Burghley: The Power Behind the Throne

Stephen Alford admires a perceptive article on Lord Burghley, Elizabeth I’s ally and consummate political fixer, by the distinguished Tudor historian Joel Hurstfield, first published in the 1956 volume of History Today.

Joel Hurstfield’s pen portrait of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley (1520-98) appeared in History Today in December 1956. A year earlier the American scholar Conyers Read had published the opening volume of his biography of Lord Burghley (a second followed in 1960), the first life of the chief minister of Elizabeth I (r. 1558-1603) to be written in 50 years. Hurstfield, as his essay shows, knew Read’s book intimately. Read wrote of Burghley: ‘He never compromised with his personal integrity, he never lost his faith in God, he never weakened in his loyalty to his mistress or his devotion to his country.’ With skill and economy Hurstfield both acknowledged and refined this picture of Burghley’s career.

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