Cheke, John (DNB00)

CHEKE, Sir JOHN (1514–1557), tutor to Edward VI, secretary of state, and one of the principal restorers of Greek learning in England, was born in the parish of St. Mary the Great, Cambridge, ‘over against the Market cross,’ on 16 June 1514. The house in which he was born is supposed to have been that which stands at the corner of the Market hill and Petty Cury. His father, Peter Cheke, one of the esquire-bedels of the university, was descended from the ancient family of the Chekes of Motston in the Isle of Wight,and settled at Cambridge on marrying Agnes Dufford of the county of Cambridge, who is styled by Roger Ascham, in one of his epistles, a ‘venerable woman,’ and who sold wine in St. Mary's parish (Baker, Hist. of St. John’s, ed. Mayor, p. 105). After receiving a grammatical education under John Morgan, M.A., who afterwards removed to Bradfield, Essex, he was admitted of St. John’s College, Cambridge, where he obtained an extraordinary re utation for his knowledge of the learned languages, especially Greek. His tutor and principal ‘bringer-up,’ from whom, as he himself acknowledges, he ‘gate an entrie to some skill in learning,’ was George Day, fellow, afterwards master of St. John’s, and ultimately bishop of Chichester. He was admitted a fellow of his college on 26 March 1529, proceeded B.A. in 1529–30, and commenced M.A. in 1533. He adopted the doctrines of the Reformation while at St. John's, where many of the fellows in Cardinal Wolsey’s time privately studied the scriptures and the works of Luther. On one occasion, when he was on a visit to the court, his friend and patron Sir William Butts [q. v.], one of the royal physicians, spoke so highly to Henry VIII of his proficiency in the Greek tongue that the king granted him an exhibition for encouragement in his studies, and the payment of the expenses of his travels abroad. He introduced an improved method of study at St. John’s, and is said ‘to have laid the very foundations of learning in that college' (Aschami Epistolæ, ii. 45). He zealously promoted protestantism as well as learning, advising scholars to decide all questions by an appeal to the scriptures alone. In 1530 Nicholas Metcalfe, master of St. John's, George Day, and Cheke were appointed the college proxies to appear })efore the king's commissioners in the matter of the oaths of the succession and supremacy. Baker charges Day and Cheke with ingratitude towards Metcalfe, 'to whom they owed their rise and beginning,' and who was worriwl into abdicating the government of the college in 1587 {Hist. of St, John's, pp. 104, 105 ; Ascham, Scholemaster, ed. Mayor, 1863, p. 161). Cheke appears to have been the last 'master of the glomery' in the university (1539-40), the precise duties of which office antiquaries have been unable to ascertain (Cole, Manuscripts, xlix. 26). Among Cheke's pupils at St. John's were William Cecil [q. v.], afterwards Lord Burghley (who in 1541 married Cheke's sister Mary), Roger Ascham [q. v.], and William Bill [q. v.]

He became Greek lecturer of the university and discharged the duties of that office without salary, but on the foundation of the regius professorships in 1640 he was nominated to the Greek chair, with an annual stipend of 40l., and he continued to occupy it till October 1551. In his lectures he went over Sophocles twice, all Homer, all Euripides, and part of Herodotus (Langbaine, Life of Cheke). At this period Greek was little known in England, and the few scholars who had acquired a knowledge of the language pronounced it in a manner resembling that in vogue nowadays in the continental universities, which Cheke believed to be corrupt. Accordingly he and Thomas (afterwards Sir Thomas) Smith endeavoured to find out the true pronunciation; 'which at length they did, partly by considering the power of the letters themselves, and partly by consulting with Greek authors, Aristophanes and others ; in some whereof they founa footsteps to direct them how the ancient Greeks pronounced' (Strype, Life of Cheke, ed. 1821, p. 14). Cheke publicly taught the new mode of pronunciation, which was not unlike that now adopted in England, and this mode was vehemently opposed by a strong party in the university, who sent a complaint to Gardiner, bishop of Winchester and chancellor of the university. Gardiner on 1 June 1542 issued a solemn decree confirming the old pronunciation. Those who did not obey this decree were, if regents, to be expelled from the senate; if scholars, to lose their scholarships ; and the younger sort were to be chastised (Strype, Ecclesiastical Memorials, vol. i. chap. i. Append. No. cxvi.; Cooper, Annals of Cambridge, 1. 401-3). Seven letters which passed between Gardiner and Cheke on the subject were given by Cheke to Coelius Secundus Curio, of Basle, who printed them in 1555. Cheke reluctantly submitted to the chancellor's decree, but the new pronunciation of Greek ultimately prevailed in this country (Leiqh, Treatise of Religion and Learning, p. 92 ; Ellis, The English, Dionysian, and Hellenic Pronunciations of Greek, p. 6).

