Dictionary of Welsh Biography

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CECIL of Allt-yr-ynys ( Herefords. ), Burghley ( Northampton ) , and Hatfield (Herts.) .

The claim that this distinguished English political family is of Welsh origin calls for some clarification. The ancestral name, which appears in the family pedigrees as ‘Sitsyllt’ and was softened down to ‘Sissild,’ ‘Cyssel,’ ‘Cecild,’ and ‘Cecil’ in the course of the 15th and 16th cent. , is presumably the Welsh Seisyll; but the founder of the family, ROBERT SITSYLTT , first appears in history as a follower of the Norman Robert Fitzhamon (see under Robert of Gloucester ) in his conquest of the lordship of Glamorgan in the 11th cent. ; he acquired the family seat of Allt-yr-ynys (now in Herefords. , though the estate extends into Mon. ) by marriage into the family of the dispossessed Welsh owners. From this time on the ‘Sitsyllts’ generally married into Norman families and are frequently found fighting against the Welsh . Towards the end of the 15th cent. , however, RICHARD CECIL , the first to use the modern form of the name, m. into the Brecknock family of Vaughan of Tyle-glas . His younger son DAVID CECIL (d. 1541 ) migrated, with some of his Brecknock ‘cousins,’ to Northamptonshire , where he entered the service of Henry VII , became a Yeoman of the Chamber , 1507 , acquired the stewardship of several Crown manors , and served as sheriff of Northampton in 1529-30 . His son RICHARD CECIL of Burghley (d. 1552 ) m. into one of the Brecknock families that had settled in Northamptonshire in his grandfather's time, was a royal page at the Field of Cloth of Gold ( 1520 ), further enriched his family by monastic spoils, and became the father of

WILLIAM CECIL ( 1520 - 1598 ), baron Burghley ( 1571 ), Secretary of State 1550-3 and 1558-72, and Lord Treasurer 1572-98 .

Burghley 's continued interest in Wales appears in the pains he took to establish his Welsh pedigree, his introduction into princess Elizabeth 's household of one of his Brecknock connections, Thomas Parry ( 1560 ) , who became her Comptroller , his investment in trials for copper in Anglesey , and by his association with Morys Clynnog who wrote to Burghley from Rome a letter in Welsh ( May 1567 ), warning him of the queen 's impending excommunication. Burghley 's elder son THOMAS CECIL ( 1542 - 1623 ), earl of Exeter , was equally anxious to establish his Welsh descent and deplored the change in spelling that obscured it; but his second son ROBERT CECIL ( 1563? - 1612 ), earl of Salisbury , James I 's Secretary of State , snubbed a Welsh correspondent bent on tracing the Cecils back through the Vaughans to the princes of Wales by disclaiming all interest in ‘these vain toys’ or desire to hear of ‘such absurdities.’ The parent stem at Allt-yr-ynys was still in friendly contact with its more distinguished offshoot as late as 1603 , but soon afterwards came to an end, though the family mansion survives.


  • 'Morris Clynog and Sir William Cecil', The Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion , 1901-2 , 114-9;
  • Bradney , A History of Monmouthshire , i, 244-5, ii, 14;
  • Acts of the Privy Council , n.s., xxiii, 260;
  • Reports of the Historical Manuscripts Commission , Cecil, i, 67, 72-3, viii, 287-8, xii, 667, xiv, 75, xvii, 595;
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography , ix, 395-412;
  • M. A. S. Hume , The Great Lord Burghley, a study in Elizabethan Statecraft (London, 1898) , ch. i;
  • William Davies , Agriculture of N. Wales , 1811 , 485-6;
  • J. Bridges , The History and Antiquities of Northamptonshire (London, 1791) , ii, 588-90;
  • 'Richard Davies, William Cecil, and Giraldus Cambrensis', The National Library of Wales Journal , iii, 11-14;
  • Llyfr Baglan, or the Book of Baglan. Compiled between the years 1600 and 1607 by John Williams. Transcribed from the original manuscript preserved in the Public Library at Cardiff … (Llundain, 1910) , ed. Bradney , 275-6.


Emeritus Professor Arthur Herbert Dodd, M.A., (1891-1975), Bangor

Published date: 1959