Burghley House

Burghley House

The façade of Burghley House
Location within Cambridgeshire
General information
Architectural style


Town or city Peterborough
Country England
Coordinates 52°38′33″N 0°27′09″W / 52.642393°N 0.452585°W / 52.642393; -0.452585
Construction started 1558–1587
Client William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley
Technical details
Structural system Ashlar limestone

Burghley House (/ˈbɜːrli/[1]) is a grand sixteenth-century country house near Stamford, Lincolnshire, England. It is a leading example of the Elizabethan prodigy house, built by and still lived in by the Cecil family. Its park was laid out by Capability Brown.[2] The exterior very largely retains its Elizabethan appearance, but most of the interiors date from remodellings before 1800. The house is open to the public and displays a circuit of grand and richly-furnished state appartments.

The house is within the boundary of the City of Peterborough in the county of Cambridgeshire; it was formerly part of the Soke of Peterborough, an historic area that was traditionally associated with Northamptonshire. It lies 0.9 miles (1.4 km) south of Stamford and 10 miles (16 km) northwest of Peterborough city centre.


Lord Burghley was the chief advisor of Queen Elizabeth I for most of her reign.

Burghley was built for Sir William Cecil, later 1st Baron Burghley, who was Lord High Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I, between 1558 and 1587 and modelled on the privy lodgings of Richmond Palace.[3][4][5] It was subsequently the residence of his descendants, the earls and, since 1801, marquesses of Exeter. Since 1961 it has been owned by a charitable trust established by the family.[5][6]

Lady Victoria Leatham, antiques expert and television personality, followed her father, Olympic gold-medal winning hurdler and runner, IAAF President and MP David Cecil, the 6th Marquess by running the house from 1982 to 2007. The Olympic corridor commemorates her father.[7] Her daughter Miranda Rock is now the most active live-in trustee.[6][8] However, the Marquessate passed in 1988 to Victoria's uncle William Martin Cecil and then to his son William Michael Anthony Cecil, both Canadian ranchers on land originally bought by the Fifth Marquess, who have not resided there.[9]

The house is one of the main examples of stonemasonry and proportion in sixteenth-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.[3] 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.[5][10][11][12]

In the seventeenth 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.[3][5][10][12]

The so-called "Hell Staircase" has substantial ceiling paintings by Antonio Verrio from 1697 and walls by Thomas Stothard who completed the work about a century later.

Art collection

Susanna and the Elders, Artemisia Gentileschi, 1622

Although depleted of a number of important pieces by death duties in the 1960s, the Burghley art collections are otherwise mainly intact and are very extensive. The house still displays several hundred paintings, a large proportion of which are of the 17th century, bought in Italy by John Cecil, 5th Earl of Exeter (d. 1700), or by the 9th Earl (d. 1793). Both visited Italy more than once, bringing back large quantities of art. The Chapel has a large altarpiece by Veronese and his workshop, and two large paintings by Johann Carl Loth, a German painter active in Venice with few works in British collections. There are in total seven works by Luca Giordano, including a self-portrait.[13]

In the Pagoda Room, there are portraits of the Cecil family, Elizabeth I, her father Henry VIII and Oliver Cromwell. Many delicately painted walls and ceilings of the house were done by Antonio Verrio.[14] The Billiard Room displays six oval portraits of members of the Order of Little Bedlam, the 5th Earl’s drinking club.[15]

There are a number of outstanding pieces of furniture and silver, and collections of porcelain, much on display. A new "Treasury" space in the Brewhouse displays annually changing exhibitions highlighting aspects of the collections.


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,[16] paying due respect to pre-existing plantings, some of which were from the 16th century or earlier.[17] Brown also created the park's man-made lake in 1775–80. He discovered a seam of waterproof "blue" clay in the grounds, and was able to enlarge the original 9-acre (36,000 m²) pond to the existing 26-acre (105,000 m²) lake. Its clever design gives the impression of a meandering river. Brown also designed the Lion Bridge at a cost of 1,000 guineas (£1,050[nb 1][18]) in 1778. Originally, Coade-stone lions were used as ornamentation. After these weathered, the existing 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.[19]

As well as the annual Burghley Horse Trials,[20] the park plays host to the "Burghley Run" for Stamford School and an annual meet for the Cambridge University Draghounds.[21]

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.[22] The Burghley House trust has commissioned contemporary artwork in the grounds from leading artists.[23]


The house is a Grade I listed building, with separately Grade I listed north courtyard and gate.[24] The site is open to the public.[3] A number of restoration projects are under way.

