A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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2. THE ABBEY OF READING
It is clear from the opening words of the foundation charter of Henry I, which states that the three old abbeys of Reading, Cholsey, and Leominster had been supposed to be destroyed for their sins and their lands alienated and possessed by laymen, that there was an earlier religious house at Reading known as an abbey. It is probable that the abbeys of Reading and Cholsey were destroyed in 1006, which was the year when the Danes overran this district and burnt Wallingford. Cholsey Abbey was founded about 986, by Ethelred, as an act of expiation for the death of his brother Edward the Martyr, and it has been conjectured that the first religious house at Reading was established at the same time by Elfrida in atonement for the like crime.
Henry I laid the foundation of the new abbey at Reading on 23 June, 1121. (fn. 1) By charter of the year 1125 he bestowed on this house lands at Reading, Cholsey, and Leominster (Hereford), with their churches, woods, mills, fisheries, &c., and with a mint and one moneyer at Reading. He also granted immunity to the monks and their tenants from all customs, tolls, and portdues throughout the kingdom. Moreover he bestowed full privileges of the hundred court, and all manner of pleas, and every kind of jurisdiction over the town of Reading and its precincts. On an abbot's death, the possessions of the monastery were to remain in the hands of the prior and convent, with full power to elect his successor. The abbot was not to possess any revenues of his own, but to hold in common with his brethren; he was not to use the alms of the house for his own relations, but solely for the relief of the poor and in the entertainment of strangers. No office was to be made hereditary, but to be filled at the discretion of the abbot and monks. (fn. 2)
At the same time, or shortly afterwards, Henry gave the monks a second charter, which is solely concerned with their exemptions from all lay and ecclesiastical charges of every kind, and with their special privileges. An important addition is therein made to the statements of the foundation charter, namely, that no royal forest officials were to interfere in any way with the monastic woods; for the abbot and his tenants were to have the same power and liberty in their woods as the king had in his own. (fn. 3)
By a third charter Henry granted to the abbey a fair on the festival of St. Laurence and the three following days. (fn. 4)
The founder by other charters conferred on the monks the churches of Thatcham and Wargrave (Berkshire), and Handborough (Oxfordshire); and confirmed several donations of other benefactors, which included the church of 'Wychbury' (Wiltshire), the gift of the earl of Leicester.
Although the monks first introduced into this abbey were Cluniacs, and the first two abbots were members of the great Cluniac priory of Lewes, while Abbot Hugh II in 1199 became abbot of Cluny, the connexion between Reading and Cluny appears to have been slight and not to have lasted beyond the thirteenth century. In 1207 the abbey of Reading was still considered to be a Cluniac house, (fn. 5) but soon after this date it seems to have become attached to the general Benedictine order.
The buildings of the abbey, with the exception of the church, were completed in five years.
The death of the royal founder occurred in Normandy in December, 1135, and his body having been embalmed was, agreeably to his own request, brought over to England, and interred before the high altar of Reading Abbey. Over the vault a splendid monument was subsequently erected to Henry I, and in 1398 Richard II consented to confirm the abbey in all its rights and privileges, only on condition that the abbot would, within a year, honourably repair the tomb and effigy of King Henry their founder over his place of burial. (fn. 6)
Henry's queen Adeliza, who survived him and married William de Albini, earl of Arundel, gave to the abbey, on the first anniversary of the king's death, the manor of Aston, Berkshire, which had been settled on her as part of her royal dower, offering a pall upon the high altar as a testimony of confirmation. The queen dowager subsequently gave them the church land at Stanton Harcourt, to the intent that a lamp should be kept perpetually burning before the pyx and the tomb of the founder. (fn. 7) After the death of her second husband, Adeliza bestowed on the abbey the churches of Berkeley Harness (Gloucestershire), Cam, Arlingham, Wotton, Beverstone, and Almondsbury; and also 100s. to be paid every Christmas out of a wharf in London, for the expense of the founder's anniversary. Adeliza herself was eventually interred at the abbey.
The Empress Maud, the daughter of the founder, for the souls of Henry her father and Queen Maud her mother gave to the abbey the Berkshire manors of Blewbury and East Hendred, as well as lands at Marlborough, (fn. 8) &c. The empress was at Reading during Rogationtide, 1141, when she was received at the abbey with great honour. King Stephen granted confirmation charters, but no bequests of his own.
