CECIL, Sir William (1520 or 1521-98), of Little Burghley, Northants., Stamford, Lincs., Wimbledon, Surr., Westminster, Mdx. and London.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Mar. 1553

Family and Education

b. 13 Sept. 1520 or 1521, o.s. of Richard Cecil of Little Burghley, Stamford and Westminster by Jane, da. of William Heckington of Bourne, Lincs. educ. Grantham g.s.; Stamford g.s.; St. John’s, Camb. May 1535; G. Inn adm. 6 May 1541. m. (1) 8 Aug. 1541, Mary (d. 22 Feb. 1544), da. of Peter Cheke of Cambridge, Cambs., 1s. Thomas; (2) 21 Dec. 1545, Mildred (d. 5 Apr. 1589), da. of Sir Anthony Cooke of Gidea Hall, Essex, 2s. inc. Robert 3da. Kntd. 11 Oct. 1551 suc. fa. 19 Mar. 1553; cr. Baron of Burghley 25 Feb. 1572.2

Offices Held

Recorder, Boston from 1545, Stamford by 1580; j.p. Lincs. (Holland, Kesteven) 1547, Mdx. 1559, q. Lincs. (Holland, Kesteven, Lindsey) from 1554, Mdx., Northants., Surr. from 1559, Mdx. from 1561, Rutland from 1574; custos brev. c.p. 6 May 1548; sec. to Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset 1548; custos rot. Lincs. 6 July 1549, Northants. by 1573; sec. of state 5 Sept. 1550-July 1553, 20 Nov. 1558-72; PC 5 Sept. 1550-July 1553, from 20 Nov. 1558; surveyor, estates of Princess Elizabeth by 1550, ct. of augmentations, Lincs. by 1552; chancellor, order of the Garter 12 Apr. 1553; steward, Stamford by 1560, Bolingbroke honour, Lincs. 1585-97; high steward, Westminster 1561, Bristol 1588, Great Yarmouth Sept. 1588-Sept. 1597, King’s Lynn 1592, St. Albans temp. Eliz.; master, ct. of wards from 10 Jan. 1568; ld. lt. Mdx. 1568, Lincs. 1587, Essex, Herts. 1588; keeper, privy seal Apr.-June 1571, ?1590; ld. treasurer from July 1572.3


Sir William Cecil was a Member of the Elizabethan House of Commons in only the first two Parliaments of the reign. In 1559 he sat as senior knight for Lincolnshire. The fragmentary journals for that Parliament, however, which mention him by name on only two occasions, both in connexion with sending bills to the lords (27 Apr., 5 May), in no way reflect either his activity or his influence in the House. It cannot be doubted that Cecil played a uniquely important part in both drafting the crucial bills on supremacy and religion before the Parliament and supervising their passage through the Commons.4

In 1563 Cecil was elected senior knight of the shire for both Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire, choosing to represent Northamptonshire. In January of that year he wrote to Sir Thomas Smith

The Parliament is begun and I trust will be short, for matters of moment to pass are not many, reviving of some old laws for penalties of some felonies and the grant of a subsidy. I think somewhat will be attempted to ascertain the realm of a successor to this crown, but I fear the unwillingness of her Majesty to have such a person known will stay the matter.

The question of the succession was raised in the Commons on 16 Jan., the first full day of business, and turned out to be the major issue of the session. Cecil’s position on the succession was a delicate one. His private sympathies lay entirely with those MPs anxious to secure a settlement from the Queen, but at the same time he, better than anyone, knew the extent of Elizabeth’s aversion to the subject. The journals do not indicate what part, if any, he played in the parliamentary debates but other evidence shows that he made as little public comment as possible. Whatever his role behind the scenes, he left Sir Edward Rogers, comptroller of the Household, to steer the business through the Commons. The only occasion on which Cecil is mentioned in connexion with the succession is 16 Feb. when he seconded Rogers in delivering to the House the Queen’s evasive reply to their petition.

Cecil played a leading part in the negotiations over the subsidy. On 20 Jan. the journal records

an excellent declaration, made by Mr. Secretary Cecil, of the great charges defrayed by the Queen’s Majesty and of the causes of the wars in France, for not keeping the edict there made by the Parliament and also touching the charges at Berwick, Newhaven, the provision of armour and the navy, the cavillation of the French for Calais; concluding to consider for the aid.

