Thursday, August 2, 2012

4: Matthew Parker (1504-1575), architect of the 39 Articles

Archbishop Matthew Parker, architect of the 39 Articles and founder of the Parker Library (Norwich Civic Portrait Collection)

Patrick Comerford

Matthew Parker (1504-1575) was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1559 until his death in 1575. He was such an influential theologian that arguably, alongside Thomas Cranmer and Richard Hooker, he is co-founder of the distinctive tradition of Anglican theological thought.

Parker was one of the primary architects of the Thirty-Nine Articles, the defining statement of Anglican doctrine. He played a definitive role in drawing up The Book of Common Prayer, and he gave much time and labour to producing the Bishops’ Bible.

The Parker Library in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, includes his collection of early English manuscripts, among them the book of Saint Augustine Gospels and Version A of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The collection was created as part of his efforts to demonstrate that the Church of England is historically independent of Rome, and is now recognised as one of the world’s most important collections of ancient manuscripts.

He was born in Norwich on 6 August 1504, in Saint Saviour’s parish, the eldest son of William Parker and Alice (nee Monins). There is some speculation that Parker’s mother was related by marriage to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer – a John Monins married Carnmer’s sister Jane – but no definite relationship between the two archbishops has been traced. When William Parker died, ca 1516, his widow married John Baker.

Matthew Parker went to school at Saint Mary’s Hostel before he was sent to Cambridge in 1522 as an undergraduate at Corpus Christi College.

After Peterhouse, Corpus Christi College is the second-smallest of the traditional colleges in Cambridge and the smallest in terms of the number of undergraduates. Formally known as the College of Corpus Christi and the Blessed Virgin Mary, it is the only Cambridge college founded by the townspeople of Cambridge: it was established in 1352 by the Guilds of Corpus Christi and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Matthew Parker entered Corpus Christi College as an undergraduate in 1522 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Old Court in Corpus Christi College is the oldest of court in any Oxbridge college. The new college acquired all the guild’s lands, ceremonies and revenues, including the annual Corpus Christi procession through the streets to Magdalene Bridge, during which the Eucharistic host was carried by a priest and several of the college’s treasures were carried by the Master and fellows, before returning for an extravagant dinner.

In Rose Macaulay’s The Towers of Trebizond, Father Hugh Chantry-Pigg says Mass in a corner of the public gardens in Trebizond to mark the Feast of Corpus Christi. After Mass, he holds a procession round the gardens, chanting Ave Verum, stops, preaches a short sermon in English, and says that Corpus Christi is a great Christian festival and holy day, “always kept in the Church of England.”

The procession in Cambridge continued until the Reformation. But in 1535, William Sowode, who was Parker’s predecessor as Master of Corpus Christi College (1523-1544) and Master when Parker graduated, stopped this tradition. However, the college continues to have a grand dinner on the feast of Corpus Christi.

Archbishop Matthew Parker (right) at the chapel door in Corpus Christi, seen from a window in the Parker Library (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Parker graduated from Cambridge in 1525 with the degree Bachelor of Arts (BA). He was ordained deacon in April 1527 and priest the following June. He was not yet 23.

Later that year, in September 1527, he was elected a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, and he received the degree Master of Arts (MA) in 1528. He was one of the Cambridge scholars invited by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey to move to his newly-founded “Cardinal College” at Oxford. But Parker, like Thomas Cranmer, declined Wolsey’s invitation.

(Wolsey fell from grace in 1529, with the buildings only three-quarters complete, and his college was suppressed in 1531. The college was re-founded in 1532 as King Henry VIII’s College, and then in 1546 became Christ Church, with the college church becoming the cathedral of the newly-formed Diocese of Oxford.)

A plaque at Chetwynd Court, King’s College, Cambridge, marking the site of the White House Tavern where Matthew Parker joined those who discussed Reformation ideas (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Having decided to stay in Cambridge, Parker became a popular and influential preacher. He joined the group of reformers who had been meeting since 1521 at the White Horse Inn near Corpus Christi College, discussing Luther’s writings.

The White Horse Inn came to be known as “Little Germany.” Those who met there included Thomas Cranmer, future Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Barnes, Prior of the Austin Friars in Cambridge and future martyr, Hugh Latimer, one of the three “Oxford Martyrs,” Thomas Bilney, who change Latimer’s views, Stephen Gardiner, later Bishop of Winchester, Miles Coverdale, translator of the Bible and future Bishop of Exeter, William Tyndale, Bible translator, Nicholas Shaxton, later Bishop of Salisbury, and John Bale, later Bishop of Ossory, as well as Matthew Parker.

