Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wren, Matthew (1585-1667)
WREN, MATTHEW (1585–1667), bishop of Ely, eldest son of Francis Wren (1553–1624), mercer, of London, by his wife Susan, was born in the parish of St. Peter's Cheap, London, on 23 Dec. 1585 (baptised 2 Jan. 1586). The family, originally from Denmark, was settled in Durham in the fifteenth century. Wren's father, only son of Cuthbert Wren (d. 1558), was born at Monk's Kirby, Warwickshire; he is said to have kept, as a haberdasher, ‘the corner stall, next unto Cheap-Crosse’ (Wren's Anatomy, 1641, p. 2). Sir Christopher Wren [q. v.] was his nephew (cf. pedigree in Genealogist, n.s. 1884, i. 262–268, 1890, vi. 168–71).
Matthew was a protégé of Launcelot Andrewes [q. v.], then master of Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, and hence was educated at Pembroke Hall (admitted 23 June 1601). He graduated B.A. in 1604–5, was elected fellow on 5 Nov. 1605, graduated M.A. on 2 July 1608 (incorporated at Oxford on 12 July 1608), ordained deacon on 20 Jan., priest on 10 Feb. 1610–11, and graduated B.D. in 1615, when Andrewes made him his chaplain and gave him (21 May 1615) the rectory of Teversham, Cambridgeshire. James I, who had taken notice of his skill in academic disputation (he had argued that the king's dogs ‘might perform more than others, by the prerogative’), appointed him (27 Jan. 1621–2) chaplain to Prince Charles. Being made D.D. (1623, incorporated at Oxford on 31 Aug. 1636), he accompanied Prince Charles to Spain. On his return he was installed (10 Nov. 1623) prebendary of Winchester, and next year (17 May) was inducted to the rectory of Bingham, Nottinghamshire, on which he resigned (8 Nov.) his fellowship. On 26 July 1625 he was admitted master of Peterhouse, Cambridge, and proved himself a successful head. He looked after the college records, and collected money for building a new chapel (dedicated 17 March 1632–3), where he introduced the service in Latin (ib. p. 3). On 24 July 1628 he was installed dean of Windsor (and Wolverhampton), carrying with it the duties of registrar of the Garter. He went with Charles I to Scotland in 1633; on 20 Oct. Charles made him clerk of the closet. On 14 May 1634 he was chosen a governor of the Charterhouse. On 5 Dec. 1634 he was elected bishop of Hereford; this voided his Winchester stall, but in its place he was nominated (18 Feb. 1634–5) to a stall at Westminster. He had resigned his mastership on 22 Jan., and is said to have interested himself in the appointment of John Cosin [q. v.] as his successor. He was consecrated at Lambeth on 2 March by Laud (Stubbs, Registrum Sacrum Anglicanum, 1897). Though he held the see for eight months only, and as clerk of the closet was much absent from his diocese, he showed some of the qualities of a capable governor; he digested and reformed the statutes of his cathedral and improved its revenue. His visitation articles (1635, 4to) were inquisitorial in character. On 10 Nov. 1635 he was elected bishop of Norwich, retaining his Westminster stall. On 7 March 1635–6 he was made dean of the Chapel Royal; he resigned on 11 July 1641.
At Norwich he succeeded a prelate, Richard Corbet [q. v.], who had never shown any love for puritans, and had taken proceedings against them. Yet Laud, at his visitation (1635), found the diocese ‘much out of order,’ and expected Wren to ‘take care of it.’ Wren's visitation articles (1636, 4to) are an expansion of those for Hereford. The British Museum copy (5155, c. 20) has an appendix of twenty-eight ‘particular orders’ in manuscript. The public mind was soon excited against Wren by William Prynne [q. v.] , writing as ‘Matthew White’ in ‘Newes from Ipswich,’ 1636, 4to, which at once ran through three editions, and was reprinted in 1641. Wren's own reports, as summarised by Laud, explain how, in less than two years and a half, he had roused the puritanism of East Anglia to a dangerous pitch of rebellious fury (Wharton, pp. 540, 548). Clarendon relates that he ‘passionately and furiously proceeded against them [the foreign congregations], that many left the kingdom, to the lessening the wealthy manufacture’ (Hist. 1888, vi. 183). Wren himself affirms (Answer to Articles of Impeachment; Parentalia, p. 101) that the migration was a question of wage; that it began in Corbet's time, and was at its height in the first half-year of the episcopate of Richard Montagu [q. v.] Owing to his liturgical knowledge he was selected as one of the revisers of the new common-prayer book for Scotland. In April 1638 he was translated to Ely, succeeding Francis White [q. v.]; and in this diocese he pursued the same policy as in that of Norwich, and by the same methods. His Ely visitation articles (1638, 4to) are an exact duplicate of those for Norwich. He acted all along, it should be said, under the constant supervision of Laud, confirmed by direct instructions from the king, which appeared on the margins of Laud's reports.
