Lord Burghley and Queen Elizabeth

Lord Burghley and Queen Elizabeth

Lord Burghley and Queen Elizabeth

Lord Burghley and Queen Elizabeth

Excerpt

Four years ago I sent to press Mr. Secretary Cecil and Queen Elizabeth. It was designed as the first volume of a life of William Cecil, Lord Burghley. This is the second volume and carries the story to Burghley's death. Roughly speaking, volume I deals with Cecil as a commoner and Secretary, volume ii with him as a peer and Lord Treasurer. As Lord Treasurer, he not only administered the royal finances, but he presided as well over the Court of Exchequer. In that capacity, as also in his Mastership of the Court of Wards, he occupied an important place in the English judiciary. But he was above all things a counsellor; the oldest, in point of service, of all Elizabeth's counsellors and the one upon whom she leaned most heavily. It may almost be said that Elizabeth never made an important decision in matters of policy without first consulting him. And much of the policy which emerged from those consultations was based upon his advice.

On that account it has not been easy to write his life without writing as well the history of the first forty years of her reign, not only in matters political but in matters religious and economic as well.

He grew physically feeble as he grew older. During the last five years of his life he had to be carried wherever he went, and in the last year or two he was very deaf. But his mental powers apparently remained undiminished until the very last. Within six months of his death, in his seventy-eighth year, he was still sitting with the Privy Council, still presiding in the Court of Exchequer and the Court of Wards. But after his son Robert's appointment as Principal Secretary in 1596, he took over virtually all the routine business of government and Burghley's activities in administration became reduced to an occasional memorandum and an occasional letter. For that reason I have, in the concluding chapters, been less concerned with the detailed consideration of public events.

The one part of Burghley's public life which I intended to write but have not written was his relations to the Irish problem. I think I have read all his extant dispatches on Irish affairs. Those to Sir Henry Sidney in the 'sixties, preserved in the Public Record Office; those to Sir William Fitzwilliam in the 'seventies, among the Carte MSS. in the Bodleian Library, and those to Nicholas White in the Lansdowne MSS. at the British Museum, are numerous. But they all deal either with English news or with details of Irish administration. On one occasion Burghley observed that the Flemings had no such cause to protest against Spanish oppression as the Irish against the tyranny of England; on another he rejected the policy of Ireland for the Irish. He wrote to Nicholas White: 'I think a great part of the misorders in that [Irish] government hath arisen by such as have been more inclined to private commodity and to singularities than to the public benefit.' But this was the string Burghley harped upon in every department of administration.

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