Henry II was a firm friend to the monastery. In addition to various confirmation charters, he permitted the monks to inclose 'the park of Cumba' for the use of infirm monks and the guests of the house. By other charters he granted them a second fair at Reading on St. James's Day and the three following days, and also a weekly market at Thatcham. He also granted them a revenue of 40 marks out of the Exchequer, until he could secure them a landed revenue of like value, which he afterwards did out of the manor of Hoo; and the right of importing goods free of all seaport duties. (fn. 9)
Henry II having marched an army into Wales in 1163, Henry de Essex, his standard-bearer at the battle of Coleshill, supposing the king to have been slain, threw away the standard and fled. He was subsequently charged with treason by Robert de Montford, and trial by combat was sanctioned by the king. The site selected for the encounter was a small island of the Thames close to Reading. The combat took place in the presence of the king and many of the nobility. Essex was defeated, but the king remitted the death penalty and is said to have compelled him to become a monk at Reading. (fn. 10)
In the following year the great church of the abbey was finished; it was consecrated by Archbishop Becket, in the presence of the king and the great magnates of the realm. (fn. 11)
William, the eldest son of the king, died in 1156, and was buried in the abbey, as was Reginald, earl of Cornwall, a natural son of Henry I, in 1175. The king kept his court at Reading at Whitsuntide 1175, and at Easter 1177. (fn. 12) There was a great gathering of the suffragan bishops of the province of Canterbury and the monks of Christ Church, Canterbury, in this abbey, on 5 August, 1184, to elect an archbishop. Henry II was present, and the assembly was adjourned to Windsor. (fn. 13)
Kings Richard and John granted confirmation charters and small additional bequests; the latter granted yet a third fair to the abbey, to be held on the vigil, festival, and two following days of SS. Philip and James. (fn. 14)
Hugh II, the eighth abbot, who ruled from 1180 to 1199, was a great theologian; in the latter year he was made abbot of Cluny. (fn. 15) Several of the earlier abbots of Reading were promoted to important posts; Hugh, the first abbot, was consecrated archbishop of Rouen in 1130, and William, the sixth abbot, archbishop of Bordeaux in 1173.
Pope Innocent III in 1207 granted protection to Helias, abbot of Reading, and his brethren, present and future, in their possessions, viz., Reading, Cholsey, and Leominster, with their churches, chapels, cemeteries, tithes, and oblations, Thatcham, and the churches of Wargrave, Whitley, 'Wybury,' Blewbury, land in Hendred, Aston and its church, 'Ravinton' and its church, the churches of Stanton, Handborough, Englefield, and 'Dudelesfaude,' land in Houghton, lands in 'Lingeborche,' and that in Stratfield which belonged to Hugh de Mortimer, and in Sawbridgeworth, lands and rents in London and Berkhampstead, land acquired with the tenement of Hoo, and the priory of May and Lindegros in Scotland. (fn. 16)
On 28 March, 1228, when Henry III was at Reading, the abbot was successful in resisting the claim of the bailiff of Windsor to tolls on the vessels of the abbey descending and ascending the Thames to and from London with goods and merchandise. Claim was made for £52 of arrears of such tolls. But after inquisition and searching the rolls of the Exchequer, the abbot made good his claim to exemption by charters of the king's progenitors. (fn. 17)
In May, 1231, the sheriff of Oxford received a mandate authorizing him to take with him upright and qualified men and to go in person to the chapel of St. Anne on the bridge of Reading (on the Oxford side of the Thames)—part of which is founded on the fee of the abbot of Reading, and part on the fee of William earl of Pembroke—and in the sight and testimony of the men to give to the abbot such seisin of the chapel as he had on the day when the earl died. (fn. 18)
An interesting pittance grant was made to the monks in 1282. Ela Longespeye, countess of Warwick, granted to the abbey 20 marks annually out of Southwood manor, Doddington, Cambridgeshire, to provide spices to be distributed by the prior and sub-prior; with a further grant of her wardship of Shenstone, so that the whole convent might be provided each Sunday with a good pittance by the cook in honour of the Holy Trinity, and each Thursday in honour of the Ascension. (fn. 19)
In 1310 licence was obtained by the abbot under the king's privy seal, for the appropriation of the church of Thatcham. (fn. 20)
Licence was granted in 1327 to the abbot and convent for the alienation to them by Robert de Abingdon of four messuages and a stone quay in London, on condition of their finding two secular chaplains to celebrate divine service daily in the Lady chapel of the abbey church, for the souls of Master Richard Abingdon, his ancestors and heirs. (fn. 21)
The abbey received a considerable endowment in 1331. In November of that year licence was obtained by Hugh de Redynges for the abbot and convent to acquire in mortmain three messuages, 240 acres of land, 10 of meadow, 3 of pasture, 40 of wood, and 16s. of rent in Leominster, Ivington, and other places in Herefordshire, to find two chaplains to celebrate daily in their convent church. (fn. 22)
