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Defence Of The English Peerage
by [?]

But the English peerage also celebrates services in the Senate as well as in the field. Look for a moment at the house of Cecil. The interest in this house was national, and at the same time romantic. Two families started off–one might say simultaneously–from the same radix, for the difference in point of years was but that which naturally divided the father and the son. Both were Prime Ministers of England, rehearsing by anticipation the relations between the two William Pitts–the statesmen who guided, first, the Seven Years’ War, from 1757 to 1763; and, secondly, the French Revolutionary War, from the murder of Louis XVI. in 1793 to the battle of Trafalgar in October, 1805. Sir William Cecil, the father, had founded the barony of Burleigh, which subsequently was raised into the earldom of Exeter. Sir Robert Cecil, the son, whose personal merits towards James I. were more conspicuous than those of his father towards Queen Elizabeth, had leaped at once into the earldom of Salisbury. Through two centuries these distinguished houses–Exeter the elder and Salisbury the junior–had run against each other. At length the junior house ran ahead of its elder, being raised to a marquisate. But in this century the elder righted itself, rising also to a marquisate. In an ordinary case this would not have won any notice, but the historic cradle of the two houses, amongst burning feuds of Reformation and anti-Reformation policy, fiery beyond all that has ever raged amongst men, fixed the historic eye upon them. Neck and neck they ran together. Hatfield House for the family of Salisbury, Burleigh House (founded by the original Lord Burleigh) for the family of Exeter, expressed in the nineteenth century that fraternal conflict which had commenced in the sixteenth. Personal merits, if any such had varied and coloured the pretensions of this or that generation, had, in the midst of wealth and ease and dignity, withdrawn themselves from notice, except that about the splendid decennium of the Regency and the second decennium of George IV.’s reign, no lady of the Court had been so generally acceptable to the world of fashion and elegance, domestic or foreign, as the Marchioness of Salisbury, whose tragical death by fire at Hatfield House, in spite of her son’s heroic exertions, was as memorable for the last generation as the similar tragedy at the Austrian Ambassador’s continued to be for the Court and generation of Napoleon.[1] It is not often that two kindred houses, belonging in the Roman sense to the same gens or clan, run against each other with parity of honour and public consideration through nearly three centuries. The present representative of the Exeter house of the Cecils[2] was not individually considered a very interesting person. Or, at least, any interest that might distinguish him did not adapt itself to conversational display. His personal story was more remarkable than he was himself.


[1] Napoleon attached a superstitious importance to this event. In 1813, upon the sudden death of Moreau, whilst as yet the circumstances were entirely unknown, he fancied strangely enough that the ambassador (Prince Schwartzenberg) whose fete had given birth to the tragedy, must himself have been prefigured.

[2] ‘The present representative of the Exeter Cecils’ was the father of the present peer, Brownlow, 2nd Marquis; born 2nd July, 1785; succeeded 1st May, 1804, and died 16th Jan., 1867.–ED.