A committee was appointed on 25 Jan. and the bill for the subsidy was introduced into the Commons on 6 Feb. The bill passed the Lower House on 19 Feb. and Cecil was apparently well pleased, writing to Sir Thomas Smith; ‘A subsidy and two fifteenths are granted as big as ever any was’.

Cecil took a particular interest in the bill to increase fishing and the navy. The original motion had been made by William Wynter, who was put in charge of the committee appointed on 6 Feb. to draft a bill. On 20 Feb. Wynter’s bill was given its first reading but it was heavily opposed and after its second reading, two days later, another committee was appointed, this time headed by ‘Mr. Secretary’. Cecil’s committee drafted a new bill, which was read on 26 and 27 Feb., but this bill too met with opposition. The next entry in the journals concerning the bill (2 Mar.) reads, ‘Long arguments to the bill of increase of the navy and fish days, with a proviso brought in by Mr Secretary’. The opposition appears to have been directed principally against the imposition of a second fish day, on Wednesdays, and probably stemmed from the extreme protestant members of the House who regarded fish days as ‘popish practices’. Feelings ran high on the subject: ‘long arguments’ are recorded on 9, 10 and 11 Mar. For once, an indication of how Cecil countered this opposition has survived in the form of the draft of a speech he made to the House. It is entitled ‘Arguments to prove that it is necessary for the restoring of the navy of England to have more fish eaten and therefore one day more in the week ordained to be a fish day, and that to be Wednesday rather than any other’. The document is lengthy and argued in detail. It begins with a recapitulation of the reasons, both foreign and domestic, for the decay of the navy.

Wherefore all these things to be considered, that the trades which have been of merchandise into the Levant and Spain is decayed, the trades of navigation into Island [Iceland] and Eastland [the Baltic] is impeached, the building of ships is costly and difficult for lack of timber, the experience of the statutes prohibiting strangers to bring in fish and wines proveth that, notwithstanding those prohibitions, the navy and mariners have decayed, and on the other side, selling of fish out of the realm hath no present great vent: it must needs follow that the remedies must be sought to increase mariners by fishing, as a cause most natural, easy and perpetual to breed and maintain mariners ...

A compulsory fish day on Wednesday would increase the consumption of fish, and increase also the number of mariners. Cecil proceeded to go to remarkable lengths to prove that a Wednesday fish day would not affect the lives of the people to any great degree.

The Wednesdays that by this Act shall be fish days shall be in number but 32 or 33 at the most, which is thus proved. Of 52 Wednesdays in the whole year, six are in Lent, four Ember Wednesdays. Then, commonly, as by example of this year, it happeneth three or four other Wednesdays are the fasting ... of the Ascension, midsummer and S.S. Simon and Jude; and now to be excepted two in Christmas and Easter week: all which make 15, so there remaineth but 37, for the which ye may take away certain fasts relinquished, as St. Lawrence. ... Assumption, Nativity, and Conception of Our Lady, being four, so there remaineth but 33. Here is the great burden, to eat fish upon 33 days ... which is not after the rate for every hundredth day in the year ten days ... So to conclude, a small number of wealthy, delicate people shall observe this day and yet of them no small number will by licence, or without licence, break it, which may be guessed by the humours of men in this House that are so earnest against it. Now therefore it will follow that comparing the quantity of fish that is likely to be eaten on this Wednesday, being so few days in number, and so many not intending to eat either by licence or by poverty and custom ... the burden to eat fish will not be great to many ...

This was curious reasoning from the principal advocate of the measure. The proviso concerning the extra fish day was put to the vote on 11 Mar. and thanks to the unequivocal attitude of the government, passed the House by 179 to 97. The complete bill for the increase of the navy and fishing was passed four days later, on 15 Mar., by 149 votes to 77. Aptly enough, the Wednesday fish day became known as ‘Cecil’s fast’.

Cecil’s only other known parliamentary activity in 1563 is mentioned in his letter to Smith on 27 Feb.:

I have been the author of a short law not exceeding 12 lines, whereby is ordered that if any man sell any foreign commodity to any person, for apparel and without ready money, or without payment within twenty-eight days, the seller shall be without his remedy.

