Lord Burghley’s date of birth

There is some discrepancy with regards the year of Lord Burghley’s birth, with different sources giving 1520 and others giving 1521. Cecil himself switched between the dates, though he used the earlier date for his will. The decision to commemorate his birth in 1520 has been based on that final choice and on the evidence of Cecil’s ‘Private Journal’. We share the evidence gathered together here in the interests of continuing the academic debate and welcome any fresh insights that readers might have!

Primary sources:

1) Cecil Papers 334 – ‘A table collected of the Yeares of oure Lorde God’ (bound with other titles). Burghley has annotated the entry for 1521, giving details of his birth in that year.

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Evidence for: 1521

2) Copy of document in Nare’s Memoirs of Lord Burghley (vol 1). This is held in the Lansdowne Manuscripts, British Library. Colour copy to be ordered to check the difference in inks.

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Nare states that:

It was long before we could decide whether the subject of these Memoirs, Lord Burghley, was born in the year 1520 or 1521. We had found in the Calendarium Cecilianum in the Museum [BL], an entry in his own hand to the following effect:- Sept. 13. Hoc die natus sum W. Cecyll Ao 1521 13. H.8…

…on examining more particularly the entries to be found in what is commonly called his Private Journal, we discovered that in fact, he had mistaken the year of his own birth. That he had originally begun the Journal thus:- “ao R.H. 8 13 1521 13 Sept. Ego Gulielms Cecills nats sum apud Burne in Com. Lincolnj.” Afterwards he discovered that he was, in fact, born in 1520; he therefore put this date above the date of 1521, adding ao 12. H. 8. erased the 13th of September in the former entry, and inserted it above, connecting it again by a stroke with the concluding part of the former entry…

Evidence for: 1520 or 1521 (ambiguous)

Nare argues that he moved the date above, to the line of 1520, because he realised he was actually born in 1520. However, it is also possible that he crossed out the first 13 Sept in order to add the annotation for Carolus Cesar Liondini in the correct place and then didn’t have space on the correct line. It would be helpful to find the original so that we can see the difference in inks, as referred to by Nare.

3) BL Add MS 6059, f9v

This is an astronomical calendar, annotated in Burghley’s hand with his date of birth as 13 September 1521.

Evidence for: 1521

4) Burghley’s will (TNA/PROB 1/3) – “borne also of Christion parents, and christened in the name of the father, the sonne and the holy ghost in the moneth of September the yere of o[u]r lord 1520 in the Church of Borne…” Not in Burghley’s own hand.

Evidence for: 1520

5) Letter from William Cecil to Robert Cecil, 13 September 1595 (referred to in Stephen Alford’s Burghley), Cambridge University Library, CUL MsEe 3.56 no 59. This document confirms Burghley’s birthday as the 13th of September (‘ye son entering into libra’), but does not give any further information.

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Evidence for: none

6) Cecil Papers 140/13 (Family and historical memoranda), in Burghley’s handwriting., gives his year of birth as 1521. [written c. 1594 – date of last entry]

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Evidence for: 1521

7) ‘HMC Salisbury mss, vol. 69 – this is referred to in Beckingsale’s biography of Burghley, published in 1967. However, I have been unable to locate a document in volume 69 that refers to his date of birth.

8) CP 141/5 – gives his date of birth as 1520 – however this is a much later document [late 17th century].

9) Herald’s pedigree at Burghley House gives his date of birth as 1521. However, this is also a much later document (written c. 1750).

Contemporary accounts of his life:

1) An account included in Elizabeth of England, edited by Professor Conyers Read and his wife, Evelyn in 1951. This was written by Burghley’s clerk, John Clapham, c. 1603 (immediately after the Queen’s death). I have not managed to locate a copy of this document yet.

2) Anonymous life of Burghley, which has been published 3 times. First in Francis Peck’s Desiderata Curiosa , 1732 and the 2nd published by Arthur Collins, also in 1732. Third published by AGR Smith in 1990. No original manuscript survives today, although the first two state that they are copies from original manuscripts (Collins based on one at Burghley House, Peck is vaguer as to the location of the manuscript).

Written between 1599 and 1603, the latter of these published versions attempts to identify the author as Michael Hickes, Burghley’s secretary from 1580.

Francis Peck: records date of birth as 1521.

AGR Smith: text records date of birth as 1521, but AGR Smith annotates this to note that he was born in 1520.

Secondary sources:

Stephen Alford (in Burghley, published 2008), states that Burghley was born in 1520. He cites three documents in his first paragraph (Burghley’s will – which states 1520; BL Add MS 6059 – which states 1521; and a letter from William Cecil to Robert Cecil – which only gives the date and no year).

