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William Cecil at the Court of Elizabeth I

Stephen Alford

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The first modern biography of the most powerful politician in late Tudor England

William Cecil, Lord Burghley (1520–1598), was the closest adviser to England’s Queen Elizabeth I and—as this revealing and provocative biography shows—he was the driving force behind the Queen's reign for four decades. Cecil’s impact on the development of the English state was deep and personal. A committed Protestant, he guided domestic and foreign affairs with the confidence of his religious conviction. Believing himself the divinely instigated protector of his monarch, he felt able to disobey her direct commands. He was uncompromising, obsessive, and supremely self-assured—a cunning politician as well as a consummate servant.

This comprehensive biography gives proper weight to Cecil's formative years, his subtle navigation of the reigns of Edward VI and Mary I, his lifelong enmity with Mary Queen of Scots, and his obsession with family dynasty. It also provides a fresh account of Elizabeth I and her reign, uncovering limitations and concerns about invasions, succession, and conspiracy. Intimate, authoritative, and enormously readable, this book redefines our understanding of the Elizabethan period.

Stephen Alford was educated at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, and is Fellow in History at King's College, Cambridge. He is the author of Kingship and Politics in the Reign of Edward VI and The Early Elizabethan Polity. He lives in Northumberland, UK.

"In vividly describing the life of Burghley, where he came from, and how he came to be one of the most successful politicians and statesmen of his age, Alford's achievement is great. He has done much to dispel the weary notion of Bughley as a plodding bureaucrat with an unoriginal mind, and casts him instead as an active and incisive shaper of events—a major player on the European stage, however modestly he may have played the part."—Eric H. Ash, American Historical Review

"Written by a master of the source material who has a feel for the nature of the Tudor Court and writes with balance and sympathy."—Diarmaid MacCulloch, University of Oxford

“[An] excellent biography … [Alford] writes with clarity and pace … [and] offers a wonderfully rich description of Lord Burghley’s material world: the maps and plans decorating the his walls, the mutton and quails and calves’ feet that streamed out of his kitchens, and the busts of the Emperor Charles V and Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent that watched over the courtyard of Burghley House.” — J. P. D. Cooper, Times Literary Supplement

"Alford has the biographer's natural sympathy for his subject and so does the reader of this engaging book."—Robert C. Braddock, Renaissance Quarterly

"Stephen Alford . . . has written a life narrative that attempts to put a human face on Elizabeth's engine of government, moving between political moments and family experiences. . . . [This] is the most readable and convincing portrait of William Cecil available. In it, the man emerges as almost human, worried about his health, in love with his wife, deeply concerned about his daughters and granddaughters, anxious for his sons' advancement, and proud."—Norman Jones, Journal of Modern History

"[In] this intensely readable biography. . . . there is not a single page that does not engage the reader."—Michael Questier, Catholic Historical Review

"Alford . . . has done much to dispel the weary notion of Burghley as a plodding bureaucrat with an unoriginal mind, and casts him instead as an active and incisive shaper of events--a major player on the European stage, however modestly he may have played the part." — Eric H. Ash, American Historical Review

'This biography is not only a definitive account of a much more interesting man than is often realised, but is an excellent read, its scholarship straightforwardly presented and its judgements always balanced.' — Dr Simon Pawley, Lincolnshire History and Archaeology

"This well-researched, thoughtful and highly readable biography--by one of the most productive scholars currently working on the later Tudors--is full of revelations about Cecil...No one who reads this fine account will be able to doubt that Elizabethan England was in many respects, as Alford labels it, 'Burghley's commonwealth.'"--William R. Robison, The Journal of Ecclesiastical History

“Alford succeeds in getting under the skin of the most powerful man in Elizabethan England.”—Cambridgeshire Journal

“…. [A] detailed and composite portrait.”—Jack Carrigan, Catholic Herald

A 2008 Top Seller in European History as compiled by YBP Library Services
ISBN: 9780300170887
Publication Date: May 31, 2011
432 pages, 6 1/2 x 9 1/4
16 b/w illus.