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Sir Humphrey Stafford, an ordinary country squire ; Sir Christopher Hatton was contemplating, if he had not already begun, the immense palace of Holdenby, on the other side of the county. We need not be surprised, therefore, if' Lord Burghley felt it incumbent on him still further to enlarge his own house. Whether there was a distinct interval or not between the two undertakings, it is difficult to say: The last letter of the early series, dated August 30th, 1564, speaks of the stonework of the south side being perfected possibly before the winter, thus implying that there was still a good deal of work to do. The earliest date on the later part of the house is 1577, which is on the vaulting of the western entrance, and consequently points to about 1575 or 1576 as the time when that work was begun. From the difference in the character of the work I am inclined to think there must have been a distinct interval, and the dates quoted point to its having been of about ten years' duration. It is the work of this later period which gives Burghley its distinctive character, since it is by its north-west and south fronts that the house is best known, the earlier or east front being very little seen and very seldom pictured. It was partly in order to make way for this new enlargement (as I conjecture) that the old original house was pulled down, its foundations being partly used again ; for, in one of his letters in 1585, Lord Burghley speaks of “having set his walls on the old foundation.” i
It is quite possible that in doing this new work the Lord Treasurer employed the well-known architect-or surveyor, as he was then called—John Thorpe ; for we find in his book at the Soane Museum (pp. 57, 58) two plans of the house, a ground plan and an upper plan. These two plans, while agreeing in all main respects with the structure as built, yet differ from it in some respects, such as the division of the internal rooms. It would seem, therefore, that Thorpe's plans would be either preliminary sketches, or else plans which were modified by the masons as the work was being carried out. They could not be surveys of the building after it was erected, as the discrepancies are too great.
1 Charlton, p. 161.
The building when thus enlarged, and such as we see it to day, was still a moderate-sized house for one of Elizabeth's great officers. Holdenby covered quite three times as much ground, so did Audley End ; A pethorpe was about twice as large, and Kirby about the same sizeslightly larger if anything. We must remember that the Lord Treasurer did not live here much. Most of his time was spent at London, or at Theobalds in Hertfordshire, where he had another large house, not to mention yet another at Wimbledon. Nevertheless, Burghley was always looked upon as a fine place. John Norden, in his survey of the county in 1610, referring to it,
" The Howse I have not seene, but by reporte it is a fayre and stately Howse, and very fyrtily scituate.” Thomas Fuller, in his Worthies
, when dealing with the buildings of Northamptonshire, says : “ As for Civil Structures, Holdenby House lately carried away the credit, built by Sir Christopher Hatton If Florence be said to be a city so fine that it ought not to be shewn but on HolyDays; Holdenby was a house which should not have been shewn but on Christmas Day. But, alas ! Holdenby house is taken away. ... Next is Burleigh house nigh Stamford, built by William Lord Cecil. Who so seriously compareth the state of Holdenby and Burleigh, will dispute with himself, whether the offices of the Lord Chancellor or Treasurer of England be of greater revenues; seeing Holdenby may be said to shew the Seal, and Burleigh the Purse, in their respective magnificence, proportionable to the power and plenty of the two great officers that built them.”
This new and greater enlargement was dated at intervals 1577, 1585, 1587. The first of these dates is accompanied by the inscription, “ Dom. de Burghley”Lord of Burghley—and in neighbouring panels are the arms of various ancestors of the builder.
This was quite in keeping with the feeling of the age, which ran largely towards ancient lineage. We find Lord Burghley's own particular arms, which quartered several of these shields in the panels of the vaulting, in various parts of the building, notably serving as the clock-face of the tower in the courtyard, and flanked on either side by two huge, vigorously-modelled supporters. We also find the Cecil crest introduced in the parapet, as well as a castle, which probably was selected because it occurs in one of the quarterings of the arms. Soon after 1587 the house must have been finished, and its builder lived to enjoy it some ten or eleven years, dying in 1598. As he built it, so in the main it appears to-day from the outside, though shorn of its adjuncts in the shape of terraces and gardenhouses. As to the inside, the Lord Treasurer would certainly not recognise his handiwork, except in the kitchen, the hall, and the vaulted and elaborately ornamented stone staircase on the north side; all the rest of the house has been embellished by his successors according to the taste of their times.
