1414: John Neuton and the Re-Foundation of York Minster Library

Tobie Matthew and the Minster Benefaction

Rosamund Oates (Manchester Metropolitan University)

The Matthew Bequest

When Archbishop Tobie Matthew died in March 1628, almost all of his estate passed to his 'beloved' wife, Frances Matthew. Almost fifty years together had shown Matthew that he could rely 'with all confidence' on Frances to distribute his possessions as necessary. These included his book collection — with more than three thousand volumes it was one of the largest private libraries in England, valued at over £600 (1). As executor of his will, Frances gave Matthew's collection to York Minster before her own death in 1629, swelling the Minster's library ten-fold. It was the most significant bequest in the Minster's history since Neuton's collection, and turned the Minster Library into a centre of learning in the North, and one of the most important cathedral libraries in Stuart England.

The Life of Tobie Matthew

Tobie Matthew was of the first generation of Elizabethan Puritans, and he served in the Elizabethan, Jacobean and Caroline churches. Throughout his career he promoted Puritan ideals, while remaining committed to the established Church of England. Towards the end of his life, he found himself increasingly out of step with the Laudian Church.

At Oxford University, Matthew was taught by English Protestants who had fled the Marian regime and returned to find friends and colleagues executed — it was here he learned his brand of Puritanism. Matthew's lecturers included men like Laurence Humfrey who urged Elizabeth I to get rid of 'popish elements' in the English Church and embrace a more Calvinist Church, and Matthew followed their lead. He was patronised by eminent politicians, including Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester and William Cecil and his rapid rise was characterised by sermons vigorously promoting their points of view. For example, in his first sermon in front of Elizabeth I in 1572, Matthew warned her that if she did not execute Mary, Queen of Scots — Cecil's preferred policy — Elizabeth would face the wrath of God (2).

His candidness did not seriously damage his prospects — with the support of Cecil and Leicester he became President of St John's College, Oxford (1572-1577), Dean of Christ Church (1576-1584), and vice-chancellor of Oxford University (1579-1580), in addition to clerical positions in Bath and Salisbury. In 1583 he was appointed to his most significant position to date, Dean of Durham. Matthew was initially less than delighted with this move, remembering that when he moved North he was plagued by 'the night crow that ever croaked in mine ear, "for God's sake, getting us going hence, why came we hither, who but we would longer tarry here?"' (3). Matthew, however, ended up staying in Durham for over twenty years, becoming Bishop of Durham in 1595.

The diocese of Durham was a vulnerable spot in the Elizabethan kingdom. In 1569, large parts of Durham, Westmorland and Northumberland rebelled against Elizabeth I, demanding the restoration of Catholicism. Although the rebellion had been quashed, and its leaders scattered, the regime still worried about Catholics in the diocese, and the likelihood of a French, Spanish or even Scottish invasion. Here, Matthew was able to exercise his brand of Puritan-inspired Protestantism, which was falling out of favour as separatists took over the reform agenda. Like many other Protestants of his ilk — committed to Church reform, but unwilling to break away — he found a solution to his problems in vigorous anti-Catholicism. Catholics, in particular the recusants who stayed away from Church services, became the focus of Matthew's reforming zeal. Matthew also acted as a government agent in Durham, one of his unofficial roles was as a spymaster for Francis Walsingham and Robert Cecil, co-ordinating intelligence reports from Scotland.

Matthew was reliably anti-Scottish too, until it became apparent that James Stuart would succeed Elizabeth. In 1603, Matthew started a charm offensive, working unashamedly to gain James' favour, meeting him as he entered his new kingdom, travelling South with him, and championing projects close to James' heart. Matthew's work paid off, and in 1606 when Archbishop Matthew Hutton died, Matthew succeeded him to York.

Again, his reputation for anti-Catholicism and his brand of conforming Puritanism made him an ideal candidate for York. The secretary of the Council of the North wrote in favour of Matthew, recommending him as 'industrious against papists' and vigilant 'both in preaching and government' (4). During his time at York, Matthew was involved in national politics — preaching frequently at James' court and getting involved in parliamentary debates. He played a role, for example, in promoting the Anglo-Scottish Union in parliament and at court.

