Matthew Parker

Matthew Parker
Matthew Parker
Archbishop of Canterbury
Enthroned 19 December 1559
Reign ended 17 May 1575
Predecessor Reginald Pole
Successor Edmund Grindal
Personal details
Born 6 August 1504
Died 17 May 1575 (aged 70)
Buried Lambeth Chapel

Matthew Parker (6 August 1504 – 17 May 1575) was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1559 until his death in 1575. He was also an influential theologian and arguably the co-founder (with Thomas Cranmer and Richard Hooker) of Anglican theological thought.

Parker was one of the primary architects of the Thirty-Nine Articles, the defining statements of Anglican doctrine. The Parker collection of early English manuscripts, including the book of St. Augustine Gospels and Version A of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, was created as part of his efforts to demonstrate that the English Church was historically independent from Rome, creating one of the world's most important collections of ancient manuscripts.


Early years

The eldest son of William Parker, he was born in Norwich, in St Saviour's parish. His mother's maiden name was Alice Monins and she may have been related by marriage to Thomas Cranmer. When William Parker died, in about 1516, his widow married John Baker. Parker was sent in 1522 to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge[1] and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1525. He was ordained deacon in April 1527 and priest in June the same year. In September 1527 he was elected a fellow of Corpus Christi and began his Master of Arts degree in 1528. He was one of the Cambridge scholars who Thomas Wolsey wished to transplant to his newly founded "Cardinal College" at Oxford.

Parker, like Cranmer, declined Wolsey's invitation. He had come under the influence of the Cambridge reformers, and after Anne Boleyn's recognition as queen he was made her chaplain. Through her, he was appointed dean of the college of secular canons at Stoke-by-Clare in 1535. Hugh Latimer wrote to him in that year urging him not to fall short of the expectations which had been formed of his ability. In 1537 he was appointed chaplain to King Henry VIII. In 1538 he was threatened with prosecution, but Richard Yngworth, the Bishop of Dover, however, reported to Thomas Cromwell that Parker "hath ever been of a good judgment and set forth the Word of God after a good manner. For this he suffers some grudge." He graduated DD in that year, and in 1541 was appointed to the second prebend in the reconstituted cathedral church of Ely. In 1544, on Henry VIII's recommendation, he was elected master of Corpus Christi College, and in 1545 vice-chancellor of the university. He got into some trouble with the chancellor, Stephen Gardiner, over a ribald play, Pammachius, performed by the students, which derided the old ecclesiastical system.

Rise to power

On the passing of the act of parliament in 1545 enabling the king to dissolve chantries and colleges, Parker was appointed one of the commissioners for Cambridge, and their report may have saved its colleges from destruction. Stoke, however, was dissolved in the following reign, and Parker received a generous pension. He took advantage of the new reign to marry in June, 1547, before clerical marriages had been legalized by parliament and convocation, Margaret, daughter of Robert Harlestone, a Norfolk squire. During Kett's Rebellion, he preached in the rebels' camp on Mousehold Hill, without much effect, and later encouraged his secretary, Alexander Neville, to write his history of the rising.

Parker's association with Protestantism advanced with the times, and he received higher promotion under John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland than under the moderate Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset. At Cambridge, he was a friend of Martin Bucer and preached Bucer's funeral sermon in 1551. In 1552 he was promoted to the rich deanery of Lincoln, and in July 1553 he supped with Northumberland at Cambridge, when the duke marched north on his hopeless campaign against the accession of Mary Tudor. As a supporter of Northumberland and a married man, under the new regime Parker was deprived of his deanery, his mastership of Corpus Christi, and his other preferments. However, he survived Mary's reign without leaving the country – a fact that probably aggravated more ardent Protestants who went into exile and idealized their fellows who were martyred by Queen Mary. Parker respected authority, and when his time came he could consistently impose authority on others. He was not eager to assume this task, and made great efforts to avoid promotion to the archbishopric of Canterbury, which Elizabeth designed for him as soon as she had succeeded to the throne.

Archbishop of Canterbury (1559–1575)

He was elected on 1 August 1559 but, given the turbulence and executions that had preceded Elizabeth's accession, it was difficult to find the requisite four bishops willing and qualified to consecrate Parker, and not until December 19 was that ceremony performed at Lambeth by William Barlow, formerly Bishop of Bath and Wells, John Scory, formerly Bishop of Chichester, Miles Coverdale, formerly Bishop of Exeter, and John Hodgkins, Bishop of Bedford. The allegation of an indecent consecration in the Nag's Head Fable seems first to have been made by the Jesuit, Christopher Holywood, in 1604, and has since been discredited. Parker's consecration was, however, legally valid only by the plenitude of the royal supremacy; the Edwardine Ordinal, which was used, had been repealed by Mary Tudor and not re-enacted by the parliament of 1559. The Roman Catholic Church has asserted that the form of consecration used was insufficient to make a bishop, and therefore represented a break in the Apostolic Succession, but the Church of England has rejected this, arguing that the form of words used made no difference to the substance or validity of the act.

