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Thomas Cecil, Earl of Exeter

Thomas Cecil, Earl of Exeter, his first wife, two daughters and his son are buried in a vault in St John the Baptist's chapel in Westminster Abbey. In the centre of the chapel is a large altar tomb with two recumbent marble effigies of Thomas and his first wife Dorothy Neville, daughter of Lord Latimer of Belvoir Castle. He is depicted in civil dress wearing the mantle of the Order of the Garter, with his feet on a garb (or wheatsheaf) supported by lions. She wears a long ermine lined cloak, with a griffin at her feet. The empty space on the tomb was left for an effigy of his second wife Frances Brydges but she died many years after him in 1663 and is buried in Winchester Cathedral (where she was living at the time of her death and where her sister Mrs Mary Young is also buried). The sides of the tomb chest are divided by Corinthian pilasters into bays and in each bay is a shield of arms with a circular wreath of bay leaves, or in one case, the Garter ribbon. The tomb was cleaned, repaired and repainted in the 1950s.

The Latin inscription around the tomb ledge can be translated:

Thomas Cecil, Earl of Exeter, Baron of Burleigh, Knight of the Garter, Privy Counsellor to King James, with his two dearly beloved wives, Dorothy Neville, daughter and co-heir to the noble Lord Latimer, his first wife, and Frances Brydges of the noble family of the Chandos, his second wife. They rest under this monument in firm hope of a Resurrection

The inscription obviously anticipated that Frances would lie with him.

He was born in Cambridge on 5th May 1542, eldest son of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, and Mary (Cheke). He was educated by tutors, one of which was Gabriel Goodman, later Dean of Westminster. By Dorothy he had five sons and eight daughters -son William succeeded him as 2nd Earl of Exeter and was buried in the Abbey on 9th July 1640 with his first wife Elizabeth Manners who died on 11th May 1591. William's second wife was Elizabeth Drury but he had no surviving sons so the title went to a nephew. Son Edward became Viscount Wimbledon, daughter Elizabeth married Sir Edward Coke and daughter Lucy married William Paulet, 4th Marquis of Winchester. Lucy was buried in the family vault in October 1614.

In 1610 Thomas married Frances who was younger than most of his children. Their only child was Sophia Ann who was buried in the Abbey on 15th September 1621. He was a Member of Parliament, Captain of Horse and a leading courtier and Elizabeth I made him Governor of Hull as a reward for his services in the Netherlands. He was created Earl of Exeter by King James I in 1605. Dorothy died on 23rd March 1609 and he died on 7th February 1623

Further reading

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004

Born

5th May 1542

Died

7th February 1623

Field

Politican; soldier

Location

Chapel of St John Baptist

Memorial Type

Vault

Thomas Cecil, Earl of Exeter
Thomas Cecil, Earl of Exeter monument

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2018 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

It’s a privilege to live and work here – the Abbey really is the heart of the country and its history.

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Martin - The Dean’s Verger

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