Lord Burghley: Sir William Cecil, also known as Lord Burghley (1520-1598), faithfully served Queen Elizabeth I by maneuvering through the complex web of Tudor politics for over forty years. The Cecil family had previously risen in royal favor by working for Henry VII and Henry VIII, and Sir William followed in his father's footsteps by first working for the Duke of Somerset and later going on several diplomatic missions on behalf of Queen Mary I. Cecil's political career, however, did not come into its fullest realization until Queen Elizabeth I took the throne in 1558 — for it was his political and personal relationship with the famous queen that entered his name into history books.

For four decades, Lord Burghley occupied the roles of Secretary of State, Lord Treasurer, and personal secretary to the Queen: this combination of roles allowed him to have an unusual amount of influence in government. Although Burghley and the Queen shared slightly different views on key political topics such as religion, and although the Queen did, on occasion, choose not to listen to her trusted adviser's counsel, Burghley remains a significant figure in politics for his dedication to the furthering of the British state. Therefore, regardless of Burghley's specific opinions on the Puritans, the Catholics, and the Protestants, biographer Michael A. R. Graves notes in Burghley: William Cecil, Lord Burghley that the Queen always remained aligned with him on the ideals of "stability, security, and peace" (87). These core beliefs allowed him to remain an effective administrator, negotiator, and messenger without threatening too many governmental factions or, more importantly, the Queen herself.

Carlyle mentions Lord Burghley in the middle of "Signs of the Times" as he describes the overtaking of politics by machines: the author decries the fact that politics have come to make men instead of men crafting politics to serve their best interests. After providing examples of the decline of Spain and the Netherlands (as evidenced by a current paucity of legendary ruling families or grandiose, positive historical events), Carlyle realizes that logical effects do not necessarily follow causes in the history of England. In comparison to the modern age, which features dandies such as Beau Brummel at the forefront of history, the past featured individuals such as Queen Elizabeth I, who inspired fearful awe in members of political instituions like Parliament. As Elizabeth's aide, Lord Burghley gained respect even from his enemies for his patriotism, subtlety, and political savviness, further proving his individual effectiveness in preserving the political institutions of Tudor England. Carlyle, who believes that Lord Burghley was a "sign of [his] time," wishes that his own society had remarkable leaders.


Graves, Michael A. R. Burghley: William Cecil, Lord Burghley. London: Longman, 1998.

"William Cecil." Wikipedia. 2009. March 25, 2009.

Last modified 1 April 2009