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August 4, 1598 – Death of William Cecil

William Cecil, First Baron Burghley, after 1585, from NPG. Attributed to Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

William Cecil was one of the most influential figures of the Tudor era. He had an incredibly strong relationship with Elizabeth that lasted virtually all their lives.

Cecil was the cousin of Blanche Parry, Elizabeth’s longest-serving gentlewoman and close confidante. He attended Cambridge with Roger Ascham and John Cheke, marrying John’s sister Mary. It may well have been Cheke’s position as tutor to the young Prince Edward that brought Cecil to the attention of Edward Seymour, who employed him as his own secretary. That in turn brought him to the attention of John Dudley, who made him one of the Council’s secretaries…which was a helpful thing since he took on a side hustle of managing Elizabeth’s lands.

We don’t hear a lot about him during Mary’s reign – he was just trying to stay alive after being forced by Dudley to support the ill-fated Jane Grey. But we do know he was one of the early people on Elizabeth’s team – first unofficially and officially when she acceded to the throne and immediately appointed him Secretary of State. Of course, Elizabeth made it special, saying, “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.” She was right. In Cecil she had a centrist who usually agreed with her, someone she trusted – and she made sure to reward him.

Cecil was married twice. His first son, by Mary before she died, inherited the barony that Elizabeth bestowed on Cecil. His son Robert, with his second wife Mildred, inherited his political career. It was Robert who smoothed the way for James to succeed her…but that is a matter for another post. For today, let us just remember the man who was the most important minister of Elizabeth’s reign.


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August 4, 1598 – Death of William Cecil
Published inOn This Day

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