Thomas Cecil, 1st Earl of Exeter

Thomas Cecil, 1st Earl of Exeter, KG (5 May 1542 – 8 February 1623), known as Lord Burghley from 1598 to 1605, was an English politician, courtier and soldier.[1]

Thomas Cecil
Thomas Cecil, 1st Earl of Exeter
Born5 May 1542
St Mary the Great, Cambridge, England.
Died8 February 1623
Westminster Abbey, London, England.
TitleEarl of Exeter
Tenure4 May 1605 – 8 February 1623
Other titles2nd Baron Burghley
ResidenceExeter House
Burghley House
Wimbledon Palace
Wothorpe Towers
Spouse(s)Dorothy Neville
Frances Brydges
IssueWilliam Cecil, 2nd Earl of Exeter
Lucy Cecil, Marchioness of Winchester
Mildred Cecil-Trafford
Sir Richard Cecil
Edward Cecil, 1st Viscount Wimbledon
Mary Cecil, Countess of Norwich
Dorothy Cecil, Lady Alington
Elizabeth Cecil, Lady Hatton
Thomas Cecil
Frances Cecil, Countess of Thanet
ParentsWilliam Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley
Mary Cheke


Thomas Cecil was the elder son of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, by his first wife, Mary Cheke (d. February 1543), daughter of Peter Cheke of Cambridge, Esquire Bedell of the University from 1509 until his death in 1529 (and sister of Sir John Cheke).[2] He was the half-brother of Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, Anne Cecil, and Elizabeth Cecil.

It has been said that William Cecil considered Thomas to be, "hardly fit to govern a tennis court". This quotation is both unproven and unfair. Whilst Thomas's career may have been overshadowed by those of his illustrious father and half-brother, he was a fine soldier and a useful politician and had a good deal of influence on the building, not only of Burghley itself, but also two other important houses: Wothorpe Towers and Wimbledon Palace.


Cecil was educated privately and at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he matriculated in 1558, being admitted to Gray's Inn in the same year.[3] In 1561–62 he was sent with a guardian to Europe to improve himself, at first to Paris, where he applied himself more to social pleasures than to his studies. Eventually he was removed from this environment first to Antwerp and then to Germany, and might have proceeded to Italy but for the death of his stepbrother William, which led to his being recalled to England.[4]

He served in government under Queen Elizabeth I of England, sitting in the House of Commons first for Stamford, Lincolnshire, in the parliaments of 1563, 1571 and 1572.[4] He was knighted in 1575 and appointed High Sheriff of Northamptonshire for 1578. He accompanied Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester to the Dutch Republic, where he was distinguished for his bravery. In 1584 and 1586 he was Member of Parliament for Lincolnshire, and in 1585 was appointed governor of Brielle – an English Cautionary Town. He did not have good relations with Dudley, but he was very loyal to Sir John Norreys. In 1588, Cecil completed the building of Wimbledon Palace in Wimbledon Park, London, a leading example of the Elizabethan prodigy house. He returned again to the Commons as member for Northamptonshire in 1592 and 1597.[4]

His father's death, later in 1598, brought him a seat in the House of Lords, the 2nd Lord Burghley, as he then was, served from 1599 to 1603 as Lord Lieutenant of Yorkshire and Lord President of the Council of the North. It was during this period, that Queen Elizabeth I made him a Knight of the Garter in 1601. During the early reign of King James I of England, he was created Earl of Exeter on 4 May 1605, the same day his younger half-brother, Robert Cecil, 1st Viscount Cranborne, was created 1st Earl of Salisbury. Unlike his brother, however, he did not become a government minister under King James's rule.

He attempted to build up a family alliance with one of King James's leading ministers, Sir Thomas Lake, by marrying his grandson, William Cecil, 16th Baron de Ros, to Lake's daughter, Anne Lake, in 1615, but the marriage collapsed amidst a welter of allegations and counter-allegations of adultery and incest. The ensuing scandal fascinated the Court and dragged on for years, until in 1621, the Star Chamber found that Anne, her mother, and other members of the Lake family, had fabricated all of the original allegations.

The Cecil family fostered arts; they supported musicians such as William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, and Thomas Robinson. The latter, in his youth, was in the service of Thomas Cecil.[5]

Marriages and issue

Thomas Cecil married, firstly, Dorothy Neville, the daughter of John Neville, 4th Baron Latimer and Lady Lucy Somerset, daughter of Henry Somerset, 2nd Earl of Worcester; and, secondly, Frances Brydges, the daughter of William Brydges, 4th Baron Chandos and Mary Hopton, and the widow of Thomas Smith, Master of Requests.

By his first wife, Thomas Cecil had ten children who survived to adulthood:

The Earl of Exeter was buried in the chapel of St John the Baptist, Westminster Abbey, London.[7]

Political offices
Preceded by
Governor of Brill, The Netherlands.
bef. 1585 – aft. 1596
Succeeded by
Sir Edward Conway
Preceded by
The Lord Burghley
Custos Rotulorum of Lincolnshire
bef. 1594 – aft. 1608
Succeeded by
Lord Burghley
Preceded by
Kenelm Digby
Custos Rotulorum of Rutland
bef. 1594–1623
Succeeded by
The Marquess of Buckingham
Title last held by
The Earl of Huntingdon
Lord Lieutenant of Yorkshire
Succeeded by
The Lord Sheffield
Title last held by
Sir Christopher Hatton
Lord Lieutenant of Northamptonshire
Succeeded by
The Earl of Exeter
Peerage of England
New creation Earl of Exeter
Succeeded by
William Cecil
Preceded by
William Cecil
Baron Burghley

See also

Wimbledon Palace - The house Sir Thomas Cecil built


  1. R. Milward, 'Cecil, Thomas, first earl of Exeter (1542-1623)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004). ODNB Link
  2. See S.R. Johnson, 'Cheke, John (1514-57), of Cambridge and London', in S.T. Bindoff (ed.), The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558 (Secker & Warburg, 1982), History of Parliament online. The Pirgo connection stated by P.W. Hasler in 'Cecil, Thomas (1542-1623), of Burghley House, Lincs. and Wimbledon, Surr.', in P.W. Hasler (ed.), The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603 (from Boydell & Brewer, 1981), History of Parliament online does not appear in other sources until a later generation.
  3. "Cecil, Thomas (CCL558T)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  4. Hasler, 'Cecil, Thomas', History of Parliament online.
  5. William Casey (pub.), Alfredo Colman (pub.), Thomas Robinson: New Citharen Lessons (1609), 1997 Baylor University Press, Waco, Texas, ISBN 0-918954-65-7
  6. Foster 1883, p. 93.
  7. 'Commemorations: Thomas Cecil, Earl of Exeter', short biography with photo of tomb, Westminster Abbey website.


This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.