England’s greatest Elizabethan house…
Magnificent Burghley House was the vision of Lord William Cecil – the 1st Lord Burghley and Lord High Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I – and is one of the largest, and considered to be one of the grandest, houses of the first Elizabethan Age. Successive generations of Lord Cecil’s family have inhabited Burghley House for over 400 years, assembling a treasure trove of fine art, furniture, textiles and ceramics including one of the finest collections of 17th century Italian masterpieces and a significant collection of Oriental and European ceramics.
Constructed during the latter half of the 16th century – coinciding with the coronation of Queen Elizabeth I and a new era of optimism in Britain – Burghley House started to take shape alongside other ‘prodigy’ houses including Longleat, Lyveden and Kirby Hall. Cecil worked for the powerful Duke of Somerset and his designs for Burghley were heavily influenced by the classical lines of Somerset House in London – a fine Tudor palace, replaced in the 18th century by the ‘new’ Somerset House. Some four centuries later, the exterior of Burghley House remains relatively unchanged. An open gallery running along the south front was enclosed with arched windows during the 17th century and majestic gilded wrought iron gates were added.
During the mid-eighteenth century, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was commissioned to set down a modern landscape for the grounds. His remit included modifications to the house, adding a fashionable Orangery and demolishing the north-west wing to open up views of his new planted masterpiece. Conversely, little stood still within the walls of this marvellous building. The 17th and 18th centuries bore witness to significant changes, both the 5th and 9th Earls commissioning master craftsmen to make significant alterations to the interior, whilst accumulating fine artworks and historic treasures to adorn its walls and spaces. The 5th earl of Exeter conceived the ‘George Rooms’, replacing draughty Elizabethan long galleries with magnificent State Apartments. The jewel in the crown was the spectacular ‘Heaven Room’, painted by Italian artist Antonio Verrio, depicting the the loves and excesses of the Gods of Mount Olympus in spellbinding scenes of drama and indulgence that appear three-dimensional through the masterful use of optical illusion and perspective. The George Rooms were last used as a suite in 1844, by Queen Victoria.
Burghley House offers its visitors a fascinating insight into a history than spans six centuries, whilst embracing the need to keep moving forward, with its wonderful ‘Garden of Surprises’ and ‘Sculpture Garden’, an array of exciting events, a great restaurant and café, and gift and garden shops. You may also be more familiar with Burghley than you realise, having been a backdrop for feature films including ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and ‘Pride & Prejudice’.