From Lancashire, Madew became Fellow of St John's College, Cambridge in 1530. He graduated M.A, in 1533, then B.D. in 1543 and D. D. in 1546. His appointment as Regius Professor was around 1545. He was Vice-Chancellor on four occasions.
In 1548 as Vice-Chancellor Madew stopped a proposed disputation by Roger Ascham on the Eucharist. The next year, on 20 June, there was an official disputation on a similar topic. In the audience, in the philosophy schools, were William Parr, 1st Marquess of Northampton, and all the college Visitors. Madew was required to defend the Protestant side, against Alban Langdale, William Glyn and others. On that occasion Nicholas Ridley, there as a moderator of the discussion, frequently took up the argument rather than letting Madew speak.
At the end of his life Madew was reconciled to the Catholic church.
- "Madew, John (MDW529J)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
- Thomas Wright; Harry Longueville Jones (1841). The Universities: Le Keux's Memorials of Cambridge: a Series of Views of the Colleges, Halls, and Public Buildings. Tilt and Bogue. p. 403. Retrieved 17 July 2013.
- Charles Henry Cooper; Thompson Cooper; George John Gray (1858). Athenae Cantabrigienses: 1500-1585. Deighton, Bell. p. 264. Retrieved 17 July 2013.
- Charles Henry Cooper (1843). Annals of Cambridge. Printed by Warwick and co. pp. 31–. Retrieved 17 July 2013.
- Gilbert Burnet (1850). The history of the reformation of the Church of England. Clarendon press. p. 390. Retrieved 17 July 2013.
- Acts and Monuments Online, 1576 edition Book 9, 1350 K. Edw. 6. Determination of B. Ridley at Cambridge agaynst Transubstantiation.