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John Francis Amherst Cecil


  • Name: John Francis Amherst Cecil
  • Born: June 30, 1890; London, England
  • Parents: Lord William Cecil; Mary Rothes Margaret Tyssen-Amherst, 2nd Baroness Amherst of Hackney
  • Spouses: Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt, 1924–1934
  • Children: George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil, William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil
  • Notable Projects: Public opening of Biltmore House, founding member of The Biltmore Company who helped manage estate operations 1924–1954
  • Death: October 22, 1954, Asheville, North Carolina

About John Francis Amherst Cecil

“John Cecil had a deep appreciation for the treasures in the house and entertained his guests by translating the Old Latin woven into the tapestries. He brought a sense of British propriety to the chateau’s new role as tourist attraction with an approach that was both Old World and Madison Avenue. For example, he insisted that the staff place fresh-cut flowers in the rooms opened to visitors to discount the appearance of a dusty museum. His philosophy became a standard throughout Biltmore’s public life.”

-Excerpt from Lady on the Hill, written by William A. V. Cecil, son of John Francis Amherst Cecil and Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt Cecil

A Noble Heritage

The third of four boys born to Lord William Cecil and Mary Rothes Margaret Tyssen-Amherst, John Francis Amherst Cecil grew up at Didlington Hall in Norfolk, England. His father was a descendant of Sir William Cecil, 1st Baron of Burghley, who served as Lord High Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I; his mother was a noted Egyptologist and travel writer.

Global Interests

John attended Eton College and University of Oxford, pursuing a career as a British diplomat. He served in Cairo, Madrid, and Prague before becoming First Secretary of the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., in 1923, where he was soon introduced to Cornelia Vanderbilt—one of the nation’s most eligible heiresses.

Family Ties

On April 29, 1924, Cornelia Vanderbilt wed the Honorable John F.A. Cecil at Asheville’s All Souls Church in Biltmore Village. John resigned from his position with the British Foreign Office that same day, permanently moving to Biltmore to assist with the running of the estate.

In 1925, John and Cornelia’s first child, George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil, was born in the Louis XV Bedroom, just as his mother had been. William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil followed suit, born in that same room in 1928.

Preserving Biltmore’s legacy

In 1930, during the economic challenges of the Great Depression, John and Cornelia Cecil opened America’s Largest Home® to visitors. Upon their divorce four years later, Cornelia moved to Europe while John remained at Biltmore to manage the operation of the estate. The couple’s two sons were educated in European boarding schools, but returned to Biltmore for summer holidays with their father. Although Biltmore had become his home, John left for a period of several years to serve in England’s Ministry of Information during World War II, staying on past the end of the conflict to ensure a smooth transition. When he returned, he continued to preserve George Vanderbilt’s tradition of entertaining and gracious hospitality, as well as giving back to the Asheville community.

Today, we continue to honor John Cecil’s contributions to the legacy of Biltmore. His care and contributions during his lifetime helped the estate remain private and intact until his sons were able to take on management of the estate’s successful dairy operation (George) and the preservation of the historic property (William).

Images of John Francis Amherst Cecil

The Honorable and Mrs. John F.A. Cecil leave All Souls Church after their April 27, 1924 wedding

John and Cornelia with their first son, George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil, who was born in 1925 in the Louis XV Room where Cornelia herself was born in 1900

John and Cornelia open Biltmore House to the public in 1930

John (in fountain) and Cornelia (far right) and another couple outside Biltmore House during a social event, 1925