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Sir John Cheke ( 1514 - 1557 )  Category ( Educators ) [suggest a correction]

Sir John ChekeJohn Cheke was a noted classical scholar from England, but is best known to history as the tutor of England's King Edward VI. Not only did he serve as instructor and mentor in languages, theology, and the liberal arts generally, he came to his position at a crucial time in English history.

Edward's father, King Henry VIII, had broken away from the Catholic Church in order to obtain a divorce from his first wife. Edward was the child of Henry's third wife. In order to be assured of a secure succession, it was important that England remain Protestant. That meant that Edward's tutor must be chosen very carefully, and not only teach the Protestant way to the young king, but to believe in it himself. Cheke was a good candidate for the job.

He was born to a family well connected to Cambridge University; therefore, Cheke was assured of a good education. He received his schooling at St. John's College, Cambridge. He became a fellow there in 1529, and during his time at Cambridge he became persuaded of the virtues wrought by the European and English Reformation. Among his pupils at Cambridge included William Cecil and Roger Ascham. Along with his colleague, Sir Thomas Smith, Cheke innovated a new technique of pronouncing Greek that was quite apart from the Continental approach.

In 1544 he was selected to serve as tutor to Prince Edward, and even after Henry VIII's death, Cheke continued in that capacity. A few years later Cheke married Mary Hill, and the couple had three sons. In addition to his other duties, Cheke was civic-minded and held a seat in Parliament for several years. In 1548 he was named provost of King's College, Cambridge, and sat on committees at Cambridge, Oxford, and Eton Colleges. Also during this time he was appointed, along with seven clergymen, to devise a system of laws for the new Church of England.

In 1551 he was knighted, and two years later, he was named a secretary of state and invited to join the privy council. Ever the zealous Protestant, he was easily convinced by the scheming Duke of Northumberland, and agreed to serve as the secretary of state for Queen Jane Grey, during her nine-day rule. Naturally, when the Catholic Mary Tudor seized the throne later that year, Cheke was imprisoned in the Tower of London. His property was seized as well. Unlike most of the conspirators of Northumberland's plot, Cheke's life was spared and he was released from prison. He immediately sought permission to travel abroad, and was granted it. He traveled around Europe, giving lectures, finally settling in Strasbourg.

For a time it seemed that Cheke had truly escaped the clutches of Catholic punishment. However, his luck ran out one year later when he was arrested by order of Philip II of Spain, returned to England, and once again held in the Tower. There, he was visited by two priests. Petrified of being burned at the stake, Cheke agreed to return to the Roman faith. This act threw him into deep shame and embarrassment. He died shortly after his prison conversion.

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