1535-1603. Puritan divine. Educated at Clare Hall, Cambridge (1547), he was then scholar at St. John's (1550), but had to leave on Mary's accession (1553). Returning after her death, he eventually became a major fellow of Trinity (1562). The Reformation doctrines and practice of St. John's-no surplice, etc.-spread to Trinity with Cartwright's encouragement, and in 1569 he was appointed Lady Margaret professor of divinity after a two-year absence as chaplain to the archbishop of Armagh. Particularly in his lectures on the first two chapters of Acts he compared the constitution and hierarchy of the Church of England most unfavorably with that of the early Christians. John Whitgift* as vice-chancellor deprived him of his chair (1570), and as master of Trinity deposed him from his fellowship (1571).
After some time in Geneva with Beza,* possibly as a professor of divinity, he returned to England in 1572, but left again the following year owing to the uproar ensuing on John Field's and Thomas Wilcox's Admonition to Parliament-a Presbyterian work with which he was in full agreement. While abroad at Heidelberg and Antwerp (where he ministered to the English congregation) he married the sister of John Stubbs* and produced an answer to the Reims NT (which was suppressed until 1618). On his illicit return in 1585 he was seized by Bishop John Aylmer,* but released and attacked in passing in the Marprelate Tracts.* A somewhat pedantic theorist, Cartwright grew alarmed when his followers tried to put his theories into practice, but showed a contemptuous indifference to John Greenwood and Henry Barrow, and separated himself from the Brownists.* Tried by the Court of High Commission in 1590, he was committed to the Fleet Prison for a time, but released through Burghley's intervention, and spent his last years in Warwick, “a rich and honoured patriarch” helping with the production of the Millenary Petition* (1603), but not surviving until the Hampton Court Conference.
See biography by B. Brook (1845); and A.F.S. Pearson, Thomas Cartwright and Elizabethan Puritanism, 1535-1695 (1925).