The terraces and garden-houses were at one time very fine. Some idea of the beautiful lay-out, of which the house was the centre, may be gathered from the plate in Bridge's History; but a still better one from some views and a plan, hanging in the house, made by J. Haynes in 1755. The walks, the gates, the garden walls, the pavilions, the long terraces at different levels, all combined to form a beautiful setting for the splendid jewel of the house ; but then came Launcelot Brown, known as “ Capability Brown,” and swept them all away, substituting in their place meaningless undulations, and aimless masses of trees which have no special relation to the house, but leave it as an incident in the landscape, instead of being, as it ought to be, the culminating point of the design, since it is the one object for which the whole park was called into existence.
Camden, in his Britannia (i, 526), bears testimony to the beauty of the old lay-out. Burghley, he says, " for loftiness of rooms, variety of pictures, terraces, conduits, fish-ponds, fountains, etc., may vie with the best Seats in England.” Now, alas! the one thing that everyone must feel that Burghley wants is fine surroundings to set it off, and to take away the impression that it has been set down at haphazard in a field.
Changes as great as “ Capability Brown” made at one fell swoop outside, the many generations of owners have gradually made inside ; but with this vast difference, that whereas the former destroyed the interest, the latter have merely altered it. The only features of the original house still left inside are the kitchen, the roof of the great hall, the stone staircase, and the vaulting of the west entrance, with its shields and dated inscription. The rich ceilings of the Lord Treasurer have all gone, yet undoubtedly he must, as Grey observes of one of his contemporaries, have
“Raised the ceiling's fretted height,
Each panel with achievment clothing." Gone also are the elaborate chimney-pieces, and the simple but quaint panelling that lined the walls, except that here and there in one of the inferior rooms some remnants remain stranded. As time wore on, the ceilings may have cracked and the panelling decayed, or it may have been merely the desire to be in the fashion that led later lords to change the oak of the Lord Treasurer for the limewood of Grinling Gibbons, and the moulded plaster-work of the Elizabethan artificer for the vast smooth spaces
“Where sprawl the saints of Verrio and Laguerre. Not that there are many saints upon these ceilings, unless the gods and goddesses of mythology come within the category.
But these alterations are interesting, and in some respects perhaps an improvement; at any rate, you will feel quite satisfied with the room where the portraits are framed in the panelling of Grinling Gibbons' time. The lords of Burghley were not satisfied with anything but the best. Grinling Gibbons must have spent many months on his work; and, later on, the celebrated Verrio lived and worked here for a number of years. There are the elements of a romance in the history of his sojourn : how he had his own establishment in the house, and worked, drank, smoked or played, as the humour suited him ; how he would go off to the town and spend many hours with his boon-companions, returning at length with unsteady gait and dimmed eye, to find his noble patron gazing with dismay at the vast spaces still to be covered; how Venus was his divinity as well as Bacchus, and how in revenge for the contumely of Betsy Prick, one of the maid-servants, he portrayed her in his picture of the Infernal Regions being cast inelegantly down.
But time will not allow more than a reference to these themes ; nor will it admit of a dissertation upon the methods of Verrio and his school. You will judge for yourselves whether the art of painting is rightly applied as Verrio applied it, and nowhere is there a more ample opportunity than here at Burghley.
The furniture and pictures are not within my province, but the house is stored with them ; some pieces are of first-rate importance; many, especially among the pictures, celebrate the victories of the dealer over the amateur. But they all illustrate the tastes of the cultivated and wealthy noblemen of the last century, who made the grande tour, and returned laden with foreign spoils.
Thus, decade after decade, the house changed to suit the requirements of each succeeding generation. One of the last and one of the most important changes was made early in the present century, when the corridor was formed round the inner court. Hitherto, the rooms had been all thoroughfare rooms, as was the fashion with nearly all Elizabethan houses. To the people of those days, it was nothing to walk across the courtyard, if
passage through the neighbouring rooms was cut off But in later days this arrangement became intolerable ; and here at Burghley, fortunately, the plan lent itself readily to a corridor. In this respect it was better off than Kirby, where a corridor would be fatal to the charming courtyard.
The still more recent additions, giving access to the main ball without using the great entrances on the north or west, we need not stop to examine ; we need only note that they are a still further indication of the change of babits between the days of Elizabeth and Victoria ; and we may conclude by congratulating ourselves that in spite of these changes, Burghley House still remains habitable, and is preserved to us as a magnificent example of the way in which great nobles have built and embellished during the last three centuries and a half.