The bill for delivery of goods, or apparel of the body, without payment, to be void, passed the Lower House very rapidly and eventually became law. The bill reflected Cecil’s continuing concern to regulate dress according to social status.5

The 1563 Parliament was prorogued on 10 Apr. and was not summoned again until 30 Sept. 1566. No action had been taken on either the succession or the Queen’s marriage in the intervening three years and although the Privy Council correctly anticipated trouble from the Commons, it is unlikely that they foresaw exactly how stormy the session would be. As in 1563, the government’s intention was no doubt to avoid the subject, but an entry in Cecil’s diary as early as 6 Oct. clearly demonstrated how forlorn that hope was: ‘Certain lewd bills thrown abroad against the Queen’s Majesty for not assenting to have the matter of the succession proceed in Parliament, and bills also to charge Sir William Cecil with the occasion thereof’. On 17 Oct. Sir Edward Rogers proposed a motion for the subsidy and Cecil once again ‘made an excellent declaration of the Queen’s charges as Newhaven, the navy, the munitions against John O’Neill in Ireland’, and a committee was appointed to confer on the subject the following day. Any hopes for a smooth passage for the subsidy bill were dashed on 18 Oct. by a private Member’s motion to consider it jointly with the succession. Despite an immediate assurance from Sir Ralph Sadler ‘that her Highness minded to marry’ the House refused to be deflected from its purpose. ‘Their mind was to recontinue their suit and to know her Highness’ answer’. The next day (19 Oct.) the four senior Privy Councillors in the House, led by Cecil, formally advised the Commons against meddling in the succession question, but the Commons resisted this pressure and determined on a conference with the Lords to consider further action. After such a snub, it must have been of some satisfaction to Cecil to announce the rates of the subsidy that same day. At this time when the Privy Councillors were losing the initiative in the Commons, Cecil was considering a prorogation:

... that if her Majesty cannot condescend to enter into the disquisition and establishing of the succession in this session, that yet for the satisfaction of her people she will prorogue this Parliament until another short time within which it may be seen what God will dispose of her marriage and then to begin her Parliament again, and then to proceed in such sort as shall seem meetest then for the matter of succession, which may with more satisfaction be done to her Majesty if she shall then be married.

Elizabeth took matters into her own hands on 5 Nov. by summoning representatives from both Houses to an audience. In her speech she hinted heavily at a forthcoming marriage but postponed dealing with the succession and sharply rebuked the Commons for attempting to force her hand.

At this present it is not convenient ... but as soon as there may be a convenient time ... I will deal therein for your safety, and offer it unto you as your prince and head, without request. For it is monstrous that the feet should direct the head. And therefore this is my mind and answer which I would have to be showed in both Houses. And for the doing thereof, you my lord chief justice are meetest to do it in the Upper House, and you, Cecil, in the Nether House.

Cecil’s report of the speech was much diluted:

If she did not also see how perilous it was for her subjects at this time she would not forbear for her own peril to deal therein and yet meant she not to neglect it nor to be careless thereof. Whensoever she should find it less perilous for her realm than it now is she would show herself to have regard thereof before they should require it, and would be thereof the beginner as it was convenient for a prince to be towards her people. For she would be loath to live to seem forced to do that which by justice and reason she ought to do.

Cecil’s conciliatory approach was in vain, however, for the Commons received the speech in complete silence. Two days later (8 Nov.) William Lambard raised the question of the succession again. The Queen reacted immediately, commanding the House, through Sir Francis Knollys, to proceed no further ‘but to satisfy themselves with her Highness’ promise of marriage. Mr. Secretary and Mr. Comptroller severally rehearsed the like matter’. This was on Saturday, 9 Nov., and the unexpectedly high-handed action by the Queen appears to have stunned the Commons into silence for the remainder of that day. It may, however, be presumed that Paul Wentworth, James Dalton and others were not idle on the Sunday, for by Monday Wentworth was protesting against this incursion into the liberties of the House, initiating a debate which lasted ‘from nine of the clock till two afternoon’. This angered the Queen still further and on Tuesday, 12 Nov. the Speaker reported another, more menacing, royal message: ‘... that there should not be further talk of that matter; and if any person thought not himself satisfied ... let him come before the Privy Council, then to show them’. The situation was escalating into a confrontation between Queen and Commons and Cecil’s position between the two must have been intolerable. Ostensibly he continued his work in the Commons, drafting three copies of a petition the House wished to present to the Queen concerning freedom of speech, but behind the scenes he was working towards a peaceful solution. No doubt as a result of his deft stage-management such a solution was found, for on 25 Nov. a journal entry reports:

Mr. Speaker, coming from the Queen’s Majesty, declared her Highness’ pleasure to be that for her good will to the House she did revoke her two former commandments requiring the House no further at this time to proceed in this matter, which revocation was taken of all the House most joyfully with most hearty prayer and thanks for the same.

