Tobie Matthew

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Sir Tobie Matthew
File:Tobie Matthew.png
in 1660
Born Tobias Matthew
October 3, 1577
Salisbury, Wiltshire, England
Died October 13, 1655(1655-10-13) (aged 78)
Nationality English
Occupation Member of Parliament (1599–1604)
Royal Advisor to Elizabeth I (1599–1603)
to James I (1603–1604 and 1622-1625)
to Charles I & Queen Henrietta Maria (1625–1640)
Years active 1599–1640
Known for espionage for James I
Parent(s) Tobias Matthew
Frances Barlow

Sir Tobie Matthew (also sometimes spelt Mathew; 3 October 1577 – 13 October 1655), born in Salisbury, was an English member of parliament and courtier who converted to Roman Catholicism and became a priest. He was sent to Spain to promote the proposed Spanish Match between Charles, Prince of Wales, and the Spanish Infanta, Maria Anna of Spain, for which mission he was knighted. He left England after being accused of leading Catholics in 1641 and retired to Ghent.


Matthew was the son of Tobias Matthew, then Dean of Christ Church, later Bishop of Durham, and finally Archbishop of York, by his marriage to Frances, a daughter of William Barlow, Bishop of Chichester.[1] Matthew matriculated from Christ Church on 13 March 1589/90[2] and graduated MA (Oxon) on 5 July 1597. Because of his youthful extravagance, he is said to have been treated harshly by his parents[by whom?]. However, because of his large debts he is known to have received at different times the larg sum of £14,000.[1] On 15 May 1599, he was admitted a member of Gray's Inn,[2] where he began his close friendship with Francis Bacon.

Two years later, Matthew was elected as Member of Parliament for Newport, in Cornwall. During this time, he was a frequent visitor to the court of Elizabeth I. In 1604, shortly after the accession of James I, Matthew was elected again to the House of Commons, this time by St Alban's (succeeding Bacon), and joined James's court. He also received a large grant from the Crown which provided for his future.

Having always desired to travel, Matthew left England in November 1604 and travelled through France to Florence, even though he had promised his father he would not go to Italy.[1] In Florence, he met several Roman Catholics and converted to Catholicism from Anglicanism in 1606.[2] At that time a new persecution of "Papists" was raging in England, but Matthew was determined to return. When he arrived, he was imprisoned in the Fleet for six months and every effort was made to make him recant his conversion. In 1608, he was allowed to leave England [2] and travelled in Flanders and Spain. In 1614, whilst in the entourage of Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel, he studied for the priesthood at Rome and was ordained by Cardinal Bellarmine on 20 May.[3]

In 1617, James allowed Matthew to return to England and he stayed for some time with Bacon. During this time he wrote an introduction to the Italian translation of his friend's Essays.[4] Matthew was exiled again from 1619 to 1622 for refusing to take the oath of allegiance.,[2] But was favourably received by James upon his return. He acted as an agent at court to promote the marriage of Charles, Prince of Wales (later Charles I) with the Spanish Infanta, Maria Anna of Spain. For promoting this cause, the ill-fated "Spanish Match", James sent Matthew to Madrid and knighted him upon his return on 20 October 1623.[1] As a member of the immediate circle of the new queen consort, Henrietta Maria, Matthew enjoyed the same favour at court under Charles I as he had under his father. Under a charming and playful guise—he offered to prepare for Henrietta Maria the new Spanish drink of chocolate, and did so, but absent-mindedly testing it, he tasted it all up—[5] he labored diligently for the Roman Catholic cause there. At the time of Anne Blount, Countess of Newport's conversion to his faith (which was considered scandalous), he was falsely accused of converting her, but others had actually assisted her.[6] Matthew absented himself from the court.

After the Civil War broke out in 1640, he was again falsely accused. Matthew, by now in his sixties, left England for the last time in 1641.[6] He took refuge with the English Jesuits at their house at Ghent. Whilst he was there he became the spiritual adviser to the Abbess, Elizabeth Knatchbull, there. He admired her and wrote her biography[7] that was later published in 1931.[8] He died at the English College in Ghent, and was buried there.[2]

Whether or not Matthew himself ever became a Jesuit remains a matter of controversy to this day.[citation needed]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). [ "Matthew, Tobias s.v. Sir Tobias, or Tobie, Matthew" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Encyclopædia Britannica. 17 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 896.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Alumni Cantabrigienses : a Biographical List of All Known Students, Graduates and Holders of Office at the University of Cambridge, from the Earliest Times to 1900. Volume 1 Part 3. From the Earliest Times to 1751. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2011. p. 162. ISBN 978-1-108-03609-2. OCLC 889946716.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. E. Chaney, The Grand Tour and the Great Rebellion (Geneva, 1985) and idem, The Evolution of the Grand Tour (Routledge, 2000).
  4. Hartmann, Anna-Maria (2010). "'A little work of mine that hath begun to pass the World': The Italian translation of Francis Bacon's De Sapientia Veterum". Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society. 14 (3): 203–17. JSTOR 23343625.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. C.V. Wedgwood, The King's Peace, 1637–1641 (1956:123).
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Matthew, Sir Toby [Tobie] (1577–1655), writer and courtier". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/18343.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  7. Bowden, Caroline M. K. (2004). "Knatchbull, Elizabeth [name in religion Lucy] (1584–1629), abbess of the Convent of the Immaculate Conception, Ghent". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/66981.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  8. Matthew, Tobie (1931). "The life of Lady Lucy Knatchbull /". Retrieved 31 August 2020.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


Matthew translated St. Augustine's Confessions (1620), the Autobiography of St. Teresa (1623), and Father Arias's Treatise of Patience (1650). Matthew himself authored A Relation of the death of Troilo Severe, Baron of Rome (1620), A Missive of Consolation sent from Flanders to the Catholics of England (1647), A True Historical Relation of the Conversion of Sir Tobie Matthew to the Holie Catholic Faith (first published in 1904), as well as some manuscript works. His letters were edited by Dr John Donne in 1660.


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). [ "Sir Tobie Matthew" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>