As the decades progressed, however, Matthew found himself increasingly sidelined by the changing tenor of religious politics under James and later Charles I. Committed to the prosecution of Catholics, he intensely disliked discussions of Catholic toleration and a foreign policy embraced Catholic powers. His Puritanism made him — like many others — increasingly frustrated with the religious policies of the Stuart Church. Matthew was silent until 1623 when he wrote a furious attack on James' religious and foreign policy, telling the King: 'I have been too long silent, and by my silence I have neglected the duty of my place'. After warning James I that he 'laboured to set up the whore of Babylon', and that he would feel 'God's hearty wrath and indignation', Matthew concluded: 'And now, Sir, do with me as you want' (5).

As a result, Matthew was further marginalised by the Stuart regime. In 1625, the Lord Chancellor urged Edward Conway to identify which of Matthew's officers were 'too eager against Catholics' and 'privately warn them of the King's wish for discreet behaviour' (6). Old age and infirmity were already ensuring that Matthew was less and less active, for by now he was in his late seventies. He stopped attending parliament — blaming the illnesses of old age, and gradually reduced his preaching tours and ministry. As he wrote in his will of 1625, he was 'weak in body by reason of my old age and the infirmities incident thereunto' (7). A year before he died, Matthew wrote and sealed a 'testament of faith' that he meant to be made public on his death. Inspired by the 'impudent course held of late by those of Rhomish persuasion', he reaffirmed his commitment to the Church of England stressing the differences between the English and Roman Churches. He also stressed his commitment to preaching, hoping 'my last breath' would be spent in the pulpit (8).

Shaped by the struggles of English Protestants against Mary I, and deeply influenced by Calvinist churches abroad, Matthew found himself increasingly at odds with the Stuart Church, yet he also found himself increasingly powerless to object. Archbishop Tobie Matthew died on 29 March 1628.

Why did the library come to York Minster?

Matthew's belief that libraries made better preachers prompted him to donate books to libraries throughout his life. He left books to Christ Church and St John's College in Oxford, to Durham Cathedral and to Bath and Wells — where he was a prebendary. Matthew also seems to have been instrumental in setting up a library in Bristol, where he originally came from. In 1613, Bristol council recorded that they had been given a building next to the town hall to turn into a library, with the expectation that books would be 'given to the city by the reverend Father in God, the Lord Archbishop of York', and in 1615, Matthew sent books to Bristol library for the 'help of preachers and ministers' in Bristol (9).

It was Frances Matthew, rather than Tobie, who gave the collection to York Minster and her actions appear to have been part of a wider attempt by Matthew's friends and colleagues to provide a working library for northern clerics (Fig. 1). Edmund Bunny — a close friend of the Matthews — gave his collection to York Minster in 1618. His will recorded that 'my books, the chief of them and such as are meetest to that purpose, I give to the library of the Church of York, if the residentiaries there shall think good so to make use of them, the others to be sold' (10). Another canon of the Minster, William Crashaw left books to 'the public library of St Peter's in York' in his will of 1621, along with a 'coffer to keep them in' (11).

Matthew's gift was so large it brought problems for Neuton's small library, designed to deal with hundreds rather than thousands of books. Here too, Matthew's friends stepped in. Four of his former colleagues on the Council of the North paid for the majority of the renovations — together they gave the library £40 for the new bookshelves necessary to house Matthew's collection. Another canon, and former colleague of Matthew, Timothy Thurscross, seems to have taken on the job of re-organising the library to accommodate the new collection, spending four hours every morning in the library. Thurscross was himself an enthusiastic reader and collector — leaving books to the Minster library and some parish libraries. About ten years after Matthew's gift, another of Matthew's friends — Ferdinando, Lord Fairfax — gave his books to the Minster library, as well (12).

