1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cecil

CECIL, the name of a famous English family. This house, whose two branches hold each a marquessate, had a great statesman and administrator to establish and enrich it. The first Lord Burghley’s many inquiries concerning the origin of his family created for it more than one splendid and improbable genealogy, although his grandfather is the first ascertained ancestor. In the latter half of the 15th century a family of yeomen or small gentry with the surname of Seyceld, whose descendants were accepted by Lord Burghley as his kinsmen, lived on their lands at Allt yr Ynys in Walterstone, a Herefordshire parish on the Welsh marches. Of the will of Richard ap Philip Seyceld of Allt yr Ynys, made in 1508, one David ap Richard Seyceld, apparently his younger son, was overseer. This David seems identical with David Cyssell, Scisseld or Cecill, a yeoman admitted in 1494 to the freedom of Stamford in Lincolnshire. He may well have been one of those men from the Welsh border who fought at Bosworth, for at the funeral of Henry VII. he appears as a yeoman of the guard and is given a livery of black cloth. At Stamford he prospered, being three times mayor and three times member of parliament for the borough, and he served as sheriff of Northamptonshire in 1532–1533. Remaining in the service of Henry VIII. he was advanced to be yeoman of the chamber and sergeant-at-arms, being rewarded with several profitable leases and offices. His first wife was the daughter of a Stamford alderman, and his second the already twice widowed heir of a Lincolnshire squire. By the first marriage David Cecil left at his death in 1536 a son and heir, Richard Cecil, who enjoyed a place at court as yeoman of the king’s wardrobe under Henry VIII. and Edward VI. A gentleman of the privy chamber and sometime sheriff of Rutland, Richard Cecil had his share at the distribution of abbey lands, St Michael’s priory in Stamford being among the grants made to him. William Cecil, only son of Richard, was born, by his own account, in 1520, at Bourne in Lincolnshire. He advanced himself first in the service of the protector Somerset, after whose fall, his great abilities being necessary to the council, he was made a secretary of state and sworn of the privy council. In 1571 he was created Lord Burghley, and from 1572, when he was given the Garter, he was lord high treasurer and principal minister to Queen Elizabeth. By his first wife, Mary Cheke, sister of the scholar Sir John Cheke, tutor to Edward VI., he was father to Thomas, first earl of Exeter. By a second wife, Mildred Cooke, the most learned lady of her time, he had an only surviving son, Robert Cecil, ancestor of the house of Salisbury.

Created earl of Exeter by James I., the second Lord Burghley was more soldier than statesman, and from his death to the present day the elder line of the Cecils has taken small part in public affairs. William Cecil, 2nd earl of Exeter, took as his first wife the Lady Roos, daughter and heir of the 3rd earl of Rutland of the Manners family. The son of this marriage inherited the barony of Roos as heir general, and died as a Roman Catholic at Naples in 1618 leaving no issue. A third son of the 1st earl was Edward Cecil, a somewhat incompetent military commander, created in 1625 Lord Cecil of Putney and Viscount Wimbledon, titles that died with him in 1638, although he was thrice married. In 1801 a marquessate was given to the 10th earl of Exeter, the story of whose marriage with Sarah Hoggins, daughter of a Shropshire husbandman, has been refined by Tennyson into the romance of “The Lord of Burleigh.” This elder line is still seated at Burghley, the great mansion built by their ancestor, the first lord.

The younger or Hatfield line was founded by Robert Cecil, the only surviving son of the great Burghley’s second marriage. As a secretary of state he followed in his father’s steps, and on the death of Elizabeth he may be said to have secured the accession of King James, who created him Lord Cecil of Essendine (1603), Viscount Cranborne (1604), and earl of Salisbury (1605). Forced by the king to exchange his house of Theobalds for Hatfield, he died in 1612, worn out with incessant labour, before he could inhabit the house which he built upon his new Hertfordshire estate. Of Burghley and his son Salisbury, “great ministers of state in the eyes of Christendom,” Clarendon writes that “their wisdom and virtues died with them.” The 2nd earl of Salisbury, “a man of no words, except in hunting and hawking,” was at first remarked for his obsequiousness to the court party, but taking no part in the Civil War came at last to sit in the Protector’s parliament. After the Restoration, Pepys saw him, old and discredited, at Hatfield, and notes him as “my simple Lord Salisbury.” The 7th earl was created marquess of Salisbury in 1789.

Hatfield House, a great Jacobean mansion which has suffered much from restoration and rebuilding, contains in its library the famous series of state papers which passed through the hands of Burghley and his son Salisbury, invaluable sources for the history of their period.  (O. Ba.)