First chief spymaster turns 500 - sparking year of celebration at Burghley House
Burghley House will be offering visitors a packed year of events and exhibitions to mark the 500th anniversary of the birth of one of Elizabethan England’s most powerful figures – and the man who built the magnificent Stamford country house.
He may have none of the glamour of Raleigh or Drake, but for Queen Elizabeth I, one man was by her side for 40 years – and 2020 will celebrate the birth and lasting legacy of William Cecil, the Queen’s most trusted minister and the country’s first chief spymaster.
From rare items displayed together for the first time in a new exhibition – including his personal atlas complete with hand coloured maps and handwritten notes – to a Shakespearean play performed in the garden, a series of high profile lectures and a themed summer school, Burghley is aiming to make 2020 a year to remember for the Lord Burghley 500 anniversary.
In addition, youngsters can put pen to paper to mark ‘Burghley 500’ celebrations with a ‘Burghley Beastly Boring’ story writing competition, to be launched next month.
As well as events at Burghley House, June 2020 will see national celebrations with a service in Westminster Abbey, where his funeral was held in 1598 before he was buried in St Martin’s Church, Stamford, which will host a service in September.
As the court’s most powerful man William Cecil – who was born at Bourne, near Stamford, on Sept 13, 1520 – helped shape British history. He was not only Elizabeth I’s chief intelligence gatherer, but also involved in everything from diplomacy and exploration to education and gardening.
Two exhibitions at Burghley will offer visitors a chance to discover more about his life and times. The Treasury Exhibition – “The Age of William Cecil, Builder of Burghley’ – features a wide selection of rare items. As well as the atlas, the exhibition will also feature a Chinese silver-mounted porcelain bowl presented by Queen Elizabeth I and the earliest known plan of a London house and garden – Cecil House on the Strand. Burghley, one of the largest and grandest houses of the first Elizabethan Age, was built and mostly designed by Cecil between 1555 and 1587.
Also new for 2020 will be a timeline exhibition in the house entrance, detailing Cecil’s life and achievements, not only revealing the huge influence he had over every aspect of life in 16th century England, but also his skills as a designer and builder.
A series of special lectures will focus on the life, times and legacy of William Cecil with guest speakers inlcuding David Starkey, Lesley Smith and Professor Stephen Alford.