MATTHEW, Tobie (1577-1665), of Durham House, The Strand, Westminster

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



25 Mar. 1604 - 14 Feb. 1610

Family and Education

b. 3 Oct. 1577,1 1st s. of Tobie Matthew, abp. of York 1606-28, and Frances, da. of William Barlow, bp. of Chichester 1559-68, wid. of Matthew Parker of Bexley, Kent.2 educ. Eton 1588-9;3 Christ Church, Oxf. 1590, BA 1594, MA 1597;4 travelled abroad (France) 1598;5 G. Inn 1599.6 unm. Ordained 1614;7 kntd. 10 Oct. 1623;8 suc. fa. 1628.9 d. 13 Oct. 1655.10

Offices Held

Freeman, St. Albans, Herts. 1604.11

Member, Fishery Soc. 1633, Westminster Soap Co. 1636.12

Servant to Queen Henrietta Maria 1640.13


Matthew was born into the new clerical caste created by the Elizabethan settlement. His father was a renowned and zealous preacher, and his mother, who wished to be remembered as daughter, daughter-in-law, wife, and sister-in-law to seven prelates, was also ‘fervent towards the puritanical, sole scripture way’.14 From an early age Matthew, though a brilliant student, was afflicted by spells of depression, insomnia, and generally poor health, exacerbated by pressure to live up to his parents’ high expectations. His father, who was promoted to the see of Durham in 1595, repeatedly castigated him for running up unreasonable debts, and refused to accept that his ‘hypocritical dissimulations’ of illness had any genuine medical basis, although he was probably suffering from epilepsy. Matthew’s friend Dudley Carleton* sympathetically observed during one severe bout that while his ‘desperate sickness was allayed by physic, his mind is broken with inward vexations’, squarely blaming the bishop for ‘laying on his son a burden he cannot bear, to drive him to despair’.15 As an actor in a ‘device’ composed by Sir Francis Bacon* and performed at Court in 1595, Matthew found a lifelong friend and mentor, who always regarded him as ‘to me another myself’.16 Bacon sent Matthew to Edinburgh in March 1603 with letters to King James, commending the messenger as a ‘worthy and rare young gentleman’.17 A year later, Matthew received a generous grant of property in Wales and Westminster, and the gatehouse of Durham House was made over to him on a Crown lease by Carleton.18

Matthew’s return to Parliament for St. Albans in March 1604 was arranged by Bacon who, though the borough’s first choice, plumped for Ipswich instead. He proved helpful to Bacon in the preparation of at least one report, although the subject it concerned is now unknown.19 Matthew was appointed to three delegations, two of which were to attend the king about the controversial Buckinghamshire election (24 Mar. and 12 Apr. 1604), while the third was to help manage a conference with the Lords on the Union with Scotland (14 April).20 However, he privately complained to his friend John Donne* that the issues they concerned, together with the privilege case of Sir Thomas Shirley I, were ‘the impediments of all other worthy matters’.21 Matthew’s committee appointments were naturally weighted towards ecclesiastical matters, and included bills on tithes in London (10 May), clerical marriage (11 May), and the regulation of ecclesiastical courts (16 June).22 Matthew was also appointed to consider bills of specific interest to the see of Durham, one confirming the Berwick charter (16 May) and the other granting former episcopal property to the Scottish favourite Sir George Home (30 May).23 In the third reading debate on the latter (4 June) Matthew’s comments elicited from Sir Herbert Croft the reproof that ‘men speaking for the bill should not spend time in seconding one another’.24 Matthew’s episcopal connections, rather than his attitude towards the Union, presumably account for his appointment to prepare for a conference with the Lords concerning Bishop Thornborough’s attack on the Commons for their lack of enthusiasm towards James’s plans (1 June).25 He was twice named to committees for sumptuary bills (11 Apr. and 2 June), and contributed to the largely unrecorded debate when the second of these measures reached its third reading on 23 June.26

