1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cheke, Sir John
CHEKE, SIR JOHN (1514–1557), English classical scholar, was the son of Peter Cheke, esquire-bedell of Cambridge University. He was educated at St John’s College, Cambridge, where he became a fellow in 1529. While there he adopted the principles of the Reformation. His learning gained him an exhibition from the king, and in 1540, on Henry VIII.’s foundation of the regius professorships, he was elected to the chair of Greek. Amongst his pupils at St John’s were Lord Burghley, who married Cheke’s sister Mary, and Roger Ascham, who in The Schoolmaster gives Cheke the highest praise for scholarship and character. Together with Sir Thomas Smith, he introduced a new method of Greek pronunciation very similar to that commonly used in England in the 19th century. It was strenuously opposed in the University, where the continental method prevailed, and Bishop Gardiner, as chancellor, issued a decree against it (June 1542); but Cheke ultimately triumphed. On the 10th of July 1554, he was chosen as tutor to Prince Edward, and after his pupil’s accession to the throne he continued his instructions. Cheke took a fairly active share in public life; he sat, as member for Bletchingley, for the parliaments of 1547 and 1552–1553; he was made provost of King’s College, Cambridge (April 1, 1548), was one of the commissioners for visiting that university as well as Oxford and Eton, and was appointed with seven divines to draw up a body of laws for the governance of the church. On the 11th of October 1551 he was knighted; in 1553 he was made one of the secretaries of state, and sworn of the privy council. His zeal for Protestantism induced him to follow the duke of Northumberland, and he filled the office of secretary of state for Lady Jane Grey during her nine days’ reign. In consequence Mary threw him into the Tower (July 27, 1553), and confiscated his wealth. He was, however, released on the 13th of September 1554, and granted permission to travel abroad. He went first to Basel, then visited Italy, giving lectures in Greek at Padua, and finally settled at Strassburg, teaching Greek for his living. In the spring of 1556 he visited Brussels to see his wife; on his way back, between Brussels and Antwerp, he and Sir Peter Carew were treacherously seized (May 15) by order of Philip of Spain, hurried over to England, and imprisoned in the Tower. Cheke was visited by two priests and by Dr John Feckenham, dean of St Paul’s, whom he had formerly tried to convert to Protestantism, and, terrified by a threat of the stake, he gave way and was received into the Church of Rome by Cardinal Pole, being cruelly forced to make two public recantations. Overcome with shame, he did not long survive, but died in London on the 13th of September 1557, carrying, as T. Fuller says (Church History), “God’s pardon and all good men’s pity along with him.” About 1547 Cheke married Mary, daughter of Richard Hill, sergeant of the wine-cellar to Henry VIII., and by her he had three sons. The descendants of one of these, Henry, known only for his translation of an Italian morality play Freewyl (Tragedio del Libero Arbitrio) by Nigri de Bassano, settled at Pyrgo in Essex.
Thomas Wilson, in the epistle prefixed to his translation of the Olynthiacs of Demosthenes (1570), has a long and most interesting eulogy of Cheke; and Thomas Nash, in To the Gentlemen Students, prefixed to Robert Greene’s Menaphon (1589), calls him “the Exchequer of eloquence, Sir Ihon Cheke, a man of men, supernaturally traded in all tongues.” Many of Cheke’s works are still in MS., some have been altogether lost. One of the most interesting from a historical point of view is the Hurt of Sedition how greueous it is to a Communewelth (1549), written on the occasion of Ket’s rebellion, republished in 1569, 1576 and 1641, on the last occasion with a life of the author by Gerard Langbaine. Others are D. Joannis Chrysostomi homiliae duae (1543), D. Joannis Chrysostomi de providentia Dei (1545), The Gospel according to St Matthew ... translated (c. 1550; ed. James Goodwin, 1843), De obitu Martini Buceri (1551), (Leo VI.’s) de Apparatu bellico (Basel, 1554; but dedicated to Henry VIII., 1544), Carmen Heroicum, aut epitaphium in Antonium Deneium (1551), De pronuntiatione Graecae . . . linguae (Basel, 1555). He also translated several Greek works, and lectured admirably upon Demosthenes.
His Life was written by John Strype (1821); additions by J. Gough Nichols in Archaeologia (1860), xxxviii. 98, 127.