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BURGHLEY HOUSE.

BY J. ALFRED GOTCH, ESQ., F.S.A.

(Read at the Peterborough Congress, July 16th, 1898.)

N considering the history of a house like
this at Burghley,
Burghley, we want

we want to know something of the circumstances under which it was built, and a little of the man who built it. A few sentences, therefore, must be devoted to prelimi

nary matter before we come to the first record of building operations.

The reign of Elizabeth was a great building epoch. It was a time of peace; there were no foreign wars of any magnitude, and internecine strife had ceased. Neighbours were no longer anxious to fly at each others' throats as they had been in years gone by, and as they still were in Scotland ; and, consequently, it was no longer necessary to build for safety in the first place, leaving comfort and beauty to take care of themselves. Far from it, indeed. The well-born and the wealthy persons of the time were, many of them, travellers; they had seen French and Dutch and Italian houses; and when they came back home they vied with each other in building magnificent mansions. Some of these mansions were placed on fresh sites, but many of them were by way of being enormous enlargements of already existing houses, the remnants of which were swallowed up by the more splendid new work.

But no one can build without money, and money was plentiful. It was a prosperous time, and the dissolution of the monasteries some thirty years previously had diverted into secular hands much of the vast revenues of the church. If we inquire into the possessions of any prominent family of the time, the chances are that we shall find some of them were granted out of lands formerly belonging to ecclesiastical foundations. It was so here. In 1540, Richard Cecil, the father of the celebrated Lord Burghley who built this house, obtained the site of St. Michael's Priory in Stamford, and 299 acres of arable land lying in St. Martin's parish, much of which, no doubt, is now Burghley Park. It was also this Richard Cecil who bought the two manors of Burghley, upon which there was a house of some kind standing

[graphic]

Into the biography of William Cecil, the great Lord Burghley, I have no intention of going. All that need be pointed out is, that practically he made his own fortune. His grandfather, David Cecil, was a younger son of a Herefordshire family, who bought an estate at Stamford, and settled there, and married the heiress of a citizen of that town. In his will, after bequeathing his lands and household stuff, he left to his eldest son, Richard, two complete feather beds and his best gown; to Anthony Villers, his second-best gown, his best doublet, and his velvet jacket; to David, his son, his black gown of cloth, lined with damask, “a doublet of sattin streked,” with a jacket and his green coat; and the residue of his goods to Richard. From which we may picture him as a well-to-do burgess of Stamford.

David's eldest son, Richard, went to court; he was made one of the pages of the Crown by Henry VIII, and waited on the king at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Subsequently he became one of the grooms of the wardrobe, and obtained grants of various offices, the emoluments of which no doubt enabled him to purchase Burghley. The king, among other legacies left to his servants, bequeathed to Richard Cecil, yeoman of the robes, 100 marks; but as the king's debts had to be paid before his legacies, and many of them remained undischarged till Elizabeth's days, Fuller observes in his Church History that most of these legacies to inferior persons were never paid.” 1 Desid. Curiosa, iii, 2 ; Collins, 3, 110. 2 Collins, 3, 111.

3 Bridges, ii, 588.

We see, therefore, that however ancient Lord Burghley's family was, his immediate progenitors, though highly respectable and well-to-do, were men of no commanding position, either politically or socially. He himself, however, was a man of exceptional ability and great learning; probably better equipped in both respects than either Sir Edward Montagu of Boughton, or Sir Christopher Hatton of Holdenby : two other men of this county who founded great families. It was, no doubt, his pursuit of learning that led him to marry his two wives, the first of whom was a sister of Sir John Cheke, tutor to Edward VI, and the second a daughter of Sir Anthony Coke, preceptor to the Princess Elizabeth (afterwards Queen). By his first wife he had a son Thomas, created Earl of Exeter, from whom the present family is descended ; and by his second a son Robert, created Earl of Salisbury, from whom the present Marquis of Salisbury is descended.

After this short preliminary excursion, let us turn to the building of Burghley House.

