CECIL, John, Lord Burghley (1674-1721), of Burghley House, Northants.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1695 - 29 Aug. 1700

Family and Education

b. 15 May 1674, 1st s. and h. of John Cecil†, 5th Earl of Exeter; bro. of Hon. Charles* and Hon. William Cecil*.  educ. privately (Matthew Prior*); travelled abroad 1692–3.  m. (1) 9 Feb. 1697 (with £30,000), Annabell (d. 1698), da. of John Bennet, 1st Baron Ossulston, s.p.; (2) 19 Sept. 1699, Elizabeth (with £10,000 and £1,200 p.a.), da. and coh. of Sir John Brownlow, 3rd Bt.*, and sis. of William Brownlow*, 5s. (2 d.v.p.) 1da.  suc. fa. as 6th Earl of Exeter 29 Aug. 1700.

Offices Held

Freeman, Stamford, 1697–d; recorder, Nov. 1697–d.; custos rot. Peterborough by 1701–c.1720; ld. lt. Rutland 1712–15; custos rot. 1712–?1


Cecil’s father, the Earl of Exeter, was a scholar, something of a virtuoso and a frequent traveller on the Continent. He was an early patron of Matthew Prior, whom he employed as private tutor to his three sons. Exeter was a non-juror who was turned out as chief justice north of the Trent after the Revolution. Both sides believed that he was sympathetic to James II in the 1690s. Evidence of anything more than sympathy, however, is generally as nebulous as the report of one Williamite agent, who claimed in 1691 that there was a concentration of ‘malcontents’ at Stamford, meeting under cover of the apparently innocent pastime of cockfighting. The agent’s suspicions were aroused by a trip made by Exeter into Yorkshire, ‘about a cock match; and [he] has given money to a plate in that county, and some of the gentlemen of Yorkshire have contributed to that at Stamford. What the meaning of it is, or whether there be any in it or not, you can better guess.’ In June 1692 and again in July 1693 Burghley was granted passes to go to Holland to accompany his father’s European travels. In 1695, Lord Exeter’s instructions to give William III a welcoming reception at Burghley House were somewhat marred by his own absence, which was widely reported at the time, and there is no record that Burghley was present either. The King was said to be delighted with Burghley House and apparently remarked that it was too great a house for a subject. Despite this, on his being returned for Rutland Burghley was described by Roger Martin of Stamford, as ‘very hopeful and much in the King’s eye since his election’.2

However, in Parliament Burghley consistently joined the opposition. He was forecast as likely to oppose the Court in the divisions of 31 Jan. 1696 on the proposed council of trade and refused at first to sign the Association. On 14 Feb. he was given leave of absence for three weeks and was not in attendance at the time of the division on the price of guineas. Charles Bertie I* wrote on 14 Mar. 1696 in reference to the Association, that Burghley ‘is expected up, to leap the gulf’, but the Speaker reported to the House on 31 Mar. that he still declined to sign. Absent again at a call of the House on 2 Nov. and ordered to be taken into custody, Burghley returned in time to vote on 25 Nov. against the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†.3

On 13 Mar. 1697 Burghley was once more granted leave, having in February married an heiress with a dowry of £30,000, only for her to die in the summer of the following year. On 19 Aug. 1698 a correspondent wrote to Sir Joseph Williamson*:

My Lord Burghley is to refund £10,000 of his lady’s portion (or my Lord of Exeter rather), if one can call that refunding that was never received (nor perhaps never would have been), several of the securities being so defective. When my Lord Burghley marries again, which I presume may not be long (for it is an evidence of a good wife when the husband makes such haste to be happy again), what portion he shall have with a wife will be all his own, except the £10,000 (to be refunded), which my Lord of Exeter is to have. Already they talk of a fair lady with £20,000; and then he will have £3,000 p.a. in possession, £7,000 p.a. in reversion and £10,000 in his purse.

A year later, Burghley duly married another heiress.4

In the meantime, on 18 Nov. 1697, the King acquiesced in Stamford’s choice of Burghley as their recorder, Exeter having resigned. Returned again for Rutland in 1698, Burghley was listed as a supporter of the Country party. Never an active Member, he received further leaves of absence on 17 Feb. 1698 (14 days), and on 8 Jan. 1699 due to his wife being very ill. He was classed as ‘doubtful’ in an analysis of January–May 1700 grouping Members into ‘interests’. Going up to the Lords on the death of his father, his position as chief butler at Queen Anne’s coronation perhaps indicates a rapprochement with the court under the new regime. He wielded the family interest at Stamford for the Tories and also enjoyed electoral influence in Northamptonshire. A Whig described him as ‘a gentleman who never was yet in business, loves hawking, horse matches and other country sports’. In 1705 he renewed a club founded by his father at Burghley in 1684, the ‘order of Little Bedlam’, with himself as grand master ‘Lion’, his brother William as ‘Panther’ and brother Charles as ‘Bull’. Other members included the Duke of Devonshire (William Cavendish†), the Earl of Gainsborough, Charles Bertie I* and Sir Godfrey Kneller. Burghley was in poor health in the winter of 1707–8 and unwilling to ‘undergo the danger and inconvenience’ of a journey to London in February to attend the Lords on a private bill to break the entail on some of his estates. However, he did not die until 24 Dec. 1721. He was buried in the family vault at St. Martin’s church, Stamford, his will directing his executors, his widow, his brother Charles, Sir Thomas Mackworth*, Charles Bertie I, and Joshua Blackwell, to take care of his children, all of whom were still under age.5

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Paula Watson / Eveline Cruickshanks


  • 1. NRA Rep. 6666, Exeter mss 76/119, freedom of Stamford, 1697; 80/17, custos rot. Rutland, 1712; CSP. Dom. 1697, p. 477; Exeter mss at Burghley House, EX76/119/6, confirmation as recorder, 1721; NLW, MS17071E ‘Bk. of the Peace’.
  • 2. Bridges, Northants. ii. 591; G. R. Dennis, House of Cecil, 136–7; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 1960; Westminster Diocesan Archs. Old Brotherhood mss iii/3/232, memo. by ‘Mr Davis’, 23 Mar. [1691]; Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, i. 459; Ideology and Conspiracy ed. Cruickshanks, 125; HMC Finch, ii. 309; iii. 74; CSP Dom. 1691–2, p. 308; 1693, p. 229; Add 17677 PP, f. 414; Camb. Univ. Lib. Add. mss 2, f. 151.
  • 3. HMC Rutland, ii. 159.
  • 4. Rutland mss at Belvoir Castle, Charles Bertie I to Earl of Rutland, n.d.; NRA Rep. 6666, Exeter mss 43/6, mar. settlement 1696; 32/10, settlement of Ld. Exeter’s estate on Burghley’s mar. 1699; CSP. Dom. 1698, p. 376.
  • 5. HMC 5th Rep. 309; HMC Lords, n.s. vii. 336–7; PCC 70 Marlbro’.