Mildred Cecil, Lady Burghley & Anne Countess of Oxford

Mildred Cecil, Lady Burghley and her daughter Anne, Countess of Oxford have a large monument, about twenty four feet high, in St Nicholas' chapel in Westminster Abbey near where they are buried. This is attributed to sculptor Cornelius Cure and shows the recumbent effigy of Mildred in front, with that of her daughter on a slightly raised shelf behind. Both wear long fur-lined red cloaks and there is a unicorn at Anne's feet. At the foot of their effigies is a kneeling figure of Mildred's son Sir Robert Cecil, and behind the heads are kneeling figures of three daughters of the Countess, Elizabeth, Bridget and Susanna. The superstructure is of three bays, the middle containing the kneeling figure of Mildred's husband William Cecil, Lord Burghley. There are many Corinthian columns and heraldic achievements.


The extremely long Latin inscription is by Lord Burghley himself, recording his grief, and can be translated:

Centre left panel

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.

Centre below the figure of Lord Burghley

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

Upper left panel

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, Anne. 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...

Upper right panel, moreover, she endowed colleges in either university with monies, and bequeathed sums in perpetuity for the maintenance 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 [ie.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 resurrection.
Behold here also four others yet living: Robert, my only son by Mildred, at his mother's feet, and three others, maidens, the Lady Elizabeth, the Lady Bridget, the Lady Susannah, the three daughters of my Anne, kneeling at the heads of their mother and grandmother. 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

Centre panel under arch

Anne, Countess of Oxford, daughter of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, was born 5th Dec. year of Our Lord 1556. She became the wife of Edward Vere, most illustrious Earl of Oxford, in the 15th year of her age, by which union she became the mother of many children, but left living only three maiden daughters: Lady Elizabeth Vere now aged 14, Lady Bridget Vere, 5 years of age, and thirdly the little infant Lady Susannah. The aforesaid Anne lived, as maid, ever chaste and pure: as wife, wondrous loving and faithful to her husband: as daughter, submissive to her parents in all things: and most diligently devoted to the worship of God. She was seized by a burning fever, and with her latest breath, with most ardent prayers, and in certain hope of an heavenly kingdom, she yielded up her soul to God, as her Creator and Redeemer on 5th June 1588, in the palace of Queen Elizabeth at Greenwich.

Centre right

Anne was joined in matrimony with Edward, Earl of Oxford, as is made clear above. Robert yet lives, and kneels here at his mother's feet. Elizabeth died forthwith, in consequence of the death of her husband, William Wentworth, first born son of Thomas, Lord Wentworth, as is commemorated above by her father. The virtuous Lady 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.

Left, east panel

Robert Cecil, son of William, Lord Burghley and Mildred, Lady Burghley, was born on 1st June A.D.1563. Shortly before the decease of his mother, he was, with his mother's knowledge, seeking the hand of the noble maiden Lady Elizabeth Brook, Lady of the Queen's bedchamber, daughter of that renowned Baron of the realm Lord Cobham, and, after his mother's death, with his father's permission, he took her to wife on the last day of August 1589. He reveres the memory of his most virtuous mother and of his beloved sister with great sorrow, and acknowledges his father (now full of years) as most dear to him, with all obedience; in the which, should he persevere, his days shall be long in the land which the Lord his God shall give unto him.

Right, west panel

Lady Elizabeth Vere, daughter of the illustrious Edward, Earl of Oxford and of his wife Anne, daughter of Lord Burghley, born 2nd July 1575, now 14 years old; she grieves greatly, and not without cause, for the loss of her grandmother and mother, but is comforted because Her Most Serene Majesty Queen Elizabeth cherishes her as a lady of the bedchamber. Lady Bridget, second daughter of the aforesaid Earl of Oxford and of Anne, was born 6th April 1584 and though scarcely five years old when she laid her mother's body in the sepulchre, yet not without tears did she acknowledge her mother, and also her grandmother, snatched away soon afterwards. But she is not left an orphan, having a father living, and a deeply affectionate grandfather as her most solicitous guardian. Lady Susannah, the third daughter, born 26th May 1587 is too young to know either her grandmother or mother, but now only knows her most affectionate grandfather, whose care it is that all these maids lack neither a kindly upbringing nor a fitting way of life.

Above the kneeling figures

Death is the gate of life. Death to me is gain

Mildred and Anne her daughter

Mildred was born in 1526, one of five daughters and four sons of Sir Anthony Cooke (or Coke) of Gidea Hall, Essex, tutor to Edward VI. Educated by her father she was known as a scholar and philanthropist. Her sisters were Anne (Bacon), Katherine (Killigrew), Elizabeth (Russell) and Margaret (Rowlett). She was Lord Burghley's second wife and they lived first at Wimbledon Manor and he then built his grand house in the Strand in London.

As mentioned in the inscription above Mildred's children were Anne (1556-88), Robert (1563-1612) and Elizabeth (1564-1583). The surviving children of Anne, wife of Edward 17th Earl of Oxford, were Elizabeth (who married William, Earl of Derby), Bridget (who married Francis, Lord Norris) and Susannah (who married Philip, Earl of Montgomery). They were looked after by their grandfather. Mildred died at Burghley House in the Strand.

William, Lord Burghley and his father Richard

Lord Burghley was Secretary of State and High Steward of Westminster and was a friend of Gabriel Goodman, Dean of Westminster. His father Richard Cecil was buried in St Margaret's Westminster on 22nd March 1553 -he was a page to Henry VIII and went with the king to the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520 and was a member of the Privy Chamber. He died in his house in Canon Row Westminster. He has no burial marker. William's mother was Jane, daughter of William Heckington. He was born on 18th September 1520 and died on 4th August 1598. His funeral was held at the Abbey but he was buried at St Martin's church in Stamford in Lincolnshire near his country residence. Thomas, son by his first wife, succeeded him as 2nd Lord Burghley.

In the 19th century the monument was restored by Lord Cranborne and was cleaned and re-painted in the late 1950s.

In the same chapel is a monument to Sir Robert's wife Elizabeth Cecil and another to Winifred (Paulet), Marchioness of Winchester.

Anne's husband, Edward de Vere 17th Earl of Oxford, was buried at St Augustine, Hackney with his second wife.

A cousin of Lord Burghley, Blanche Parry, is buried in St Margaret's Westminster.

A service to mark the 500th anniversary of Lord Burghley's birth took place on 22 June 2022. The service was originally due to take place in 2022 but was postponed due to COVID-19.

Further Reading

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - Mildred Cecil

"The Cecils of Hatfield House" by Lord David Cecil, 1973

Burghley House in Lincolnshire and Hatfield House in Hertfordshire are open to the public

A Service of Thanksgiving for Lord Burghley - Order of Service (PDF 764KB) 




Chapel of St Nicholas

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Mildred Cecil, Lady Burghley & Anne Countess of Oxford
Lady Burghley tomb

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

Mildred Cecil, Lady Burghley & Anne Countess of Oxford
Mildred Burghley and Anne de Vere effigies

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

Mildred Cecil, Lady Burghley & Anne Countess of Oxford
Lord Burghley figure

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Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

Mildred Cecil, Lady Burghley & Anne Countess of Oxford
Sir Robert Cecil figure

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster