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Matthew Sutcliffe (1550?-1629) was an English clergyman, academic and lawyer. He became Dean of Exeter, and wrote extensively on religious matters as a controversialist. He was the founder of Chelsea College, an ultimately unsuccessful royal centre for the writing of theological literature. He also played a part in the early settlement of New England.



Born about 1550, he was the second son of John Sutcliffe of Mayroyd in the parish of Halifax, Yorkshire, by his wife, Margaret Owlsworth of Ashley in the same county. Admitted to Peterhouse, Cambridge in 1565,[1] he was admitted a scholar of Trinity College, Cambridge on 30 April 1568, proceeded B.A. in 1571, and was elected a minor fellow of his college on 27 September 1572. He commenced M.A. in 1574, and became a major fellow on 3 April in that year. In 1579 he was appointed lector mathematicus in the college, and in the next year, at Midsummer, the payment of his last stipend as fellow of Trinity is recorded. He graduated LL.D. in 1581.[2]

On 1 May 1582 he was admitted a member of the college of advocates at Doctors' Commons; and on 30 January 1587 he was installed archdeacon of Taunton. On 27 October 1588 he became Dean of Exeter, a position he held for more than forty years. As he was also vicar of West Alvington, Devon, the Archbishop of Canterbury granted him letters of dispensation allowing him to hold that vicarage. He was instituted to Harberton vicarage on 9 November 1590, and to the rectory of Lezant on 6 April 1594. as well as to Newton Ferrers on 27 December 1591.[2]

Chelsea College

The major event of Sutcliffe's life was his foundation of a polemical college at Chelsea, to which he was a generous benefactor. The project was denied long-term success, however; the College nominally survived until the 1650s, but the initial momentum was not sustained under Charles I, who gave the College the cold shoulder where his father had been a generous patron.

American affairs

Sutcliffe was early interested in the settlement of New England, and John Smith of Jamestown mentions, in his Generall Historie (1624), that the dean assisted and encouraged him in his schemes. On 9 March 1607 he became a member of the council for Virginia, and on 3 November 1620 of that for New England. In July 1624 he was one of the commissioners appointed to wind up the affairs of the Virginia Company.[2]

Fall from favour

For a long time Sutcliffe was in high favour at court. He had been appointed one of the royal chaplains in the reign of Elizabeth, and is stated to have retained the office under James I. But he fell into disgrace in consequence of his opposition to the Spanish match, at the same time as Henry de Vere, 18th Earl of Oxford.[2]

Sutcliffe died in 1629, before 18 July.[2]


Sutcliffe wrote over 20 works, many of them published as 'O. E.' They cover a range of religious issues from the 1590s to 1620s: on the Anglican front concerned with John Udall, Job Throckmorton, Thomas Cartwright, and a defence of the government version of the treason of Edward Squire; and anti-Catholic replies to Cardinal Bellarmine, Robert Parsons, Henry Garnet, George Blackwell, Matthew Kellison and Tobie Mathew.[2]

Nicholas Bernard presented to Emmanuel College, Cambridge Sutcliffe's manuscript works in fourteen volumes.[2]

Sutcliffe's style of rhetoric against Catholicism, along with that of Sir Francis Hastings and Thomas Morton, is judged to depend ultimately on scaremongering about Catholic priests and laypeople. He was more thematic than Hastings, and supplied better arguments based on a "true" and "false" Catholic Church, but still fell back on chop-logic and personal abuse.[3]


  1. ^ Sutcliffe, Matthew in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g s:Sutcliffe, Matthew (DNB00)
  3. ^ Victor Houliston, Catholic Resistance in Elizabethan England: Robert Persons's Jesuit polemic, 1580-1610 (2007), p. 162 and p. 166.

This article incorporates text from the entry Sutcliffe, Matthew in the Dictionary of National Biography (1885–1900), a publication now in the public domain.



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