The Marquess of Exeter
Personal information
Full nameDavid George Brownlow Cecil, 6th Marquess of Exeter
Born(1905-02-09)9 February 1905
Burghley House, England
Died22 October 1981(1981-10-22) (aged 76)
Burghley House, England
Height5 ft 10 in (178 cm)
Weight10 st 10 lb (150 lb; 68 kg)
Country United Kingdom
ClubUniversity of Cambridge
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s)
  • 110 mH: 14.5 (1930)
  • 400 mH: 52.01 (1932)
  • 400 m: 49.7 (1929)[1][2]

David George Brownlow Cecil, 6th Marquess of Exeter KCMG OLY (9 February 1905 – 22 October 1981), styled Lord Burghley before 1956 and also known as David Burghley, was an English athlete, sports official, peer, and Conservative Party politician. He won the gold medal in the 400 m hurdles at the 1928 Summer Olympics.[1]

Early life

Born near Stamford, Lincolnshire, as heir to the 5th Marquess of Exeter, Lord Burghley was educated at Institut Le Rosey in Switzerland and Eton College and Magdalene College, Cambridge.[1][3] At Cambridge, he was president of the Cambridge University Athletics Club and a member of the Pitt Club.[4]


The Marquess of Exeter (in red blazer) in the foreground after presenting the medals for the 200 metres at the 1968 Summer Olympics
The Marquess of Exeter (in red blazer) in the foreground after presenting the medals for the 200 metres at the 1968 Summer Olympics

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 440 yd (400 m) hurdles from 1926 to 1928, and again in 1930 and 1932.

Burghley made his Olympic 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 semifinal of the 110 metre hurdles competition, but won the 400 metres 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 was also a member of the gold medal winning British 4×440 yards relay team. In 1927–1930 Burghley also set several British records, one of which, 24.7 s in the 220 yard hurdles, set in 1927, stood until 1950.[1]

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 the British 4 × 400 metres relay team, which set a new European record in the process.[1]

In 1933, Burghley became a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Three years later he was elected President of the Amateur Athletic Association and Chairman of the British Olympic Association. In 1946 he became President of the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) and later acted as Chairman of the Organizing Committee for the 1948 Summer Olympics. Between 1952 and 1966 he was vice-president of the IOC and was a presidential candidate in 1952 and 1964.[1]

As an IOC member and president of the IAAF, Burghley presented the medals for the 200 m at the Mexico Olympics in 1968 and appeared in some famous images of the Black Power salute given by Tommie Smith and John Carlos.[5] When later asked what he had thought of the gloves, he said: "I thought they had hurt their hand."[6]


Burghley was a member of the Conservative and Unionist Party and served as MP for Peterborough from 1931 until 1943. He was first elected in the 1931 general election, when he ousted the sitting Labour MP J. F. Horrabin. Burghley was returned to the House of Commons again in the 1935 general election. He was for many years Chairman of the Junior Imperial League. Burghley resigned his Commons seat in 1943 when he was appointed Governor of Bermuda, a post in which he served until 1945.[1]


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The Marquess of Exeter was a descendant of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, chief minister and, later, treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I. On his death the title passed to his brother, Lord Martin Cecil.

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.[1] They were divorced in 1946. They had four children, nine grandchildren, thirteen great-grandchildren and one great-great-granddaughter.

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

Great Court Run

In June 1927, in his final year at Magdalene College, Cambridge, Burghley sprinted around the Great Court at Trinity College at midnight in the time it took the college clock to toll 12 o'clock. This inspired the scene in the film Chariots of Fire in which Harold Abrahams accomplishes the same feat. The character Lord Andrew Lindsay in Chariots of Fire is based upon Burghley but he did not allow his name to be used because of the inaccurate historical depiction in the film. There was never a race in which Abrahams beat Burghley in this feat as the film suggests.[7]

He was the first[dubious ] to run the 367 metres (401 yards) around the court in the 43.6 seconds that it takes the clock to strike 12 o'clock. Known as the Great Court Run, students traditionally attempt to complete the circuit on the evening of the Matriculation Dinner.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i David, Lord Burghley.
  2. ^ David Burghley.
  3. ^ Exeter, 6th Marquess of[permanent dead link] in Who's Who 2007 (retrieved 29 September 2007)
  4. ^ Fletcher, Walter Morley (2011) [1935]. The University Pitt Club: 1835–1935 (First Paperback ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 100–101. ISBN 978-1-107-60006-5.
  5. ^ Activist athlete John Carlos is Brighton lecturer; Sports Journalists' Association 2 March 2012
  6. ^ "50 stunning Olympic moments No13: Tommie Smith and John Carlos salute" The Guardian 8 February 2012
  7. ^ a b Ryan, Mark (February 2012). "Flame & Fortune". Runner's World.
Sporting positions
Preceded by
Sweden Sigfrid Edström
Presidents of the IAAF
Succeeded by
Netherlands Adriaan Paulen
Preceded by
Nazi Germany Joseph Goebbels
Karl Ritter von Halt
President of Organizing Committee for Summer Olympic Games
Succeeded by
Finland Ilmari Salminen
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
James Horrabin
Member of Parliament for Peterborough
Succeeded by
Viscount Suirdale
Government offices
Preceded by
Viscount Knollys
Governor of Bermuda
Succeeded by
Admiral Sir Ralph Leatham
Academic offices
Preceded by
George Cunningham
Rector of the University of St Andrews
Succeeded by
The Earl of Crawford
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
William Cecil
Marquess of Exeter
Succeeded by
William Cecil