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Tobie Matthew

For his father, Tobias or Tobie Matthew (1546-1628), see Tobias Matthew.

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.


Matthew was the son of Dr Tobias Matthew, then Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, later Bishop of Durham, and finally Archbishop of York, by his marriage to Frances, a daughter of William Barlow, Bishop of Chichester. Matthew matriculated from Christ Church on 13 March 1589/90 and graduated MA on 5 July 1597. Because of his youthful extravagance, he is said to have been treated harshly by his parents. On 15 May 1599, he was admitted a member of Gray's Inn, 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 Queen Elizabeth I. In 1604, shortly after the accession of King James I, Matthew was elected again to the House of Commons, this time by St Alban's, and joined the new king'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. In Florence, he met several Roman Catholics and eventually converted to that denomination from Anglicanism. 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 the end, he was allowed to leave England and travelled in Flanders and Spain. In 1614, whilst in the entourage of the Earl of Arundel, he studied for the priesthood at Rome and was ordained by Cardinal Bellarmine on 20 May.[1]

In 1617, the king allowed Matthew to return to England and he stayed for some time with Bacon. During this time he translated his friend's Essays into Italian. Matthew was exiled again from 1619 to 1622, but was favorably received by the king upon his return. He acted as an agent at court to promote the marriage of Charles, Prince of Wales 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. As a member of the immediate circle of the Queen of England, 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 the Queen the new Spanish drink of chocolate, and did so, but absent-mindedly testing it, he tasted it all up —[2] he labored diligently for the Roman Catholic cause there. At the time of Lady Newport's conversion to his faith, which was considered scandalous, Matthew absented himself from the court.

When the Civil War broke out in 1640, Matthew, by now in his sixties, took refuge with the English Jesuits at their house at Ghent, where he died.

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


  1. ^ E. Chaney, The Grand Tour and the Great Rebellion (Geneva, 1985) and idem, The Evolution of the Grand Tour (Routledge, 2000).
  2. ^ C.V. Wedgwood, The King's Peace, 1637-1641 (1956:123).


Besides his Italian translation of Bacon's Essays, Matthew also 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.