Presumably as their part of the deal, the Commons refrained from discussing the succession for the remainder of the session. Significantly, also, on 27 Nov. the subject of the subsidy, which had not been raised since the beginning of the confrontation, was brought up by Cecil.

Mr. Secretary declared from the Queen’s Majesty that for the good will she beareth to her subjects, that her Highness doth remit the third payment of the said subsidy before rated ... and immediately was read, the bill for the grant of one fifteen and a subsidy at two payments.

This was considerably less than the subsidy granted in 1563, but even so it was not to be the end of the story. The Commons decided to construct an elaborate preamble to the subsidy bill in which the Queen’s promises concerning marriage and the succession would be recorded. Three preambles were drafted, one entirely in Cecil’s hand, the others partially so, each more strongly worded than its predecessor, no doubt as a result of pressure from the committee. Somebody, probably Cecil, told the Queen who reacted violently: ‘I know no reason why any my private answers to the realm should serve for a prologue to a subsidies book’. When this was reported to the committee, again probably by Cecil, they decided to back down, and the final preamble was emasculated.

There is no further mention of activity by Cecil in this session, although the Parliament continued into the following January. He withdrew from both court and Parliament late in November with an attack of gout, an ‘enemy’ against whom he fought for the rest of his life, if not in ‘a full war’ then ‘with a skirmishing brawl’. At this time he drew up a ‘Memorial to the Queen at the end of the Parliament, mens. Novemb. anno 8° Eliz.’, apparently thinking that with the subsidy bill settled the session would soon be over:

the succession not answered. the mariage not followed. a subsydye to be levyed. the oppression of the informors not amended. the commission of inquisitors to unmete persons. the bill of relligion stayed to the comfort of the adversaryes. the abridgment of such parcell of the pardon as though it be no proffitt gretly to the Queen’s Majesty, yet was it most plausible to the Commens. Daungers insuing generall discontentations the slender execution of the subsydy. daunger of sedition in sommer by persons discontented. the uncertenty of the success of the motions in Flaunders. if they end in force for relligion, than etc. Irland. men. victell. chargeable last yers disordre. Calliss. ap[ri]ll.

Cecil’s other activity in the 1566 session comprised certifying the oaths of new Members on 7 Oct. and heading the committee concerning pluralities and benefices appointed on 18 Nov. He also moved (2 Oct.) that Henry Green should have licence to depart the House being MP for Hereford where the plague was rife. It is likely that Cecil took part in the debates on the bill to repeal a statute of Edward VI to limit the price of wine in taverns and the number of taverns; notes on the subject in his own hand survive among his papers.6

A few days before the arrangements for calling the 1571 Parliament were completed, Cecil was created Lord Burghley and the remainder of his parliamentary career took place in the calmer atmosphere of the Upper House. He was frequently called upon to manage conferences between Lords and Commons, sometimes with his son leading the Commons delegation. Burghley was always first and foremost the servant of Queen Elizabeth. His attitude towards the Lower House was conditioned by his overriding concern with furthering her interests, which were often in opposition to those of an increasingly independent House of Commons.

As an electoral patron, his position was anomalous. He was not a territorial magnate like the 2nd Earl of Bedford, or Lord Clinton who overshadowed him in his home county of Lincolnshire. He held comparatively few local offices, and was not among the great men commissioned in 1571 and 1572 to supervise parliamentary elections in their own counties. Neither did he hold an office, such as the chancellorship of the duchy of Lancaster, which would have accorded him authority and influence in a number of parliamentary boroughs. His power was concentrated at the centre, and consequently the bulk of his parliamentary patronage stemmed from courtiers such as Bedford or local borough patrons such as the Killigrews, who were willing to nominate his followers to seats in boroughs under their control.

