CALL FOR PAPERS: Sir John Cheke and the Cambridge Connection in Tudor England

St John’s College, Cambridge
19-20 July 2014

Confirmed Speakers: Stephen Alford (Leeds), Alan Bryson (Sheffield), Norman Jones (Utah State), Scott Lucas (The Citadel), John McDiarmid (New College of Florida), Ceri Law (Cambridge), Anne Overell (Durham), Aysha Pollnitz (Rice), Richard Rex (Cambridge), Fred Schurink (Northumbria), Cathy Shrank (Sheffield), Jeremy Smith (Glasgow), Tracey Sowerby (Oxford), Andrew Taylor (Cambridge).

2014 marks the quincentenary of the birth of one of the most significant, but neglected, scholars of Renaissance England, Sir John Cheke (1514-57), fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge and the first Regius Professor of Greek in the University. This conference offers a timely re-assessment of Cheke and of the important group of colleagues who coalesced around him at Cambridge in the 1530s. The conference title derives from Winthrop S. Hudson’s 1980 study The Cambridge Connection and the Elizabethan Settlement of 1559, which assigned members of the group a leading role in Elizabeth’s religious settlement. Roger Ascham’s The Scholemaster (1570) memorializes the beginnings of the group at Cambridge, which centred on ‘those two worthy starres’, Cheke and Thomas Smith, but also included Cheke’s brother-in-law William Cecil, Smith’s student John Ponet, John Aylmer, the future rhetorician Thomas Wilson and others. In the 1540s, Cheke’s appointment as tutor to Prince Edward began the movement of the whole group into leadership roles at court and in the church. Smith and Cecil were major figures in government during Edward’s reign, and (unlike Cheke) survived Mary I to serve Elizabeth I, Cecil of course as her famous chief minister. Other members of the group, such as Wilson and Nicholas Bacon, were also Elizabethan statesmen. Some not only practiced politics but wrote about it, including Cheke, Aylmer, and Ponet in his remarkable Shorte Treatise of Politike Power (1556), which defended tyrannicide. Texts by Smith and Wilson explored perceived socioeconomic problems of the commonwealth. Members of the group also provided leadership in the church, Cheke as an eager aid to both Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and the reformer Martin Bucer, Ponet in his catechism, both Ponet and Aylmer as bishops. Cheke, Smith and Cecil gave important encouragement to mid-Tudor students and practitioners of mathematics and the natural sciences. The Cambridge connection was a major presence in English intellectual, political and religious life into the first half of Elizabeth’s reign and had a shaping influence well into the seventeenth century.

We invite proposals for papers that consider any aspect of the life, writings, and activities of Cheke and the other members of the group surrounding him at Cambridge and their impact on Tudor England. Topics might include (but are not limited to): art and architecture, communities and networks, education and universities, gender and society, government and political reform, humanism and scholarship, ancient and vernacular languages, mathematics and the natural sciences, religious controversy and reform, translation and rhetoric. We especially welcome proposals from PhD students and other early career academics and expect to have bursaries available to cover some of the expenses of attending the conference.

Please send proposals (250 words) by 1 May 2014 to Alan Bryson (, John McDiarmid (, or Fred Schurink (