Burghley House, one of the finest Elizabethan buildings in England, has been the home of the Cecil family for over 400 years.
The house was built in 1556 - 87 by Sir William Cecil, later Lord Burghley, who was principal adviser and Lord Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I.
The Cecil family originally came from Wales but Lord Burghley's father married an heiress from Lincolnshire and purchased the Burghley estate, which had belonged to Peterborough Abbey, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Lord Burghley used his great wealth to build three houses but Burghley House was the most important. The rooms are arranged around an elongated courtyard in a medieval pattern with a tall gatehouse at one end and a high-roofed hall at the other.
The outer facades are constructed of Barnack stone with large mullioned and transomed windows. The roof-line has cupolas, obelisks and chimneys shaped like Tuscan columns.
After the completion of the house in 1587 few alterations were made to the exterior and thus Burghley remains one of the finest examples of late Elizabethan design in England.
Virtually all the rooms of the house, however, were remodelled by Lord Burghley's descendant, the 5th Earl of Exeter, in the late 17th century.
The 5th Earl was one of the leading collectors of his generation and visited Italy on three occasions. He acquired fine art on a grand scale and established a huge collection of art treasures at Burghley.
In the 1680s and 1690s he spent huge sums of money transforming the interiors.
The 5th Earl commissioned the architect William Talman to carry out the work but the final appearance owes much to the fine craftsmen that were engaged. These included the wood carvers Grinling Gibbons and Jonathan Maine, the plasterer Edward Martin and the painters Louis Laguerre and Antonio Verrio.
When the 5th Earl died in 1700 much of the work was left unfinished but from 1767 onwards the 9th Earl added wood carving in late-17th century style and neo-classical chimneypieces as a setting for Burghley's great art collection.
The 9th Earl went on four Italian tours and added to the already vast collection of paintings, furniture, porcelain and furniture. He also commissioned 'Capability' Brown to landscape the park from 1756.
Burghley House is approached from the north through one of the finest landscapes created by Brown.
The visitor enters at the east end of the house and the tour begins in the enormous Kitchen. A stone staircase dated 1560 leads from here to the first floor where there is a view of the west courtyard front.
The staterooms are viewed in a clockwise direction beginning with the Chapel, which has a altarpiece by Veronese.
The panelled Billiard Room contains family portraits including Kneller's portrait of the 5th Earl, together with his portrait of Antonio Verrio and a self-portrait.
The Bow Room is first of the lavish 17th century interiors and is painted with scenes from Anthony and Cleopatra and Scipio by Laguerre.
The Brown Drawing Room has paintings by Gainsborough, Luca Giordano and Gaspard Dughet.
In the Black and Yellow Bedroom is a striking state bed with its original hangings. The walls are hung with pictures by Guido Reni and Pietro Liberi and a pair of Soho tapestries by John Vanderbank.
The Marquetry Room has a large display of inlaid furniture dating from the late-17th century. There is also a notable collection of 16th century Flemish pictures including a work by Pieter Brueghel. The late 17th century corner fireplace displays a superb collection of late-17th century Japanese porcelain. The adjoining Queen Elizabeth's Bedroom still has the grand state bed and gilded chairs and stools recorded in the inventory of Burghley dated 1688. The walls are hung with a set of contemporary Gobelin tapestries depicting Aesop's fables.
The Pagoda Room next door displays portraits including Henry VIII by Joos van Cleve and 'Capability' Brown by Nathaniel Dance. The Blue Silk Bedroom is hung with Mortlake 'Bacchanals' tapestries and works by Luca Giordano.
The adjoining dressing room has a collection of smaller works including 'Flight into Eygpt' by Carlo Dolci.
The first room to be viewed in the south range is the First George Room. The ceiling, like all the others in this suite of rooms, was painted by Verrio. The neo-classical chimneypiece was introduced by the 9th Earl and the walls are hung with small paintings including works by Joos van Cleve and Carlo Dolci. A chimneypiece in the Second George Room displays a collection of late-17th century Italian boxwood classical figures purchased by the 5th Earl.
The Third George Room and the Forth George Room were furnished in the 18th century and are hung with some of the finest of the larger pictures at Burghley including works by Giordano and Guercino.
The most magnificent room at Burghley House is the Baroque ante-room. This is known as the Heaven Room after the painted decoration by Verrio which depicts various deities in an architectural setting. On the east wall the artist himself is shown taking a part in the proceedings.
The visitor descends to the Hall by the adjoining 'Hell Staircase'. The staircase ceiling was painted by Verrio but the walls were decorated by Thomas Stohard in 1801.
The Hall was built by Lord Burghley and has an unusually high hammerbeam roof. The screen and panelling were acquired from the Abbey Tongerloo in Belgium in 1830 but the chimneypiece after Serlio is original to the room.
Burghley House is set in 300 acre deer park landscaped by 'Capability' Brown.
The lake and the beautiful avenues of mature trees are part of his design.
A herd of fallow deer grazes in the park which is open to the public throughout the year. The Gothic Revival orangery to the north of the house was also designed by Brown. This now serves refreshments.
The gardens surrounding the house are only open when the spring bulbs are in flower. An Arboretum and a Sculpture Park, displaying contemporary sculptures, have recently been created in a previously overgrown part of the garden. These are open at the same time as the house.