Archbishop Tobie Matthew and his son, the Catholic Priest

While Matthew was committed to making books available to other readers, and supported several library projects, there was another reason he left his collection to York Minster — problems with his son, Tobie Matthew. As his will illustrates, Archbishop Matthew was determined that neither of his sons should inherit any of his — or his wife's — wealth. His instruction that he wanted no 'troubling or molesting' of Frances Matthew for more money by Tobie or John after Matthew's death illustrates the breakdown in their relations. Both Tobie and John had a history of overspending — Matthew mentions he had spent over £14,000 on Tobie, dealing with his debts. John seems to have had similar problems. Matthew attacked John's 'unthrifty course of living', asking God 'to call [him] back as to a better consideration of himself' (13). But John did not change. When Frances Matthew made her will in 1628, she left John the interest on £500 only, leaving the bulk of her estate to John's daughters with strict rules to ensure John could not get his hands on the money. By the time of Frances' death in 1629, the situation had worsened and Frances was making provision for the granddaughters to leave John and live with one of her friends (14).

Poor finances were not the worst of it. Tobie Matthew Jr. was a high-profile convert to Catholicism, and his decision seems to have broken Archbishop Matthew's heart. In 1604, Tobie Matthew Jr decided to travel to Italy and Spain but his parents, worried about Catholic influences, forbade him. Tobie agreed to stick to France, but as soon as the passport was granted and he was overseas, Tobie travelled down to Italy. Within three months of arriving in Italy, Tobie recorded that he was 'unexpectedly found out' by Archbishop Matthew, who wrote begging him 'to be constant to my Protestant religion' (15). In a book Archbishop Matthew was sent around this time about Protestant converts to Catholicism, he has, with hindsight, underlined the author's insistence that people of quality shouldn't go to Italy (Fig. 2). In a series of letters back home, Tobie Matthew Jr reassured his parents that he was not about to convert. Archbishop Matthew copied out sections from those letters in a manuscript which he headed 'letters ... testifying his constancy in religion' (16). Reading it today, it is clear that Tobie Matthew Jr was moving closer and closer to the Catholic Church, meeting with many of the leaders of the English mission, including the Jesuit Robert Persons — but Archbishop Matthew was determined not to see this. Tobie Matthew Jr was aware what kind of impact his conversion would have on his parents, writing in his autobiography: 'for me to become a Catholic was, after a sort, to take life from them who were the authors of mine' (17).

When Tobie Matthew Jr returned to England in 1607, he announced his conversion and Archbishop Matthew lined up old colleagues and polemicists to debate with his son — including George Bancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury and Alberico Gentili. Tobie Matthew Jr remained firm, and was imprisoned at the Fleet then ordered to go into exile in 1608 for refusing to take the oath of allegiance. Tobie then travelled around Europe, and was ordained as a priest in 1614 by one of the old adversaries of English Protestant polemicists, Cardinal Bellarmine. By 1622, when Tobie Matthew returned to England, he received an enthusiastic welcome at the Jacobean court, and eventually became involved in the mission of Prince Charles and Buckingham to Madrid to negotiate Charles' marriage to the infanta. This diplomacy led to a knighthood for Tobie Matthew Jr and provoked Archbishop Tobie Matthew to write his letter attacking King James' policies. 'What have you done', Archbishop Matthew wrote to King James, 'in sending the Prince into Spain without the comfort of your counsel?'. Matthew clearly did not consider his own son a suitable chaperone (18).

Tobie Matthew Jr claimed that his knighthood facilitated a rapprochement with his parents, but Archbishop Matthew continued to try and convert his son. Tobie described how on one visit to his parents' house, his father secretly gathered a 'lusty knot' of eminent clergy in 'a good large room of the house' to try and persuade Sir Tobie to reconvert to Protestantism. The ambush failed, but Archbishop and Frances Matthew continued to try and convert their son, 'though', Tobie wrote, 'they would rather do it by sighs and short wishes than long discourses' (19). Archbishop Matthew started to avoid conversation, instead pressing 'some fit book' in his son's hand, before bemoaning the effect of Tobie's conversion, 'tell[ing] me what a cross and disadvantage it was to him in all respects, that I should be of that religion which I professed'. His mother, Frances, who Tobie cattily described as 'as busy with Scripture as if it had been some glove upon her fingers' ends', told him that she prayed for him. But by Archbishop Matthew's death, the breach seems to have been complete with both his parents. While Tobie thought his father might have converted to Catholicism if he'd been younger (a claim for which there is no evidence), he was utterly dismissive of his mother and her 'Puritanical sole-scripture way', claiming she died an ungodly death 'calling for her silks and works, with other toys and trinkets' (20).

