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WILLIAM CECIL was the son of Richard Cecil Esq. of Burghley, in the county of Northampton, Master of the Robes in the reign of Henry VIII., and in great favour with that Monarch. His mother was the daughter and heiress of William Hickington Esq. of Bourn, in the county of Lincoln, at which place he was born in the year 1520.
The first rudiments of his education he received at the grammar-schools of Grantham and Stamford, and as he discovered an ardent thirst for knowledge, his father determined to qualify him for the law. With this view, he sent him to St. John's College, Cambridge, where his close application to his studies, assisted by an uncommon genius, speedily acquired him considerable reputation; but a humour in his legs, the consequence of his very sedentary life, unfor tunately laid the foundation of the gout, which afterward pursued him to his grave.
Camden's Annals of Queen Elizabeth ; Collins' Life of Cecil; Lloyd's State-Worthies; Salmon's Chronological Historian; Biographia Britannica; and Walpole's Royal and Noble Authors.
In his nineteenth year, having completed his university-education, he was removed to Gray's Inn, London, where his proficiency in the law was unusually rapid. While he was thus laudably employed, an accident, which introduced him to the notice of his Sovereign, diverted his attention in some measure from his intended profession.
In the latter end of the reign of Henry VIII. Mr. Cecil, while on a visit to his father, met in the presence-chamber with two priests, chaplains to O'Neale a celebrated Irish chief, who at that time was negociating the affairs of his country. With these priests, who were bigoted Papists, he fell into conversation upon theological topics. A warm dispute in Latin ensued, which he managed with so much wit and argument on the part of the Reformed religion, that his antagonists broke from him in a rage. Upon this, his Majesty ordered him into his presence; and, in consequence of the pertinent answers which he gave to several intricate questions, directed his father to find a place for him at court. As there was then no vacancy, however, in that department, the reversion of the Custos Brevium Office in the Common Pleas was conferred upon him.
About this time he married Mary, the sister of Sir John Cheke, by whom he had his first son, Thomas. She died in less than two years from her marriage. Five years afterward, he married Mildred, daughter of Sir Antony Cooke, one of the tutors of Edward VI.
Upon the accession of that prince, he was quickly promoted. By Sir John Cheke's recommendation, the Protector appointed him Master of the Requests, soon after which he succeeded to his reversionary office. These acquisitions, with the for
tune of his second wife, enabled him to make a distinguished figure among the courtiers.
He subsequently attended the Duke of Somerset in his expedition to Scotland,* and at the battle of Musselburgh had a very narrow escape; being pushed out of the level of a cannon by a generous friend, whose protecting arm was shattered to pieces in the exertion.
In 1548, he rose into great favour with the young King, which Somerset observing, advanced him to the office of Secretary of State. But in the following year, a party being formed against the Protector, Cecil was committed to the Tower, where he remained a prisoner three months. To recompense him for this transient disgrace, his Majesty soon after his release conferred upon him the honour of knighthood; and in October, 1551, he was sworn of the Privy Council. So strong, indeed, was his personal influence with his Sovereign, that he was treated with deference even by the haughty Northumberland. In 1552, party-disputes ran high at court; and, though Sir William acted with great caution, yet was he accused by his enemies of having contributed to his patron's ruin. This aspersion, however, is grounded solely on his reply to the Duke, when told by him that he was apprehensive of some evil design against him:' " If you are not in fault," said Cecil, " you may trust to your innocence ; you are, I have nothing to say, but to lament you."
* Upon this expedition, he kept a Diary (afterward published by William Patten, under the title of Diarium Expeditionis Scotica,' in 1541) which furnished materials for an account of that war. This is probably the reason, why he is classed by Holinshed among the English historians.
In 1553, he undertook the liquidation of the crowndebts; and having proposed ways and means, which were adopted by the Council, he was for this eminent service created Chancellor of the Order of the Garter. The people now began to form high expectations of him; particularly as he countenanced every rational scheme for the encouragement of the national com
At the council-board, he strenuously opposed the resolution for changing the succession in favour of Lady Jane Grey; but, though he declined to sign the instrument for that purpose as a Privy Councillor, he witnessed it as the act and deed of the King. Upon his Majesty's demise, however, he refused to draw up the proclamation declaring her title; neither would he, on Northumberland's solicitation, write a letter acknowledging her right, and asserting Mary's illegitimacy. This discretion paved the way to his future advancement. For Mary, soon after her accession, granted him a general pardon; and on choosing her counsellors promised, if he would change his religion, that she would appoint him her Secretary : to which he nobly answered; "He was taught and bound to serve God first, and next the Queen; but, if her service should put him out of God's service, he hoped her Majesty would give him leave to choose an everlasting rather than a momentary service: that she had been his so gracious lady, as he would ever serve and pray for her in his heart, and with his body and goods be as ready to serve in her defence, as any of her loyal subjects; but hoped she would please to grant him leave to use his conscience to himself, and serve at large as a private man, rather than to be her greatest counsellor." Notwithstanding this, how.
ever, she forbore either to listen to his enemies, who were numerous, or to disgrace him; and in the second year of her reign she sent him to Brussels, with Lord Paget, to bring over Cardinal Pole.
During the remainder of this reign, Cecil continued in a private station, only attending his duty in parliament as knight of the shire for the county of Lincoln; where, though he frequently opposed the measures of government (particularly, a bill brought in for confiscating the estates of those, who had fled on account of religion) he was held in such respect by the Queen's ministers, especially by Pole, that he was never molested either for his religious or his political sentiments. When Elizabeth succeeded to the throne, for his tried service to her Majesty he was made Secretary of State and a Privy Councillor ; and was the first sworn of her council at Hatfield, where she resided upon her coming to the crown.
In her first parliament considerable difficulties arising about reforming the national religion, for the better satisfaction of the members a conference on Sir William's suggestion was held at Westminster, by the old and new Bishops and other learned men, upon some questions drawn up principally by himself touching the exercise of the new faith. This produced the form of worship, which has ever since been established in the English church.
His next care was, to remedy the abuses in the currency of the realm. For this purpose he called in all the base money, and ordering a new coinage, placed the gold and silver specie upon an improved footing. With respect to foreign affairs, it was his great object to guard against the machinations of the Catholic powers; and the protection of the Reformed