Burghley House

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Burghley House
Front of Burghley House 2009.jpg
The façade of Burghley House
Grid reference: TF049060
Location: 52°38’33"N, 0°27’9"W
Town: Stamford, Lincolnshire
For: William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley
Structure: Ashlar limestone
country mansion



Burghley House is a grand 16th-century country house in standing just south of Stamford in Lincolnshire. The house and its extensive park are within the northernmost confines of Northamptonshire, bunded by the River Welland.

The house was built for Sir William Cecil, later 1st Baron Burghley, Lord High Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I, Its park was laid out in a later age by Capability Brown.[1]

The house is within the Soke of Peterborough, part of Northamptonshire. It lies a mile south of Stamford, across the River Welland in Lincolnshire and 10 miles northwest of the city of Peterborough.


Lord Burghley

Burghley House was built for Sir William Cecil, later 1st Baron Burghley, who was a key royal adviser from the reign of Henry VIII, rising to become Lord High Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I and her chief adviser for most of her reign. After the dissolution of the Monasteries, Cecil acquired the lands of Peterborough Abbey and the Abbey's secular jurisdiction over the Soke of Peterborough: his heir today, the Marquess of Exeter, retains the title "Lord Paramount of the Soke of Peterborough", though the authority behind the title has long since been lost.

The house was built between 1558 and 1587 and modelled on the privy lodgings of Richmond Palace.[2][3][4]

Lord Burghley's two surviving sons shared in their inheritance: his eldest, Thomas, inherited the title and Burghley House, whilst his younger son, Robert Cecil, received Theobalds House in Hertfordshire. Robert had also inherited his father’s political acumen and became Queen Elizabeth's chief adviser; he was made Earl of Salisbury by King James I. Burghley was until the late twentieth century the residence of Thomas Cecil's descendants, the Earls and, since 1801, Marquesses of Exeter.

In the 1770s, Launcelot "Capability" Brown was engaged to lay the gardens out in his renowned naturalistic style, producing the pattern seen today.

The house is a Grade I listed building, with separately Grade I listed north courtyard and gate.[5] The site is opened to the public.[2] A number of restoration projects are under way.

The House

The house is one of the main examples of stonemasonry and proportion in 16th-century English Elizabethan architecture, reflecting the prominence of its founder and the lucrative wool trade of the Cecil estates. It has a suite of rooms remodelled in the baroque style, with carvings by Grinling Gibbons.[2] The main part of the house has 35 major rooms on the ground and first floors.

There are more than 80 lesser rooms and numerous halls, corridors, bathrooms and service areas.[4][6][7][8]

In the 17th century, the open loggias around the ground floor were enclosed. Although the house was built in the floor plan shape of the letter E in honour of Queen Elizabeth, it is now missing its north-west wing. During the period of the 9th Earl's ownership, and under the guidance of Capability Brown, the south front was raised to alter the roof line, and the north-west wing was demolished to allow better views of the new parkland.[2][4][6][8]


In the Pagoda Room there are portraits of the Cecil family, Queen Elizabeth I, her father Henry VIII and Oliver Cromwell. Many delicately painted walls and ceilings of the house were done by Antonio Verrio.[9]

Lost village

The village of Burghley recorded in the Domesday Book was abandoned by 1450. The national history body field investigator in 1968 suggests that failure to locate it by archaeology is because it is below Burghley House.[10]


Burghley House from Jones's Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen (1829)
Part of the Grounds, lake and boathouse

The avenues in the park were all laid out by Capability Brown,[11] paying due respect to pre-existing plantings, some of which were from the 16th century or earlier.[12] Brown also created the park's man-made lake in 1775–80. He discovered a seam of waterproof "blue" clay on the grounds, and was able to enlarge the original 9-acre pond into the current 26-acre lake. Its clever design gives the impression of a meandering river. Brown also designed the Lion Bridge at a cost of 1,000 guineas in 1778. Originally, Coade-stone lions were used as ornamentation. After these weathered, the current stone examples were made by local mason Herbert Gilbert in 1844. Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert also planted two trees to commemorate their visit.[13]

Recent developments have included starting a sculpture garden around the old ice house and, in 2007, a "garden of surprises" was created using traditional ideas of water traps, shell grottos and a mirror maze, but in a 21st-century style.[14] The Burghley House trust has commissioned contemporary artwork in the grounds from leading artists.[15]