In his letter to Donne, Matthew concluded that ‘the House is strong in puritans, the weaker for that strength’, and towards the end of the session he ‘determined to put a purpose in execution, which I had entertained long, of seeing and spending some years in Italy’. He accordingly secured a licence to travel for three years on 3 July. Despite his parents’ grave misgivings, he obtained their consent to his spending a few months in France ‘till the Parliament ... should be recontinued’.27 He returned early in 1605, but set out again in May, and went straight to Florence, where he applied himself to satisfy his ‘insatiable desire of the perfection of the Italian tongue’, even to the extent of living for a while under an assumed name and in ‘a retired lodging’ to avoid all English company.28 Such behaviour inevitably gave rise to suspicion about his religion; nevertheless in August he assured his father that he would come back ‘as good a subject, as obedient a son, as entire in religion, and more reformed in manners than when I went out of England’.29 He received news of the Gunpowder Plot via Bacon, and made no attempt to return in time for the delayed opening of the second session of the Parliament, although no leave of absence had been granted.

Matthew’s autobiographical account of his conversion is a classic of its kind.30 His abjuration of Anglicanism does not survive, but probably occurred about May 1606, after a visit to the veteran pro-Spanish intriguer Robert Persons in Rome and the study of patristic theology in Florence.31 A few weeks previously his father had been promoted to the northern primacy, and perhaps in an attempt to draw him back to the fold, ‘the profits and the guidance’ of the chancellorship of York diocese were ‘settled in trust’ for Matthew’s use, though he was never formally appointed to this office.32 Returning to England in the summer of 1607, he first confided the secret of his conversion to Bacon, and then made a clean breast to Archbishop Bancroft, who ‘looked as kindly upon me as that face could tell how to do’, and called in the ex-Jesuit Sir Christopher Parkins*.33 Matthew nevertheless remained unshaken in his new religion. Obstinately refusing the new Oath of Allegiance, he was committed to the Fleet a few days before the prorogation of the third session, and visited by such leading Members of Parliament as Sir Maurice Berkeley, Sir Edwin Sandys, and Richard Martin.34 He was given leave to visit Bacon, passing the time with him ‘in much gust, for there was not such company in the whole world’.35 Matthew’s father appealed to Salisbury for leniency towards his son ‘though I might wish he had never been born’, and eventually disinherited him.36 In February 1608 Matthew was committed to house arrest under the care of Edward Jones*, while Sir Henry Goodere* consented to act in a secret trust of his real estate, the Privy Council having allowed him six weeks ‘to set his affairs in order and depart the realm’.37 He sold his interest in Durham House to lord treasurer Salisbury (Robert Cecil†) for £1,200, and left the country with not less than £6,000 in liquid assets.38 ‘My hands have always been full of money’, he was able to write many years later with satisfaction.39 In preparation for the fourth session of the Parliament, the Privy Council, on 6 Sept. 1609, ordered a writ to be issued for the election of a new Member at St. Albans ‘in place of Tobie Matthew, commanded out of the realm’. When the Commons met again, the privileges committee agreed that Matthew should be removed from the House, though its members disliked the form of the writ. With the issue of a replacement writ, Matthew’s parliamentary career thus came to an end.40

Matthew spent the next seven years in perpetual motion on the Continent, punctuated by unsuccessful appeals for permission to return home.41 A dangerous friend to English travellers, he vainly tried to convert Sir Thomas Puckering*,42 charged Lord Ros 15 per cent interest on a loan of £1,000,43 and helped to consign Ros’s tutor John Mole to lifelong imprisonment by the Inquisition.44 On the other hand, he was of material assistance to the 21st (14th) earl of Arundel in building up the finest private art collection in the country.45 On 20 May 1614 he was secretly ordained in Rome by Cardinal Bellarmine, by papal dispensation.46 His priesthood was widely suspected but sedulously concealed, even from the adherents of his own religion, and his subsequent admission to the Society of Jesus has been disputed.47