Upon his father's death, in 1553, Sir William Cecil (for he had been knighted now a year and a half) found himself in possession of the estate of Burghley, with an old house standing upon it. Here his mother continued to reside, her son being most of his time in London. But he must have set about enlarging the house very shortly after his father's death, because, three years later, in June, 1556, we get the first record of building operations in the shape of a letter from a mason at Burghley, named Roger Ward, addressed “ To the Ryght worshypfull Syr Willam Cecille Knyght at the canan rowe in Westmynster gyve thys wythe speyde.” As this letter mentions the “lucarne,” or roof-windows of an inner court, the building must have been already some time in process.

There are three dates visible on the present house : the earliest being 1577 on the vaulting of the west entrance, and the latest, 1587, on the parapet over the north entrance; yet we have a series of letters referring to building operations written in the years 1556, 1561, 1562, and 1564, i.e., more than twenty years before the earliest date visible. How can we reconcile the discrepancy? It can be done in this way. We have heard that there was a house standing when Sir William Cecil succeeded to the property in 1553. This house he forth with proceeded to enlarge, and some slight remnants of it still remain in the shape of a window-opening, now only to be got at by climbing through a trap-door over the narrow steps leading to the minstrels' gallery of the great hall. Enough remains, however, to show that it is of earlier date than anything now visible, and that it was handsomely decorated either at this period or a little earlier-possibly in connection with its purchase by Richard Cecil, Sir William's father. But after a lapse of some years, the old parts of the house must have been pulled down, and the foundations utilised in the great enlargements of which we shall presently speak.

The first work of Sir William Cecil—this enlargement, as I suppose, of the old house—is represented by the east wing of the present house, containing the hall, the kitchen, and the intermediate rooms. It has been said that these apartments are the remains of the old monastery of “ Burghe,”! but this is an error; no part of this wing appears to be mediæval ; the vaulting of the kitchen and the open timber roof of the hall belong to the Early Renaissance, i.e., about the middle of the sixteenth century, and they would very well fit in with the dates of the letters written between 1556 and 1564. It is not now possible to follow all the references to particular features which occur in the letters, but subsequent alterations and enlargements may well account for this difficulty. If anyone wants to have a guide by which he may distinguish the earlier work from the later, which is far larger in bulk, he may find it in three particulars. First of all, the earlier work has steep roofs covered with Colly Weston slates, the later work having flat roofs covered with lead. Secondly, the windows of the earlier work are flat-pointed, those of the later are squareheaded. Thirdly, the mouldings of the windows differ si mewhat in the two periods, and the earlier ones are

i Charlton, p. 161.

amen;"

set in a slight recess, which is absent in nearly all the later work.

These letters which have been mentioned are too long to quote, but they are interesting in more ways than one. They show, for instance, that the workmen went direct to Čecil for instructions how to proceed, and no reference is made to an architect. They mention the "freres cundith” as being some three-quarters of a mile off: the “freres cundith " being, of course, the monks' conduit, or water supply of the former monastery. After going into many minute details of business, they all end up with pious wishes for the welfare of the master-as, “The lyvynge god kepe you ever more from all evyll and my goode Ladye with all ye rest of youre worshypfull howse;" or, “I have not further to trouble you with at this tyme, but the lyving god be your defender,

or again : “My mistress your mother is merry god be thanked. I have not further to trouble you

with but our blessyd Lorde presarve you in health and honar amen;" or yet again : "I have not further to trouble you with at this present, but holygoste preserve you

in helthe & honor & send you sone into the Contry amen.'

It is a quaint picture: the mother living on in the old house, with building going on all round her, preserving her spirits through it all, and keeping merry; the foreman writing to "ye Right honourable and my Syngular good Mr., Sir Wm. Cecill,” in a simple garrulous way, and never omitting to commend his correspondent to the Higher Powers. It

may

be of interest to know that there is a portrait of Sir William's merry mother in the house, but it hardly conveys a very joyous impression of her character to the spectator.

We have now seen how the old house was enlarged by Sir William Cecil, and how it then occupied a space roughly commensurate with the present east wing. In the fulness of time, however, Sir William Cecil became Lord Burghley, and the enlarged house became too small for his increased state. Besides, the building fever was universal among all who could afford, or thought it incumbent upon them, to be stricken by it. Not so very far away, the great house of Kirby was being built by

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