Unlike some of the Cambridge reformers, however, Parker was never a controversialist. The debates and disputes he took part in served to turn him back to finding out historic details rather than exploring the opinion of others.

After Anne Boleyn’s recognition as queen, Parker became her chaplain. Through her, he was appointed dean of the Collegiate Church of Saint John the Baptist in Stoke-by-Clare, Suffolk, in 1535. Latimer wrote to him in that year urging him not to fall short of the expectations which had been formed of his ability.

Shortly before Anne Boleyn’s execution in 1536, she commended to his care her daughter Elizabeth. In 1537, Parker was appointed chaplain to King Henry VIII. As chaplain to Anne Boleyn and then to Henry VIII, Parker taught and counselled their daughter, the young Princess Elizabeth.

In 1538, he was threatened with prosecution. However, Richard Yngworth, the Suffragan Bishop of Dover, 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.”

A year later, Parker was accused of heresy, but the Lord Chancellor, Thomas Audley, dismissed the charge and urged Parker to “go on and fear no such enemies.”

Ely Cathedral and its towers rise above the surrounding landscape, so that it has long been known as the “Ship of the Fens” … in 1541, Matthew Parker became a prebendary of the cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

He received the degree Doctor of Divinity (DD) in Cambridge in 1539, and in 1541 he was appointed to the second prebend (a senior canon) in the reconstituted cathedral church of Ely.

In 1544, on Henry VIII’s recommendation, he was elected the Master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. The king’s original letter of recommendation, in his own handwriting, is still in the Parker Library in Corpus Christi College. In 1545, Parker became the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, a position then normally held for one year by a master of one of the Cambridge colleges.

Archbishop Matthew Parker (right) at the door of the chapel in Corpus Christi College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

On the passing of the act of parliament in 1545 enabling the king to dissolve chantries and colleges, Parker was appointed as one of the commissioners for Cambridge. Their report may have saved its colleges from destruction. However, the collegiate church at Stoke was dissolved in the reign of Edward VI, although Parker would receive a generous pension.

Around the same time, Parker came into conflict with the Chancellor of Cambridge University, Stephen Gardiner, over a ribald play, Pammachius, staged at Christ’s College by students, which derided the old ecclesiastical system.

With the accession of Edward VI, Parker took advantage of the new reign to marry on 24 June 1547. Although clerical marriages had not yet been legalised by Parliament and Convocation, they no longer constituted a felony. His wife Margaret was the daughter of Robert Harlestone, a Norfolk squire. They had initially planned to marry since about 1540 but had waited until it was no longer a felony for priests to marry. They were married in Mattsfield, Norfolk, and they had four sons and a daughter.

The marriage would cause Parker many problems, but Margaret proved herself equal to all occasions and she was so admired that Nicholas Ridley asked Matthew Parker whether she had a sister.

During Thomas Kett’s Rebellion in Norfolk in July and August 1547, Parker preached in the rebels’ camp on Mousehold Hill, but without much effect, and he later encouraged his secretary, Alexander Neville, to write his history of the rising.

Parker’s association with Reformation thinking 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.

Parker became Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University again in 1548. At Cambridge, he was a friend of Martin Bucer, who was Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge from 1549 until his death in 1551. Parker was one of the executors of Bucer’s will and he preached his funeral sermon in Great Saint Mary’s, the University Church, in March 1551. A brass plaque on the floor of Great Saint Mary’s marks the original location of Bucer’s grave.

In 1552, Parker was appointed Dean of Lincoln Cathedral. He appears to have continued living at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he remained Master, and in the following year he dined with the Duke of Northumberland in Cambridge in July 1553 as the duke was marching north in a hopeless campaign to resist Mary Tudor’s accession and to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne.

The Old Court in Corpus Christi College is the oldest surviving court in any Oxbridge college (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

As a supporter of Northumberland and as a married man, Parker was dismissed by Queen Mary as Dean of Lincoln, as Master of Corpus Christi College, and from his other church offices. He fell into obscurity, but he survived Mary’s reign without leaving England – a fact that probably aggravated more ardent Protestants who went into exile and who idealised those reformers who were martyred in Mary’s reign, including Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer.

