Lord Burghley wears the robes of a Knight of the Garter and holds a white rod, an emblem of his position as Secretary of State.
There are more contemporary portraits of Burghley than any other Elizabethan, other than Queen Elizabeth I herself. This is a reflection of Burghley’s importance as a patron and his awareness of the value of personal propaganda. All his portraits use the same face pattern but most, like this example, were painted in workshops, with varying standards of production.
William Cecil, first Baron Burghley began his career in the service of the Duke of Somerset, Lord Protector. He later became one of Edward VI’s two Secretaries of State. In 1572 Elizabeth I made him Lord Treasurer. His control over the Crown’s finances, leadership of the Privy Council and creation of an intelligence service, under the direction of Francis Walsingham, made him the most senior minister for much of Elizabeth’s reign. He devoted himself to reducing debt, restoring the coinage and curbing inflation. Convinced of the damaging political effects of heavy taxation, he sought to reduce expenditure. He increased the efficiency of the royal household, army and navy, and maintained solvency until the vast expenditure on the Anglo–Spanish War.
William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley (1520/1-1598) Lord High Treasurer
Oil on panel
height: 57.50 cm, width: 42.50 cm
Purchased from Christie's, 9 June 1950
Collection of British peer and Conservative politician William Bagot, 4th Baron Bagot JP (1857-1932) by 1890; with W. Sabin and Sons, London; by whom sold through Christie’s, London, on 9 June 1950 (Lot 126), as by ‘Stretes’ [Guillaume Scrots (active 1537-1553)]; from which sale purchased by ‘Phillips’ on behalf of the Ministry of Works
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