B W Beckingsale (in Burghley, published 1967), states that “…at Bourne, on 13 September 1520 Jane gave birth to Richard’s son, William Cecil”. (p.7). The citation provided is HMC Salisbury MSS v. 69. However, there does not appear to be a relevant document in Cecil Papers 69.

Vicki Perry, Hatfield House Archives, 21 October 2019

Lord Burghley, Precepts

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One of Lord Burghley’s best known legacies is the set of precepts that he is said to have written for the edification of his sons in order to educate their sons. They were not published until after Burghley’s death and it is difficult to be sure when they were written and what kind of editing they might have undergone, but the wit and wisdom of the author shines through. The Precepts provide us with what may be a glimpse into Burghley’s family life and the kinds of advice that he passed on to his sons and the several young noblemen who grew up in his household as minors under the care of the Court of Wards of which Burghley was Master. The version given here is from the 1637 edition of the Precepts that is in the library at Burghley House and the language has been lightly modernized in places for ease of reading. - click on titles below to learn more:

First, when it shall please God to bring you to Mans estate, making you capable of that Calling, use great providence and circumspection, in choice of your Wives, as the root from whence may spring most of your future good or evill: For it is in the choice of a Wife, as in a project of Warre, wherein to erre but once is to be undone for ever. And therefore, be well advised before you conclude ought herein; For though your Errour may teach you wit, it is uncertain whether you shall ever find time to practice it: Therefore the more securely to enter herein, First, well consider your estate, which, if in a true survey, you find firme and settled, Match near home, and with deliberation: but if otherwise crazie and Rented, then farre off, and with quicke expedition: be informed truly of their inclination, which that there may bee a more equall Sympathy, compare it with your owne, how they agree for you must know, that every good woman makes not for every man a good wife, no otherwise then some one good Dish digesteth with every stomack. After that, enquire diligently of her stocke and race, from whence shee sprung, and how her parents have been affected in their youth. Let her not bee poore, how generous so ever: For Generosity without her support, is but a faire shell without her kernall, Because a man can buy nothing in the Market without money.

And as it is the safest walking ever between two extremes, so chuse not a wife of such absolute perfection and Beauty, that every carnall eye shall bespeake you injury: neither so base and deformed, that breed contempt in others, and bring you to a loathed bed.

Make not choice of a Dwarfe or a Foole, for from the one you may beget a race of Pigmeyes, as the other will be your daily griefe and vexation: for it will irke you so oft as you shall heare her talke, and you shall continually fine to your sorrow, that feele that Crosse, that There is nothing so fulsome as a she foole.

Touching the government of your House, let your Hospitalitie bee moderate, equall’d to the measure of your estate, rather bountifull then niggardly, yet not prodigall, nor overcostly, for though some who having otherwise consumed themselves with secret vices, have endevoured to colour their riots upon their virtue, yet in my observation, I have not heard nor knowne any man grow poor, by keeping an ordinary, decent and thrifty Table.

Banish drunkennesse out of your Houses, and affect him not that is affected thereunto: for it is a vice that impaires health, consumes wealth, and transformes a man into a beast: a sinne of no single ranke, no ordinary station, that never walkes unattended with a train of misdemeanors at the heeles: besides for the credit thereof, to induce a man, I never heard other commendation ascribed to a Drunkard, more then the wel-bearing of his drink, which is a Commendation fitter for a Brewers horse, or a Dray-mans back, than either for Gentle-men or Serving-men; for especially, the latter being taken tardy herein is thereby doubly divorced from himself; for, being first sober, hee is not his own man, and being drunk, he falls short by two degrees.

Beware thou spend not above three of the 4 parts of thy revenue, nor above one third part thereof in your house: for the other two parts will but defray extraordinaries, which will always surmount your ordinaries by much: for otherwise you shall live like Beggars in continuall wants, and the needy man can never live happily, nor contented, being broken and distracted with worldly cares: for then every least disaster makes him ready to Mortgage or sell: and that Gentleman that sels an Acre of Land, looseth an ounce of credit: for Gentilitie is nothing but ancient Riches: So that if the Foundation do sinke, the Building must needs consequently fall.

Bring your children up in obedience and learning, yet without too much austerity, prayse them openly, reprehend them secretly: give them good countenance, and convenient maintenance, according to your ability: for otherwise your lives will seeme their bondage, and then as those are censured, that deferre all good to their end: so that portion you shall leave them, they may thanke death for, and not you. Marry your Daughters betimes, lest they marry themselves.
Suffer not your Sonnes to passe the Alpes: for they shall exchange for their forraine travell (unlesse they go better fortified) but others vices for their owne vertues, Pride, Blasphemy, and Atheisme, for Humilitie, Reverence, and Religion: and if by chance, out of a more wary industry, they attaine unto any broken Languages, they will profit them no more, then to have one meat served in divers dishes.

