A Magnificent Set of Rooms Fit For a Queen
Burghley’s Staterooms are breathtaking. mainly due to two great collecting Earls. During the late 17th Century John, 5th Earl of Exeter (1648-1700) made four extended Grand Tours of Italy, purchasing an astonishing quantity of fine art. A century later, Brownlow, 9th Earl (1725-1793) completed his ancestor’s planned alterations and also travelled, buying many more great treasures to complement those already at Burghley. The photographs below give you access to a virtual tour of 17 of the 18 Staterooms that are seen by visitors to the House.
The Old Kitchen
The Old Kitchen is Burghley’s most evocative Tudor interior – and one of the few to survive. The 260 piece copper ‘batterie de cuisine’ from the late 18th and early 19th Centuries gives some idea of the lavish and extravagant scale of country house entertaining at that time.
After the Tudor atmosphere of the Kitchen and the Roman Stairs, the decoration and furnishing of this room and the adjacent Ante-Chapel are a leap into the styles of the 17th and 18th Centuries. The tastes of the 5th and 9th Earls of Exeter are immediately obvious, with the sumptuous decoration, the glamorous furniture and the large number of Old Master paintings that Burghley is famous for.
The Billiard Room
The portraits of many family members hang here including, above the fireplace, a particularly fine painting of Henry, 1st Marquess (1754-1804), his wife, Sarah and their daughter Lady Sophia by Sir Thomas Lawrence P.R.A. The billiard table was made by J Thurston & Co. in the mid-19th Century from timber taken from the wreck of the battleship ‘Royal George’, which sank at Spithead in 1782. The intricate plaster ceiling was designed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716-1783) who, although best known as a landscape gardener, was also a talented architect and designer.
The Bow Room
This lofty and spacious room was painted by Louis Laguerre in 1697. The walls depict scenes from Roman history: the battle of Cannae, Mark Anthony’s death before Cleopatra and Scipio releasing the betrothed of his defeated enemy. The ceiling shows figures of Roman mythology. The massive candelabra are some of those that lined the processional route at the lying-in-state of the Duke of Wellington in 1852.
The Brown Drawing Room
The placement of a small bed in a Drawing room may seem odd but this bed was last used by Queen Victoria when she visited Burghley as a Princess in 1835. Ths exuberantly designed giltwood mirror, probably by Mayhew and Ince, is flanked by two family portraits by Thomas Gainsborough. On the opposite wall, the limewood carving that surrounds the painting over the fireplace is by Jonathan Maine, who worked extensively at Burghley during the latter part of the 17th Century.
The Black and Yellow Bedroom
The beautiful State bed in this room was made for the 9th Earl by Mayhew and Ince in the 1770’s. Its curtains, headboard and counterpane have undergone extensive conservation in order to revive their glorious colours. The detailed limewood carvings above the fireplace were worked by Jonahan Maine, in the style of Gibbons, in the late 17th Century.
The Marquetry Room
This room forms the junction between the north and west aspects of the tour of the Staterooms. In the Tudor building it was part of the Long Gallery that was completely swept away by the 5th Earl’s alterations in the late 17th Century. Some wonderful examples of the famous Burghley Ceramics Collection can be seen in this room.
Queen Elizabeth’s Bedroom
Although the Queen did not stay at Burghley, this room has been so-named for more than 300 years. The State bed dates from the mid-17th Century; the curtains and counterpane are 20th Century, the remarkable embroidery, brocades and braidwork are original. Originally part of the immense Tudor Long Gallery, the smaller rooms on this, the west side of the House were created by the 5th Earl in the late 17th Century.
The Pagoda Room
Portraits cover the oak panelling of this room. Many are of members of the Cecil family or of those related to them. That of the Lord Treasurer Burghley hangs above a depiction of his beloved Queen, whom he faithfully served and advised for the major part of her long reign. The mother-of-pearl pagoda, after which the room is named, is an 18th Century model of one standing at Nanjing, formerly a capital city of China.
The Blue Silk Bedroom
The remarkable state bed was made by Mayhew and Ince for the 9th Earl. The beautiful floral marquetry cabinet-on-stand was made by Pierre Gôle for King Louis XIV but was rejected and subsequently bought by the 5th Earl in 1678. It has been acclaimed as one of the finest pieces of Gôle’s work and the earliest example of its kind in England
The Blue Silk Dressing Room
The blue and white Oriental porcelain displayed on the chimney tree dominates this small Dressing Room. Through the windows, ‘Capability’ Brown’s Lion Bridge can be seen whilst in the window bay hang two remarkable micro-mosaics by Aguatti, commissioned by the 9th Earl whilst on his Grand Tour in the 1760’s.
The First George Room and Jewel Closet
This is the first of the great Staterooms on the south side of the House. The 5th Earl employed the Italian, Antonio Verrio, to paint the magnificent ceilings. When the 5th Earl died in 1700, these rooms were the only finished part of the planned suite. The 9th Earl completed the decoration of the George Rooms at the end of the 18th Century and they were refurbished by the 2nd Marquess for the visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1844.
The Second George Room
The spectacular State bed and curtain hangings were supplied to the house, at huge expense, by the London firm of Fell and Newton in 1795.The bed was reduced in size and decorated with the Royal arms in honour of Queen Victoria’s visit to the house in 1844. This room was used as a bedroom by the Queen and Prince Albert and many souvenirs of their visit are still here.
The Third George Room
This was the Drawing Room of the suite. It contains a number of highly important paintings. The magnificent pair of still life flower paintings by Giuseppe Recco were purchased in Italy by the 5th Earl, as were the two large works by Luca Giordano: The Death of Seneca and The Rape of Europa. There are also some fine pieces of furniture, particularly the set of floral marquetry commodes and corner cupboards.
The Fourth George Room
This was planned as a Dining Room and Verrio’s splendid ceiling shows a feast of the Gods. Used by Queen Victoria as a withdrawing room, this room is panelled throughout in oak. Building records show that the dark colouring of the wood panelling was achieved by staining, with ‘strong dark ale’! The magnificent hardstone-decorated cabinet at the back of the room was a present to the 5th Earl from Cosimo, Grand Duke of Tuscany.
The Heaven Room
This room is acclaimed as Verrio’s masterpiece and is filled with scenes from ancient mythology. A guidebook written in the 19th Century refers to ‘Gods and Goddesses disporting themselves, as Gods and Goddesses are wont to do…!’ The sheer scale of the work is astounding, the perspective so deceiving that one can almost believe in the sculptural details. The astonishing solid silver wine cistern is the largest of its kind in England.
The Hell Staircase
The ceiling of this dark and lofty staircase was painted by Verrio as his last commission at Burghley. It shows the mouth of Hell as the enormous gaping mouth of a cat, with countless souls in torment within. Death, the Grim Reaper plies his sickle among the unfortunate. The walls were painted by Thomas Stothard (1755-1834) over a century later. The whole impression is intended to be one of darkness and despair, in complete contrast to the preceding room.