 and 1559 he was Knight of the Shire for Lincolnshire and from 1562 to 1567 for Northamptonshire a member of the House of Commons.

When the Queen's younger half-sister, Elizabeth I , came to the throne in 1558 , she immediately appointed William Cecil to be her Secretary of State. In 1571, in anticipation of a marriage between Cecil's daughter Anne (born 1556) and Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford , the Queen gave him hereditary peerage as Baron Burghley in 1571 , and in 1572 accepted him into the Order of the Garter as Knight Companion appointed him in 1572 Lord High Treasurer (Lord Treasurer). This lucrative position enabled Lord Burghley to finance his massive castle building projects (Theobalds and Burghley House ) without debt. Also important for Burghley's freedom from debt (unique among courtiers and politicians at the time) was that he presided over the Court of Wards and was thus able to manage the assets of all royal wards from the nobility in his favor. As a great financial expert, Burghley also maintained close ties to the merchants of the City of London and invested his "savings" first in Antwerp and later in Hamburg .

William Cecil, Queen Elizabeth I and Francis Walsingham (engraving by William Faithorne, 1655)

William Cecil made a major contribution to Elizabeth's reorganization of the English Church ( Anglican Settlement ). Cecil feared Catholicism more as a political than a religious threat. Although he with the Puritanism sympathized, he realized that the Calvinism of John Knox never with the Anglican Church was compatible. Cecil's stance against overly strong Catholic tendencies in the English Church became clear when he did not hesitate to reproach Archbishop of Canterbury John Whitgift for enforcing the 1583 article: “... in my humble assessment, these types of measures are permissible much like the Roman Inquisition and rather a means to look for wrongdoers than to correct them ... “(“… according to my simple judgment, this kind of proceeding is too much savoring of the Romish inquisition, and is rather a device to seek for offenders than to reform any ... ”).

In the conflict with Scotland he laid the foundation for the assistance and influence of England in favor of the Protestant regime there when he negotiated the Treaty of Edinburgh (1560). After the murder of Lord Darnley , William Cecil apparently believed that Mary Queen of Scots was involved in her husband's death. Unlike several other English statesmen, Cecil was against a reinstatement of Maria Stuart as Queen of Scotland on terms favorable to England. However, for decades he was unable to assert himself with Elisabeth regarding an execution of Mary, which he strongly advocated.

When, in the spring of 1569, members of the nobility around Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, wanted to get rid of the Secretary of State, Queen Elizabeth fearlessly supported her minister. Later that year, the Duke of Norfolk's request to marry Mary Queen of Scots brought him to the Tower , which eventually ended with his execution at Burghley's instigation in June 1572.

He received the strongest praise from the Queen herself, when she said of him: “This is my assessment of you, that you cannot be corrupted by any gifts and that you will remain loyal to the state.” (“This judgment I have of you , that you will not be corrupted with any manner of gifts, and that you will be faithful to the state. ")

Burghley was able to establish his younger son, Sir Robert Cecil , as the new Secretary of State against Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex in the 1590s . The younger Cecil took over Burghley's political followers and became a kind of prime minister. He achieved a smooth transition of power to the House of Stuart under King James I Burghley's older son, Sir Thomas Cecil , inherited his father's title after the death of his father and was later made Earl of Exeter .

Nicholas White

The largest surviving personal correspondence is with Irish judge Nicholas White. It ranges from 1566 to 1590 and is contained in State Papers Ireland 63 and Lansdowne MS 102, but is hardly mentioned in the literature on Cecil.

White was the educator of Cecil's children while he was a student in London. The correspondence shows that Cecil was benevolent to him for a long time. In the end, however, White got caught up in a Dublin controversy over the confessions of a scheming priest in which the legality of the queen's rule over Ireland was denied. As a result, Cecil gave up his longstanding protection of Whites. The judge was punished in London and died a little later.

White's most famous service to Cecil was his visit to Mary Queen of Scots Queen of Scotland in 1569 during the early years of her imprisonment in England. He may also have written an English translation of the Argonauts saga and published it in the 1560s, but no copy has survived.


  • Conyers Read: Mr. Secretary Cecil and Queen Elisabeth. Cape, London 1955.
  • Conyers Read: Lord Burghley to Queen Elizabeth. Cape, London 1960.
  • Stephen Alford: Burghley. William Cecil at the court of Elizabeth I. Yale University Press, New Haven CT et al. 2008, ISBN 978-0-300-11896-4 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Patrick Fraser Tytler: England under the Reigns of Edward VI and Mary, with the contemporary History of Europe, illustrated in a Series of original Letters never before printed. Volume 2. Richard Bentley, London 1839, pp. 192-195 , pp. 201-207 .
  2. Fernand Braudel : The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean world in the epoch of Phillips II. Volume 2. 2nd edition. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2001, ISBN 3-518-40597-7 , p. 196.
  3. Articles Touching Preachers and Other Disorders For The Church AD1583
  4. John Guy: "My Heart Is My Own". The Life of Mary Queen of Scots. Harper Perennial, London 2004, ISBN 1-84115-753-8 , passim.
predecessor Office successor
New title created Baron Burghley
Thomas Cecil