Matthew Parker, a man “so much bound” to Anne Boleyn

Posted By on August 6, 2016

Matthew Parker On this day in history, 6th August 1504, Matthew Parker was born in the parish of St Saviour, Norwich, East Anglia. He was born the son of a worsted weaver but his destiny wasn’t weaving, Parker was destined for the Church and for royal service too.

In around 1520, Parker began his studies at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge, graduating with a BA in 1525, and it was there that he met men interested in evangelical reform, like Thomas Bilney, who was martyred in 1531. Parker went on to do a Masters and was elected a fellow of the college in 1527. By this time, he was also a priest. After gaining a Bachelor of Theology and a doctorate, too, he was appointed as one of Queen Anne Boleyn’s chaplains in 1535 and, after her execution, served as chaplain to King Henry VIII. It was Anne Boleyn’s patronage which led to him being appointed dean of the Collegiate Church of Stoke by Clare, in Suffolk, in November 1535.

In December 1544, Parker was elected master of Corpus Christi College and then vice-chancellor in January 1545. In his article The Cambridge Connections, author Robert Parry explains that “Parker was one of the primary architects of the emerging Anglican Doctrine that shaped the English Reformation and after the death of Henry VIII, he continued to rise to prominence under the reforming governments of Edward VI and was a close associate of the two most powerful statesmen of Edwards reign – Edward Seymour and John Dudley. He would have been intimately associated, therefore, with the influential Humanist movement of the first part of the 16th century that was centred on Cambridge and consisted of scholars such as John Cheke (1514–1557), William Grindal (d. 1548), Anthony Cooke (1504-1576); Roger Ascham (1515–1568), John Dee (1527–1608/9) and, perhaps most significantly of all, William Cecil (1520–1598).”

His royal favour led to him being made Dean of Lincoln and presented for the prebend of Corringham, Lincolnshire, in 1552, but things changed when the Catholic Mary I came to the throne in July 1553. As a married churchman, Parker was deprived of his many offices and, instead, focused on writing theological works. His time out of the limelight was short, though, as Mary died in November 1558 and her half-sister, Elizabeth I, came to the throne. In 1559, Queen Elizabeth I appointed Matthew Parker as her Archbishop of Canterbury. As I have explained in previous articles, Parker had been offered the post in 1558 but had stalled in accepting it. Parker believed that he was not right for the post and, having recently fallen off a horse, also not fit enough. But, Elizabeth I wanted him in that post and Parker felt that he had no choice; he had made a promise to Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, back in 1536 and he had to stand by that and serve his queen.

Click here to read more about this promise.

Matthew Parker served as Elizabeth I’s Archbishop of Canterbury until his death on 17th May 1575. He is known for being one of the men responsible for the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion which were established in 1563 and which are seen as “the historic defining statements of Anglican doctrine in relation to the controversies of the English Reformation”. He may have been a great theologian, an influential churchman, but for me he was a man who did something he really didn’t want to do because of a promise. As historian Eric Ives says, the words Anne Boleyn spoke to him shortly before her arrest “stayed with him for the rest of his life”. What a loyal and noble man.

Notes and Sources

  • Crankshaw, David J. and Alexandra Gillespie. “Parker, Matthew (1504–1575).” David J. Crankshaw In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed., edited by David Cannadine, May 2011. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/21327 (accessed August 5, 2016).
  • “The Cambridge Connections”, online article by Robert Parry, 2 June 2010, http://www.elizabethfiles.com/the-cambridge-connections/3853/
  • Ives, Eric (2004) The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Blackwell Publishing, p267>

10 thoughts on “Matthew Parker, a man “so much bound” to Anne Boleyn”

  1. Miladyblue says:

    Out of curiosity, there are many bishoprics in England – what is the significance of Canterbury? It always seems that much of the importance of the (now) Church of England and even the Catholic Church pre-Reformation centered around Canterbury, but I have never seen anything explaining why.

    1. Claire says:

      Wikipedia, which isn’t always the most accurate of places to find information, says the following:
      “It has been suggested that the Roman province of Britannia had four archbishops, seated at London, York, Lincoln and Cirencester. However, in the 5th and 6th centuries Britannia began to be overrun by pagan, Germanic peoples who came to be known collectively as the Anglo-Saxons. Of the kingdoms they created, Kent arguably had the closest links with European politics, trade and culture, because it was conveniently situated for communication with continental Europe. In the late 6th century, King Æthelberht of Kent married a Christian Frankish princess named Bertha, possibly before becoming king, and certainly a number of years before the arrival of the first Christian mission to England. He permitted the preaching of Christianity.”