The Lincolnshire county boundary crosses the park between the town of Stamford and the house. Burghley is located in the ancient Soke of Peterborough, once a part of Northamptonshire but now for ceremonial purposes in Cambridgeshire; for planning and other municipal functions the house is in the Peterborough unitary authority.[25]


The courtyard of Burghley House, as drawn by Joseph Nash in the 19th century, but with 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 television programmes made at Burghley include:

Lost village

The medieval settlement of Burghley, mentioned in Domesday, was abandoned by 1450. Failure to locate its site leads to the supposition that it lay below Burghley House.[28]

See also

The Burghley Nef, 1527-1528, France, V&A Museum no. M.60-1959


  1. Brown's works costs equate to between £121000 (auto-generated on minimum basis) or £138000 (2011) (Bank of England calculator).


  1. "Burghley or Burleigh". Collins Dictionary. n.d. Retrieved 23 September 2014.
  2. Turner, Roger (1999). Capability Brown and the Eighteenth Century English Landscape (2nd ed.). Chichester: Phillimore. pp. 110–112.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Historic England. "Burghley House (347962)". PastScape. Retrieved 25 June 2010.
  4. Alford, Stephen (2008). Burghley: William Cecil at the Court of Elizabeth I.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Leatham, Lady Victoria (1992). Burghley:The life of a great house. Herbert Press Ltd. ISBN 978-1-871569-47-6.
  6. 1 2 "Charity commission summary for charity 258489 Burghley House Preservation Trust Limited".
  7. "Great Houses". Daily Telegraph.
  8. "Burghley House Preservation Trust Limited". at Burghley's web site
  9. "Martin Cecil mural fills missing piece of 100 Mile House history". BC Local News. 21 September 2011. Retrieved 9 August 2014.
  10. 1 2 Pevsner, Nicholas. The Buildings of England. Northamptonshire.
  11. Leaflet published by the Trust
  12. 1 2 Leatham, Lady Victoria (2000). Great Houses of Britain. Burghley House (3 ed.). Heritage House Group Ltd. ISBN 978-0-85101-351-0.
  13. Burghley collections, search on Luca Giordano
  14. Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1127501)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 3 June 2012.
  15. http://www.discoverbritainmag.com/Editorial.aspx?brand=HeritageOnline&category=Latest%20Features&story=SPED20+Aug+2012+15%3A14%3A15%3A480&page=9168
  16. Historic England. "The park, describing stages of remodelling (868212)". PastScape. Retrieved 11 April 2010.
  17. Historic England. "Original park (348156)". PastScape. Retrieved 11 April 2010.
  18. Bank of England Inflation Calculator, see below Archived 5 February 2014 at WebCite
  19. "South Gardens". Burghley Trust. Retrieved 9 August 2014.
  20. "Burghley Horse trials".
  21. "Cambridge University Draghounds meeting calendar, showing run at Burghley".
  22. "Burghley's web page for the Garden of Surprises".
  23. "Fresh Take". Burghley Trust. Retrieved 9 August 2014.
  24. Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1331234)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 3 June 2012.
  25. Historic England. "Burghley House (1000359)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 3 April 2015.
  26. "Pride and Prejudice". The Castles and Manor Houses of Cinema's Greatest Period Films. Architectural Digest. January 2013. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
  27. "Burghley House". TV.com. Retrieved 9 August 2014.
  28. Historic England. "The deserted medieval village of Burghley (348033)". PastScape. Retrieved 11 April 2010.
  • Lewis, Samuel, ed. (1848). A Topographical Dictionary of England. pp. 266–269, 'Marston–Maisey – Martin–Hussingtree'. Retrieved 1 January 2011.  description of the St Martin's parish, with mention the visits of Queens Elisabeth & Victoria to Burghley House

Further reading

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

Video clips

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Coordinates: 52°38′33″N 0°27′11″W / 52.64250°N 0.45306°W / 52.64250; -0.45306

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