In or about 1544 Cheke was elected public orator of the university. On 10 July in that year Henry VIII summoned him to court and appointed him to succeed Richard Cox, afterwards bishop of Ely, as tutor to Prince Edward. He accordingly left the university and gave up the office of public orator, in which he was succeeded by Ascham, who in his 'Toxophilus' laments the great loss suffered by the university by his friend's withdrawal from it. Sir Antnony Cooke was associated with Cheke in the education of the young prince, who lived chiefly at Hertford. Cheke continued his course of instruction after his pupil's accession to the throne, being 'always at his elbow, both in his closet and in his chapel, and wherever else he went, to inform and teach him' (Strype, Cheke, p. 22). He read to the king Cicero's philosophical works and Aristotle's ethics, and also instructed him in the history, laws, and constitution of England. At his suggestion Edward wrote the journal of public events preserved in the Cottonian Library and printed by Burnet and by Nichols. Occasionally Cheke acted as tutor to the king's sister. Princess Elizabeth. About the time of his appointment as tutor to the prince he was made a canon of King's College (now Christ Church), Oxford, and was incorporated M.A. in that university. From his preferment to a canonry Strype infers that he had been admitted to holy orders, but this is extremely doubtful. When, in 1545, Henry VIII dissolved the new college and converted it into a cathedral, Cheke obtained, as a compensation for the loss of his canonry, an annual pension of 26l. 13s. 4d. In or about 1547 he married Mary, daughter and heiress of Richard Hill, who had been Serjeant of the wine-cellar to Henry VIII (Stowe, Survey, ed. Strype, vol. ii. Append, p. 70).

Shortly after the accession of Edward VI, he received considerable grants of lands and lordships which had become vested in the crown by the dissolution of religious houses, colleges, and chantries. Thus he became owner of the house and site of the priory of Spalding, Lincolnshire ; and he acquired by purchase from the king the college of St. John Baptist de Stoke juxta Clare, Suffolk. This latter bargain Strype thinks was 'no question a good pennyworth.’ Cheke was returned as member for Bletchingley to the parliament which assembled on 8 Nov. 1547, and he represented the same constituency in the parliament of 1 March 1552–3 (Willis, Notitia Parliamentaria, vol. iii. pt. i. pp. 14, 21). He was elected provost of King's College, Cambridge, on 1 April 1548, after the resignation of George Day, bishop of Chichester, who held the provostship in commendam, and Cheke was elected by virtue of a mandamus from the crown, dispensing with three qualifications required in a head of that college, that he should be a doctor, a priest, and on the foundation. It may fairly be concluded from the terms of this document that Cheke was not in holy orders. The vice-provost and fellows were reluctant to comply with the mandamus, but eventually yielded to the royal command. Cheke did not return to Cambridge till May 1549, when he was in temporary disgrace at court; for in a letter addressed from King's College to his friend, Peter Osborne, he speaks of enjoying the calm of quietness after having been tossed with storms, and having felt ‘ambition’s bitter gall’ (Nichols, Memoir of Edward VI, p. 50). He continued to hold the provostship of King's College till the beginning of Queen Mary’s reign, when he resigned it.

In the summer of 1549 he acted as one of the visitors for the reformation of the university (Cooper, Annals of Cambridge, ii. 23–5, 97, 32; Domestic State Papers, Edward VI, vol. v. art. 13). He also at this period composed an expostulation addressed to the rebels who had taken up arms in most of the counties in England. In October 1549 he was one of the thirty-two commissioners appointed to examine the old ecclesiastical law books, and was with seven divines selected to draw thence a body of laws for the government of the church. His name again occurs among the divines in a new commission for the same purpose, issued on 10 Feb. 1551–2, so that there can be little doubt that prior to the date of the first commission he had taken orders (Styrpe, Cleke, pp. 43, 44; Literary Remains of Edward VI, ed. Nichols, ii. 3981. The new ecclesiastical laws drawn up by the commissioners were translated into elegant Latin by Cheke and Dr. Walter Haddon.

