Skip to main content

A Little Pembroke History: Matthew Wren

We're used to seeing portraits around Pembroke. They're in Hall, in corridors, in meeting rooms. But who are they? Who are the Valencians immortalized in paint, and why do we still remember them?

The subject of today's blog made contributions to the College that we still value today. Matthew Wren was a Fellow of the College and President from 1616 - 1625. He went on to become Master of Peterhouse, was closely associated with the Court, and became one of the most important Bishops of his time. His work setting in order the records of the early College has significant historical and archival value. It is because of Wren that we have the Benefactors Book, an intriguing and beautifully illustrated volume listing books given to the College by Benefactors. You can read more about the book, and Jonathan Nathan's work to transcribe, translate, and understand it, here.

However, Matthew Wren is best remembered for commissioning Pembroke's Chapel from his nephew, Christopher Wren. Matthew Wren was imprisoned during the Civil War in the Tower of London, and during his 17-year captivity vowed to fund a pious undertaking. Upon his release he decided this would take the form of building a new Chapel for Pembroke, a building which is believed to be Christopher Wren's first architectural work. He went on to build Emmanuel College Chapel next, and the two make for an interesting comparison. The Chapel was consecrated in 1665, and the old Chapel turned into the Library, today known as the Old Library.