Parker, Matthew an eminent English prelate, noted especially for his connection with the Nag's-Head Consecration, is so closely related to the history of his own times that the period of his activity is regarded as a chapter in Church history, or, as some have it, "archbishop Parker's history is that of the Church of England." He was born at Norwich Aug. 6, 1504, and was educated at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. While at the university he was a distinguished student, especially of the Scriptures and of the history of the Church, even to antiquarian minuteness; yet, in spite of his strong leaning to the past, he was from an early period favorably disposed towards the doctrines of the Reformation. He was first created Bible-clerk, or scholar, and afterwards fellow of his college. He was so conspicuous for learning that he was among other eminent scholars invited by cardinal Wolsey to Oxford, to furnish and adorn his new magnificent foundation. This invitation Parker did not choose to accept; but, residing in his own college, he pursued his studies with the greatest application for five-or six years; and, in this period having read over the fathers and councils, acquired a thorough knowledge of divinity. He was ordained a priest in 1527, and lived in close intimacy with some of the more ardent Reformers. In 1533 he was appointed chaplain to queen Anne Boleyn, who though it very highly of him, and not long before her death exhorted her daughter Elizabeth to avail herself of Parker's wise and pious counsel. In 1535 he obtained the deanery of the monastic college of Stoke-Clare in Suffolk — Roman Catholicism, it must not be forgotten, being still the professed religion of the land, as Henry had not yet formally broken with the pope. Here the studious clerk continued his pursuit of classical and ecclesiastical literature, and at the same time set himself to correct the prevailing decay of morals and learning in the Church by founding a school in the locality for the purpose of instructing the youth in the study of grammar and humanity. Here, too, he appears for the first time to have definitely sided with the reforming party in the Church and State; the sermons which he then preached contain bold attacks on various Romish tenets and practices. In 1537, after the queen's death, Parker was made one of the king's chaplains, and continued in the bold and uncompromising course notwithstanding that complaint was entered against him to lord-chancellor Audley. In 1538 Parker took the doctorate in divinity; in l541 he was installed prebend in the cathedral of Ely; in 1542 he was presented with the rectorate of Ashen, in Essex, conveniently situated both for Cambridge and Stoke; and when, in 1544, he resigned this living, he was presented with the rectorate of Birmingham, in Norfolk. In this year he also received further expression of royal favor by being made master of Corpus Christi, or Benet College, his alma mater at Cambridge. In the year following his college elevated him to the vice-chancellorship, and presented him with the rectory of Landbeach, in Cambridgeshire. In 1547 he renounced the obligations of priestly celibacy and married a daughter of a Norfolk gentleman. As this step caused much agitation, he drew up his defense, entitled De Conjugio Sacerdotum. By Edward VI he was nominated to the deanery of Lincoln in 1552; and under this prince, as under king Henry, he lived in greet reputation and affluence. But in queen Mary's reign he was deprived of all his preferments, because he was married, as it was pretended; but the real cause was his zeal for the Reformation. Parker was so disliked by the papists that he was even obliged to hide himself, though it does not appear that the Romish emissaries cared to find him in his concealment. His low circumstances he endured with a cheerful and contented mind; and during his retirement turned the book of Psalms into English verse, and rewrote and considerably. enlarged his De Conjugio Sacerdotum.
