This book has been on my shelf for some time and I’ve finally had a chance to read it. My knowledge of William Cecil and his role in Queen Elizabeth I’s reign was moderate but I wanted to know more. He certainly loomed large as private secretary and as Lord Treasurer and it is clear his influence was paramount.
Alford had access to all of Burghley’s papers and this book is not really a standard biography. He concentrates on Cecil as a man with glimpses into Burghley’s personal life. There’s a good deal of information on Burghley’s homes of Cecil House on the Strand, Theobalds and Burghley house. Alford stresses how Burghley was a dynast and had a keen interest in genealogy and family trees. He kept meticulous records on every aspect of his life, personal and work related, leaving a large archive for his son Robert to utilize as a minister in Elizabeth’s government, as well as James I’s.
Alford gives lots of interesting details about what Cecil and his family ate, how he entertained the Queen when she visited, his interest in gardening, his illnesses and the hiring of doctors to treat him and the taking of the waters as a cure. The section of Cecil’s early life and his career in university is fascinating. Cecil’s family worked for the earlier Tudor monarchs and introduced William to his career in the government. Cecil worked for Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I as well as Elizabeth. Contacts made when Cecil was in school served him throughout his life.
Perhaps the most compelling thing about this book is the intricate particulars of how Cecil strove to bring down Mary Queen of Scots. Alford tells us Cecil operated mostly with words and printed material. He had his own propaganda machine and intelligence network. Using these, collaborating with his protégé, Sir Francis Walsingham, they concocted a plot to implicate Mary Queen of Scots to kill Elizabeth and place herself on the English throne. This is really great stuff and worth the price of the book. For anyone with an interest in the life of William Cecil and intrigue at the Tudor court, I can highly recommend this book. A very enjoyable read.