Architecture at Burghley House : the patronage of William Cecil, 1553-1598
William Cecil held office for the first forty years of Queen Elizabeth's reign, and was the most powerful man in England for most of that time. He was also its most important architectural patron. Not only was he the builder of three great houses, one of which was to become a royal palace, he also played a leading role in the direction of state architecture undertaken by the Office of the Royal Works. Architecturally and historically therefore Burghley, his only surviving house, holds an important position. Research has focused on extending the knowledge of the building history and how this information can contribute to the understanding of the relationship between patron and building in patron-led architectural process. Above all, it stresses how the end product of this process was designed to function for the purposes of its political master. In the historiography of the period Cecil's patronage has been stereotyped within the persistently low estimation of architectural patronage in England Consequently his architectural experience, educational background and intellectual stature, all of which bear comparison with major contemporary European patrons, have tended to be marginalized, and the more complex aspects of the architectural results to be overlooked. The broader context of Cecil's overlapping private and institutional cultural patronage is explored to establish a profile of its nature and the role of Burghley House in his political strategy. New documentary evidence, some in Cecil's own hand, has allowed a more precise understanding of Cecil as the principal intelligence directing and determining the building's form and plan. Analysis of the archaeology of the standing fabric in conjunction with RCHME's new measured plan of the ground floor has unlocked a number of the mysteries of its architectural history, and revealed the sixteenth-century house as a remarkably lucid architectural entity in the concept of its form and plan. Burghley House has emerged as an important, if not seminal building in the development of the country house as a response to the changing pattern of hospitality, self-consciously designed for visiting peer groups and the corporate entertaining of the queen and court. Its context is that of the imported court culture, as much as of the Northamptonshire landscape. The sophisticated classical courtyard architecture with its imperial iconography drawn from classical literature reflects this duality. So too does the development of deer park and gardens simultaneously with the house. The evidence further suggests that the whole environment was planned not only as the ideal sociopolitical amenity, but as a visually as well as physically inter-related complex.