William Pakynton, king's clerk, and another, obtained licence in October, 1384, on payment of the exceptionally heavy fee of £20 in the hanaper, to alienate to the abbey of Reading three messuages, three shops, two tofts, and £13 12s. 10d. rent in Reading for finding a monk chaplain to celebrate daily in the conventual church for the souls of the king, of Thomas Spigurnel and Katharine his wife, of Adam Hartington, and others. (fn. 23)
In 1232 John son of Richard of Cornwall was buried at the abbey, and two years later Isabel his sister was laid by his side. (fn. 24)
On 15 June, 1235, Robert Grosteste was consecrated bishop of Lincoln and Hugh bishop of St. Asaph, in the great conventual church of Reading, by the archbishop of Canterbury. (fn. 25) It was through Grosteste's influence that the king changed the days of several of the abbey's markets from Sunday to an ordinary week day. Another consecration was held in the abbey church in 1244, when the bishop of Winchester consecrated Roger bishop of Bath and Wells. (fn. 26)
The debts of the house were considerable in 1275. An entry on the Patent Rolls in February of that year requests the knights freemen and other tenants of the abbey to aid the convent with a subsidy in consequence of its embarrassed condition. At a later date in the same month a mandate was issued to the abbot to remove from the abbey and from its cell of Leominster all serjeants and horses, with their keepers, either of the king or others, staying in either house, and to receive no more until the said abbey be relieved of its indebtedness. (fn. 27) Edward I visited Reading and lodged at the abbey in January, 1273, and again in December, 1275. In December, 1275, Sir Roland de Herlegh was appointed by the crown to the custody of the house of Leominster, a cell of Reading. It had fallen into debt, and all that Sir Roland was able to save, after finding the dean and chaplains in food and clothing, and poor mendicants in alms, he was to apply to the discharge of its debts by view of the abbot and prior of Reading. Power was reserved to the abbot to remove Roland from this custody at will. (fn. 28)
Licence was granted in August, 1289, by Pope Nicholas IV, to the abbot of Reading and his successors to use the mitre, ring, gloves, dalmatic, tunicle, and sandals, according to the indult of Clement III; and this both within the monastery on solemn days, and in processions and episcopal synods. (fn. 29)
The seals of the abbot and convent of Reading were counterfeited in 1290 by Jonas de Newbury and Isaac de Pulet, two Jews, and attached to false writings involving large sums of money; for this offence, and for other felonies in divers parts of the realm, the delinquents were committed to the Tower. (fn. 30)
Entry was made on the Close Rolls in July 1290 of the indebtedness of Abbot Robert to Lewis de Bello Monte, canon of Salisbury, of the large sum of 450 marks; but it was subse quently cancelled on payment being made. (fn. 31) Possibly, however, it was partly owing to financial entanglements that on 2 November, 1290, when the king was at Clipstone, news of the cession of Abbot Robert was brought by Richard de Wynton, Nicholas de Leominster, and William de Sutton, monks of Reading. One of the three messengers, William de Sutton, was elected abbot in the same month. (fn. 32) On the occasion of his election, the king, to spare the labour and expense of the abbot-elect, ordered, on 28 November, 1290, that Master William de Meschia, his treasurer, should proceed to Reading and take the elect's fealty, on the election being confirmed; he was to certify the king thereof by envoy, and instruct the prior and convent to cause the temporalities to be delivered to the abbot. (fn. 33)
Among the interesting set of letters of the first (English) Prince of Wales, afterwards Edward II, at the Public Record Office, written in 1302-3, are two addressed to the abbot of Reading. The first of these, dated 10 June, referred to a proposal of the abbot to tallage the prince's good friend Adam the skinner and other burgesses of Reading, on account of the tallage on the king's demesnes, and as such an action was novel the prince begged the abbot, 'for love of us,' to stay his action for a month that counsel might be taken. The second letter, of 6 September, is of more interest. The prince sends his well-beloved John Lalemaner, keeper of one of his chargers, who had wounded his hand, to the abbey, as he understood they had a good surgeon at the house, promising his special gratitude to the abbot if they would keep him and sustain him at the abbey until the wound was healed. (fn. 34)
