Monday, 23 April 2018

William Cecil - a proto-feminist?

William Cecil, effectively Queen Elizabeth 1st's Prime Minister, the patriarch of many well known people today, tasted bitter personal loss, movingly expressed in the long essay he wrote on the tombs of his brilliant wife Mildred and his daugher, Anne de Vere, in Westminster Abbey. Mildred was very reformed and he highlights her learning, faith and charity, as the daughter of Edward VI's tutor.   How many men write like this about women even today?

Mildred and Anne, tomb Westminter Abbey with Cecil's long essay, incribed around them
By unknown -, Public Domain, 
"Mildred, first born daughter of the noble Lord Anthony Cooke, Kt. a
man of virtue and distinguished learning, a noble Maecenas to all men
of letters; her mother was the Lady Anne, daughter of Lord William
Fitzwilliams, Kt.: celebrated and high born because of her parents'
ancient pedigree, tracing its descent from many of the noble families
of the realm, she was no less famed and exceedingly praised by all the
learned for her erudition, combined with her steadfast profession of
the Christian faith, and her singular knowledge of the Greek and Latin
tongues, which knowledge she received solely at the hands of her
father, who instructed her. She became, in her 20th year the wife of
Lord William Cecil, Lord of Burghley, and afterwards, by reason of her
husband's being ennobled with the title of Baron of the realm, she was
created Baroness of Burghley and bore him many children, but three
only who attained maturity: that is, Anne, Robert and Elizabeth".

Under here (mine eyes are full of tears, my spirit oppressed with the
greatest grief) appear the likenesses of two illustrious women, who,
while they yet lived, were most dear to me, far beyond the whole race
of women kind. 

Should anyone seek to know who is this old man kneeling here, grey
headed, venerable, girt about with his parliamentary robes, Knight of
the Order of the Garter: and who are these two noble ladies,
splendidly attired, and who these kneeling at their heads and feet; he
will discover all these things from the following words of the old
man, and from the inscriptions appended to each.

She whose likeness is below was - alas, was - my Mildred, my wife,
dearest above all: the other, mine too, was my most beloved daughter.
Mildred became my wife in the year of Our Lord 1546 and lived
with me constantly and harmoniously for 43 years, and she shared all
my fortunes in times good and bad, throughout the reigns of kings
Henry VIII and Edward VI, and queens Mary and Elizabeth (who still
felicitously holds sway); she bore me many children but three only
reached maturity, namely two daughters, Anne and Elizabeth, and one
son Robert. 

But it was my daughter Anne who was ever my darling: given
in marriage to Edward Vere, most illustrious Earl of Oxford, Lord
Great Chamberlain of England, she became, by virtue of this marriage,
Countess of Oxford, and bore to her husband more than a few sons, none
of them long surviving, and three daughters yet living, whose
likenesses are to be seen, kneeling at their mother's head. The first
is Lady Elizabeth, the second Lady Bridget, the third Lady Susannah.
This my daughter Anne lived from a tender age amidst abundant and
universal acclaim, both at Court and at home, a maid most modest and
virtuous, a wife without fault for her husband. At last, to the great
grief of myself and her mother, she was untimely snatched away from us
and yielded up her spirit to God who gave it; her soul once restored
to God, my wife and I, with many tears, saw to it that her body should
repose beneath this monument of stone. 

But mother followed hard upon...

daughter; although I never think earnestly upon her without tears, yet
certain things suggest themselves which in passing small degree seem
to assuage my grief: namely, when I call again to mind how, throughout
the whole of her life, she was conversant with sacred literature, and
the writings of holy men, and especially those Greeks such as Basil
the Great, Chrysostym, and Gregory Nanzianus, and others of their ilk.
Yet most comforting to me is to recollect how great were the benefits
that she conferred in secret upon the learned, how great her deeds of
pity towards the poor: (which things are more apparent to all after
her death than they were during her life..., moreover, she endowed colleges in either university with
monies, and bequeathed sums in perpetuity for the m aintenance of
scholars, particularly at the college of St John the Evangelist at
Cambridge; (and how) also she was so deeply concerned for the upkeep
of the needy in the towns of Romford (whence her family had its
origin), and Burghley, where is our ancestral seat, that she saw to it
that on the first Sabbath day of each month provisions and money were
always distributed to the poor, especially to needy widows and orphans
of Burghley, and that frequent discourses were delivered there upon
the Word of God. She also decreed that, in each of these aforesaid
towns, a considerable sum of money should be distributed every two
years in perpetuity for the benefit of poor mechanicals [poor
labourers]. After these and many other outstanding services of like
kind to God and country, to me her husband, to her children, to the
learned, and to the poor, she freely rendered up her soul to God in
her climacteric year, that is to say, her 63rd, on 4th April in the
year 1589. I, as husband and father, thought fit that her body should
join that of our daughter Anne, shortly before laid to rest beneath
this stone, that they should be preserved together, in hope of

But to what purpose do I continue? I shall make an end of words of
lamentation, saying only this, that this sight is to me so full of
woe, that, although those sweet children who remain to me, so full of
promise, offer some degree of solace, yet neither these four, so dear
to me as they are, nor my beloved eldest son, Thomas Cecil, nor all
his descendants yet living, grandsons and granddaughters numbering
eleven in all, to whom I also add the little boy William Pawlett, son
of my granddaughter Lucy Cecilia by William Pawlett, son and heir of
the Marquess of Winchester - none of these will ever efface the grief
which, for me, pertains to this spectacle"

The virtuous Lady Mildred Burghley lived to the age of 63 and left
many a testimony of her piety towards God, her charity to the learned
and the poor: deeds which, while she lived, she concealed under the
names of other good persons, but which then were known in the presence
of God, and now, her life being over, without any doubt are surely
laid up for her in heaven. She met her death on the 4th April 1589 at
the home of her husband, Lord Burghley, in Westminster."

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