Whiting, Richard (DNB00)

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WHITING, RICHARD (d. 1539), abbot of Glastonbury, graduated M.A. at Cambridge in 1483 and D.D. in 1505, and became a monk at Glastonbury (where he may previously have been a scholar) during the abbacy of Richard Bere (for conjectures, more or less plausible, of the date and place of birth, see Gasquet, The Last Abbot of Glastonbury, pp. 14, 19). He was admitted to the order of acolyte in September 1498, sub-deacon in 1499, deacon in 1500, priest 6 March 1501 (Gasquet, p. 28, quoting register of Bishop King of Bath and Wells). He held for some time the office of camerarius in the abbey. On the death of Bere in February 1525 forty-seven of the monks gave their rights of electing into the hands of Wolsey, and on 3 March 1525 the cardinal appointed Whiting to the vacant abbacy (document in Adam of Domersham, ed. Hearne, vol. i. pp. xcvii sq.) After canonical investigations, &c., on 5 April 1525 he received restitution of the temporalities of the abbey (Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, iv. i. 548).

While abbot he appears frequently in the state papers as presenting Christmas gifts to the king, providing hawks, &c., negotiating concerning advowsons, and engaging lay clerks and organists. The property of the abbey was very large, and the abbot kept great state, bringing up nearly three hundred sons of the nobility and gentry besides other meaner folk; he entertained sometimes five hundred persons of quality at once, and every Wednesday and Friday fed the poor of the neighbourhood. When he went abroad he was attended by over a hundred men. He entertained Leland, who in his first draft spoke of him as ‘homo sane candidissimus, et amicus meus singularis’ (Collect. vi. 70). In 1534 he took the oath of supremacy with his prior and fifty monks (Letters and Papers, vii. 296, 473; the oath was signed 19 Sept., but had apparently been taken on 1 June).

The early investigations spoke well of the state of Glastonbury. Layton, writing to Cromwell 24 Aug. 1535, says that the monks are there ‘so strait kept that they cannot offend, but fain they would’ (ib., ix. 50); and it has been suggested that the gladness with which the monks departed on the dissolution (Wright, Dissolution of the Monasteries, p. 298) is evidence of the strictness of Whiting's rule (R. W. Dixon in English Historical Review, October 1897, p. 782). The abbot seems to have been anxious to be on good terms with Cromwell. He thanks him ‘for his goodness to this house,’ grants him a corrody formerly enjoyed by Sir Thomas More, ‘wishing it a better thing’ (Letters and Papers, ix. 59, 105). Nevertheless the jurisdiction of the abbey over the town and district was suspended (ib. p. 231), and strict injunctions as to the management of the property and observance of the rules were given by the visitors (ib. p. 85). It was announced, however, that there was no intention of suppressing the abbey (ib. x. 180).

In 1536 a friar preaching in the abbey denounced the ‘new fangylles and new men’ (ib. p. 121), and this appears to have directed the attention of the court to alleged sedition in the house (ib. xii. 264). The property of the abbey was constantly being granted on leases to courtiers (ib. passim), and Whiting, writing from his castle of Sturminster-Newton, Dorset, 26 Jan. 1538, complains that his ‘game in certain parks is much decayed by despoil’ (ib. vol. xiii. pt. i. p. 50). He appears to have been reassured about the same time by Cromwell against any ‘fear of suppression or change of life’ (ib. pp. 211–12, and see Mr. Gairdner's note), and at Christmas 1538 his servants received the usual present from the king (ib. pt. ii. p. 538).

At the beginning of 1539 Glastonbury was the only religious house left untouched in the county. In September a new visitation was determined on. On 16 Sept. Layton wrote to Cromwell that Whiting, whom he had formerly praised, ‘now appears to have no part of a christian man’ (ib. xiv. ii. 54). On 19 Sept. Layton, Pollard, and Moyle arrived at Glastonbury, but, not finding the abbot, went to Sharpham, one of his manors, where they found and examined him, apparently touching the succession. He was then taken back to Glastonbury, and thence to the Tower. There has been much discussion as to the charge on which the abbot was arrested (see Sanders, De Schismate, p. 135, ed. 1628; Burnet, Hist. of the Re- formation, p. 239; Godwin, Annals, pp. 167–168; Letters and Papers, xiv. ii. passim); but it seems certain that it was not concerning the royal supremacy, but the succession to the crown (see the commissioners' letter to Cromwell, Wright, Dissolution of the Monasteries, p. 255; and Letters and Papers, xiv. ii. 136, where Marillac states that Whiting was ‘put into the Tower because in taking the abbey treasures, valued at two hundred thousand crowns, they found a written book of the arguments on behalf of Queen Catherine’).

On 2 Oct., by which time the abbot was safe in the Tower, ‘being but a very weak man and sickly’ (ib. p. 61), the commissioners reported to Cromwell that they had come to the knowledge of treasons committed by him (ib. p. 104). In the same month Cromwell wrote his sinister ‘remembrances’ touching the abbot: ‘Certain persons to be sent to the Tower for the further examination of the abbat of Glaston …’ [for his own examination of the abbot, see Wright's Dissolution of the Monasteries, p. 262]. ‘The abbat of Glaston to be tried at Glaston, and also executed there with his complycys. Counsellors to give evidence … against the abbat of Glaston, Rich. Pollard, Lewis Forstew, Thos. Moyle. To see that the evidence be well sorted and the indictments well drawn.’

Later ‘remembrances’ repeat this, and record the vast sums received from the abbey (Letters and Papers, xiv. ii. 424, 427). It is possible that a charge of embezzlement may have been added to that of treason, but of this there is no clear evidence (compare Gasquet, p. 102, with the original letters, &c.), though the monks with Whiting seem to have been charged with ‘robbing Glastonbury church.’ The abbot was sent down to Wells in charge of Pollard. He was arraigned at Wells on Friday, 14 Nov., and ‘the next day put to execution on the Torre Hill, next unto the town of Glaston’ (Wright, pp. 259–60, 261–2). At the moment of execution he asked the king ‘to forgive him his great offences, and took his death very patiently.’ The monks who suffered with him were John Thorne and Roger James. His limbs were exposed at Wells, Bath, Ilchester, and Bridgwater.

Whiting was ‘beatified’ in 1896. He appears to have been a pious man, a good ruler, and a keen sportsman.

[Besides the authorities quoted in the text, Hearne's History and Antiquities of Glastonbury, 1722; Burnet's History of the Reformation; Godwin's Annals; Sanders's De Origine Schismatis Anglicani; Engl. Hist. Rev. xii. 781–5.]

W. H. H.