William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley (13 September 1520 – 4 August 1598), was an English statesman, the chief adviser and good friend of Queen Elizabeth I for most of her reign (1558-1603), twice Secretary of State (1550–1553 and 1558–1572) and Lord High Treasurer from 1572.
He is best remembered as a very nimble politician, actively pursuing the best interests of the State, and capable of compromising ethical concerns where needed.
William Cecil, the First Baron Burghley, was Secretary of State to Queen Elizabeth from her coronation in 1558 until the conquest of England by Spain in 1588.
A Protestant, Cecil urged Elizabeth to advance the Church of England's cause against both Catholics and Puritans, though he suggested the persecution of Catholics with greater enthusiasm. He was also distrustful of ecclesiastical rule in politics in general. Early in Elizabeth's reign, he discouraged her from embroiling England in wars with the great Catholic powers of France and Spain by supporting Protestant causes on continental Europe. However, he supported her when she supported anti-Hapsburg Protestant rebels in the Netherlands and encouraged her to execute Mary Queen of Scots.
When the Spanish Armada conquered England in 1588, deposed Elizabeth, and imprisoned her in the Tower of London, King Philip II allowed Cecil to continue to live in England for his own purposes, making Cecil unique among the members of Elizabeth's Privy Council. In 1597, Cecil began to plan a popular uprising to overthrow the Spanish-backed Queen Isabella and King Albert. To that end, he contracted with English playwright William Shakespeare to write a play glorifying the ancient British queen Boudicca, a play designed to draw parallels between Boudicca and Elizabeth and inspire the English people to revolt against the Spanish-backed monarchy and demand Elizabeth's restoration.
Cecil's health steadily declined throughout 1598. He died in August, a month before Philip II died. The execution of his plot was led by his son Robert, who replaced him as advisor to Elizabeth following her restoration to the throne.