DiCamillo Companion
England

Burghley House

  • Built / Designed For: Sir William Cecil, Lord Burghley

    House & Family History: Burghley is one of the supreme examples of power country house architecture of the late 16th century. The House is modeled on the privy lodgings of Richmond Palace and is built around a large courtyard, combining traditional medieval architecture with classical design elements (the House was built in formation of the letter "E" in honor of Queen Elizabeth, but, as it is now missing its Northwest Wing, it can no longer claim to be an Elizabethan "E" house). Burghley was built for, and very likely designed by, Sir William Cecil, later 1st Baron Burghley, lord high treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I between 1555 and 1587, one of the queen's top advisors, and considered one of the best spymasters in English history. The principal rooms of Burghley as seen today are the result of the remodeling performed for John Cecil, 5th Earl of Exeter (1648-1700), in the late 17th century. The 5th Earl spent considerable time in Florence at the court of Cosimo de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, with whom he frequently went on buying sprees, adding considerably to his collection of paintings (he ended up with a collection of over 300 paintings and created, in the process, the greatest collection of Baroque Italian pictures in a British private house). We know from Celia Fienne's diary that, when she was shown round Burghley by the housekeeper, she was shocked at the number of pictures featuring naked women that hung in the Earl's bedroom. The Earl's grand tour took two years, ending in Paris, where he bought furniture and tapestries. The collection of tapestries at Burghley is exceptionally fine and is especially strong in the work of John Vanderbank, the English tapestry maker who was chief weaver for Charles II. The 5th Earl, having seen the latest in comfortable houses in Italy, was no longer prepared to live a dirty, drafty, and inconvenient Elizabethan house; thus, he began to renovate Burghley, engaging the services of the two leading decorative painters of the day: the Frenchman Louis Laguerre (1663-1721) and the Italian Antonio Verrio (1639-1707). The Heaven Room, completed in 1694, is considered Verrio's masterpiece and is the only room he ever painted from floor to ceiling; it displays scenes from classical mythology, with Verrio himself on the east wall as Dante at Vulcan's forge. The Hell Staircase has a ceiling painted by Verrio between October 1696 and September 1697 and walls painted, much later, in 1802, by Thomas Stothard. In the late 18th century the stairs themselves were altered to the designs of Robert Adam by the 10th Earl and 1st Marquess (1754-1804; created 1st Marquess of Exeter in 1801 in recognition of his charitable work). In the early 19th century the Heaven Room was grouped with four adjoining rooms to form a suite for a proposed visit from the prince of Wales (later George IV); consequently the Heaven Room is sometimes referred to as the Fifth George Room. This suite of rooms is considered among the most amazing interiors to be found in any British house. In 1844 Queen Victoria and Prince Albert came to stay for the weekend (the queen famously used the Heaven Room as her breakfast room). The stay is notable today for a comment the queen made to one of her ladies-in-waiting that she "detested Lady Exeter for her overwhelming odour of sanctity and because she found her a great bore." Burghley is famous for its Roman staircase, possibly based on one in the Louvre; the Staircase Hall contains carvings by Grinling Gibbons and wall paintings by Verrio. Upon the death of the 6th Marquess of Exeter in 1981 direct ownership of the House and its contents passed from the Cecil family to the Burghley House Preservation Trust, a private charitable trust dedicated to the maintenance of the House and its contents for future generations.

    Collections: Burghley contains one of the finest private collections of 17th century Italian paintings in the world and a small, but luscious, collection of jeweled rock crystal objects. The Staircase Hall contains carvings by Grinling Gibbons and wall paintings by Antonio Verrio, the latter's work also fills the walls and ceilings of the Heaven Room and the Hell Room. In 2010 two small enameled white china jars with vermeil mounts in the collection at Burghley were identified as being possibly the earliest hard-paste porcelain manufactured in Europe, pre-dating that produced at Meissen by at least 25 years (until the discovery of these jars it had been accepted that the first true hard-paste porcelain in Europe was manufactured in 1708 in Saxony; the Burghley jars are made of true hard-paste porcelain from a formula that is significantly different of that found in Asian porcelain). The jars are listed in the 1683 Devonshire Schedule of Deed, where they are referenced as "Buckingham China" and specifically called "A pair of little Jarrs and Covers guilt and Enamel'd with ffestoones and Boyes heads." The Devonshire Schedule of Deed listed valuable pieces that came to Burghley from Chatsworth after the death of Lady Elizabeth Cavendish, mother of Anne, wife of the 5th Earl of Exeter. Burghley is noted for having the best collection of silver fireplaces in England.

    Comments: Burghley is considered the finest example of late Elizabethan architecture in England. The state rooms painted by Antonio Verrio in the late 17th century form what is considered one of the greatest decorated suites in England.