      So that could have a bearing on it. I know that it was already the highest church office in England when Thomas Becket held it. There is an interesting discussion on this very question at http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/archive/index.php/t-462740.html. On that board is the following answer, which seems to make sense:

      “Firstly, there’s the issue as to why Canterbury, not London, became the metropolitan diocese of the province covering southern England. That’s mainly because Kent was converted by Augustine first. London was then controlled by the East Saxons, a point Gregory I probably hadn’t realised when he told Augustine to found a bishopric there, so by the time a bishop was appointed for London in 604, Augustine had already been serving as archbishop of Canterbury for seven years. Moreover, the undeniable fact that Augustine as archbishop of Canterbury had founded the bishopric of London and consecrated its first bishop was always Canterbury’s trump card whenever London tried to deny its primacy.

      Secondly, there’s the issue as to why Canterbury has primatial jurisdiction over York. That was far more controversial and Canterbury’s claims were frequently challenged. This was a big political issue for several generations following the Norman Conquest. The argument was not finally settled until 1353 when Innocent VI ruled in Canterbury’s favour, but with a number of concessions to York, such as the right to use the title ‘Primate of England’ (as opposed to ‘Primate of all England’). Notoriously, Canterbury’s claims were heavily reliant on some of the most famous medieval ecclesiastical forgeries.

      Canterbury also at various times claimed primacy over the whole British Isles. In the case of the church in Wales, this was accepted from the early twelfth century onwards until 1920. However, in Ireland, Armagh was generally able to resist the challenges from Canterbury to its own claims to primatial authority. The case of Scotland was more complicated. Quite apart from the obvious fact that the Scots had greater success in remaining politically independent from England, the Canterbury claim always had to compete with a rival claim to jurisdiction over Scotland from York. The two usually cancelled each other out.”

      1. Miladyblue says:

        THANK YOU SO MUCH, Claire! This has been a blank spot for me for years. Every time I read about the Tudors and other important times in British history, Canterbury’s Archbishop has been prominent in the goings on of the day, and I could never figure out why that particular Archbishopric was so important. Even at the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, there was mention of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

        1. Maryann C Pitman says:

          Canterbury first gained pre-eminence in 1071, lost it a few years later in 1118, and then more or less regained it, by 1352, Most monarchs were crowned by Canterbury, with some notable exceptions, William I, Edward II, Mary I, Elizabeth I, etc. Henry of Winchester was highly annoyed that his brother Stephen I did not promote him to the See of Canterbury when it fell vacant. Primary rival in England was York. Henry VIII had Canterbury legislated into pre-eminence during the English Reformation. Canterbury, being close to London, also allowed the AB to be heavily involved in affairs of state. At least 5 served as Chancellor of England, and other high offices.

      2. Alexei says:

        Geoffrey of Monmouth writes that before Anglo-Saxons there were also a archbishopry in London, but I have heard that there was really none. As I don’t remember wheather the second source was reliable or not, would you tell about this a bit? Was Geoffrey’s words just a political fantasy or are there any historucal proves from the Roman time?

  2. Globerose says:

    St. Thomas of Canterbury, aka Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, d. 1170!

  3. Globerose says:

    Echo Miladyblue, thanks Claire …I’m learning all the time and vey grateful!

  4. Banditqueen says:

    Silly question coming up, but what is a worsted weaver? Was this cloth, basket, or silk? ( I hope worsted doesn’t mean worsted in the business lol)

    Matthew Parker was a fascinating man. His promise to Anne to care for or look out for Elizabeth is quite a commitment. I think my first encounter with Parker was a piece on his writing in a little book on different Christian characters across the various denominations, years ago back in college. Another encounter was a special display on him and Hugh Latimer in Norwich Castle in 2003. Out of all the reformers of his age he always seemed the most grounded in normal everyday ways and someone to connect to. Perhaps it’s the mix of commercial background and intellectual education that makes him sound like an everyday guy.

    1. Claire says:

      Worsted is a type of yarn made from wool. I used worsted weight yarn a lot in my knitting. The dictionary definition is “a fine smooth yarn spun from combed long-staple wool.” You can buy worsted jackets and suits as well and they are made from cloth woven from worsted yarn.

      1. Banditqueen says:

        Thanks Claire, interesting stuff. Cheers.

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