English family of statesmen, patrons and collectors. As successive principal ministers of state during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I, both (1) William Cecil and his second son, (2) Robert Cecil, were arbiters of architectural taste: Burghley House, Cambs (built for the former in the early 1560s), and Hatfield House, Herts (for the latter; begun 1607), are leading examples of Elizabethan and Jacobean country-house architecture respectively. Wimbledon House, London (begun 1588, destr. 1732), was built for William's elder son, Thomas Cecil, 1st Earl of Exeter (1542–1623).(1) William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley (b Bourne, Lincs, 13 Sept 1520; d London, 4 Aug 1598). As a young scholar he was a member of the intellectual humanist group at St John's College, Cambridge; in 1548 he became secretary to Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, Protector of England during Edward VI's minority (see fig.). The Protector's enthusiasm for architecture was passed on to Cecil, and after his master's execution in 1552 he took up the cause of classical design. The arcaded courtyard he had built at Burghley House (early 1560s), Cambs, was in the vanguard of taste; the middle courtyard of his other country house, Theobalds (late 1560s, destr. c. 1650), Herts, continued the same classicizing theme. Through his friendship with Sir Thomas Gresham (?1519–79)—who had employed the Antwerp master mason Hendrik van Passe on the Royal Exchange (1566–71), London, a building that initiated Flemish Mannerist ornament as a hallmark of Elizabethan decoration—Cecil employed van Passe at Theobalds. The multiple courtyards built for this house laid down the ideal form for other extended ‘prodigy’ houses; these were built by ambitious courtiers in rivalry with one another and were conceived as occasional residences for an itinerant monarch. The character both of Burghley and Theobalds as they evolved during further building in the 1570s and 1580s influenced a whole generation of country house builders and helped to create a national style.
From The Grove Encyclopedia of Northern Renaissance Art in Oxford Reference.
Subjects: Renaissance Art.