Cheke returned to court in the winter of 1549, and met there with great uneasiness on account of some offence given by his wife to Anne, duchess of Somerset, whose dependent she was. He himself was with others charged with having suggested bad counsels to the Duke of Somerset, and with having afterwards betrayed him. But he continued to enjoy the royal favour, and became the great patron of religious and learned men, both English and foreign. Ridley, bishop of London knowing Cheke's zeal for the reformation, styled him ‘one of Christ's special advocates, and one of his principal proctors.’ He was examined as a witness against Bishop Bonner in 1549, and against Bishop Gardiner in 1550. In or before the latter year he was constituted one of the gentlemen of the privy chamber, and he continued to act as tutor to the king, over whom he exercised great influence. His favour and patronage were eagerly sought by the courtiers, and the king's ambassador in Germany used to write to him privately every week, as well as to the privy council. In 1551 he gave great offence to his former admirer, Ridley, because he failed to procure for that prelate the disposal of the prebend of Cantrells, which had been appropriated by the king towards the maintenance of the royal stables (Coverdale, Godly Letters of Saintes and Martyrs, p. 683).

On 11 Oct. 1552 Cheke received the honour of knighthood (Holland, Heroωlogia, p. 53; Literary Remains of Edward VI, ii. 352). To enable him to support his rank, the king made him a grant of the manor of Stoke, near Clare, Suffolk, and other property at Spalding and Sandon. Soon afterwards he took a leading part in two disputations respecting the sacrament of the altar, with Feckenham, Young, and Watson. The first of these was held at the house of Secretary Cecil on 25 Nov., and the second at the house of Sir Richard Morysin on 3 Dec.

In May 1552 he had an alarming attack of illness. In a valedictory letter to Edward VI, written from what he believed to be his death-bed, he exhorted the king to listen to faithful advisers, and, after thanking him for various favours, concluded with a supplication on behalf of the late provost of King's College, Mr. George Day, bishop of Chichester, who was then in the custody of Bishop Goodrich, and for whose services as his tutor Cheke had never been able to show his gratitude. When the physicians despaired of his recovery, the king said to them, ‘No, he will not die at this time, for this morning I begged his life from God in my prayers, and obtained it.’ Contrary to all expectation, Cheke recovered before long, and was quite well again in August. At the commencement at Cambridge this year he held a public disputation with Christopher Carlile [q. v.] on the subject of Christ’s descent into hell. He was on 25 Aug. appointed for life one of the chamberlains of the exchequer (Domestic State Papers, Edward VI, vol. xiv. art. 67). He was also clerk of the council, and on 2 June 1563 was appointed one of the secretaries of state, and sworn of the privy council.

His zeal for the protestant religion induced him to concur, on the death of Edward VI, in the settlement of the crown on the Lady Jane Grey, and he acted as secretary of state during her brief reign. Immediately after Queen Mary's accession he was committed to the Tower on an accusation of treason, 27 July 1653. He was discharged from custody on 13 Sept. 1554, and about the same time obtained a pardon and the royal license to travel abroad. After residing for some time at Basle he went to Italy, and at Padua he met Home of his countrymen, to whom he read and interpreted some of the orations of Demosthenes. Subsequently he settled at Strasburg, where he read a Greek lecture for his subsistence.

At the beginning of 1566 he resolved to go to Brussels, where his wife was, chiefly in conseqiience of a treacherous invitation from Lord Paget and Sir John Mason. As, however, he was a firm believer in astrology, he first consulted the stars to ascertain whether he might safely undertake the journey, and fell into a fatal snare on his return between Brussels and Antwerp, for, by order of Philip II, he and Sir Peter Carew [q.v.], with whom he was travelling, were suddenly seized by the provost-marshal on 15 May, unhorsed, blindfolded, bound, thrown into a wagon, conveyed to the nearest harbour, put on board a ship, under hatches, and brought to the Tower of London, where they were placed in close confinement. The alleged ground of his committal was, that having obtained license to travel, he had not returned to England by the time specified in his license. In the Tower he was visited by two of the queen's chaplains, who tried in vain to induce him to alter his religious opinions. The desire of gaining over so eminent a man caused the queen to send to him Dr. Feckenham, dean of St. Paul's, a divine of moderate and obliging temper. Cheke had been acquainted with him in the late king's reign, and had tried to convert him to protestantism when he was a prisoner in the Tower. Cheke's courage began to fail at the prospect of the stake, and he was at his own request carried before Cardinal Pole, who gravely advised him to return to the unity of the church. Cheke dared hold out no longer, and Feckenham had the credit of effecting his conversion. He made in writing a profession of his belief in the real presence, and sent the paper by the dean of St. Paul's to the cardinal, with a letter dated from the Tower on 15 July, praying that he might be spared the shame of making an open recantation. This request being refused, he addressed to the queen on the same day a letter in which he oeclared his readiness to obey all laws and orders concerning religion (Lansd. MS. 3, art. 54; Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep. 239 bis, V. 309). After this, in order to declare his repentance for his rejection of the pope, he made a formal submission before the cardinal, as the pope's legate, and after being absolved he was received back into the Roman church. He was kept in prison for upwards of two months before he was allowed to make his public recantation. This was done on 4 Oct. in the most public manner before the queen, and for the sake of greater formality the reading of the palinode was preceded by an oration addressed to her majesty by Feckenham. Cheke was also obliged to read a longer form of recantation in presence of the whole court, and to promise to perform whatever penances might be enjoined upon him by the legate (Petyt MS. xlvii. 390, 391). After having submitted to all these humiliations he was released from the Tower, and regained his lands, which, however, he was forced to exchange with the queen for others.

