Cecil, William, Baron Burghley

[William Cecil, Baron Burghley] (1520-1598) Statesman, born Bourne, England; died London. From custos brevium on the court of common pleas, Historic Caughnawaga and secretary for the Lord Protector Somerset, William Cecil rose to the position of chief secretary of state under Queen Elizabeth, in which position he practically dictated England's policy for 40 years. In 1571 he was created Baron Burghley, and during the following year he was made a Knight of the Garter and lord high treasurer of England. His cruel treatment of Catholics and his employment of a band of ruthless spies who seemed to draw the line at nothing in acquiring information, have caused him to be severely and justly criticized; in 1583 he published a pamphlet entitled "The Execution of Justice" which popularized the calumny that the Catholics executed by his orders and by those of the other ministers had been guilty of treason against their sovereign, while in reality most of them had been executed solely because of their attachment to the Catholic faith. Cecil's "dark and intriguing mind" greatly influenced Elizabeth's policy against Mary, Queen of Scots, whose death he advised and was instrumental in securing. The historian J. H. Pollen deems Cecil "a political genius of the first rank," but also declares him the most active and efficient, and therefore the most culpable, of all Elizabeth's cooperators in destroying the religion of England.

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