Neither by my advise shall you train them up to Warres: For hee that sets up his rest to live by that profession, in mine opinion, can hardly be an honest man, or a good Christian; for, Every warre of it selfe is unjust, the good cause may make it lawfull: besides it is a Science no longer in request then use: for Souldiers in Peace, are like Chimneyes in Summer, like Dogges past Hunting, or Women, when their beauty is done. As a person of qualitie once noted to the like effect, in these Verses following.

Friends, Souldiers, Women in their prime,
Are like to Dogges in Hunting time:
Occasion, Warres, and Beauty gone,
Friends, Souldiers, Women here are none.

LIve not in the Countrey without Corne and Cattell about you: For hee that must present his hand to his purse for every expence of houshold, shall as hardly keepe money therein, as it is for one to hold water in a Si[e]ve. And for your provision, lay to buy it at the best hand, for there may be sometimes a penny saved, betweene buying at your need, or when the season most fitly may furnish you.

Be not willingly attended, or served by Kinsmen or Friends, which will seeme to be men, as it were intreated to stay: for such will expect much, and sted little, neither by such as are amorous: For their heads are commonly intoxicated. Keepe rather too few, then one too many, feed them well, and pay them with the most, so may you lawfully demand Service at their hands, and boldly exact it.

Let your Kindred and Allyes bee welcome to your Table: grace them with your countenance, and ever further them in all their honest actions, by word, liberality, or industry: for by that meanes you shall double the bond of Nature: be a Neighbour to their good, as well as to their bloud: By which reasonable deservings, you shall finde them so many Advocates, to plead an Apologie for you behind your backe, so many witnesses of your vertues, whensoever others shall seeke to deprave you: but shake off the Glo-wormes, I meane, Parasites and Sycophants, who will feed and fawne on you, in the Summer of your prosperity, but in any adverse Storme, will shelter you no more, then a Cloake of Taffatay, or an Arbour in Winter.

BE sure you keepe some great Man alwayes to your Friend: yet trouble him not for Trifles: Complement him often, present him with many, yet small gifts, and of little charge.

And if you have cause to bestow any great gratuity on him, then let it be no Chest commoditie, or obscure thing: but such a one as may be daily in sight, the better to bee remembred: for otherwise you shall live but like a Hop without a Pole, or a Vine without her Elme, subject to injury and oppression, ready to be made a Foot-ball, for every superiour insulting companion to spurn at.

Undertake no suit against a poore man, without receiving of great wrong, for there in you make him your Competitor: besides that, it is held a base Conquest, to triumph upon a weake adversary; neither undertake law, against any man, before you be fully resolved you have the right on your side, which being once so ascertaind, then spare neither cost nor paines to accomplish it: for a cause or two being so close followed, and well accomplished, may after free you from suits a great part of your life.

Beware of suretiship for your best friend: for he that payeth another mans debts, goeth the way to leave other men to pay his, and seeketh his owne overthrow. Therfore if he be such a one, that you cannot well say nay, chuse rather then, to lend that money from your selfe upon good bonds, though you borrow it: so many you pleasure your friend, and happily secure your selfe.

In borrowing of money, be evermore precious of your word: for he that hath a care to keepe day of payment, is Lord commander many times of another mans purse.

Toward your Superiours be humble, yet generous; with your equals familiar, yet respective; towards your inferiours, shew much humility, with some familiarity, as to bow your body, stretch forth your hand, uncover your head, and such like popular complements: the first prepares way to advancement: the second will make you knowne for a man well bred: the third gaines a good report, which once gained, may easily be kept; for high humilities are of such respect in the opinion of the multitude, as they are easilier won by unprofitable curtesies, than by churlish benefits: yet doe I not advise you, overmuch to affect or neglect popularity.

Trust no man with your credit, or estate: for it is a meere folly for a man to in thrall himselfe further to his friend, than that he needs not feare him being his enemy.

BE not scurrilous in conversation, nor Stoicall in your wit; for the one makes you unwelcome to all companies, as the other piles quarrels on your head, and makes you hated of your best friends.

Jests, when they doe savour of too much truth, leave a bitternesse in the mindes of those that are touched. And although I have already pointed at these inclusive; yet I thinke it necessary to leave it to you as a caution because I have seen many so prone to quippe and gird, as they had rather lose their friend than their jest: and if by chance their boyling braine yeeld a quaint scoffe, they will travell to be delivered of it, as a woman with childe: but I thinke those nimble apprehensions, are but the froth of the wits.

‘William Cecil and the Elizabethan World’, a lecture delivered by Dr Janet Dickinson at Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education open day, September 2019