John Cheke

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John Cheke

Sir John Cheke (born June 16, 1514 in Cambridge , † September 13, 1557 in London ) was an English scholar ( classical philologist ) and statesman.

His father was a Pedell (Bedel) from the University of Cambridge . Cheke studied at St John's College , Cambridge, of which he became a fellow in 1529. While still a student he converted to Protestantism, which brought him the protection of King Henry VIII . In 1540 he became the first Regius Professor of Greek . His students at Cambridge included William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley , who married Sister Mary von Cheke, and Roger Ascham . Together with his friend Thomas Smith , he was considered one of the leading classical philologists in England, even if their attempt to reformulate the pronunciation of ancient Greek still met with fierce opposition at the time. Like Smith, he also dealt with the pronunciation of English, where he turned against foreign language influences.

In 1544 he became the tutor of the future King Edward VI. Even after his accession to the throne, he was his teacher.

In 1548 he became Provost of King's College , Cambridge. In 1551 he was ennobled. He was a member of parliament in 1547 and 1552/53, and in 1553 became Secretary of State and member of the Royal Privy Council . As a follower of John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland , who lived in England during the reign of Edward VI. practically ruled, but after his death was executed because he wanted to establish Lady Jane Gray on the throne, Cheke also fell out of favor after Queen Mary's accession to the throne in 1553, was thrown into the Tower in July 1553 and his property was confiscated. He had been her secretary of state during Jane Gray's nine-day administration. In September 1554 he was released and allowed to travel abroad. He went to Basel , Padua (where he gave Greek lectures) and Strasbourg , where he worked as a Greek teacher. When he met his wife in Brussels in 1556 , he was arrested on the way back to Antwerp on the orders of the Spanish king and extradited to England, where he ended up again in the Tower. Under threat of being burned alive, he returned to Catholicism and was released. He was a broken man after that and died soon after in London.

In 1547 he married Mary, the daughter of Richard Hill, cellar master at Henry VIII. With her he had three sons.

In 1543 he published the first book printed entirely in Ancient Greek in England (the homilies of John Chrysostom ). His translation of the Gospel of Matthew from 1550 appeared in 1843. A book on war machines (De Apparatu Bellico) was published in Basel in 1554 (with a dedication to Henry VIII from 1544) and a book on the pronunciation of Greek in Basel in 1555.


  • John Strype: The life of the learned Sir John Cheke . At the Clarendon Press, Oxford 1821, online

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