Pining away with shame and regret for his abjuration of protestantism, he died on 13 Sept. 1557 in Wood Street, London, in the house of his friend Peter Osborne, remembrancer of the exchequer (Cooper, Athenæ Cantab, ii. 125). He was buried on the 16th in the north chapel of the chancel of St. Alban's, Wood Street, where a monument was erected to his memory with a Latin inscription composed by Dr. Walter Haddon.

He left three sons. John and Edward, the two youngest, died without issue; Henry, the eldest, is noticed in a separate article. Cheke's widow married Henry Mc Williams, esq., whom she survived many years, not dying till 30 Nov. 1616.

Cheke was unquestionably one of the most learned men of his age. He was a felicitous translator and a judicious imitator of the ancient classical authors. The success of his reform of the pronunciation of the Greek language has been already noticed, but he failed in his attempt to introduce a phonetic method of spelling English. He is described as beneficent, charitable, and communicative. It has been said that he was a libertine, but there seems to be no ground for the imputation.

Cheke was the author of the following: 1. 'D. Joannis Chrysostomi homiliæ dusæ, Gr. et Lat. nunc primum in lucem editæ et ad sereniss. Angliæ regem Latine factæ,' London, 1543, 1552, 1653, 8vo. An English translation of one of these homilies and of a discourse upon Job and Abraham, by Sir Thomas Chaloner the elder [q, v.], was published at London, 1544, 8vo. 2. 'D. Johannis Chrysostomi de providentia Dei ac de Fato Orationes sex,' London, 1 545, 8vo. A translation from the Greek. 3. 'The Hurt of Sedition, how grievous it is to a Commonwealth,' London, 1549, 1569, 1576, 8vo. Reprinted, with a short, life of the author by Dr. Gerard Langbaine, Oxford, 1641 , 4to. This work is also reprinted in Holinshed's 'Chronicle.' 4. 'Preface to the New Testament in Englishe after the Greeke translation, annexed with the translation of Erasmus in Latin,' London, 1550, 8vo. 5. A Latin translation of the English Communion Book, made for the use of Martin Bucer, and printed in his 'Opuscula Anglicana.' 6. 'De obitu doctissimi et sanctissimi theologi Domini Martini Buceri epistolae duæ,' London, 1551, 4to, and in Bucer's 'Scripta Anglicana.' 7. 'Epitaphium in Anton. Denneium clarissimum virum,' London, 1551, 4to. Reprinted in Strype's 'Life of Cheke.' 8. 'Defensio verae et catholicæ doctrinæ de sacramento corporis et sanguinis Christi,* London, 1553; Embden, 1557, 8vo. A translation into Latin from Archbishop Cranmer. It is reprinted in Cox's edition of Cranmer's Works. 9. 'Leo de Apparatu Bellico,' Basle, 1554, 8vo, dedicated to Henry VIII. A translation from the Greek into Latin of a work by the Emperor Leo V. 1 0. 'De pronuntiatione Graecæ potissimum linguæ Disputationes cum Stephano Wintoniensi episcopo, septem contrariis epistolis comprehensæ, magna quadam et elegantia et eruditione refertæ,' Basle, 1555, 8vo. 11. 'The Gospel according to St. Matthew, and part of the first chapter of the Gospel according to St. Mark, translated into English from the Greek, with original notes,' London, 1843, 8vo. Prefixed is an introductory account of the nature and object of the translation, by James Goodwin, B.D., fellow and tutor of Corpus Christi Colleges Cambridge. The translation is written in Cheke's reformed style of spellings, another specimen of which is printed in Strype's 'Life of Cheke,' ed. 1821, p. 99 n. 12. 'De Superstitione ad regem Henricum,' manuscript in the library of University College, Oxford. An English translation by William Elstob is appended to Strype's 'Life of Cheke.' 13. 'De fide justificante.' 14. 'De Eucharist iae Sacramento.' See Strype's 'Life of Cheke,' p. 70 seq. 15. 'In quosdam psalmos.' 16. 'In psalmum "Domine probasti."' 17. 'De aqua lustrali, cineribus, et palmis. Ad episcopum Wintoniensem.' 18. 'De Ecclesia; an potest errare?' 19. 'An licet nubere post divortium ?' 20. 'De nativitate principis.' It is uncertain whether this is a panegyric on the birth of Prince Edward or a calculation of his nativity. 21. 'Litroductio Grammaticae.' 22. 'De Iudimagistrorum officio.' 23. Translation from Greek into Latin of five books of Josephus's Antiquities. 24. 'S. Maximi Monachi Liber asceticus per interrogationem et responsionem de vita pie instituenda dialogi forma compositus Græce. Quem etiam Latine reddidit et R. Henrico VIII. inscripsit Johannes Checus,' Royal MS. 16 C. ix. in British Museum. 25. Plutarch of Superstition, translated into Latin. 26. Three of Demosthenes' Philippics, his three Olynthiacs, and his Oration against Leptines, translated into Latin. 27. The Orations of Demosthenes and Æschines on the two opposite sides, translated into Latin. 28. Aristotle 'De Anima,' translated into Latin. 29. Literal Latin translations of Sophocles and Euripides. 30. 'De veritate corporis et sanguinis Domini in eucharistia ex patribus,' manuscript in the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. 32. 'Statuta Collegii de Stoke juxta Clare, scripta anglice a Mattheo Parker et latine versa per Joannem Cheke.' 33. 'Tractatus de Ecclesia,' Harleian MS. 418, f. 179. 34. Summary of his grounds of belief concerning the Eucharist, Lansdowne MS. 3, art. 54. Many of the above works are lost. On the other hand, it is supposed that Cheke was the author of several publications which cannot now be identified as his. He was not, however, the author of a poetical work printed under his name at London in 1610 under the title of 'A Royall Elegie. Briefly describing the Vertuous Reigne, and happy (though immature) Death of King Edward the Sixth.' The real author was William Baldwin (fl, 1547) [q. v.], and the poem first appeared in 1560, with his name on the title-page (Nichols, Memoir of Edward VI, p. ccxlii). Cheke made corrections of Herodotus, Thucydides, Plato, Xenophon, and other authors, and has verses in the collection on the death of Bueer and prefixed to Seton's 'Dialectica.' He obtained the manuscript collections of John Leland, the antiquary, intending to place them in the royal library, but by reason of his misfortunes, or from some other accident, they were never deposited there.

