About The Cecil Papers

“The collection of papers at Hatfield House is of the utmost importance to scholars of Tudor government, politics, religion, administration in particular, but also to anyone working in the field of 16th century English history. It is one of the great collections of private papers in the UK”.

Professor Dale Hoak, College of William and Mary

“Because of Cecil's and then his son's importance, the documents are absolutely essential to an understanding of the reigns of several monarchs”.

Professor Retha M. Warnicke, Arizona State University

“Instant access to a searchable and complete digital text of these papers will revolutionize our understanding of the period, enabling a new generation of historians to mine a vast and still largely unexplored treasure trove of knowledge”.

Dr Glyn Parry, Victoria University of Wellington

The Cecil Papers are a privately held archive of approximately 30,000 sixteenth and seventeenth-century manuscripts, consisting principally of the correspondence of William Cecil, Lord Burghley (1520-1598) and his son Robert, the 1st Earl of Salisbury (1563-1612). These two men dominated the administration of government during the reign of Elizabeth I and the first eight years under her successor, to the extent that critics suggested that England was becoming a regnum Cecilianum. Both Cecils held a variety of public appointments; they were both long-serving Secretaries of State who achieved even greater political power as Lord High Treasurer. The collection documents their various official roles. In addition, the collection contains documents acquired by Robert Cecil that had belonged to his rival, Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex.

The papers span the period 1520-1668, from the birth of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, to the death of William Cecil, 2nd Earl of Salisbury. Because of the importance of the Cecils, the materials offer crucial insights into the events of one of the most dynamic periods of history, including the marriages of Henry VIII, through the reign of Elizabeth I and the clandestine plans to facilitate James I/VI's accession, upon her death.

In addition to the documents relating to English domestic politics, also covered in detail are overseas occurrences and interactions with other powers, through the reports of English ambassadors to the courts of Europe and the network of overseas agents. Among the major events in English foreign policy addressed by these documents are the Tudor reconquest of Ireland, the Anglo-Spanish War, the loss of Calais to the French, and the early settlement of America.

Besides the political papers, ProQuest's The Cecil Papers database also includes selected documents from a separate collection, the Cecil Family and Estate Papers, which shed light on the rich history of three generations of the family.

Four resources combined

The online edition integrates four key research tools in a single service.

The approximately 30,000 documents comprising the Cecil Papers, including numerous contemporary hand-drawn maps, have been reproduced as high-quality, full-colour images, digitised directly from the original manuscripts at Hatfield House Archives.

ProQuest's The Cecil Papers also includes a digitised version of The Calendar of the Manuscripts of the Marquess of Salisbury, an essential bibliographic tool that provides descriptive records for each document. Many of the entries in the Calendar include full transcriptions, extracts, or summary abstracts, all of which can be searched in The Cecil Papers.

Many Calendar records have also been supplemented with additional transcriptions, prepared for selected documents among the Cecil Papers and published in two eighteenth-century volumes by Samuel Haynes and William Murdin. In addition, descriptions of items in the Maps collection, from a volume by R. A. Skelton and John Summerson, are incorporated into the relevant Calendar records.

Linking the searchable metadata to the scanned images brings unprecedented accessibility and navigability to these documents, with users able to search the Calendar records or to browse the database by date or archive document number, before linking seamlessly to the document images.

Data for the Calendar of the Manuscripts of the Most Honourable The Marquess of Salisbury has been provided, under licence, by the Institute of Historical Research.