In 1559 Cecil had personal influence in only three boroughs—Stamford, Grantham and Peterborough. To these he nominated a total of four burgesses—William Cooke I at Stamford; Robert Wingfield I at Peterborough, Thomas Randolph and William Moore I at Grantham. It was considered imperative in 1559 to elect MPs to the Commons who would prove sympathetic to the proposed religious settlement and Cecil joined with his relative, Sir Ambrose Cave, chancellor of the duchy, and the 2nd Earl of Bedford, in returning well affected Members. Thus Cecil’s hand can be seen in the returns of Sir George Howard and Richard Chetwode at Newton, and of Roger Alford and Richard Cooke I at Preston, two duchy boroughs. At Camelford and Bossiney, two boroughs under Bedford’s control, Cecil was probably responsible for nominating Sir Thomas Chamberlain and Francis Walsingham. He probably recommended more, but the Cecil/Cave/Bedford patronage is difficult to disentangle. This was the beginning of a long period of co-operation between Cecil and Bedford over parliamentary seats, but after this first crucial Parliament, Cecil rarely attempted to influence returns at duchy boroughs. The unique circumstances of the 1559 election prompted Cecil to make an unusual intervention in county elections. The return of his father-in-law, Sir Anthony Cooke, as junior knight for Essex, before Cooke arrived home from exile, was almost certainly engineered by Cecil, and it is possible that he was also responsible for the return of Sir Thomas Wroth for the junior Middlesex seat. A channel of patronage which was to be regularly open to Cecil was provided by his relatives, the Killigrews, who dominated the boroughs of Dunheved and Truro. In 1559 Cecil appears to have requested a seat at Dunheved for John Carnsew. In addition Cecil had recourse to a mixed bag of intermediate patrons, and in 1559 it was at Lord Clinton’s borough of Great Grimsby that he found a seat for Sir Edward Warner. This brings the total of probable Cecil nominees (with the usual qualifications) to 14 in 1559.

By 1563 Cecil had been appointed high steward of Westminster, and he monopolized the city’s patronage until 1597, the last Parliament before his death. The boroughs where he wielded direct patronage now numbered four. In 1563 he nominated his son, Thomas Cecil, and, possibly, Francis Thorneff at Stamford; Robert Wingfield I at Peterborough; William Cooke I at Grantham; Robert Nowell and William Bowyer II at Westminster. Bedford appears to have provided him with two seats, at Camelford and Liskeard, to which he nominated William Partridge and George Bromley respectively. At Horsham he obtained a seat for Peter Osborne through the Duke of Norfolk and he nominated George Blyth at Huntingdon, a borough often open to court influence. Francis Alford’s seat at Newton was apparently the only one arranged by Cecil through the duchy of Lancaster in 1563. His known nominations to this Parliament number 11.

In 1571 Burghley, as he now was, returned his son, Thomas Cecil, again at Stamford; Sir William Cordell and William Staunton at Westminster; Henry Cheke and Brian Ansley at Peterborough; William Killigrew and Arthur Hall at Grantham. The Killigrews provided him with seats at both Dunheved and Truro, to which he returned Sampson Lennard and Vincent Skinner. He arranged the returns of John Vaughan I at Dartmouth and Henry Macwilliam at Dorchester through the Earl of Bedford. St. Mawes, where Burghley obtained a seat for William Fleetwood I, was a borough open to court patronage. His nominees to the 1571 Parliament number 12.

Burghley returned his son Thomas for the third consecutive time at Stamford in 1572, along with Francis Harington. He nominated Thomas Wilbraham and John Dodington to seats at Westminster, and in 1576, John Osborne to the seat left vacant by Wilbraham’s death. At Peterborough he returned Robert Wingfield I, and at Grantham,John Vaughan I. A seat at Dunheved was once again available to him, to which he returned George Blyth, and he obtained a seat at St. Mawes for Geoffrey Gates. As steward of the bishop of Chichester’s lands, Burghley had an opening at Chichester, where he returned Valentine Dale. An unusual incident at Midhurst gave Burghley a seat there in 1572: the 1st Viscount Montagu, a regular patron at the borough, had nominated the poet George Gascoigne, but on the strength of an anonymous petition accusing Gascoigne of manslaughter, the poet’s name was withdrawn and that of Thomas Holcroft I, a dependent of Burghley’s, was substituted. At Barnstaple it was no doubt the influence of the 2nd Earl of Bedford that provided Burghley’s follower, Vincent Skinner, with a seat, and at Bodmin, a stannary town, it was also no doubt Bedford, as lord warden of the stannaries, who arranged seats on Burghley’s behalf for Thomas Cromwell (probably) and Edmund Poley. A probable total of 14 nominations can therefore be attributed to Burghley in the Parliament of 1572.

