|A detail of a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I's Archbishop of Canterbury Matthew Parker. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
Parker would be responsible for devising the 39 Articles of Faith, one of the three principles all bishops in the Elizabethan Church were expected to subscribe to and uphold (Please see my article Religious Policy under Elizabeth I for more information.)
The path to religious life for Matthew Parker began in 1522, when Parker attended Corpus Christi College, part of Cambridge University; he graduated in 1525. In April of 1527 he was ordained a deacon, and then subsequently a priest in June. In September of the same year he was elected a fellow of Corpus Christi College and began his Master's degree. Parker, an early Anglican reformer, spurned the then-powerful Cardinal Wolsey's support in favor of Anne Boleyn, the intellectual and increasingly influential love-interest of King Henry VIII.
|A 16th century portrait of King Henry VIII's "new man", Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
Anne had long been a supporter of Cambridge intellectuals, and when she became Queen of England, she made Parker her personal chaplain. Anne, who was an active supporter of the reform of the English Church herself, had great faith in Parker's abilities, and it was through her influence that he was made Dean of the College of Secular Canons in 1535.
|A Tudor-era miniature of Anne Boleyn wearing her famous "B" necklace. Attributed to Hoskins. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
|A modern sign placed in memorial of some of the more famous individuals who lost their lives on the scaffold on Tower Green. Queen Anne Boleyn is the first listed. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
When Edward VI took the throne after his father, many members of the Church of England's clergy chose to take advantage of the institution of marriage. Though it had not yet been legalized by Parliament, it was no longer a felony and the future looked promising. In June of 1547, Parker married Margaret Harlestone, the daughter of a Norfolk squire. Margaret and Matthew had planned to wed since around 1540 (Strype's Life of Parker, 1711). During Kett's Rebellion, an Edwardian uprising over land based in his wife's home county, Parker preached in the rebel camp at Mousehold Hill, begging the rebels to disperse. His appeal was to no avail, but Parker's secretary Alexander Neville wrote one of the two eye-witness accounts of the failed rebellion per his master's instruction, published in Latin in 1575.
|Detail from the allegorical painting Edward VI and the Pope. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
|A portrait of Queen Mary I of England, who earned the nickname "Bloody Mary" for her relentless persecution of English Protestants and the Marian burnings. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
|A portrait of Jane Grey from the 1590's, after a lost original from the 1550's. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
Queen Mary took away Parker's lucrative deanery of Lincoln, which he had received in 1552, and his mastership of Corpus Christi College. While most who experienced the wrath of Mary I fled England for the Continent, establishing exiled English-Protestant communities abroad, Parker remained in England. He remarkably escaped the fate of his esteemed colleagues Archbishop Cranmer and Bishop Ridley and Bishop Latimer, who were burned at the stake.
|An illustration of Bishop's Latimer and Ridley being burned at the stake, from John Foxe's Book of Martyrs. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
Still, there were points of religion on which Queen Elizabeth and Parker clashed. Parker was a family man, and Elizabeth was skeptical of the clergy's involvement in the institution of marriage. Once, when taking leave of Lambeth Palace, Elizabeth, in her typical wit, mused on how to bid Mrs. Margaret Parker adieu, saying, "Madam, I may not call you; mistress I am ashamed to call you, so I know not what to call you; but I thank you." (Palmer, 29)
Parker leaves behind a legacy as an honest and faithful servant God, and one of forefather's of the Protestant faith in England. He was also a steadfast, hardworking servant of the queen, undertaking considerable religious responsibilities which Elizabeth preferred to distance herself from. Parker's collection of 55 volumes of religious works, housed in the Parker Library at Corpus Christi, Cambridge, are a priceless resource to those who study Reformation and 16th century history.
Palmer, Michael. Reputations: Elizabeth I. The Bath Press, 1988. Print.
Denny, Joanna. Anne Boleyn: A New Life of England's Tragic Queen. Portrait, 2005. Print.
Life of Parker by John Strype, published 1711 and re-edited for Claredon Press in 1821. All three volumes are now available online HERE.