Clarke, Matthew (1630?-1708?) (DNB00)

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CLARKE, MATTHEW, the elder (1630?–1708?), congregational minister, was a native of Shropshire, born about 1630, his father being a clergyman of good family near Ludlow. His grandfather was a Cambridgeshire clergyman, beneficed in the neighbourhood of Ely. Matthew was a younger son. He was educated at the Charterhouse, and at Westminster under Busby. He entered at Trinity College, Cambridge, in May 1648, Thomas Hill, the master, being his uncle. His tutor was Dr. John Templer. His college career was one of distinction, especially in oriental studies. He graduated and was elected minor fellow in 1653, and sublector in 1656. He was not made major fellow, as he should have been, on taking his M.A., but this was the case with all fellows elected during the Commonwealth. He resigned his fellowship on his marriage. Originally resolved on a life of celibacy, he had made over to his sister a property in Shropshire worth 50l. a year. His first ministerial duty was as chaplain to Colonel Hacker's regiment in Scotland. In 1657 he was settled in the sequestrated rectory of Narborough, Leicestershire, then worth about 120l. In 1659 he was duly presented to the living. When Monck passed through Leicester in 1659 on his way to London, Clarke waited on him, but learned nothing of his intentions. At the Restoration, Stratford, the patron of Narborough, pressed Clarke to conform, but without success. The act of 1661 confirmed him in possession, but he was ejected by the Uniformity Act of 1662. John Bendy, the former incumbent of Narborough, became his successor on 1 Jan. 1663. Clarke continued to preach in and about Leicestershire as he could find opportunity. After evading the authorities for some time he was at length apprehended, and thrice suffered imprisonment in Leicester gaol ‘for the crime of preaching.’ His abode was for a time in Leicester Forest, an extraparochial liberty adjacent to Leicester; from this he was dislodged by the operation of the Five Mile Act, which came into force on 25 March 1666. Hereupon he joined a little knot of ejected ministers who found an asylum at Stoke Golding. In consequence of Charles's indulgence of 15 March 1672 Clarke was invited to Market Harborough, where he soon formed a congregational church and had a large following. He preached at Market Harborough in the afternoon; every Sunday morning he rode over to preach at Ashley in Northamptonshire. The indulgence was of short duration; the king on 8 March 1673 broke the seal of his declaration, an act which destroyed the legal validity of the licenses already issued. Clarke escaped molestation till the prosecutions of dissenters which followed the Rye House plot in 1683. He was excommunicated in the spiritual and proceeded against in the civil courts, and his goods were seized to meet the legal fine of 20l. a month. He might have sued for redress on the issue of James's declaration for liberty of conscience (April 1687), but with the majority of the dissenters he distrusted this exercise of the royal authority. Internal dissensions arose in his congregation after 1689 in connection with the views and practices of Richard Davis, the antinomian, of Rothwell, Northamptonshire. Clarke acted as a man of peace, and won the respect of those to whom he was most opposed. He was firm enough in resisting imposition; when his ministerial stipend was rated for the king's taxes he maintained the illegality of the rate and carried his point. His preaching is described as popular from its simplicity of style; he did not display his learning in the pulpit. At home he pursued his studies with unfailing zest. He began to learn Persian in his sixty-seventh year, and left in manuscript many fruits of his oriental labours. Ultimately he was disabled by paralysis, and leaving behind him a church roll of 202 members, he went to Norwich and resided with his daughter, Mrs. Allen. He died there about 1708, leaving a son, Matthew [q. v.], who had assisted him at Market Harborough.

[Calamy's Account, 1713, p. 421; Contin. 1727, p. 581; Walker's Sufferings of the Clergy, 1714, pt. ii. p. 203; Calamy's Abridgment, 1713, p. 512; Palmer's Nonconf. Memorial, 1803, iii. 35; Nichols's Leicestershire (Narborough); Coleman's Mem. of Indep. Churches in Northamptonshire, 1853, pp. 121 sq.; extracts from admission books, per the Master of Trinity.]

A. G.