On 19 Dec. 1640, the day after Laud's impeachment, John Hampden acquainted the House of Lords that the commons had received informations against Wren. He was bound in 10,000l. for his daily appearance; on 23 Dec. the bishops of Bangor, Llandaff, and Peterborough became joint sureties with him. A committee of the commons drew up nine articles of impeachment, on which the commons resolved (5 July 1641) that Wren was unfit to hold any office in the church or commonwealth. A conference of both houses was held on 20 July for the transmission of the articles of impeachment (enlarged to twenty-four), when Sir Thomas Widdrington [q. v.] delivered a florid speech urging proceedings against Wren (Sr. Tho. Widdringtons Speech, 1641; Parentalia, p. 19). Wren prepared an elaborate defence. No proceedings were taken; but on 30 Dec. Wren was sent to the Tower with other bishops and detained till 6 May 1642. In 1642 he presented a petition to parliament ‘in defence of episcopacie’ (Bishop Wren's Petition, 1642). On 30 Aug. 1642 his episcopal residence at Ely was searched for ammunition by ‘a troop of well-affected horsemen’ (Joyfull Newes from the Isle of Ely, 2 Sept. 1642), who, by order of parliament, arrested and brought him to London (1 Sept.), when he was again committed to the Tower (A True Relation, 2 Sept. 1642). He continued while in the Tower to perform episcopal acts, such as the institution of clergy, and kept up his register. In the terms offered by parliament to the king at Uxbridge (23 Nov. 1644) he was one of those excluded from pardon. He is said to have held intercourse with Monck, his fellow-prisoner (1644–6), and to have given Monck his blessing on the understanding that he was going to do the king ‘the best service he could’ (Life of Barwick, 1721, p. 16). On 14 March 1648–9 the commons resolved that he be not tried for life, but imprisoned till further order. During the interregnum he was much consulted on church affairs by Hyde, with whom he communicated through John Barwick (1612–1664) [q. v.] Cromwell more than once offered him his liberty (once through his nephew Christopher), but Wren declined to acknowledge his favour or own his authority (Parentalia, p. 34). The order for his discharge was given on 15 March 1659–60. He was not allowed to return to his palace, but lived in lodgings till the Restoration.
His zeal ‘in purging his diocese from disaffected ministers’ carried him to great lengths. He resisted the rightful title of Richard Reynolds (father of Richard Reynolds, bishop of Lincoln [q. v.]) to the rectory of Leverington, trying to put in his own nominee, and when Charles II begged him ‘to give no further disturbance,’ he ‘bluntly said, “Sir, I know the way to the Tower”’ (Kennett; Parentalia, p. 30). As visitor of Peterhouse he appointed (21 April 1663) Joseph Beaumont (1616–1699) [q. v.] to the mastership ‘by a stretch of power’ setting aside the nominations of the fellows, one of the nominees being Isaac Barrow (1630–1677) [q. v.] He spent over 5,000l. in building the new chapel at Pembroke Hall (foundation laid 13 May 1663, finished 1666). His habits throughout life were those of a hardy scholar, up at five and seldom in bed till eleven.
He died at Ely House, Holborn, on 24 April 1667, and was buried in the chapel he had built at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, the funeral oration, in Latin, being delivered by John Pearson (1613–1686) [q. v.], then master of Trinity (printed in ‘Parentalia,’ p. 39). An early and fine portrait, engraved by Van der Gucht, is in ‘Parentalia;’ a crude woodcut, evidently a likeness, is on the title-page of ‘Wren's Petition,’ 1642; other contemporary woodcuts are mere caricatures. He wore a ruff. His wife Elizabeth (d. 8 Dec. 1646), whom he married on 17 Aug. 1628, was born at Ringshall, Suffolk, 17 Oct. 1604. She is believed to have been daughter of Thomas Cutler, and widow of Robert Brownrigg (Genealogist, 1890, vi. 170). He had nine children, of whom several died in infancy.
Wren published a sermon (1627) and a tract, ‘An Abandoning of the Scotish Covenant,’ 1662, 4to, written ‘in prison,’ and published to prepare his clergy for the renunciation of the covenant, in accordance with the Uniformity Act. From a large book of ‘critical meditations,’ composed in the Tower, his son Matthew edited a volume of polemical interpretations of Scripture, in answer to the Racovian catechism, entitled ‘Increpatio Barjesu,’ 1890, 4to; it is included in the ‘Critici Sacri,’ 1890, ix. fol.
His eldest child, Matthew Wren (1629–1672), born on 20 Aug. 1629, was educated at both universities (M.A. Oxford 9 Sept. 1661), was secretary to Clarendon (1660–7), M.P. for St. Michael (1661–72), and secretary to James, duke of York (1667–72); he was one of the council of the Royal Society named in Charles II's original charter, dated 15 July 1662 (Sprat, Hist. 1667, p. 55), and was a prominent member of the society. He died on 14 June 1672, being buried with his father at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge. He wrote: 1. ‘Considerations on Mr. Harrington's … Oceana,’ 1657, 12mo (anon.). 2. ‘Monarchy Asserted … in Vindication of the Considerations,’ 1659, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1660, 8vo, to which Harrington replied in his ‘Politicaster,’ London, 1659, 8vo.
Other sons were Thomas Wren (1633–1679), M.D. and LL.D., an original F.R.S., archdeacon of Ely 1663; Charles Wren (d. 1681); and Sir William Wren (1639–1689), knighted 1685, M.P. for Cambridge 1685–7 (Genealogist, 1879, iii. 314, v. 330). The bishop's daughter, Susan, was second wife of Sir Robert Wright [q. v.][Stephen Wren's Parentalia, 1750, contains a life of Matthew Wren, with appendix of documents (at p. 133 is a valuable list of family dates to 1652 by the bishop). On this is founded the article in Biographia Britannica, 1763, vi. 4353. Wren's Anatomy (1641) is bitter but contains facts; The Wren's Nest Defiled (1641) and The Myter (1641) are lampoons; A Most Strange Letter (1642) is an evident forgery. See also Prynne's Canterburies Doome, 1646; Heylyn's Cyprianus Anglicus, 1668; Wharton's Troubles and Tryal of Laud, 1675; Lloyd's Memoires, 1668, p. 611; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), ii. 885; Parr's Life of Ussher, 1686, p. 393; Kennett's Register, 1728; Granger's Biogr. Hist. of England, 1779, ii. 157; Peck's Desiderata Curiosa, 1779, ii. 336; Le Neve's Fasti (Hardy), 1854; Gardiner's Hist. of England, 1884, viii. 224; Notes and Queries, 9th ser. vi. 165.]