Henry Cecil, 1st Marquess of Exeter (14 March 1754 – 1 May 1804), known as Henry Cecil from 1754 to 1793 and as The Earl of Exeter from 1793 to 1801, was a British peer and Member of Parliament and inspiration for Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem, The Lord of Burleigh. His private life was the subject much society chatter and reads like the plot of a Georgette Heyer novel. He has, undoubtedly been the inspiration for countless tales of romance and intrigue. Henry Cecil 1st Marquess of Exeter in 1803, a year before his death, painted by Henry Bone Exeter was the son of the Hon. Thomas Chambers Cecil, second son of Brownlow Cecil, 8th Earl of Exeter. Thomas Chambers Cecil led a profligate life, and although for a time an MP he was forced to live abroad in Brussels, where he married Charlotte Garnier, a lady of uncertain origin, said by some to be a Basque dancer. When Henry was born in 1754 he was the heir presumptive to his uncle Brownlow Cecil, 9th Earl of Exeter, and for this reason was sent when still a baby to Burghley House to be brought up. "Front of Burghley House 2009" by Anthony Masi from UK - Burghley House #2.jpg. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons He attended Eton College and St John's College, Cambridge. In 1774, when still only 20, he was returned as MP for the family-controlled borough of Stamford, a seat he held until 1790. In 1793 he succeeded his uncle as tenth Earl of Exeter and entered the House of Lords. In February 1801 he was created Marquess of Exeter, the first marquessate to be created in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. However, although Henry Cecil had wide interests, it is not recorded that he ever made much contribution to the House of Commons or the House of Lords. Henry Cecil married, firstly, Emma Vernon, daughter of Thomas Vernon, of Hanbury Hall, in 1776. Emma was an heiress, and was able to add the considerable income from the Vernon estates in Worcestershire (her father had died in 1771) and elsewhere to her husband's own allowance, but despite having a large income the couple seem to have got into debt. They had one son born in 1777 who died aged two months, but no further children. "Hanbury Hall parterre 01" by Sjwells53 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons In the early years of his marriage Cecil devoted his energies to modernising and improving his residence at Hanbury Hall and the estates. An enclosure act for Hanbury was passed in 1781, and exchanges of land were made to consolidate the holdings so that they could be made into more economic farms with better rents. In 1785 a new curate for Hanbury church, Rev. William Sneyd, was appointed, and soon afterwards Cecil's wife Emma started an affair with him. She eventually confessed what was happening to her husband in May 1789, pleading to be allowed to live with her lover, but Cecil resisted this. After much emotional turmoil, he agreed to his wife having one last meeting with Sneyd in Birmingham, and during that meeting the couple eloped together, forcing Cecil to return to Hanbury alone. By this time Cecil was deeply in debt, and decided to abandon Hanbury for good. He instructed his friend the rector, Rev. William Burslem, to collect the rents and use them to pay off his debts, while he left to live a quiet and simple life under an assumed name. He chose to buy a small holding in the Shropshire village of Great Bolas, and lived there calling himself John Jones. At some time thereafter he fell in love with and married in April 1790 Sarah, the 16-year-old daughter of local farmer Thomas Hoggins. As Cecil had done nothing about procuring a divorce from his first wife, the marriage was bigamous, a serious offence at the time. Only in 1791 did Cecil obtain a divorce by Act of Parliament, after which he and Sarah went through a second marriage ceremony on 3 October 1791 at St Mildred, Bread Street, London (the register records him as "Batchelor" and her as "Spinster"), thus making the union legitimate. In February of the following year their first child, Sophia, was born, and in 1793 a son Henry was born, also in Great Bolas, but died soon afterwards. In December 1793 his uncle died, and Exeter inherited the vast Cecil estates, moving to Burghley House with his new family. Sarah had two more children, Brownlow, born in 1795, who was to inherit his father's title and estates, and Thomas, born in 1797. She died following the birth of Thomas, aged only 24. Sarah became known as the Cottage Countess, and never seemed to have adapted to her role as the mistress of a great household. Her obituary notice read:
"January, 1797. At Burleigh House near Stamford, aged twenty-four, to the inexpressible surprise and concern of all acquainted with her, the Right Honbl. Countess of Exeter."The episode is recounted in Tennyson's poem "The Lord of Burleigh" (1835, published 1842), and was investigated by Elisabeth Inglis-Jones in her book The Lord of Burghley and by Andrew Harris for his book The Vernons of Hanbury Hall. In 1800 Exeter took as his third wife Elizabeth Anne Burrell, daughter of Peter Burrell and former wife of Douglas Hamilton, 8th Duke of Hamilton. They had no children. Lord Exeter died in May 1804, aged 50, and was succeeded in his titles by his eldest son, Brownlow. The Marchioness of Exeter died at Privy Gardens, Whitehall, London, in January 1837, aged 79. These events were, no doubt, public knowledge and though Tennyson fictionalized the account for his poem, the characters are immediately recognizable. The Lord of Burleigh In her ear he whispers gaily, "If my heart by signs can tell, Maiden, I have watch'd thee daily, And I think thou lov'st me well". She replies, in accents fainter, "There is none I love like thee". He is but a landscape-painter, And a village maiden she. He to lips, that fondly falter, Presses his without reproof: Leads her to the village altar, And they leave her father's roof. "I can make no marriage present; Little can I give my wife. Love will make our cottage pleasant, And I love thee more than life." They by parks and lodges going See the lordly castles stand: Summer woods, about them blowing, Made a murmur in the land. From deep thought himself he rouses, Says to her that loves him well, "Let us see these handsome houses Where the wealthy nobles dwell". So she goes by him attended, Hears him lovingly converse, Sees whatever fair and splendid Lay betwixt his home and hers; Parks with oak and chestnut shady, Parks and order'd gardens great, Ancient homes of lord and lady, Built for pleasure and for state. All he shows her makes him dearer: Evermore she seems to gaze On that cottage growing nearer, Where they twain will spend their days. O but she will love him truly! He shall have a cheerful home; She will order all things duly, When beneath his roof they come. Thus her heart rejoices greatly, Till a gateway she discerns With armorial bearings stately, And beneath the gate she turns; Sees a mansion more majestic Than all those she saw before: Many a gallant gay domestic Bows before him at the door. And they speak in gentle murmur, When they answer to his call, While he treads with footstep firmer, Leading on from hall to hall. And, while now she wonders blindly, Nor the meaning can divine, Proudly turns he round and kindly, "All of this is mine and thine". Here he lives in state and bounty, Lord of Burleigh, fair and free, Not a lord in all the county Is so great a lord as he. All at once the colour flushes Her sweet face from brow to chin: As it were with shame she blushes, And her spirit changed within. Then her countenance all over Pale again as death did prove: But he clasp'd her like a lover, And he cheer'd her soul with love. So she strove against her weakness, Tho' at times her spirits sank: Shaped her heart with woman's meekness To all duties of her rank: And a gentle consort made he, And her gentle mind was such That she grew a noble lady, And the people loved her much. But a trouble weigh'd upon her, And perplex'd her, night and morn, With the burthen of an honour Unto which she was not born. Faint she grew, and ever fainter, As she murmur'd "Oh, that he Were once more that landscape-painter Which did win my heart from me!" So she droop'd and droop'd before him, Fading slowly from his side: Three fair children first she bore him, Then before her time she died. Weeping, weeping late and early, Walking up and pacing down, Deeply mourn'd the Lord of Burleigh, Burleigh-house by Stamford-town. And he came to look upon her, And he look'd at her and said, "Bring the dress and put it on her, That she wore when she was wed". Then her people, softly treading, Bore to earth her body, drest In the dress that she was wed in, That her spirit might have rest.