There are engravings of the portrait of Cheke in Holland's 'Heroωlogia,' and by Joseph Nutting, and James Fittler, A.R.A. The latter is after a drawing from an original picture at Ombersley Court, Worcestershire.

[Life by John Strype, London, 1705, and Oxford, 1821; Life by Gerard Langbaine; Addit. MS. 5866 f. 200 6, 19400 f. 103, 26672 f. 46; Typogr. Antiq. (Herbert); Ascham’s Scholemaster, ed. Mayor (1863). pp. 211, 286; Ashmole's Berkshire, iii. 318; Baker's Hist. of St. John's (Mayor); Baker's Reflections on Learning (1738), p. 33; Barksdale's Memorials, i. 24; Biog. Brit. (Kippis); Birch MS. 4292, art. 119; Bromley's Cat. of Engraved Portraits, p. 29; Cole's Hist. of King’s Coll. Camb. ii. 60; Cooper’s Annals of Camb. i. 401-3, ii. 136. v. 267; Cooper's Athenæ Cantab. i. 166, 649; Ellis's Letters, 2nd ser. i. 196; Ellis's Lit. Letters, pp. 8, 19; Elyot's Governour (Croft), ii. 41 n.; Foxe's Acts and Mon.; Fuller's Church Hist. (Brewer), iv. 232-6; Gough’s General Index; Haddoni Epistolm, p. 162; Haddon’s Poemata, p. 99; Halhwell's Letters on Scientific Subjects, p. 6; Harington’s Nugæ Antiques, ii. 258, iii. 9-69; Harwood's Alumni Eton. p. 39; Hist. MSS. Comm., 2nd Rep. 165. 156, 3rd Rep. 195. 6th Rep. 308. 300; Knight’s Erasmus, p. 296; Lansdowne MSS. 980 art. 163, 1238 art. 19; Leland's Collectanea, v. 148; Lewis's Hist. of Translations of the Bible, p. 184; Machyns Diary, pp. 10, as, 161, 322, 369; Peck's Desiderata Curiosa, i. 7; Rymer's Fœdera, (1713), xv. 178, 260; Calendar of State Papers (Dom. 1647-80), pp. 8, 11, 14, 36, 43; Strype's Works (Gen. Index); Tanner's Bibl. Brit. p. 173; Wood’s Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), i. 241.]

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