4 October 1556 – Sir John Cheke’s Public Recantation

Posted By on October 4, 2013

John ChekeOn this day in 1556, Sir John Cheke, one time tutor to Edward VI, Secretary of State for Lady Jane Grey and the first Regius Professor of Greek at Cambridge University, made a public recantation of his Protestant faith in front of Mary I.

Cheke had been imprisoned in the Tower of London by Mary I for his part in Lady Jane Grey’s ‘usurpation’ of the throne in July 1553 but was released just over a year later. He then travelled to the continent but was arrested between Brussels and Antwerp in Spring 1556, along with Sir Peter Carew, and taken back to England, where he was once again imprisoned in the Tower.

In fear of being burned at the stake for his Protestant beliefs, he professed his Catholic faith in a letter to Cardinal Pole in July 1556. This was not enough. Cheke had to formally submit to the Cardinal, be accepted back into the Catholic Church and then make a public recantation in the presence of the Queen and court. On 4th October 1556, he stood before them and made the following recantation:

“The acknowledging of an error is the right entry into a truth. For even as in life, the first degree [of goodness] is to avoid evil, and then to do good; so in faith errors must be avoided, that the right religion may take place. Wherefore, as before I made my humble submission unto my Lord Cardinal’s good Grace, who first accepted the same well, and so received me as a member of Christ’s Catholic Church; so now, before your Majesty, whom God hath marvellously brought unto your noble and due place of government under him, I do profess and protest, that whatsoever mine opinion of the blessed Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, and of the sense of Christ’s words spoken of the same, hath been heretofore; I do now, after conference had with certain learned men, your Majesty’s Chaplains, and especially the right worshipful Master Dean of Paul’s, believe firmly the real presence of Christ’s very body and blood in the Sacrament, and none other substance there remaining: moved thereunto by invincible reasons of the Catholic Doctors against the Arians, of Christ’s very true and natural being in us, and also by the consent of Christ’s Catliolic Church. Unto the which, both in these and in all other matters of my faith, I most humbly submit myself. Wherein, [as] for the success, [so] I do most humbly thank God for the manner and the clemency thereof, shewed in drawing me with mercy thereunto. I do most humbly give thanks unto the ministers of mercy in Christ’s Church, whereof I do acknowledge the Pope’s Holiness to be head; and especially my Lord Cardinal’s good Grace, Legate of England from the Pope’s Holiness, and Primate of the same. Unto whom I made my submission; not moved by policy and worldly respects, but persuaded by learning and conscience, when otherwise I could have been contented to yield myself to the contrary. And also I do give most humble thanks to your Majesty for your great mercifulness towards me; who as in other excellencies do follow your heavenly Father, so in this precise quality of mercifulness do express his holiness, that commandeth you to be merciful. Your Majesty herein hath great cause to give God thanks, as in all other your princely gifts, that ye need not under God to seek no example of mercifulness to follow, but yourself: who, daily inclining to follow God in mercy, shew great evidence whose heavenly child your Majesty is.

And, as I beseech God, your Majesty do continue the same grace to others that have need of mercy, so I trust God our Saviour will work the like in others, that he by your Majesty hath wrought in me. For as they may well learn of me to beware of singularity, and trusting unto certain sayings of Doctors, rather than to the Church, and preferring private judgments before the Catholic consent of Christ’s Church; so shall they easier be led from error to truth, when they see them drawn by your Highness’s mercy, and not plucked by extremity; and that their life and mendment is sought, not their [death] and shame. In the which lesson they shall find, I doubt not, as I do, much contentation of mind and quietness of conscience. Which I trust, for my part, continually to keep in all matters pertaining to Catholic Faith of Christ’s Church : and hope to shew myself, in the residue, so faithful a subject to your Highness, as my bounden duty serveth me for; and in matters of religion so obedient, as becometh a Christian man.

According unto the which my doings, I most humbly beseech your Highness to shew your clemency and favour; none otherwise. And I shall pray unto God, according to mine humble duty, that as he hath trodden down errors, and set your Highness marvellously in this your high state of your most lawful kingdom, so he will preserve your Majesty with the same providence, to the increase of his glory, and honour both of your Highness and of the noble King and Prince, King Philip, your Majesty’s dear husband; and the quietness of your Majesty’s subjects.”1

Cheke was released from prison but he was a broken man. The shame he felt regarding his cowardice seems to have affected his health, and he died on 13th September 1557.

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Notes and Sources

  1. Strype, John (1821) The life of the learned Sir John Cheke, first instructor, afterwards Secretary of State to King Edward VI, p115-117
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