The 2nd Earl of Bedford, who was to die in 1585, took little interest in the 1584 elections, and Burghley appears to have picked up a substantial amount of his west country patronage. To boroughs formerly open to Bedford’s influence, Burghley nominated Richard Spencer at East Looe; Geoffrey Gates at West Looe; James Dalton at Lostwithiel; Walter Covert at Newport iuxta Launceston; William Onslow at St. Mawes; William Clerke II at Saltash; Anthony Cooke and Richard Cooke II at Lymington; Robert Beale and Thomas Freke at Dorchester. Through the Killigrews Burghley once more acquired a seat at Truro for his secretary Michael Hickes. At Stamford he returned Robert Wingfield II; at Westminster his second son Robert (for the first time) and Thomas Knyvet I; at Peterborough, James Scambler. He does not appear to have nominated anybody at Grantham. Burghley’s office of master of the court of wards afforded him three nominations at Gatton in 1584: a minority in the Copley family, who owned the borough, gave Burghley the opportunity to nominate both Members, Francis Bacon and Thomas Bishopp at first, and then Edward Browne in place of Bacon, who chose to sit for Weymouth and Melcombe Regis. At these parliamentary elections Burghley made use for the first time of his office of high recorder of Boston, returning Vincent Skinner to a seat there. Boston was the local borough of the 1st Earl of Lincoln, who was also high steward of the town and it may be that Burghley deliberately deferred to the Earl there. Sir Ralph Sadler, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, returned a Burghley nominee, Edmund Poley, at Knaresborough; Lord Buckhurst provided a seat at Bramber for Sampson Lennard. Bedford’s son-in-law, the 3rd Earl of Cumberland, returned Henry Macwilliam at Appleby. Aldeburgh, formerly under the control of the Duke of Norfolk, returned Peter Osborne at Burghley’s request. It was possibly Burghley’s intervention which secured the returns of Thomas Waad at the 3rd Earl of Rutland’s borough of East Retford (Rutland had formerly been Burghley’s ward), and of William Necton at New Shoreham through the 13th Earl of Arundel. Valentine Dale again sat for Chichester. In all, the number of Burghley nominees in 1584 totalled 26, nearly double the number in the previous Parliament.

A list of the boroughs to which Burghley returned his nominees in 1586 is almost identical with that of 1584. Again a large proportion of his nominees were placed in west country boroughs: Geoffrey Gates at Camelford; Thomas Cromwell at Grampound; Abraham Hartwell at East Looe; Richard Champernown at West Looe; James Dalton at Lostwithiel; John Osborne at Newport iuxta Launceston; John Morley I at St. Ives; Thomas Chaloner and Sampson Lennard at St. Mawes; Robert Beale at Dorchester. At the Killigrew boroughs of Dunheved and Truro, Burghley returned John Spurling and Rowland Lytton. Valentine Dale sat a third time at Chichester. Peter Osborne sat again at Aldeburgh; Vincent Skinner at Boston and William Necton at New Shoreham. At Westminster Robert Cecil and Thomas Knyvet I were returned for a second time. Burghley returned his grandson, William Cecil, at Stamford in 1586, but once again Grantham was overlooked. The 3rd Earl of Rutland provided Burghley with another seat at East Retford, to which John Conyers was returned. The Copley minority at Gatton continued, and Burghley once again used his position at the court of wards to return John Puckering and Edward Browne. Henry Macwilliam’s return at Carlisle was effected through Lord Scrope. Burghley returned 23 Members to the 1586 Parliament.

Burghley as appointed lord lieutenant of Hertfordshire in 1587. At the following election in 1588, he wrote to the sheriff asking him ‘to favour my son Robert Cecil’, who, despite having no freehold in the shire (as Burghley frankly admitted), was elected to the senior county seat. It was in the course of this Parliament (18 Jan. 1589) that Burghley refused a step up in the peerage. Once again a large proportion of Burghley’s nominees found seats in west country boroughs: Hugh Beeston at Bodmin; John Spurling at Dunheved; Thomas Cromwell at Grampound; Christopher Osborne at Helston; Anthony Everard and Sir Robert Jermyn at East Looe; Robert Saunderson and Matthew Patteson at West Looe; William Fitzwilliam at Lostwithiel; Daniel Rogers at Newport iuxta Launceston; Henry Hobart at St. Ives; Walter Cope at St. Mawes; Richard Spencer at Bere Alston; Robert Beale and Nowell Sotherton at Dorchester. At Stamford Burghley once again returned his grandson, William; at Westminster, Peter Osborne and Thomas Knyvet I; at Peterborough Thomas Reade and Robert Howland. It was possibly a renewal of Burghley’s influence at Grantham which was responsible for William Armyn’s seat there in 1589. Vincent Skinner attended his fourth consecutive Parliament as MP for Boston, and Valentine Dale was also returned a fourth time for Chichester. William Necton was again returned for New Shoreham. At Bramber, Burghley secured a seat for John Osborne through the mediation of Lord Buckhurst. Twenty-six Burghley nominees were returned to the Commons in the 1589 Parliament.