The death of Mary and the accession of Elizabeth called Parker from his learned retirement. Sir Nicholas Bacon, now lord-keeper of the great, seal, and Sir William Cecil, secretary of state, both old Cambridge friends, heartily recommended Parker for the archbishopric of Canterbury, and the queen, approving of their choice, caused his consecration in Lambeth chapel, Dec. 17, 1559, by Barlow, bishop, of Chichester; Scory, bishop of Hereford; Coverdale, bishop of Exeter; and Hodgkin, suffragan-bishop of Bedford. We mention this circumstance so minutely because the Romanists invented a tale afterwards that he had been consecrated at the Nag's-Head inn or tavern in Cheapside. But this notorious and improbable falsehood has been fully confuted by Mason (Vindication of the Church of England concerning the Consecration and Ordination of Bishops [1633, fol.]), by Bramhall (Consecration of Protestant Bishops Vindicated), and by Courayer (Defence of the Validity of English Ordinations [1728, 3 vols. 8vo]), and withal is disproved by many Catholics. so that to believe it nowadays requires more than even popish credulity. The period now opening up is one of the most remarkable in English history. Parker held the archbishopric for more than fifteen years. These were years of changes in the State and in the Church. First of all there was the restoration of the Church Establishment to the condition which it had enjoyed previous to the accession of bloody Mary (q.v.). And this of itself was no easy matter in the unsettled state of ecclesiastical affairs. The hierarchy was dissolved, and the current of religious opinions directed into strange and untravelled channels. A strong spirit of dissension had developed within the very heart of the establishment — the germs of Puritanism had begun to spring up. There can be no doubt that all this was attributable to the caprices of the new monarch herself. She has pledged herself to a restoration of Protestant principles, and yet was so much addicted to various popish practices, such as the idolatrous use of images and was so strongly, we might say violently, in favor of the celibacy of the English clergy, that several parties developed within the Church, some favoring her, others opposing her; some approving her notions, others insisting upon a less or a more decided radical departure. Possibly all the factions, might by wise and considerate action have been harmonized. But then came the great difficulty of satisfying also those who, having been abroad while the papists controlled, now, on their return home, desired the adoption of the Swiss or Continental doctrines and practices in toto. Parker himself, being rather of a conservative turn of mind, had been chosen for the archbishopric, just as the primates of England are generally chosen for their willingness to be passive instruments of the government. The dignity of their office has, in their judgment, culminated in obedience to the policy and the passions of the sovereign. Cranmer's chief work had been to celebrate and then to undo royal marriages, to carry out the law of the six articles, to publish the Bible when it pleased the king that his subjects should read it, and to recall that book when the king found that its circulation was becoming dangerous to his pretensions. Parker's office was to carry into execution the law which made it criminal not to conform to the Prayer-book, and high- treason itself to refuse to take the- oath of spiritual supremacy. Parker assumed this task, and endeavored to carry it out to the letter. He had never seen Protestantism under any other form than that which it wore in Edward's reign. He had no thought of reconstructing a Church upon some alleged reference to Scripture merely. Imbued with a deep veneration for antiquity, he simply desired the elimination from the English religious system of what recent inquiry had detected as undeniable blemishes. Puritans and Lutherans must stand aside, the establishment must be preserved at all hazards, and everything that savored of a mutinous individualism incompatible with a hierarchical organization, must be rigorously repressed. This very attitude forced him into intolerant and inquisitorial courses, the result of which was most damaging to the interests of English Protestantism. The Church was divided into factions, a reign of terror and persecution was inaugurated that constituted the germs of the revolution which at one time threatened to destroy the very life of the English nation.
Archbishop Parker has been, however, too severely criticized, or at least misunderstood, by the Puritans and English dissenters generally, for it must be considered that he was driven, rather by the attitude of the queen than by his own choice, into severe measures; and yet it should be borne in mind, too, by his apologists that as he grew older he became harsher, the conservative spirit increasing with his years. To forbid "prophesyings" or meetings for religious discourse was something very like persecution, though probably something very like treason to the Church was talked in these pious conventicles. The archbishop, we must remember, was not alone responsible for the severe treatment of the innovators, as those were called who dared to dissent from the Act of Uniformity. In 1565 the queen ordered the primate and other English bishops to see that uniformity was maintained in the Church of her realm. For several years the measures adopted were of so mild a nature that the dissenters maintained a passive relation; but in 1572, made bold by the encouragement of the earl of Leicester. the Puritans put forward a sarcastic Admonition to Parliament, in which, among denunciations of the Prayer-book and the hierarchy, they proceeded to recommend the institution of a new Church, whose "holy discipline" should copy the Presbyterian models then exhibited in Scotland and Geneva. Thus a favorable termination of the contest was made almost impossible. This was an open defiance of the whole ecclesiastical hierarchy and of the temporal constitution of England so closely interwoven therewith. The hour seemed to have brought a most important. epoch, and the archbishop, though violent and determined, was yet wise enough to comprehend the situation. Severity was most unlikely to check the Diciplinarians, and hence primate Parker determined upon a literary examination of the Puritan platform. John Whitgift first prepared an answer; later, when Cartwright returned from abroad he also answered the admonition. Both these great champions of the establishment proved most valuable aids to the archbishop, but they failed to convince their adversaries. A few concessions at the beginning of the queen's reign would have satisfied such men as Fox, Coverdale, and Humphrey; but now nothing less would have been satisfactory than an unconditional surrender of ecclesiastical patronage, ecclesiastical revenues (including those of the monasteries), and inquisitorial powers. Just as the contest waged hottest, archbishop Parker was suddenly stricken with death, May 17, 1575.