Elizabeth wanted a moderate man, so she chose Parker. There was also an emotional attachment. Parker had been the favourite chaplain of Elizabeth's mother, Anne Boleyn. Before Anne was arrested in 1536, she had entrusted Elizabeth's spiritual well-being to Parker. A few days after this, Anne had been executed following charges of adultery, incest and treason. Parker also possessed all the qualifications Elizabeth expected from an archbishop except celibacy. He mistrusted popular enthusiasm, and he wrote in horror of the idea that "the people" should be the reformers of the Church. He was not an inspiring leader, and no dogma, no prayer-book, not even a tract or a hymn is associated with his name. The 56 volumes published by the Parker Society include only one by its eponymous hero, and that is a volume of correspondence. He was a disciplinarian, a scholar, a modest and moderate man of genuine piety and irreproachable morals. His historical research was exemplified in his De antiquitate ecclesiae, and his editions of Asser, Matthew Paris, Thomas Walsingham, and the compiler known as Matthew of Westminster; his liturgical skill was shown in his version of the psalter and in the occasional prayers and thanksgivings which he was called upon to compose. He left a priceless collection of manuscripts, largely collected from former monastic libraries, to his college at Cambridge. The Parker Library at Corpus Christi bears his name and houses his collection. Parker collaborated with his secretary John Joscelyn in his manuscript studies.

Later years

Parker avoided involvement in secular politics and was never admitted to Elizabeth's privy council. Ecclesiastical politics gave him considerable trouble. Some of the evangelical reformers wanted liturgical changes and at least the option not to wear certain clerical vestments, if not their complete prohibition. Early presbyterians wanted no bishops, and the conservatives opposed all these changes, often preferring to move in the opposite direction toward the practices of the Henrician church. The queen herself begrudged episcopal privilege until she eventually recognised it as one of the chief bulwarks of the royal supremacy. To Parker's consternation, the queen refused to add her imprimatur to his attempts to secure conformity, though she insisted that he achieve this goal. Thus Parker was left to stem the rising tide of Puritan feeling with little support from parliament, convocation or the Crown. The bishops' Interpretations and Further Considerations, issued in 1560, tolerated a lower vestiarian standard than was prescribed by the rubric of 1559, but it fell short of the desires of the anti-vestiarian clergy like Coverdale (one of the bishops who had consecrated Parker) who made a public display of their nonconformity in London.

The Book of Advertisements, which Parker published in 1566, to check the anti-vestiarian faction, had to appear without specific royal sanction; and the Reformatio legum ecclesiasticarum, which John Foxe published with Parker's approval, received neither royal, parliamentary nor synodical authorization. Parliament even contested the claim of the bishops to determine matters of faith. "Surely," said Parker to Peter Wentworth, "you will refer yourselves wholly to us therein." "No, by the faith I bear to God," retorted Wentworth, "we will pass nothing before we understand what it is; for that were but to make you popes. Make you popes who list, for we will make you none." Disputes about vestments had expanded into a controversy over the whole field of Church government and authority, and Parker died on May 17, 1575, lamenting that Puritan ideas of "governance" would "in conclusion undo the queen and all others that depended upon her." By his personal conduct he had set an ideal example for Anglican priests.[citation needed]

Church of England titles
Preceded by
Reginald Pole
Archbishop of Canterbury
Succeeded by
Edmund Grindal
Academic offices
Preceded by
John Madew
Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge
Succeeded by
John Madew
Preceded by
William Bill
Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge
Succeeded by
Walter Haddon
Preceded by
William Sowode
Master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
Succeeded by
Lawrence Moptyd

See also

  • Tunes for Archbishop Parker's Psalter


  1. ^ Parker, Matthew in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.

Manuscript collection

Matthew Parker's manuscript collection is mainly housed in the Parker Library at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge with some volumes in the Cambridge University Library. The Parker Library on the Web project has made digital images of all of these manuscripts available online.


  • Graham, Timothy and Andrew G. Watson (1998) The Recovery of the Past in Early Elizabethan England: Documents by John Bale and John Joscelyn from the Circle of Matthew Parker (Cambridge Bibliographical Society Monograph 13). Cambridge: Cambridge Bibliographical Society
  • John Strype, Life of Parker, originally published in 1711, and re-edited for the Clarendon Press in 1821 (3 vols.), is the principal source for Parker's life.
  • Archbishop Parker by W. P.M. Kennedy (1908, reprint by BiblioBazaar LLC, 2008) full text online at
  • J. Bass Mullinger's scholarly life in the Dictionary of National Biography
  • Walter Frere's volume in Stephens and Hunt's Church History
  • Strype's Works (General Index)
  • Gough's Index to Parker Soc. Publ.
  • Fuller, Gilbert Burnet, Collier and Richard Watson Dixon's Histories of the Church
  • Henry Norbert Birt, The Elizabethan Religious Settlement
  • Henry Gee, The Elizabethan clergy and the Settlement of religion, 1558-1564 (1898)
  • James Anthony Froude, History of England
  • vol. vi. in Longman's Political History.
  •  Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). "Parker, Matthew". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  • Matthew Parker, "De antiquitate Britannicae Ecclesiae", binding for Queen Elizabeth I

External links

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