On the death of Abbot Sutton in 1305 the monks elected Nicholas de Quappelade, the precentor, in his room; but on his name being submitted to the bishop of Salisbury certain defects in form were discovered and the election was quashed. The bishop, however, recognizing his good qualities, collated him to the abbacy on 8 September. (fn. 35) Soon after his installation Abbot Nicholas found that the debts of the abbey had reached the great total of £1,227 7s. 8d. He at once resolved to bring about considerable reductions in the household expenditure. A committee of eight monks was formed under the abbot, and they adopted, inter alia, the following resolutions: That a law clerk should be appointed with whom the abbot and treasurer could consult; that a steward should be elected yearly with a stipend of £6 13s. 4d., livery for himself and two servants, and two horses to be kept at the charge of the house; that the town clerk was to be chamberlain in waiting in the abbot's hall; and that one of the two chaplains of the countess of Salisbury's chantry was to be the abbot's secretary. The reduced staff of servants and officials (though some of them were obedientiaries of the house and unsalaried) numbered thirty-seven. To lessen the expenditure, it was further resolved that the days when special pittances were provided by the obedientiaries were to be reduced to ten, pertaining to the treasurer and cellarer. All the obedientiaries were to give exact annual accounts of the money that passed through their hands, whilst one of the treasurers was to examine the accounts of grain and of the larder every month. The accounts of grain bought or sold, of malt and cheese from the different manors, of the cattle for labour and live stock, and of the fish or flesh purchased or brought were all to be entered up in writing week by week. It would seem that this scheme of improved accounts answered for the time, for Abbot Quappelade found money to build the Lady chapel in 1314, and when he died in 1327 left money put at his disposal by a Reading burgess to Balliol College. Had the abbey then been in a necessitous condition, he would scarcely have made this considerable bequest to Oxford. (fn. 36)
Just before the vacant abbacy was filled up in 1305, the bishop commissioned Master Walter Henny, canon of Sarum, to absolve certain suspended and excommunicated monks of Reading (we know not their offence) to enable them to take part in the election of a superior. (fn. 37) When the election actually took place there were sixtyfive monks present, but one was objected to as being still excommunicate, and another as being an idiot.
Edward II, in 1310, at the instance of Queen Isabella, ordered the abbot and convent to admit into their house Robert Pipard, who had long served the late Queen Eleanor and the king, and to provide him for life with food and clothing according to his estate, and to confirm this by letters patent under their chapter seal. At the same time the king revoked orders that he had recently made on them with regard to doing the like service for William Becok. (fn. 38)
Thomas de la Naperye, who had served Edward II and his father, was sent to the abbey in October, 1316, to receive the allowance that Philip le Charetter had had in that house. (fn. 39) In March, 1318, Robert le Orfevre, who had long served the king, was sent to Reading Abbey, to be thence forwarded to their priory cell of Leominster, where he was to receive a monk's allowance, together with a robe and all necessaries of life. (fn. 40)
Reading was one of those abbeys where the crown claimed to pension a clerk on the house until such time as they could find a benefice for him, on each new creation of an abbot. Abbot Quappelade, dying in 1327-8, was succeeded by Abbot John de Appleford. On 9 March, 1328, Henry de Carleton, one of the king's clerks, was sent to the new abbot, with pension-claiming letters from Edward III. (fn. 41)
Whilst John de Appleford was abbot, in the year 1338, Edward III borrowed from the abbey certain valuables, estimated at £277 4s., including a chalice and paten of pure gold worth £22 15s., another pure gold chalice worth £54 9s., and a small reliquary of pure gold after the fashion of a feretory, garnished with sapphires, pearls, rubies, &c., and worth £200. The king pledged himself to restore them or their value. In consideration of this loan, the king renewed to the abbey the privilege of a mint, of which they had been deprived by Edward I. (fn. 42)
Although this is not a place to give an account of the structure or remains of the old abbey, an incident that connects the structure with the world-famed beauty of the mother church of Salisbury can scarcely be omitted. There were evidently important works of reconstruction in progress at this abbey during the rule of Abbot John de Appleford. In June, 1334, Master Richard de Farlegh, the builder (cementarius) of the glorious spire of Salisbury, covenanted with the dean and chapter to give up all other work on which he was engaged—notably at the monastery of Reading and at the cathedral church of Bath—and labour solely and diligently for the Sarum chapter. (fn. 43)
The abbot and convent of Reading petitioned the pope in 1354 for faculty to have thirty monks in their twentieth year ordained priests by any Catholic bishop, for the service of their monastery and places (that is cells or granges, not churches) subject to it, in consequence of so many of the monks having died during the recent epidemic. The prayer was granted. (fn. 44)
