Treasure Houses of England: Burghley House

Note: Cheryl is writing a series on the ten Treasure Houses of England, which have been selected for their grandeur, architecture, furnishings, landscape, and historical significance. See the website at http://treasurehouses.co.uk/

Burghley House

HISTORY

Burghley House was built more than 400 years ago by William Cecil, the first Lord Burghley (1520-1598), who served as Lord High Treasurer and Chief Minister to Queen Elizabeth I for 40 years. Upon his death, the house and title passed to his eldest son, Thomas, who became 1st Earl of Exeter.

The 5th Earl of Exeter (1648-1700), who visited Italy three times and was one of the leading collectors of his day, greatly altered Lord Burghley’s house. The 9th Earl of Exeter (1725-1793) added extensively to Burghley’s collections of paintings, furnishings, and porcelain (among the finest private collection in England) during his four tours of Italy and is responsible for the naturalistic landscape designed by Lancelot “Capability” Brown in the mid 18th century. The 10th Earl became the 1st Marquess of Exeter in 1801.

None of the 1st Earl of Exeter’s descendants have played as important a role in government as the home’s builder, William Cecil. The 6th Marquess (1904-1981), as Lord Burghley, achieved fame by winning the gold medal in the 1928 Olympics in the 400-meter hurdles and winning the silver in the same event in 1932. A scene in the movie Chariots of Fire, where a Cambridge student runs around the great court in the time it takes the clock to strike 12, is based upon Lord Burghley. When he died without male descendants in 1981, the marquisate passed to his brother, who lived in Canada, and Burghley House and its contents became part of a charitable trust set up by him and administered, in part, by his descendants. His granddaughter, Miranda Rock, currently lives at Burghley with her husband and four children. The present Marquess of Exeter resides in Canada.

Movies which have featured Burghley House in recent years include the 2005 Pride and Prejudice in which Burghley served as Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s home, and The Da Vinci Code.

HOUSE

Upon seeing Burghley House for the first time, visitors will immediately understand why it is billed “The Largest and Grandest House of the Elizabethan Age.” Because of the grandeur of the home’s architecture, furnishings and grounds, it has been selected as one of England’s 10 Treasure Houses.

The Elizabethan house that was constructed from 1555-1587 in the shape of an “E” to honor the queen was largely modified in the 17th century. The exterior features its original roofline bristled with cupolas, obelisks and round chimneys.

Allow plenty of time to see the house, as about 20 rooms are on the tour. This includes four Georgian state rooms, a billiards room, the painted dining room featured in the 2005 film of Pride and Prejudice, the Elizabethan chapel, the bow room, the Marquetry room (for its inlaid furniture), Queen Elizabeth’s bedroom, the brown drawing room, the black and yellow bedroom, the pagoda room, the blue silk bedroom and its blue silk dressing room, the magnificently painted heaven room, after which visitors visit the equally magnificently painted hell staircase, and the great hall.

GROUNDS

Much of what was designed by Lancelot “Capability” Brown in the 18th century remains, including the 26-acre lake. Like all of Brown’s landscapes, Burghley’s grounds of sweeping lawns, curving lake, swelling hills and strategically clumped trees contribute to a natural-looking landscape.

In recent years a sculpture garden and a Garden of Surprises (with a maze) have been added.

There’s a lake walk, a cricket ground and woodland area to explore.

The orangery offers a restaurant which looks out over a parterre rose garden.

Cheryl Bolen, who has been visiting England for three decades, spent most of the month of June exploring more of England’s stately homes. Her newest release is the A Birmingham Family Christmas. Visit her website at http://www.cherylbolen.com/.

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2 thoughts on “Treasure Houses of England: Burghley House

  1. I love visiting all these homes, Angelyn, but since we don’t drive in England, we have to be able to reach them (mostly) by rail. Wonder if I’ll ever see Woburn or Holkham? Victorica Henshaw spent over $100 for a taxi from the nearest rail station to Holkham. Sheesh!

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