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David Cecil, 6th Marquess of Exeter : biography

9 February 1905 - 22 October 1981

David George Brownlow Cecil, 6th Marquess of Exeter KCMG (9 February 1905 – 22 October 1981), styled Lord Burghley before 1956 and also known as David Burghley, was an English athlete, sports official and Conservative Party politician. He won the gold medal in the 400 m hurdles at the 1928 Summer Olympics.


Lord Burghley married firstly in 1929, Lady Mary Theresa Montagu Douglas Scott (4 March 1904 – 1 June 1984), fourth daughter of Sir John Montagu Douglas Scott, 7th Duke of Buccleuch & 9th Duke of Queensberry and Lady Margaret Alice "Molly" Bridgeman. They had four children before they divorced in 1946:

  • Lady Davina Mary Cecil (b. 29 June 1931), married 1952 (divorced) John Vane, 11th Baron Barnard and had issue.
  • John William Edward Cecil (1933–1934).
  • Lady Gillian Moyra Katherine Cecil (b. 8 March 1935), married 1stly 1954 (divorced 1978) Sir Giles Floyd, 7th Baronet and had issue, two sons. She then married 1979 George Michael Kertesz (d. 16 February 2007), and thirdly April 2008 Jeremy Smith.
  • Lady Angela Mary Rose Cecil (b. 21 May 1938), married William Richard Michael Oswald (Sir Michael Oswald, Master of the Queen's Stud) and had issue. Lady Angela was a long-term friend and lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

He married secondly, the war widow Diana Henderson (1911-1982), granddaughter of Alexander Henderson, 1st Baron Faringdon and had a daughter,

  • Lady Victoria Diana Cecil (b. 28 June 1947), married to Simon Leatham with issue and a well-known antiques expert and television personality. She was the chatelaine of Burghley House from 1982 until 2007. She has been succeeded by her daughter Miranda Rock.

Early life

Born near Stamford, Lincolnshire, as heir to the 5th Marquess of Exeter, Lord Burghley was educated at Eton College, Institut Le Rosey, and Magdalene College, Cambridge. in Who's Who 2007 (retrieved 29 September 2007) At Cambridge, he was a member of the University Pitt Club.


A notable runner at school and at Cambridge, he continued with his athletics and won the British AAA championships in 120 yd from 1929 to 1931 and the hurdles from 1926 to 1928, and again in 1930 and 1932.

Burghley made his Olympics debut in Paris in 1924, when he was eliminated in the first round of the 110 metre hurdles event. At the 1928 Summer Olympics, Burghley was eliminated in the semi final of the 110 metre hurdles competition, but won the 400 m hurdles, beating second and third placed Americans Frank Cuhel and Morgan Taylor by 0.2 seconds. At the first Commonwealth Games in 1930, Burghley won both hurdling events and also was a member of gold medal winning British 4 x 440 yards relay team.

In 1931 Burghley was elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for Peterborough. He was granted a leave of absence to compete in the 1932 Summer Olympics, where he placed fourth in the 400 m hurdles event, fifth in the 110 m hurdles competition, and won a silver medal as a member of British 4×400 m relay team.

As an athlete, Burghley was a very keen practitioner who placed matchboxes on hurdles and practised knocking over the matchboxes with his lead foot without touching the hurdle. In 1927, his final year at Magdalene College, Cambridge, he amazed colleagues by sprinting around the Great Court at Trinity College in the time it took the college clock to toll 12 o'clock, inspiring the scene in the film Chariots of Fire (whose character Lord Andrew Lindsay is based upon Burghley) in which Harold Abrahams accomplishes the same feat. Lord Burghley did not allow his name to be used in the film because of the inaccurate historical depiction in the movie. There was never a race upon which Harold Abrahams beat Lord Burghley in this feat as the movie depicts. Burghley is also said to have set another unusual record by racing around the upper promenade deck of the Queen Mary in 57 seconds, dressed in everyday clothes.

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