In August, 1384, the bishop of Hereford insisted with much vigour on the monks of the cell of Leominster undertaking the burden of collecting a moiety of the tenth granted by the province of Canterbury to the king, in the deanery and archdeaconry of Hereford. The abbot of Reading brought the matter before the king in council, and was able to show that although the monks of Reading were deputed by grants of the king's progenitors to stay in the Leominster house and to celebrate there divine service and pray for the king, they were removable at the will of the abbot alone, as appeared from the composition made between the then bishop and chapter of Hereford, and the then abbot and convent of Reading, and afterwards confirmed by Pope Honorius III (1216-27). Thereupon the king, after mature deliberation with his justices and council, declared under his signet that all the Reading monks so staying at Leominster should be for ever exempt from the collection of clerical tenths and subsidies in that diocese. (fn. 45)
Thomas Pentecombe and two others were appointed by the crown in March, 1390, to arrest and deliver to the abbot of Reading, Thomas Abingdon, an apostate Benedictine monk of that house, who was a vagabond in the city of London and other parts of England. (fn. 46)
There is a curious instance of the interference of that energetic pope, Boniface IX, circa 1400, with the internal administration of this abbey. William Henley, claustral prior of the Reading monks, had held office for some time, and had yearly received from the common rents as much for food as two other monks; £6 for his clothing and other necessaries; for the food and clothing of the three servitors in his office (a yeoman, a groom, and a page), the usual allowance for monastic servants; and 26s. 8d. and sufficient hay for the keep of a horse. It had been the custom for the holder of the office of claustral prior to be removed at the pleasure of the abbot; but the pope ordered that William Henley was to hold the office for life, with the usual emoluments, and not to be removed against his will. If he resigned there was to be given him for life as much for his food and clothing as is allowed to two other monks. (fn. 47)
On the Saturday before Palm Sunday, 1432, the Common Council of Reading, at a meeting at which seventy-four were present, elected twenty-four burgesses to represent them at an interview with Abbot Thomas Henley. (fn. 48) This was probably on account of the oft-recurring disputes between the abbey and the town as to the gild privileges. The town records, under 2 October, 1444, contain an entry of a composition between the burgesses and the lord abbot. (fn. 49) On 25 June, 1451, a bill was drawn up, to be shown to the abbot's counsel, containing the articles of the gild. (fn. 50)
In the tyme of William Rede, Meyre (1456), and all yt have be Meyrys, with all the Bourgeys of the Geld Halle, byndyth them selfe by ther feyth to abyde a rule as in expence for materys the wheche be betwyxt my lord of Redynge and the same Meyres and Bourgeys of the same Gyld. (fn. 51)
The town records between 1456 and 1478 show that part of the entrance fees into the gild were paid throughout that period to the abbey. Thus, in 1456, Gilbert Sayer's entrance fee of 6s. 8d. was divided equally between the hall and the abbey, and the fee of William Swerdbreke, tailor, of 10s. was similarly divided; but in each of these cases the new member also paid 6s. 8d. for a luncheon (jantaculum) for the mayor and his brethren. In 1460 Robert Quedamton paid 13s. 4d. as entrance fee, 5s. of which went to the hall, and 5s. to the abbey, whilst 3s. 4a. was allotted to the lunch. William Cokkyng in 1462, as the son of a burgess, was admitted on lower terms; his fine was 4s. for the abbot, and 20d. for the lunch. This seems to have been the usual scale for the son of a burgess. (fn. 52)
According to the tenor of an agreement of 1254, (fn. 53) the brethren of the gild were annually to present three persons to the abbot, out of whom he was to choose one to be master or warden, a title afterwards changed to mayor. This custom was maintained with but little variation up to the dissolution of the monastery. Several instances of this submission to the lord abbot occur in the first extant volume of the Corporation Annals. Thus, in 1458, William Hunt, William Rede, and William Pernecote were elected on 25 July to serve the office of mayor by their fellow burgesses, and on 29 September Abbot Thorne appointed the last of the three to be mayor for the ensuing year. (fn. 54) One of the later entries of this kind is of the year 1499, when, on 27 September, Abbot John Thorne II 'out of his special grace' chose Christian Nicholas, the first of the three names nominated by the burgesses to be mayor, and discharged Robert Benett and John Turnour from their office of constable, because they had been appointed thereto by the abbot, and not by the mayor and his brethren, nor by the burgesses of the gild. (fn. 55)
In 1507, when Christian Nicholas was again
mayor (on the abbot's appointment), certain variances as to the ordering of constables, warders,
&c., between the town and abbot were set at
rest by decree of the justices of Common Pleas.