In 1617 Matthew returned to England at the behest (among others) of the new royal favourite George Villiers, whom he had met in Paris.48 John Chamberlain reported that Matthew, although officially residing at York House ‘under some restraint’, in fact lodged mostly with Bacon, and was ‘noted for certain night-walks to the Spanish ambassador’.49 Gondomar’s imperious character fascinated Matthew, who adopted him as a father figure. However, Gondomar’s protection was insufficient to prevent a second banishment at the end of 1618 ‘as a dangerous man for our collapsed ladies’ following the recruitment of the countess of Exeter into the Roman church.50

Matthew now assumed the character of spiritual director to an English nun in Brussels,51 and in 1620 published what became the standard translation of the Confessions of St. Augustine.52 Bacon’s disgrace in 1621 on charges of corruption, in which Matthew himself was implicated, obliged him to seek new patrons, although their friendship remained unshaken.53 He therefore turned to Sir John Digby*, James’s long-serving ambassador to Spain, who arranged his return to England at the end of December. He subsequently assisted in the transfer of York House, the archbishop’s London residence, to Villiers, now marquess of Buckingham,54 and brought a successful action against the uncle of Lord Ros, (Sir) Richard Cecil*, for the principal of his earlier loan to Ros.55 In August 1622 he gave intelligence to the government of the proposal for the Vatican ‘to erect some titulary bishops for England’, and in May 1623 was sent to Spain together with his bosom-friend George Gage ‘to remove all rubs’ in the marriage negotiations between Prince Charles and the Infanta. Despite the disastrous outcome of the Spanish Match, Matthew’s services were rewarded with a knighthood.56

In the Parliament of 1624 Archbishop Matthew was listed among those officeholders with Catholic relatives (27 April).57 This happened again in the second Caroline Parliament, whereupon a select committee was set up (2 Mar. 1626) to consider how to proceed against the archbishop’s son, as well as against Gage ‘and all such others as the committee shall think dangerous persons to the state’.58 A week later the Commons also considered the scandal of Matthew’s continued enjoyment of an income from York diocese, but were unable to find a means of ending it, since the nominal chancellor pleaded privilege as a member of Convocation and refused to give evidence.59

