William Cecil Lord Burghley Baron Facts, Information, Timeline: Life, Education, Pictures

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William Cecil was born on September 18, 1520 at Bourne in Lincolnshire England. He was the Chief Minister of Queen Elizabeth 1.

William Cecil was descended from minor gentry from Herefordshire. His Grandfather was David Burghley (died 1537), a yeoman of the guard to Henry VII and then a yeoman of the Chamber to Henry VIII. His father, Richard was the Yeoman of the wardrobe to both Henry VIII and Edward VI.

Family life

Most of William Cecil's life was dedicated to Elizabeth 1 government. However, he did marry and have children. Cecil's first wife was Mary, the sister of his tutor, John Cheke. They had one son together named Thomas who later became the earl of Exeter. Mary died in 1543. In 1545, Cecil married Mildred Cooke. She was the aunt of Sir Francis Bacon. He had 3 children by his 2nd wife, Robert, Elizabeth and Ann. Robert who succeeded Cecil as principal advisor to Elizabeth and continued under James I.


  • Grantham Grammar School
  • Stanford Grammar School
  • St. John's College Cambridge - 1535
  • Tutored by the scholar John Cheke

Cecil's religious leaning were towards Protestantism. He supported moderate Church reform under Thomas Cranmer.  He considered himself a moderate.

Public life

William Cecil was a member of Parliament (MP) in 1543 and 1547. He was the chief spokesman for Elizabeth 1 in the House of Commons for the first 10 years of her reign. There afterwards, he was her spokesman in the House of Lords.

Cecil came to court in 1547 during King Edward VI's reign under the service of the Lord Protector, Duke of Somerset. He supported the move to stop the enclosure movement proposed by Thomas Seymour (Lord Protector's brother). When Seymour's policies failed, Cecil found himself a prisoner of the Tower of London together with Thomas Seymour. Both were released. However, when Seymour tried to recover his old position, Cecil refused to follow. Cecil worked things out with Northumberland and was appointed principal secretary in September 1550. In 1551, he was made a knight.

After Edward VI's death, Cecil reluctantly gave his approval for Northumberland to change the succession order of Henry VIII's will and putting Lady Jane Grey on the throne. Mary I pardoned Cecil for his part in the plot. Cecil was able to stay neutral and go with the flow which is the reason he survived these days of political unrest.

In 1558, when Elizabeth 1 ascended the throne, Cecil was made her principal secretary. Under Elizabeth 1, Cecil feared a Catholic revolt as the Catholic's were strong in England at this time. The threat was strengthened by Mary Queen of Scots who thought she had more rights to the English throne than Elizabeth. (Mary's grandmother was Margaret the sister of Henry VII). This threat intensified when Mary Queen of Scots was forced to take refuge in England because of her misdoings which resulted in the Scots rebelling. She was a prisoner of Elizabeth for close to 20 years. Cecil encourage Elizabeth to execute Mary Queen of Scots

Cecil encourage Elizabeth to marry and produce an heir. However, he was opposed to the proposed marriage to Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester who was Elizabeth's favorite suitor throughout her life.

In 1571, Cecil was made a Baron. In 1572, he was appointed Lord Treasure. He was the chief counselor to Elizabeth 1 till the day he died, August 4, 1598.

William Cecil is the ancestor of the current owners of Biltmore Estates located in Asheville NC, USA.

William Cecil Lord Burghley portrait

Robert Cecil portrait


He wrote the book Execution of Justice which justified the English government's strict policies and consequently the treatment of Catholics not on religious grounds but on treason.



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