The old custom as to the selection by the abbot
of one of three to be mayor was confirmed; the
two constables and ten warders of the five wards
were to be chosen by the gild-merchant, but
sworn in before the abbot; the name of any
person petitioning to be elected a burgess was to
be given to the abbot fourteen days before the
election; a monk was to be present at the
assessing of the fine which was to be divided between the abbot and the gild; an alien's fine was
to be determined by six burgesses on oath, and if
they affirmed it to be reasonable it was to be
accepted by the abbot; and
as towchyng Chepyngavell, which is a yerely fyne onely, of all and every Burges of the seide Gylde, whiche out of tyme of mynde hathe bene payed yerely to the predecessouers of the seid Abbot by every Burges,
burgesses were to pay 6d. yearly, and their widows 2d. (fn. 56)
Reverting to the fifteenth century, we find that Abbot Thomas Henley died on 11 November, 1445. The election to fill the vacancy was conducted by Thomas Stainton, the prior, and thirty-four monks. It was decided to proceed by way of scrutiny, when thirty-three votes were cast for John Thorne, and one each for Robert Chittenham and John Henley. (fn. 57)
Records remain of projected visitations by the bishop of Salisbury, and of the abbot's letter acknowledging receipt of the letters of monition to prepare for the same in 1501, 1505, 1511, 1514, 1519, 1520, and 1526. (fn. 58) But there is no entry of the result of these visitations. It should always be remembered with regard to the Benedictines that they were subject to capitular visitations of their own order, as well as those undertaken by the diocesan.
At the general chapter of English Benedictines held at Northampton in 1480 the duty of visiting the monastery of St. Augustine's, Canterbury, was assigned to the abbot of Reading. The abbot was not able, however, to travel, in consequence of bodily infirmity, and nominated John Thorne, the prior, holding a bachelor's degree, and Richard Wokingham, another of the monks, who was bachelor of theology, to visit as his proctors. (fn. 59) Abbot John was appointed visitor of all the Black Monks in the diocese of Sarum when the general chapter of the order was held at Northampton in 1495. (fn. 60) Again, at the provincial general chapter held in 1521 at Westminster the Reading abbot was appointed visitor of Glastonbury Abbey. (fn. 61)
On Sunday, 30 January, 1521, Henry VIII was at Reading, and made oblation of 3s. 4d. to 'the Child of Grace' at the monastery. (fn. 62) The king was the guest during this visit of Hugh Faringdon, a monk of Reading, whose election by his fellows as abbot had been confirmed by Henry VIII on 26 September of the previous year.
In a letter from the bishop of Lincoln to Wolsey, dated 3 March, 1528, as to further information he had received of the distribution at Oxford and elsewhere of 'books of heresy' by Thomas Garret, M.A., the bishop expresses a fear that he has corrupted the monastery of Reading; he had sold to the prior more than sixty such books, and it seemed necessary that attention should be paid to John Sherbourne, prior of Reading. (fn. 63) The result of this attention was the committal of the prior to the Tower; in October, 1532, we hear of the prior being removed to Beauchamp Tower, from some other part of the prison fortress, 'accompanied with the parson of Hony Lane and Christopher Coo, to be converted.' (fn. 64) Eventually the prior, whose office at the monastery had been filled up, was converted—that is, he agreed to recant his heresies.
With regard to this ex-prior, John Sherbourne, Abbot Hugh wrote to Cromwell, in August, 1533, acknowledging a letter from the latter requiring his restoration; but the abbot inclosed a letter he had received from Sherbourne, showing that such a course was 'clean contrary to his mind.' The abbot had got him a benefice of 20 marks a year, but this, too, he had utterly refused. (fn. 65)
Among the numerous new year's gifts made by Henry VIII in 1532 was £20 in a white leather purse, to the abbot of Reading, who was one of his royal chaplains. (fn. 66) Abbot Hugh Faringdon alias Cook was at this time and for several years in good odour with the king. In 1530 Abbot Hugh had been one of those peers spiritual and temporal who signed a petition to the pope impressing on him the danger of delay in the divorce proceedings; he had also offered the king the use of the library of the Reading Abbey to find arguments in favour of the divorce. At a later period (1536) he accepted, in common with the majority of the 'religious' of England, the Act of Royal Supremacy. It has been argued by some that he was a thoroughly illiterate man; but this is only on the authority of an anonymous reviler, and of Chronicler Hall, who roundly states that the abbot was 'a stubborn monk and utterly without learning.' Brown Willis, however, points out that his letters to the University of Oxford (still extant in the register) and his zeal for education at Reading prove the absurdity of such a contention. (fn. 67) In 1532, when the University begged for stone from the quarry belonging to the abbey for the rebuilding of their schools, Abbot Hugh wrote (or a letter was written for him) in the exaggerated humility of the times speaking of himself as an unlearned man; but the very letter itself is proof that such phrases were not to be taken literally.