The troubles in the Matthew family — the history of debt, the conversion of Tobie, and the death of their third son Samuel in 1601 — meant that there was no clear heir for Matthew's library. In his memoir, Tobie Matthew Jr remembered that his mother promised that 'her fortune, which was no ill one, should be instantly mine' if he stayed in England and married. He did neither and so when Frances died in May 1629, she had already given the library to York Minster. She left the majority of her wealth — thousands of pounds — to her godchildren, nieces, nephews and grandchildren. Her son Tobie received a 'gold ring set with 11 diamonds that the King's Majesty that now is gave me', while John received even less (21).


(1) York, Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, Probate Register 40, fol. 195r.

(2) R. Oates, 'Puritans and the 'Monarchical Republic': Conformity and Conflict in the Elizabethan Church', English Historical Review, 527 (2012), pp. 819-843.

(3) London, British Library, MS Cotton Titus B VIII, fol. 284r.

(4) 'Cecil Papers: January 1606', Calendar of the Cecil Papers in Hatfield House, Volume 18- 1606 ed. by M. S. Giuseppi (London: HMSO, 1940), p. 21.

(5) London, British Library, MS Additional 28011, fol. 10r.

(6) Calendar of State Papers Domestic: James I, 1623-25, CLXXXIII, ed. by M.A. Everett Green (London: HMSO, 1859), p. 54.

(7) York, Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, Probate Register 40, fol. 195 r.

(8) Lincoln, Lincolnshire Archive Office, Dean and Chapter MS A/4/10/5.

(9) J. E. Newley, 'A Life of Tobias Matthew, Archbishop of York 1546-1628' (Unpublised MA thesis, University of Bristol, 1998), p. 42.

(10) Edmund Bunny's will 26 February 1612/1613, J. Raine, A Catalogue of the Printed Books in the Library of the Dean and Chapter of York (York: John Sampson, 1896), p. vi.

(11) C. B. L Barr, 'The Minster Library' in A History of York Minster, ed. by G. E. Aylmer and R. Cant (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), p. 508.

(12) York Minster, Liber Donorum, fols 1r-3r. Henry Slingsby, The Diary of Sir Henry Slingsby, ed. by D. Parsons (London: Longman, 1836), p. 10.

(13) York, Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, Probate Register 40, fol. 195r.

(14) York, Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, Probate Register 40, fols 397r-398v.

(15) A True Historicall Relation of the Conversion of Sir Tobie Matthew, ed. by A.H. Matthew (London: Burns & Oates, 1904), pp. 4-5.

(16) London, British Library, MS Lansdowne 89, fol. 207r-v.

(17) True Historicall Relation, p. 48.

(18) London, British Library, MS Additional 28011, fol. 10r; A.J. Loomie, 'Matthew, Sir Tobie (1577-1655)', in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/18343, accessed 30 May 2014.

(19) True Historicall Relation, pp. 123, 129.

(20) A verbal memorandum to Frances' will lists a number of bequests of clothes made to friends and former servants which might explain why she was 'calling for her silks'. York, Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, Probate Register 40, fol. 398v. True Historicall Relation, pp. 129, 132.

(21) York Minster, MS Add 322. York, Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, Probate Register 40, fol. 397r-v.

How to cite

Rosamund Oates, 'Tobie Matthew and the Minster Benefaction', in Hanna Vorholt and Peter Young (eds), 1414: John Neuton and the Re-Foundation of York Minster Library, June 2014, https://hoaportal.york.ac.uk/hoaportal/yml1414essay.jsp?id=40, accessed 25 September 2017