CECIL, William (1566-1640), of London, Newark Castle, Notts.; later of Burghley House, Lincs.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. Jan. 1566, s. of Thomas Cecil by his 1st w., and bro. of Richard and Sir Edward. educ. Trinity Coll. Camb. 1578; travelled abroad 1585; G. Inn 1589. m. (1) 1589, Elizabeth, s.j. Baroness Ros (d.1591), da. and h. of Edward Manners, 3rd Earl of Rutland, 1s. d.v.p.; (2) Elizabeth, da. of Sir William Drury of Hawstead, Suff., 3da. Kntd. Apr. 1603; KG 1630; styled Lord Burghley 1605; suc. fa. as 2nd Earl of Exeter 1623.

Offices Held

J.p.q. Notts. by 1594, Northants. 1601, Lincs. by 1619; commr. musters, Notts. 1596; jt. high steward, honour of Bolingbroke 1598; jt. chief forester, Rockingham forest 1603; keeper, Kirby park, Lincs. by 1604; custos rot. Notts. 1603, Lincs. 1619; ld. lt. Northants. from 1623; PC 1626.


After Cambridge, where he was entered on the books at the age of 12, Cecil embarked on his tour abroad, but instead of studying at Paris he went to Italy, and incurred the anger of his father and grandfather by visiting Rome. He was expected back in England in the summer of 1587, but a correspondent told Burghley that he ‘does but dally and is loath to come home’. He kept bad company ‘and worse perchance than I know of, as he never keeps that of any English, and changes his lodging so often that no one knows where to find him’. It was said that he became a Catholic at about this time. However this may be he was back in England in time to be returned, while still under age, for a family borough to the Parliament of 1586-7. He is not mentioned in the records of that or of the following Parliament, when he again represented Stamford. His name was, however, put on the books of Gray’s Inn while the 1589 Parliament was in session, but whehter he ever studied there is doubtful. It was in the year that he married, without licence, a child heiress, who was a ward of the Crown. For this he was fined £600, and her early death only two years later in childbirth, not yet 16, involved him in costly and prolonged litigation. By April 1593 Cecil was in the Fleet, probably for debt, asking his uncle Robert to intercede for him. In the same month he was removed from his ‘noisome prison’ to a ‘place of better health’, and before the end of May was at liberty. But he had still not learnt how to manage his financial affairs. Another letter to his uncle (July 1596) complained that the bishop of Lincoln had deprived him of his prebend of Stoke because his rent was a day late.

Cecil was elected knight of the shire for Rutland in 1597. As far as is known he made no speeches, but he was appointed to the standing committee on privileges and returns (5 Nov.) and to a committee on Robert Cotton’s lands (25 Nov.). In addition, as a county Member in this Parliament he could have attended committees appointed for enclosures (5 Nov.), penal laws (8 Nov.), weapons (8 Nov.), monopolies (10 Nov.), the subsidy (15 Nov.) and the poor law (22 Nov.). This was his last session in the Commons. He went back to Italy for a year at the turn of the century, after which his activities were mostly local. He even managed to keep out of a family scandal in 1615 when his stepmother was suspected of poisoning his daughter-in-law, Lady Ros. It was his father who insisted, against the King’s wishes, on bringing the accusers before the Star Chamber. Lord Ros himself was by this time repeating the pattern of the two earlier generations and sowing his own wild oats in England and Italy.

Three years after succeeding to the earldom, Cecil was made a Privy Councillor, but he never held major office. He died at Exeter House, Clerkenwell, on 6 July 1640, and was buried in Westminster abbey.2

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Authors: J.C.H. / P. W. Hasler


  • 1. Folger V. b. 298.
  • 2. CP; Rylands Lib. Eng. ms 311; PRO, Index 4208, pp. 180, 224; APC, xxv. 157; Doyle, Baronage, i. 717-18; Vis. Northants. ed. Metcalfe, 78 seq.; C193/13/1; CSP Dom. 1581-90, pp. 254, 284, 287; 1598-1601, pp. 223, 442; Add. 1580-1625, pp. 147, 183, 441; D’Ewes, 552, 553, 555, 557, 561, 563; HMC Hatfield, iii. 130; iv. 300, 308, 319; vi. 270; x. 25; xiv. 182-3; xv. 357; HMC 12th Rep. IV, 283-4, 287, 292, 298, 304; Lansd. 56, f. 204 seq.