He was probably born at Faringdon, and hence the name he often bore; but his true family name was Cook, and he bore the arms of Cook of Kent.
The abbot was a great friend of Arthur Plantagenet, Lord Lisle. There are some pleasant letters of Abbot Hugh's, written in November, 1534, both to Lord and Lady Lisle, which give evidence of his kindly nature and ability in languages. He had been entrusted with the special charge of Lord Lisle's young stepson, James Basset, who was to be educated at the monastic grammar school of Reading. The abbot writes to each parent, saying how he had committed the boy to his under-steward, who had an honest wife who would see to his dressing, as he was too young to shift for himself. He considered him 'the most towardly child in learning' that he had known. Alexander Aylmer, Lord Lisle's agent, visited Reading, and wrote to the mother saying that Master James was in good health; the abbot made as much of him as if he was the king's son, and 'plythe hym to his learning, both to Latin and Frenche.' (fn. 68)
Evidences of Cromwell's avaricious and illegal exactions from the religious houses come to light all over the country. A brief letter is extant from Abbot Hugh, dated 15 December, 1534, stating that the convent had sent him by the bearer an annuity of 20 marks, to be taken out of their manor of Aston, Herts. (fn. 69) Among Cromwell's papers, seized when the time came for his own execution, were a large number of private accounts never intended to see light. In February, 1557, he received 5 marks from the abbot of Reading, in April £10 in addition to 20 marks as steward of the monastery, and in November the like payments as in April. This was repeated in 1538. In January, 1539—the year when the monastery was blotted out and the abbot was gibbeted at his own door—Cromwell did not hesitate to take £10 from the abbot, and the great sum of £50 in the following March. (fn. 70)
There was a good deal of trouble in 1535 between the abbot of Reading and the prior of the cell of Leominster, grave charges being alleged against the latter, which the bishop of Hereford repudiated, saying the prior was quite as good as the abbot; but the matter of the discipline maintained at Leominster pertains far more to Hereford than to Berkshire.
On the death of Queen Jane Seymour, the mother of Edward VI, on 24 October, 1537, the king ordered the most elaborate religious functions. The interment at Windsor did not take place until 12 November, but meanwhile there was daily solemn mass in the chapel of Hampton Court, where the body lay in state. On Sunday, 4 November (the most honourable of the days), the abbot of Reading celebrated mass, and solemnly sang the dirige. Abbot Hugh had also his place assigned him in the quire of Windsor at the time of the burial. (fn. 71)
In March, 1538, Abbot Hugh was still in favour, and was placed on the commission of the peace for the county of Berks. (fn. 72)
It was in this year that Cromwell's set of visitors were busy extorting surrenders from the larger houses and from the friaries, to whom the Act of 1536 for the suppression of the lesser monasteries did not apply. Early in 1538 Abingdon had been flagrantly bribed into surrender. But there were no signs of complacency or willingness to accept bribes or big pensions by Abbot Hugh, although he had been willing to purchase favour from Cromwell. Henry VIII's vicar-general now, therefore, began to harass the abbot.