Fuller (who must have his pun, however bad) says of him: "He was a Parker indeed, careful to keep the fences." But if we cautiously consider the times and the circumstances, we must pronounce him to have been a good man, generally judicious, and of considerable ability. When he was first drawn from his seclusion and studies, he seemed very sincerely and persistently to say, Nolo Episcopari, but at last he subordinated his judgment to the peremptory will of Elizabeth. Parker rejoiced that he was the first bishop who was consecrated without any of what he calls "the old idle ceremonies of the Aaronical garments, gloves, rings, sandals, slippers, mitre, and pall." Neither must his vast literary labors be forgotten. It is to Parker we owe the Bishops' Bible, undertaken at his request, carried on under his inspection, and published at his expense in 1568. He had also the principal share in drawing up the Book of Common Prayer, for which his skill in ancient liturgies peculiarly fitted him, and which strikingly bears the impress of his broad, moderate, and unsectarian intellect. It was under his presidency, too, that the Thirty-nine Articles were finally reviewed and subscribed by the clergy (1562). Among other literary performances, we may mention that Parker published an old Saxon Homily on the Sacrament, by Elfric of St. Alban's, to prove that transubstantiation was not the doctrine of the ancient English Church. "Parker's good fortune in putting thus to shame and eventual silence the idle boasts of Rome has earned him a place beside another metropolitan, the illustrious Rabanus Maurus" (q.v.). Parker also edited the histories of Matthew of Westminster and Matthew Paris (q.v.), and superintended the publication of a most valuable nwork, De Antiquitate Britannicae Ecclesiae, probably printed at Lambeth in 1572, where the archbishop, we are told, had an establishment of printers, engravers, and illuminators. He also founded the "Society of Antiquaries," and was its first president; endowed the University of Cambridge, and particularly his own college, with many fellowships and scholarships, and with a magnificent collection of MSS. relating to the civil and ecclesiastical condition of England. and belonging to nine different centuries (from the 8th to the 16th). Of this collection, Fuller said that it "was the sun of English antiquity before it was eclipsed by that of Sir Robert Cotton." There is a minute and excellent catalogue of these MS. collections in the Public Library at Cambridge which has never been printed.
Those who desire a careful but churchly estimate of archbishop Parker must consult the Life written by the indefatigable Strype (Oxf. 1711), and Hook, Lives of the Archbishops. See also Soames, Hist. of the Ref. Ch. of England, 4:579 sq.; Strype, Annals, 1:262 sq.; Burmet, Hist. of the Ref. 3:387 sq.; Soames, Elizabethan Hist. p. 15 sq., 174 sq., 201-218; Hallam, Constit. Hist. of England, 1:252 sq., et al.; Cunningham. Reformers; Neal, Hist. of the Puritans, 1:292, et al., esp. p. 299; Hardwick, Ch. Hist. (Reformation), p. 22 sq.; Middleton, Evangel. Biogr. 2:171 sq.; Skeats, Hist. of the Free Churches of England, p. 14 sq.; Butler, Eccles. Hist. 2:449 sq.; Marsden, Ch. Hist.; Collier, Eccles. Hist. 2:542-549; Palmer, Ch. Hist. 1:450; Hume, Hist. of England, 4:201 sq.; Green, Short Hist. of the English People, p. 383 sq., 464 sq.; Froude, Hist. of England (see Index in vol. xii); and especially Gibbon's estimate in his Posthumous Works, 3:566.