When Elizabeth I succeeded her half-sister at the end of 1558, Parker’s reputation as a theologian promoted her to entrust him with implementing the Elizabethan Settlement as Archbishop of Canterbury. Canterbury had been vacant since the death of Cardinal Reginald Pole on 17 November 1558 – 12 hours after the death of Queen Mary.

Parker (right, at the entrance to the chapel of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, Photograph Patrick Comerford) was not eager for this office, and made great efforts to avoid being appointed to Canterbury. Nevertheless, he was elected by the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral on 1 August 1559. However, the Bishops of Durham (Cuthbert Tunstall), Bath (Gilbert Bourne) and Peterborough (David Pole), declined to consecrate Parker and new Letters Patent were issued, directing Anthony Kitchin, Bishop of Llandaff, William Barlow, former Bishop of Bath and Wells and Bishop-elect of Chichester, John Scory, former Bishop of Chichester and Bishop-elect of Hereford, Miles Coverdale, former Bishop of Exeter, John Sutter, Suffragan Bishop of Bedford, and John Bale, Bishop of Ossory.

It was not until Sunday 17 December 1559 that Parker was consecrated in the chapel in Lambeth Palace by William Barlow, John Scory, Miles Coverdale and John Hodgkins.

The allegation of an indecent consecration in the Nag’s Head Tavern in Fleet Street, London, seems to have been made first by a 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 ordinal approved in the reign of Edward VI was used, but this had been repealed by Mary Tudor and had not been re-enacted by the parliament of 1559. The Roman Catholic Church has claimed that the form of consecration was insufficient and represented a break in the Apostolic Succession. 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 chose Parker because she wanted a moderate man as Archbishop of Canterbury. But there was also an emotional attachment. Parker had been the favourite chaplain of Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn and before Anne was arrested in 1536, she had entrusted Elizabeth’s spiritual well-being to Parker.

Parker possessed all the qualifications Elizabeth expected from an archbishop, apart from celibacy. Elizabeth did not approve of married clergy and is reported to have told Margaret Parker that she did not know what to call her, saying: “Madam I may not call you, mistress I am ashamed to call you.” Under the name “Thomas Martin,” Parker published a defence of married clergy. Edwin Sandys, later Archbishop of York, referred to Margaret as “Parker’s Abbess” because of her gravity, chastity, discretion and piety.

Parker respected authority, and when his time came he could consistently impose authority on others. As Archbishop of Canterbury, he supervised the revision of Cranmer’s 42 Articles to produce the definitive 39 Articles of Religion, which defined the doctrine of the Church of England and which were subscribed by the clergy in 1562.

He played the principal role in drawing up The Book of Common Prayer, for which his skill in ancient liturgies peculiarly fitted him. His liturgical skills were also shown in his version of the Psalter.

Meanwhile, in 1562, Parker had the magnificent rood-loft, or Theatrum imaginis Crucifixi, in Great Saint Mary’s, Cambridge, demolished. It had been erected in 1522-1523, at a cost of £92.6s.8d. and extended across the church, from wall to wall.

Much of his time and labour from 1563 to 1568 was given to producing the Bishops’ Bible, which was undertaken at his request, prepared under his supervision, and published at his expense in 1572. This was the authorised version of the Bible in England until the King James Version (KJV) was published in 1611.

Parker avoided secular politics and was never admitted to Elizabeth’s Privy Council. But ecclesiastical politics gave him considerable trouble. He mistrusted popular enthusiasm, and rejected the idea that “the people” should be the reformers of the Church. He was convinced that if the Reformation was to be firmly established in England, some definite ecclesiastical forms and methods were needed to secure the triumph of order over anarchy, and sought to repress what he regarded as a mutinous individualism that was incompatible with a catholic spirit.

Some evangelical reformers wanted liturgical changes and the option not to wear clerical vestments; others wanted to abolish the episcopacy and to have a church without bishops. The conservatives opposed all these changes, preferring to return to the practices of the church during the reign of Henry VIII.

Elizabeth questioned episcopal privilege but eventually recognised that bishops could be the chief bulwarks of the royal supremacy. But, to Parker’s consternation, she refused to give her imprimatur to his attempts to secure conformity, despite her instance that he should achieve this goal. Parker was left to stem the rising tide of Puritan agitation with little support from Parliament, Convocation or the Crown.