Burghley was not as active by the time of the 1593 Parliament. At Stamford he nominated Richard Shute; at Westminster Richard Cecil and Thomas Cole; at Peterborough Thomas Reade; at Grantham Thomas Horsman and Francis Neale. Valentine Dale having died, there was a vacancy at Chichester in 1593, to which Burghley returned William Ashby by courtesy of Lord Lumley. William Necton was once more returned for New Shoreham. Sir Thomas Heneage, chancellor of the duchy, found Vincent Skinner a seat at Boroughbridge. The remaining seats occupied by Cecil nominees were all in the west country: Gregory Donhault at East Looe; Hugh Beeston at West Looe; Richard Leeche at Camelford; Robert Beale at Lostwithiel; Nicholas Saunders I and Nowell Sotherton at St. Ives; Nicholas Smyth at Truro. Burghley’s patronage extended over 17 seats in this Parliament.

By the time of the 1597 elections, however, Burghley’s second son Robert, who had been groomed to succeed him, had been appointed principal secretary of state and chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, and was, in consequence, a parliamentary patron in his own right. For this Parliament the patronage of father and son may be combined; it has been set out in Robert Cecil’s biography. The latter was increasingly taking over the reins of government at this time, although Burghley continued active until the last. His doctors consistently advised him to rest, advice which he as consistently ignored, and sometimes he could not attend public functions for weeks on end. His will comments on the ‘infirmities of my body grown for a great part by continual public service’, and towards the end of his life he suggested resigning his offices, feeling that he was not exercising them efficiently: however, the Queen refused to agree. Writing to Michael Hickes in June 1598, Henry Maynard described his condition:

A more melancholy time was never spent by any other than this hath bath been, here by my Lord, without any comfort. What will become of it God knoweth. He sleepeth well but eateth very little. He neither hath disposition to go to the court or to London.

He rallied, and attended a Council meeting as late as 15 July, but towards the end of the month was forced to take to his bed and the Queen visited him, persuading him to eat a little by feeding him herself. Burghley described the incident in his last letter to Robert, which ended: ‘Serve God by serving of the Queen, for all other service is indeed bondage to the devil’.

He died on 4 Aug. 1598, at his London house, and was buried at Stamford Baron, as he asked in his will. Originally drawn up in 1579, it was revised no less than eight times, the last in March 1597. There are few references to his public life: a mention of the Queen, ‘my dear sovereign lady’, as visiting Theobalds, and a stipulation that the funeral should be according to the ‘degree of a baron and a lord of Parliament’. The archbishop of Canterbury, the lord keeper and Justice Owen were asked to act as overseers.7

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: M.A.P.


  • 1. Constituency unknown.
  • 2. C. Read. Mr. Sec. Cecil and Q. Eliz; DNB; CP; Vis. Northants. ed. Metcalfe, 78-9; D. Powel, The Historie of Cambria (1584), 142-7; SP10/13/56; N. and Q. ccxx. 294-5.
  • 3. CPR, 1547-8 to 1572-5 passim; Somrville, Duchy, i.537, 577; Rep. Roy. Comm. of 1552 (Archs. Br. Hist. and Culture iii), xxv. n. 54; W. C. Richardson, Ct. of Augmentations, 382; Bristol AO, 04720/2/i; Stamford hall bk. 1461-1657, f. 172.
  • 4. CJ, i. 61.
  • 5. Wright, Eliz. i. 121, 123, 126; CJ, i. 62, 63, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69; SP12 27/71.
  • 6. State Pprs. ed. Murdin, 762; SP12 40/105; 41/9, 20, 21, 22, 36, 58; Neale, Parlts. i. 163; Camb. Univ. Lib. Gg. iii. 34, p. 212; CJ, i. 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78; HMC Bath, v. 78.
  • 7. HMC Bath, v. 96-7; Wright, ii. 488; PCC 91 Lewyn.