The Great Lord Burghley

The Great Lord Burghley: A Study in Elizabethan Statecraft

by Martin A. S. Hume

Despite the subtitle, Hume gives us a substantial amount of information about Burleigh the man: his background, his ancestry, his character, his tastes:

"But though acquisitive and fond of surrounding himself with the accessories of wealth and great standing, he had few of the tastes of the territorial aristocracy, whom he imitated. Arms, sport, athletic exercises, did not appeal to him. From his youth he dressed gravely and soberly; and at a time, subsequently, when splendour and extravagance in attire were the rule, he still kept to his fur-trimmed gown and staid raiment. He was an insatiable book buyer and collector of heraldic and genealogical manuscripts. Sir William Pickering in Paris, and Sir John Mason, had orders to buy for him all the attractive new books published in France; and Chamberlain in Brussels had a similar commission."

His first official position was under Protector Somerset during the minority of Edward VI, but of course he is best known as Elizabeth's chief advisor. Through times of great turbulence — in religion, in politics, in alliances — Elizabeth I had always one man she could turn to, the man she nicknamed her "spirit".

"Burghley, indeed, was the only one of her ministers whom she treated with anything approaching respect, for he always respected himself. Walsingham, especially, was the object of her vulgar abuse. "Scurvy knave" and "rogue" were the terms she frequently applied to him; and it was apparently not at all an uncommon thing for her, in moments of impatience with him, to pluck off her high-heeled shoe and fling it in his face."

Elizabeth's "spirit" was cautious and analytical, devious and prudent, proud of his heritage and his position, and quite extraordinarily industrious.

There were many who worked against him and sought his downfall, but it speaks volumes of his quality that even these would confidently seek his aid in a matter of justice.

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