Jonson’s Lost Weekend in York

The last we hear of Jonson during the weekend of 14 to 16 August, is when he is carried away in Sir Arthur Ingram’s carriage to see his ‘Lords grace’. Jonson’s companion seems not to have been included in this hospitality by, we think, the archbishop of York, Tobie Matthew.

TobiasMatthewTobie Matthew (1544-1628), a graduate of Christ Church, Oxford in the 1560s, had been archbishop of York from 1606. An orthodox Calvinist, he had previously been the bishop of Durham from 1594, where he had gained a reputation for his indefatigable preaching and his suppression of Catholicism. On his promotion to York, he cooperated closely with the gentry and magnates on the Council of the North. Sir John Harington described Matthew’s time as dean of Christ Church in the 1570s where

‘it was hard to say whether he was more respected for his great learning, eloquence, authority, countenance given him by Queen Elizabeth and the great ones; or beloved for his sweet conversation, friendly disposition, bounty, and above all, a cheerful sharpness of wit, that so sauced all his words and behaviour.’

Bishopthorpe-PalaceIn the summer of 1618, the archbishop was resident at his palace at Bishopthorpe, about three miles south of central York, situated on the banks of the River Ouse. Bishopthorpe Palace has been the official residence of archbishops of York since its first building by Archbishop Walter de Grey in 1241. The palace you see today has been extended over the centuries, its frontal elevation added in the 1760s. Jonson would have seen the older north wing built in the late fifteenth century.

MatthewThat Jonson will have been bountifully entertained there is suggested by Matthew’s grand monument in the Lady Chapel of York Minster, which relates that ‘his house was a perpetual scene of entertainment for the rich, and of charity for the poor’. Matthew’s diary records that he was preaching that weekend at Bilbrough, four miles west of Bishopthorpe, so Jonson may well have enjoyed a sermon, for which Matthew was renowned. Matthew had had warm relations with Gilbert Talbot, the seventh earl of Shrewsbury, at whose funeral in 1616 he preached the sermon, so Jonson and he probably will have had several acquaintances in common in that social network.

Less elevated is a description from the later 1600s of one incident in Matthew’s time as bishop of Durham:

‘Tis said this Bishop loved a Girl well & was supposed to have been kind with the wife of one parson, upon whom he bestowed a very good living. The parson desiring to show his thankfulness to the Bishop’s wife Mrs Matthew, went to render his thanks but she angrily replied to him, “That he might thank the hot arsed Queen his wife & not her” for his appointment’.

Further reading: Eric A Gee, Bishopthorpe Palace: An Architectural History (1983)

Anna Groundwater

Anna Groundwater is the post-doctoral research fellow on the project at the University of Edinburgh, where she also lectures in early modern British and Scottish history.

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