Matthew remained at Court until the eve of the Civil War. His pro-Spanish leanings recommended him to Sir Thomas Wentworth* and helped to balance the growing power of the French faction around Queen Henrietta Maria. In 1633 he invested £100 in the Fishery Society, and in 1636 put £1,000 into the Catholic-dominated Westminster Soap Company.60 After assisting Wentworth in Ireland, he was arrested in 1640 for complicity in the Habernfeld Plot.61 On his release, he fled to the Continent. He devoted much of this last exile to his studies, especially the translation of ‘all the works of my glorious mother St. Teresa’.62 In 1649 he acted for a time to assure communications between Charles II at Spa and Sir Edward Hyde†, the future 1st earl of Clarendon, in Spain.63 Matthew drafted his will on 12 Oct. 1647, bequeathing his manuscripts to his fellow convert Walter Montagu, and died at Ghent on 13 Oct. 1655.64 No later member of the family entered Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Alan Davidson / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. A.H. Mathew and A. Calthrop, The Life of Sir Tobie Matthew: Bacon’s Alter Ego, 3.
  • 2. Ibid. 365.
  • 3. Eton Coll. Reg. comp. W. Sterry, 227.
  • 4. Al. Ox.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 54.
  • 6. GI Admiss.
  • 7. Mathew and Calthrop, 70, 123.
  • 8. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 183.
  • 9. Mathew and Calthrop, 283.
  • 10. Ibid. 123, 365.
  • 11. A.E. Gibbs, Corp. Recs. St. Albans, 56.
  • 12. SP16/231/15, 16; J.P. Feil, ‘Sir Tobie Matthew and his Collection of Letters’ (Chicago Ph.D. thesis, 1962), p. 209.
  • 13. Feil, 245.
  • 14. Conversion of Sir Tobie Matthew ed. Mathew, 131; W.J. Shiels, ‘An Archbishop in the Pulpit: Tobie Matthew’s Preaching Diary, 1606-22’, in Life and Thought in the Northern Church ed. D. Wood, 381-405.
  • 15. Conversion, 9, 25; CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 168.
  • 16. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon ed. J. Spedding, vii. 423.
  • 17. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 192; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iii. 61.
  • 18. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 207; Feil, 34, 56-7; HMC 5th Rep. 407.
  • 19. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iii. 215-16.
  • 20. CJ, i. 157a, 169b, 172a.
  • 21. Coll. Letters Made by Sir Tobie Mathews (1660), p. 292.
  • 22. CJ, i. 205a, 206b, 240b.
  • 23. Ibid. 212a, 228b.
  • 24. Ibid. 985a.
  • 25. Ibid. 230a.
  • 26. Ibid. 245a.
  • 27. Coll. Letters, 293; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 128, Conversion, 1-5.
  • 28. Lansd. 89, f. 207; Conversion, 15, 34; CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 164, 195.
  • 29. Mathew and Calthrop, 53.
  • 30. ‘A True Hist. Relation of the Conversion of Sir Tobie Matthew’, P. O’Maidin, Jnl. Cork Hist. and Arch. Soc. lxx. 71.
  • 31. Feil, 24; Conversion, 37, 54, 58, 60.
  • 32. SP14/181/12; Feil, 167; CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 438; Procs. 1626, ii. 238-9.
  • 33. Conversion, 64, 70.
  • 34. Ibid. 83, 85; HMC Hatfield, xix. 192, 205, 233, 446.
  • 35. Conversion, 111-13.
  • 36. HMC Hatfield, xx. 46.
  • 37. Chamberlain Letters, i. 255; R.C. Bald, John Donne, 294.
  • 38. HMC Hatfield, xx. 79; Feil, 172.
  • 39. Conversion, 136.
  • 40. CJ, i. 392b.
  • 41. CSP Dom. 1611-18, pp. 24, 393.
  • 42. Feil, 69-72.
  • 43. C2/Jas.I/M15/37.
  • 44. E. Chaney, Grand Tour and the Great Rebellion, 266.
  • 45. D. Howarth, Lord Arundel and His Circle, 66.
  • 46. Mathew and Calthrop, 123.
  • 47. Add. 48119, ff. 3-4; H. Foley, Jesuit Recs. i. 551.
  • 48. Fortescue Pprs. ed. S.R. Gardiner (Cam. Soc. n.s. i), 15-16.
  • 49. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 27, 74, 88, 94, 104; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 477; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iv. 327.
  • 50. Feil, 121; APC, 1617-19, p. 321; T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Jas. I, ii. 114.
  • 51. Life of Lady Lucy Knatchbull ed. D. Knowles, pp. xxii-xxiii, 48.
  • 52. Confessions of the incomparable doctour S. Augustine, STC 910.
  • 53. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, vii. 254, 256.
  • 54. CSP Dom. 1619-23, pp. 326-7; Feil, 166.
  • 55. C2/Jas.I/M15/3; C78/281/4.
  • 56. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 382, 495, 517; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, vii. 378; Harl. 1580, f. 184; Cabala sive Scrinia Sacra, 267.
  • 57. CJ, i. 776a.
  • 58. Procs. 1626, ii. 176.
  • 59. Ibid. 238-9.
  • 60. SP16/231/15, 16; Feil, 209.
  • 61. Historical Collections ed. J. Rushworth, iii. 1321-6; Works of Abp. Laud ed. J. Bliss, iv. 499.
  • 62. A.G. Petti, ‘Unknown Sonnets by Sir Tobie Matthew’, Recusant Hist. ix. 123-58; C. Hibbard, Chas. I and the Popish Plot, 36, 147, 150, 160.
  • 63. Feil, 250-1.
  • 64. Mathew and Calthrop, 333, 337-41.