The bishops’ Interpretations and Further Considerations, issued in 1560, tolerated lower standards of robing and vesting by the clergy in church than those prescribed by the rubric of 1559. However, it fell short of the desires of the clergy opposed to vestments – including Coverdale, who had been consecrated bishop by Parker – and who made a public display of their nonconformity in London.

The Book of Advertisements, which Parker published in 1566 to check the controversy, appeared without specific royal sanction. The Reformatio legum ecclesiasticarum, which John Foxe published with Parker’s approval, had neither royal, parliamentary nor synodical authorisation, and 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.”

The disputes about vestments had developed into a controversy over the whole field of Church government and authority.

In 1567, Parker published an old Saxon Homily on the Sacrament, by Ælfric of Saint Albans. He also published A Testimonie of Antiquitie Showing the Ancient Fayth in the Church of England Touching the Sacrament of the Body and Bloude of the Lord to prove that transubstantiation was not the doctrine of the ancient English Church. Parker collaborated with his secretary John Joscelyn in his manuscript studies. He also founded the Society of Antiquaries, and was its first president.

In 1574, Parker’s friend, Andrew Perne, the Master of Peterhouse, undertook to restore the University Library in Cambridge and called on Parker for support. As well as writing letters to others soliciting donations, Parker donated 25 manuscripts of his own to the University Library, along with 75 printed books.

Matthew Parker died on 17 May 1575 and was buried in his private chapel at Lambeth Palace (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Parker’s wife Margaret and he died in 1570, and he died on 17 May 1575. He died lamenting that Puritan ideas of “governance” would “in conclusion undo the queen and all others that depended upon her.” But by his personal conduct, he had set an ideal example for Anglican priests.

He was buried in his private chapel at Lambeth Palace. His heart and bowels, which were removed in the embalming process, were placed in the adjacent Saint Mary’s Church, where his wife and son were buried.

During the English Civil War, Parker’s remains were dug up in1648 and cast on a dung heap. At the restoration of the monarchy, Archbishop William Sancroft had his bones recovered and reburied at Lambeth, with the epitaph: Corpus Matthaei Archiepiscopi hic tandem quiescit.

Despite his contribution to final versions of The Book of Common Prayer, the Bishops’ Bible and the 39 Articles, Parker left no new religious tracts or hymns, and no works of systematic or dogmatic theology. The 55 volumes published by the Parker Society include only one by Parker, 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 one act of rebellion was his tract, written under the pseudonym Thomas Martin, in defence of married clergy. His published works are contained in just one volume of letters.

Parker and Parker’s Library

The Parker Library ... rebuilt in the 1820s by William Wilkins (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

One of Parker’s great objectives in life was to find independent evidence of the origins of a Christian Church in England independent of that in Rome. To this end, he collected a great many ancient manuscripts, including the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, which remain in the library in Corpus Christi College today. In the chaos following the dissolution of the monasteries the great collections of the religious houses had been broken up and scattered, and Parker undertook to recover manuscripts and books many thought to be lost.

He obtained a warrant from the Privy Council enabling him to “...make a general search after all such records and muniments as related to these Realms, and which upon the dissolution of the monasteries had fallen into private hands; whereby he preserved from perishing some of the most valuable remains of our Church and Nation.”

Parker was so assiduous in making his inquiries that he gained him the epithet “Nosey Parker” – a term still in use today.

Many of the books he consulted are still annotated in his own hand, showing the scholar at work on his source material. The results of his historical research are exemplified in the great De Antiquitate Britannicæ Ecclesiae et Privilegiis Ecclesiæ Cantuarensis cum Archiepiscopis eiusdem, said to be the first privately printed book in England. It was probably printed at Lambeth in 1572, where the archbishop had his own establishment of printers, engravers, and illuminators, and it was presented to Queen Elizabeth bound in luxurious velvet.

He also edited the works of Asser, Matthew Paris (1571), Thomas Walsingham and the compiler known as Matthew of Westminster (1571).

Parker left a priceless collection of manuscripts, largely collected from former monastic libraries, to his college in Cambridge. The Parker Library in Corpus Christi bears his name and houses most of his collection, with some volumes in the Cambridge University Library.

The collection includes a sixth-century Gospel book from Canterbury that is the oldest illustrated Latin Gospel book now in existence. It is still used for the enthronement of each new Archbishop of Canterbury, and is brought to and from Cambridge to Canterbury for this service by the Master and one or two college representatives. Archbishop Rowan Williams borrowed it to show to Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Britain in September 2010.

