WREN, Matthew (1629-72), of Westminster.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



16 May 1661 - 14 June 1672

Family and Education

b. 20 Aug. 1629, 1st s. of Matthew Wren, bp. of Ely 1638-67, by Elizabeth, da. of Thomas Cutler of Ipswich, Suff. and wid of Robert Brownrigg of Sproughton, Suff.; bro. of Sir William Wren. educ. Peterhouse, Camb. 1642. unm. suc. fa. 1667.1

Offices Held

Sec. to Sir Edward Hyde (Ld. Chancellor Clarendon) May 1660-7, to the Duke of York 1667-d; asst. R. Fishing Co. 1664, asst. R. Adventurers into Africa by 1664-71, dep. gov. 1668, 1670, sub-gov. 1669; freeman, Portsmouth 1668; asst. R. Africa Co. 1672-d. 2

FRS 1662-d.


Wren was the grandson of a London mercer. His father, clerk of the closet to Charles I, was one of Laud’s most zealous supporters, and a great enemy of East Anglian puritans. Imprisoned in the Tower throughout the Civil War and Interregnum, he was nevertheless consulted on ecclesiastical matters by Hyde through an intermediary. Wren himself lived mostly in a private house in Oxford, and there wrote a critique of Harrington’s Oceana and a pamphlet called Monarchy Asserted, which were published in 1657 and 1659. He seems to have joined the exiled Court shortly afterwards.3

At the Restoration Mordaunt recommended Wren to Hyde, who had formed a favourable opinion of his literary abilities, and made him his secretary or remembrancer. A founder of the Royal Society and a member of its council, he shared the scientific interests of his cousin Sir Christopher Wren. He was involved in a double return for Mitchell at the general election of 1661, and seated on the merits of the return. A moderately active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, he was appointed to 101 committees, including the committee of elections and privileges in eight sessions, and twice acted as teller. In the opening session his committees included those for draining the fens and restoring the bishops to the House of Lords, the inquiry into the shortfall in the revenue, and the corporations and uniformity bills. On 19 May 1662 he helped to manage a conference on the regulation of printing. In 1663 he was named to the committees for the staple bill and the bill to regulate the sale of offices and honours. He continued to serve on committees concerned with drainage projects, and on 3 May 1664 acted as teller for a motion to instruct a committee to give a second hearing to Henry Williams over the Bedford level bill. On 9 Feb. 1665 he was teller against adjourning the debate on the Yarmouth herring trade. In the Oxford session he was appointed to the committees for the five mile bill and the attainder of English officers in the service of the enemy. Andrew Marvell described ‘bloated Wren’ as leader of the gluttons and cheats on the government benches, and depicted him among the lord chancellor’s minions counting his ill-gotten gains.4

Clarendon recommended Wren to his son-in-law, the Duke of York, in succession to (Sir) William Coventry, who agreed that he was ‘a very ingenious man’. The parliamentary inquiry into the miscarriages of the war put him in a difficult position. He told the navy board that he had ‘not skill enough to advise what answer to return to the committee’, but undertook to make a list of all commissions granted in the navy from Coventry’s entry books. Still loyal to Clarendon, he assured many Members from the King’s own mouth that the fallen minister had shown only too much respect for the rule of law, but was disavowed by his faithless sovereign. On the Duke’s instructions he informed the House on 9 Apr. 1668 that Rear-Admiral Harman had been ordered to hasten to Westminster to give his account of miscarriages in the late war to the committee of inquiry. Later in the month he was among those instructed to bring in a clause appropriating the revenue from the new wine duty to the use of the navy. In 1669 he was named to committees to consider extending the duration of the conventicles bill and to receive information about seditious conventicles. He seems to have been the principal architect of the measure to prevent surrenders to pirates; he was the first Member named to the committee on 30 Mar. 1670, and reported the bill with amendments on the following day. A proviso to prevent the carriage of merchandise on warships was ordered, and he again headed the committee to draft and to amend it. He helped to manage a conference, but the two Houses had not reached agreement by the end of the session. In the following year he was named to the committee on the bill to prevent disturbances by seamen and to preserve naval stores, which he took up to the Lords. He was classed as a dependant of the Duke’s on the court and opposition lists in 1669-71. In the spring of 1672 he accompanied the Duke, writing to Joseph Williamson, ‘I am so wretched a seaman that in the least blowing weather I cannot hold up my head, and am so very ill this morning that I must beg your pardon for not writing with my own hand’. Nevertheless, he insisted on carrying out his duties, and was mortally wounded at the battle of Sole Bay. He died at Greenwich on 14 June and was buried in Pembroke College chapel. In his will, drawn up on the eve of the battle, he left estates in Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, and the Isle of Ely to be divided among his three brothers.5

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Basil Duke Henning


  • 1. The Gen. n.s. vi. 169-71.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1663-4, p. 209; Pepys Diary, 14 Apr. 1665, 2 Sept. 1667; Sel. Charters (Selden Soc. xxviii), 183; T70/75; R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 359; HMC Hodgkin, 280.
  • 3. DNB; C. Wren, Parentalia, 53-55.
  • 4. Cal. Cl. SP, v. 12; Wren, 55; CJ, viii. 436, 556, 598; Marvell ed. Margoliouth, i. 145.
  • 5. Clarendon, Life, iii. 293, 309-10; Pepys Diary, 2 Sept. 1667; CSP Dom. 1667, p. 536; 1667-8, pp. 526-7; 1672, p. 165; CJ, ix. 77, 151, 157, 244; Bulstrode Pprs. 34; Hatton Corresp. (Cam. Soc. xxii), 89; DNB; PCC 1 Pye.