Matthew Wren

From Book Owners Online

Matthew WREN 1585-1667

Biographical Note

Born in London, son of Francis Wren, painter-stainer. BA Pembroke College, Cambridge 1605, MA 1608, BD 1615, fellow of Pembroke 1605-24, and held a succession of administrative offices there including president (1616), bursar (1621-4). Chaplain to Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Ely, 1615, chaplain to James I by 1621; rector of Teversham, near Cambridge, 1615. Prebendary of Winchester 1623, master of Peterhouse 1625-34, where he led the campaign to build a new college chapel; Dean of Windsor 1628. Bishop of Hereford 1634, of Norwich 1635, of Ely 1638.

Wren was closely associated with Laudian high church policies and in each of his dioceses he sought to impose corresponding rules for worship, often provoking controversy. Articles of impeachment were drawn up against him in 1641 and he was committed to the Tower; apart from a brief period of release in 1642 he remained there until 1660. Restored to his diocese at the Restoration, he was involved in prayer book revision and paid for a new chapel at Pembroke College.


Wren was noted from an early stage in his career as taking an interest in libraries; as president of Pembroke in the late 1610s he set about reorganising the college library, creating a benefactors' book, instituting a fundraising scheme, appointing a librarian, repairing the shelves and having the manuscripts catalogued. At Peterhouse, he created a chronologically arranged list of the library contents, which was maintained until 1649. For many years he presented a book to Pembroke on his birthday (the donors' book notes 49 books given by him).

In his will, Wren gave detailed instructions not only for the disposal of his books but also for the fate of his unpublished papers. His printed books "in English and not in folio" were to be divided among his unmarried children, with the rest of his books given to his son Thomas (Archdeacon of Ely, d.1679), unless either of his sisters had married a clergyman, in which case a share was to be given there also. His note books and unpublished papers were the subject of lengthy instructions, that they must not be published or made accessible other than at the discretion of a group of senior clergymen with whom he had been associated. His son was to make a "sacred promise" that "neither for love nor money shall he allow any of them to be transcribed", and his executor must follow the instructions "as he will answer unto God". Wren gave explanations for his concerns in terms of the lack of revision of these papers, and his inability to consult other sources while writing in the Tower, but his experience presumably led him to think that his writings had the potential to generate ongoing trouble. Whether or not this is true, the instructions appear to have been observed, and ESTC records no writings of Wren published after his death. The will also contains instructions to ensure that records and charters relating to any of the other sees or organisations from earlier stages of his career, remaining in his custody, should be returned to those places. Examples: Pembroke College, Cambridge 5.2.18, 9.9.20.

Characteristic Markings

Inscription of Matthew Wren (Pembroke College, Cambridge 7.5.5)

Wren used the motto "Moriendo ViVam", often found on titlepages of the books given to Pembroke with the two letters v capitalised so as to highlight the initials MW.