The Parker Library has one of the finest collections of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts in the world. The library’s holdings of Old English texts account for a substantial proportion of all extant manuscripts in Anglo-Saxon, including the earliest copy of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ca 890), the principal source book for early English history; the Northumbrian Gospel (ca 700), which is a century older than the Book of Kells; unique copies of Old English poems and other texts; and King Alfred’s translation of Pope Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Care.

The Parker Library also contains key Anglo-Norman and Middle English texts ranging from the Ancrene Wisse and the Brut Chronicle to one of the finest copies of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde. The Library has a magnificent collection of English illuminated manuscripts, such as the Bury Bible (ca 1135) and Dover Bible (ca 1150) and the Chronica maiora by Matthew Paris (ca 1230-1250).

Other important parts of the collection include Middle English, French and Latin texts on subjects ranging from alchemy and astrology to music and medicine. There is an early Greek Psalter from Mount Sinai, letters signed by Martin Luther and John Calvin, and a text from Saint Basil in Greek, transcribed by Philipp Melanchton, which shows the interest of the reformers in returning to Patristic sources.

The library is a treasure house of mediaeval and renaissance manuscripts and early printed books. The subjects represented in the collection are theology, music, mediaeval travelogues and maps, apocalypses, bestiaries, royal ceremonies, historical chronicles and Bibles.

Scholars in a variety of disciplines – including historians of art, music, science, literature, politics and religion – find invaluable resources in the Parker Library. The Parker Library on the Web project has made digital images of all of these manuscripts available online. For further information on the Parker Library visit

Matthew Parker was a great benefactor to Corpus Christi College, Gonville and Caius College, Trinity Hall, the University and the town of Cambridge, leaving funds for scholarships and public works.

A college legacy

Apart from his library, Parker also donated to Corpus Christi College the silver plate and the college symbol, the pelican, which appears on the college coat-of-arms and crops up in many places around the college.

To guarantee the integrity and safety of his collection, Parker specified in his endowment that should Corpus Christ College ever lose more than a certain number of his books, the rest of his collection would pass first to Gonville and Caius College and then – if there were any more losses – to Trinity Hall. Every few years, representatives from both Gonville and Caius College and Trinity Hall ceremonially inspect the collection at Corpus for any losses. Parker placed similar conditions on the silver that he gave to Corpus Christi.

To this day, the college retains the entirety of Parker’s library and his silver collection, as they could not be sold off, in one case, or melted down, in the other, without losing both collections. Corpus Christi was the only Oxbridge college not to sell its silverware in support of either side during the English civil war, and remained neutral. According to college legend, the silver plate was distributed to the fellows to keep it from being requisitioned by the warring factions.

The present Parker Library was designed by William Wilkins and completed in 1827. When the Parker Library and the new Court were being built in early 19th century, the old college chapel was demolished. This chapel was built by Thomas Cosyn, who was Master from 1487 to 1515, along with a passageway between Old Court and St Bene’t’s Church.

At first, the college had no chapel, and used Saint Bene’t’s Church next door for worship and liturgies until the beginning of the 16th century. At one time during the Reformation, the college was also known as Saint Bene’t’s ... perhaps in a conscious effort to make a break with the rituals associated with Corpus Christi.

Thomas Tallis composed nine tunes for Archbishop Parker’s Psalter, including his tune for Why Fum’th in Flight, which was used by Ralph Vaughn Williams in his Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis.

The chapel in Corpus Christi College was designed by William Wilkins as a miniature replica of the chapel in King’s College Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Select Bibliography:

VJK Brook, A Life of Archbishop Parker (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962).
WE Collins, Typical English Churchmen (1902).
David J Crankshaw and Alexandra Gillespie, ‘Matthew Parker,’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), vol 42, pp 707-718.
JI Daeley, ‘The episcopal administration of Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1559-1575,’ Doctoral thesis, University of London (1967).
WPM Kennedy, Archbishop Parker (1908).
EW Perry, Under Four Tudors (London: Allen and Unwin, 1940).
AF Pollard, The History of England – From the Accession of Edward VI to the Death of Elizabeth (1547-1603) (London: Longmans Green, 1911).
John Strype, Life of Parker (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1821, 3 vols).
FO White, Lives of Elizabethan Bishops (1898).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

No comments:

Post a Comment