  • Garden & Outbuildings: The 5th Earl created the famous racecourse in the 17th century. In the 18th century Capability Brown landscaped the gardens and the 300-acre deer park, constructed the lake, built the Stableblock (stone from the destroyed Wothorpe was used for the Stables), the Orangery, and the Lion Bridge over the lake, all under the supervision of the 9th Earl of Exeter. The 2nd Marquess of Exeter (1795-1867) reinstated the Burghley Racecourse, situated between Euston-on-the-Hill and the Great North Road, just outside of Stamford. The famous Burghley Horse Trials is an annual three-day event held every autumn on the Estate. Burghley House is today the center of an agricultural estate comprising approximately 10,000 acres. The income for the upkeep of the House is derived from agricultural and property rentals in and around the town of Stamford.

  • Architect: William Talman

    Date: Circa 1688-90
    Designed: Redecoration of interiors for 5th Earl of Exeter
    (Attribution of this work is uncertain)
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    Architect: Lancelot Brown

    Date: 1756-79
    Designed: Landscaped the gardens and the 300-acre deer park, constructed the lake, built the Stable Courtyard, the Orangery, and the Lion Bridge. Also designed various chimneys, and created Gothic-arched windows, all for the 9th Earl.

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  • Title: Historic Houses (magazine)
    Author: NA
    Year Published: NA
    Reference: Summer 2010, pg. 19
    Publisher: London: Historic Houses Association
    ISBN: 0260-8707
    Book Type: Magazine

    Title: English Country House: A Tapestry of Ages, The
    Author: Maroon, Fred J.
    Year Published: 1987
    Reference: pg. 87
    Publisher: Virginia: Thomasson-Grant
    ISBN: 0934738254
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Life at Burghley: Restoring One of England's Great Houses
    Author: Leatham, Lady Victoria
    Year Published: 1992
    Reference: pgs. 23, 27, 71-73, 75, 77-79, 87, 90, 98, 100, 131, 157, 177, 180, 183, 194-195
    Publisher: Boston: Little, Brown and Company
    ISBN: 0316518468
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: How to Read a Country House
    Author: Musson, Jeremy
    Year Published: 2005
    Reference: pg. 22
    Publisher: London: Ebury Press
    ISBN: 009190076X
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840, A - SOFTBACK
    Author: Colvin, Howard
    Year Published: 1995
    Reference: pg. 952
    Publisher: New Haven: Yale University Press
    ISBN: 0300072074
    Book Type: Softback

    Title: William Talman: Maverick Architect
    Author: Harris, John
    Year Published: 1982
    Reference: pgs. 29-30
    Publisher: London: George Allen and Unwin
    ISBN: 0047200251
    Book Type: Softback

  • House Listed: Grade I

    Park Listed: Grade II

  • "Bleak House" (1985 - BBC TV mini series, as the exterior of Chesney Wold, Sir Leicester and Lady Dedlcock's house). "Middlemarch" (1994 - BBC TV mini series). "The Buccaneers" (1995 - TV mini series, as exterior of Allfriars, home of the Brightlingseas). "The Golden Bowl" (2000). "Pride and Prejudice" (2005 - as Rosings). "Bleak House" (2005 - TV series). "D'Artagnan and the Three Musketeers" (2005 - in French, as the Duke of Buckingham's Palace, using the Roman Staircase, the Great Hall, and the Heaven Room). "The Curious House Guest" (2005 - BBC TV series). "The Da Vinci Code" (2006 - Burghley served for multiple scenes: as Castel Gandolfo, the Pope's Italian summer residence; Burghley was used for all interiors and some exteriors. For the garages at Chateau de Villette, where Teabing and Langdon are pursued by French police. As Sauniere's countryside retreat, where Sophie witnesses the Priory of Scion ritual ceremony. As a 14th century French village with a flashback to the medieval witch hunts. The recreation of a bedroom twenty feet in the air in the Ash Yard). "Buildings That Shaped Britain" (2006 - TV documentary series by Simon Thurley, episode 4, "The Country House"). "Hidden Treasure Houses" (2006 - documentary by James Miller). "Castle in the Country" (2006 - BBC documentary, 3rd series, 15 episodes). "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" (2007 - as the home of Dr. John Dee, Elizabeth's astrologer and adviser). "Priceless Antiques Roadshow" (2009 - BBC TV documentary, episode 1.4). "Antiques Roadshow" (2009 - BBC TV series).
  • Seat of: Miranda Rock; Cecil family here for over 400 years.

    Past Seat of: William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, 16th century; John Cecil, 4th Earl of Exeter, 17th century; William Alleyne Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Exeter, 19th century; Lady Victoria Diana Cecil Leatham, daughter of the 6th Marquess of Exeter, 20th century.

    Current Ownership Type: Individual / Family Trust

    Primary Current Ownership Use: Private Home

    Ownership Details: Owned by Burghley House Preservation Trust Limited.

  • House Open to Public: Yes

    Phone: 01780-752-451

    Fax: 01780-480-125

    Email: info@burghley.co.uk

    Website: http://www.burghley.co.uk

    Historic Houses Member: Yes