  • The annual Burghley Horse Trials
  • The Burghley Run for Stamford School
  • The Cambridge University Draghounds have an annual meting here.[16]

Management today

The current Marquess is resident in Canada, the land of his birth, and since 1961 the House has been owned by a charitable trust established by the family.[4][17]

Lady Victoria Leatham, antiques expert and television personality, followed her father, David Cecil, 6th Marquess of Exeter (Olympic gold-medal winning hurdler and runner, IAAF President and Member of Parliament) by running the house from 1982 to 2007. The Olympic corridor commemorates her father.[18] Her daughter Miranda Rock is now the most active live-in trustee.[17][19] However, the Marquessate passed in 1988 to Victoria's uncle, and then to his son, both Canadian ranchers who have not resided there.[20]

On film and television

The courtyard of Burghley House drawn by Joseph Nash in the 19th century; figures in Elizabethan costume

Burghley House has been featured in several films. Its virtually unaltered Elizabethan façades and a variety of historic interiors make it an ideal location for historical and period movies.

Films and programmes made at Burghley include:

  • Middlemarch (1994 television serial)
  • The Da Vinci Code
  • Pride & Prejudice (2005)
  • Elizabeth: The Golden Age
  • Housefull 2: The Dirty Dozen an Indian film, 2012


  • BBC Two filmed a 15-part series about Burghley broadcast in the Castle in the Country programmes 2006.
  • Featured in the 2007 BBC series How We Built Britain
  • Burghley House was one of fifteen structures featured in the 2010 BBC series Climbing Great Buildings
  • In 2011 Burghley House featured on the TV programme Royal Upstairs Downstairs.
  • Antiques Roadshow, Season 20, Episode 18[21]

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Burghley House)

Coordinates: 52°38′33″N 0°27′11″W / 52.6425°N 0.45306°W / 52.6425; -0.45306


  1. Roger Turner (garden designer) (1999). Capability Brown and the Eighteenth Century English Landscape (2nd ed.). Chichester: Phillimore. pp. 110–112. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 National Monuments Record: No. 347962 – Burghley House
  3. Alford, Stephen (2008). Burghley: William Cecil at the Court of Elizabeth I. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Leatham, Lady Victoria (1992). Burghley:The life of a great house. Herbert Press Ltd. ISBN 978-1-871569-47-6. 
  5. National Heritage List 1331234: Burghley House
  6. 6.0 6.1 Pevsner, Nicholas. The Buildings of England. Northamptonshire. 
  7. Leaflet published by the Trust
  8. 8.0 8.1 Leatham, Lady Victoria (2000). Great Houses of Britain. Burghley House (3 ed.). Heritage House Group Ltd. ISBN 978-0-85101-351-0. 
  9. National Heritage List 1127501: Burghley House
  10. National Monuments Record: No. 348033
  11. National Monuments Record: No. 868212 – Burghley Park
  12. National Monuments Record: No. 348156 – Burghley - original park
  13. South Gardens - Burghley Trust
  14. "Burghley's web page for the Garden of Surprises". http://www.burghley.co.uk/html/surprises.html. 
  15. "Fresh Take". Burghley Trust. http://www.burghley.co.uk/fresh-take/. Retrieved 9 August 2014. 
  16. "Cambridge University Draghounds meeting calendar, showing run at Burghley". http://www.srcf.ucam.org/cudh/meetcard. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 Burghley House Preservation Trust Limited - Registered Charity no. 258489 at the Charity Commission
  18. "Great Houses". Daily Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/artsandculture/9818183/Great-Houses-with-Julian-Fellowes-small-stories-for-stately-homes.html. 
  19. "Burghley House Preservation Trust Limited". http://www.burghley.co.uk/html/charity.html.  at Burghley's web site
  20. "Martin Cecil mural fills missing piece of 100 Mile House history". BC Local News. 21 September 2011. http://www.bclocalnews.com/lifestyles/130130088.html?mobile=true. Retrieved 9 August 2014. 
  21. "Burghley House". TV.com. http://www.tv.com/shows/antiques-roadshow-uk/burghley-house-1090096/. Retrieved 9 August 2014. 


  • Gifford, Gerald (2002). A Descriptive Catalogue of the Music Collection at Burghley House, Stamford. Ashgate. ISBN 978-0-7546-0460-0. 

Video clips