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June 16, 1514 – Birth of John Cheke, Tudor Scholar

John Cheke, engraving by Joseph Nutting (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Despite John Cheke’s profound contributions to education, literature, and politics, many would call him a relatively minor player in the Tudor era. I have a real soft spot for the guy because of how dedicated he was to Edward VI…but let’s back up a bit.

Cheke was brilliant. He received his B.A. from St. John’s College in 1529, and went on to a Fellowship, receiving his M.A. in 1533. His main interest was Greek, and he quickly distinguished himself in the subject, coming to the attention of then-King Henry VIII, who named him the first Regius Professor of Greek at Cambridge – and appointed him tutor to his son Edward to teach him “of tongues, of the scripture, of philosophie and all liberal sciences” (as Edward wrote in his Chronicle).

Cheke’s tutelage continued after Edward acceded to the throne (the boy king was only nine years old when his father died – and still needed to continue his education). Cheke became Edward’s Schoolmaster as well as a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber. There, he protected Edward against at least one of Tom Seymour’s shenanigans (unfortunately, only a minor one), and Edward knighted him in 1552. Cheke was firmly associated with reform – perhaps this is one of the reasons he supported the dying Edward’s scheme to bequeath the English throne to Lady Jane Grey, and served as her Secretary of State for the nine days she reigned before Mary was declared queen. Not surprisingly, Cheke was imprisoned in the Tower for that, but Mary was merciful and released him….whereupon he promptly fled England. On the mainland, he felt safer to engage in reformist activities (including a series of lectures), but this was a miscalculation. Brussels was under the control of the Holy Roman Empire (and thus Mary’s husband), and Cheke was captured there and brought back to England where he was thrown back in the Tower. Faced with death, he recanted his Protestantism. He is said to have died from shame soon afterwards.

But that later stuff is not important today. For now, let’s just celebrate a new life full of promise…


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June 16, 1514 – Birth of John Cheke, Tudor Scholar
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