Richard Whiting (Abbot)

Richard Whiting (Abbot)

Richard Whiting was the Last Abbot of Glastonbury, date of birth unknown, executed 15 November 1539.


Whiting graduated as M.A. (Cambridge) in 1483 and Doctor of Divinity in 1505. He was ordained deacon in 1500 and priest in 1501. After the death of the previous abbot of Glastonbury in February 1525, the community decided to elect his successor "per formam compromissi", which elevates the selection to a higher ranking personage - in this case Cardinal Wolsey. Wolsey obtained King Henry VIII's permission to act and chose Richard Whiting. The first ten years of Whiting's rule were prosperous and peaceful. He was a sober and caring spiritual leader and a good manager of the abbey's day to day life. During the period of the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII sent Dr. Richard Layton to examine Whiting and the inhabitants of the abbey. He found all in good order, but suspended the abbot's jurisdiction over the town of Glastonbury. Small "injunctions" were given to him about the management of the abbey property. A number of times over the next few years, Whiting was told the abbey was safe from dissolution.


By January, 1539, Glastonbury was the only monastery left in Somerset, and on 19 September in that year the royal commissioners, Layton, Pollard and Thomas Moyle, arrived there without warning on the orders of Thomas Cromwell. Whiting was sent up to the Tower of London that Cromwell might examine him for himself, but the precise charge on which he was arrested, and subsequently executed, remains uncertain though his case is usually referred to as one of treason. Cromwell clearly acted as judge and jury: in his manuscript, "Remembrances" are the entries: "Item, Certayn persons to be sent to the Towre for the further examenacyon of the Abbot, of Glaston . . . . Item. The Abbot, of Glaston to (be) tryed at Glaston and also executvd there with his complvcys. . . Item. Councillors to give evidence against the Abbot of Glaston, Rich. Pollard, Lewis Forstew (Forstell), Thos. Moyle." As a member of the House of Lords, Whiting should have been attainted by an Act of Parliament passed for the purpose, but his execution was an accomplished fact, before Parliament even met.

Whiting was sent back to Glastonbury with Pollard and reached Wells on 14 November. Here some sort of trial apparently took place, and next day, Saturday, 15 November, he was taken to Glastonbury with two of his monks, Dom John Thorne and Dom Roger James, where all three were fastened upon hurdles and dragged by horses to the top of Glastonbury Tor which overlooks the town. Here they were hanged, drawn and quartered, Abbot Whiting's head being fastened over the gate of the now deserted abbey and his limbs exposed at Wells, Bath, Ilchester and Bridgewater. Richard Whiting was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church on 13 May 1895.

Whiting was the subject of the novel "The last Abbot of Glastonbury, by Rev. A. D. Clarke, published in 1883.

When Frederick Bligh Bond excavated Glastonbury Abbey, he removed the bones of Richard Whiting. Dom Ælred Carlyle took a third of these which are currently kept at Prinknash Abbey.

(Nowadays the Abbot of Downside is the titular Abbot of Glastonbury.)

ee also

* Hugh Cook Faringdon, Last Abbot of Reading
* Thomas Marshall (the Blessed John Beche), Last Abbot of Colchester


* "The Last Abbot of Glastonbury and Other Essays", Francis Aidan Gasquet, 1908
* "King Arthur's Avalon: The Story of Glastonbury", Geoffrey Ashe, 1957
* "Remember Richard Whiting (The Glastonbury Documents: 1)" by J. F. Cousins, Glastonbury, 2007
* 'Re-Membering Richard Whiting' by Zoé d'Ay, "Avalon Magazine", No. 37, Winter 2007

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