Abbot Hugh wrote to Cromwell in June, 1538, in reply to his letter complaining that the divinity lecture had not been properly given, and that the monks were thereby brought to corrupt judgement, and desiring him to receive one Richard Cobbes as lecturer, with stipend and common. The abbot replied that he had already in the house one of the brothers (Roger London) who was a bachelor of divinity, and who was esteemed by competent judges very well learned both in divinity and humanity, and that he profited the brethren both in the Latin tongue and in the Holy Scriptures. He offered him to be examined by any that Cromwell should appoint. He understood from the bishop of Salisbury that Cobbes, once a canon and a priest, was then married, and therefore degraded. Though learned, he could not but instil like persuasions of marriage, and that would be an occasion of slander, the laws standing as they do yet. Nevertheless, whatever seemed best to Cromwell should be done. (fn. 73)
Subsequent letters from the bishop of Salisbury to Cromwell show that he was most anxious to obtain the lectureship for Cobbes, who was a servant of his; he assured the Lord Privy Seal that Roger London, their present reader, had been accused to him of heresy by three of the monks half a year ago, and he had therefore inhibited him. Cromwell, however, on this occasion took the part of the abbot rather than the bishop, and did not rebuke Abbot Hugh for disregarding the inhibition. Thereupon the bishop wrote a strangely petulant letter to Cromwell; feels sure that the Lord Privy Seal has a grudge against him, and consequently waters his letters with tears; loves not Cobbes the less because he was a priest and for marriage degraded, he is now at least an honest layman. The bishop's three chief charges of heretical opinions against the abbot's reader were rather strange, namely (1) that Holy Scripture is not sufficient of itself, (2) that ability to preach sincerely is not sufficient qualification for a cure, and (3) that faith does not justify without works. (fn. 74)
When Dr. London, with Layton, Pollard, and Moyle as assistants, was securing the surrender of the Grey Friars, Reading, he also visited the abbey. At the end of a letter about Caversham, 18 September, 1558, he thus refers to the great monastery:—
I have sent upp the principal relik of idolatrie within this realm, an aungell wt oon wyng that browght to Caversham the spere hedde that percyd or Saviours syde upon the crosse. It was conveyd home to Notley. butt I sent my Servant purposely for ytt. I have sent also iij cots of the Images wt such things as I fownde upon them, wt the dagger that they slew King Henry the vj and the knyff that kylled saynt Edward, wt many other lyk holy things. I have defacyd that chapell inward and have sent home the chanon to hys monastery to Notley. I have requyred of my Lord Abbott the relyks of his howse wich he shewed unto me wt gudde will. I have taken an inventorie of them and have lokkyd them upp behynd the high awtter and have the key in my kepyng, and they be always ready at yor Lordeschippes commandment. They have a gudde lecture in Scripture daylie redde in their chapitor howse both in Inglyshe and Laten, to the wich is gudde resort and the Abbott is at yt himself. In any other thing I can do yor Lordeshippe service I am and always shalbe reddy, Godde willyng, wt increase of moch honor long preserve yor gudde Lordeschippe.
At Reding xviij Septembris
Yor most bounden orator and servant
John London. (fn. 75)
The Inventorye of the Relyques off the Howse off Redyng.
Imprimis twoo peces off the holye crosse. Item Saynt James hande. It. St Phelype scolle. It. a bone of Marye Magdalene wt other moo. It. Saynt Anathasus is hande wt other moo. It. a pece off saynte Pancrats arme. It. a bone off saynt Quyntyns arme. It. a bone off saynt Dayde is arme. It. a bone off Mary Salomes arme. It. a bone off saynt Edward ye Martyr is arme. It. a bone of saynt Hierome wt other moo. It. bones off saynt Stephyn. It. a bone off saynt Blase. It. a bone off saynt Osmonde. It. a pece of Saynt Ursula scole. It. a jaw bone of saynt Ethelwold. It. bones off saynt Leodigarye and of S. Hereuei. It. bones off Saynt Margarett. It. bones off Saint Arnal. It. a bone of Saynt Agas with other moo. It. a bone of S. Andrewe and ij peces of his crosse. It. a bone off S. Fredyswyde. It. a bone off saynt Anne. With many others
There be a multitude of small bonys, large stonys and coinys which wold occupie iiij shets of paper to make particularly an inventory of any part thereof. They be all at yor Lordschippes commandment. (fn. 76)
An exceptionally interesting covenant was entered into by the abbey, immediately before the suppression (31 Hen. VIII), with Leonard Cox concerning the school (ludus literarius) of the abbey, and a lobby (venella) attached to the same on the east side. By this it was agreed that Leonard should rule the school moderately and temperately, should teach the youth flocking there grammar and poesy with exactness, should conduct the school on pious and orthodox lines, instructing the scholars in good morals and in the Catholic religion, and do his utmost to impart, if possible, an even higher culture (cultioribus literis) than they had yet received. (fn. 77) Leonard Cox, about 1524, printed a small treatise on The Arte or Crafte of Rhethoryke, which is dedicated to 'The reverend father in god and hys singuler good lorde the lorde Hughe Faryngton Abbot of Redynge.' The opening sentence of the introduction runs:—
Consyderyng my specyall good lorde howe greatly and how many wayes I am bounden to your lordeshippe, And among all other that in so greate a nombre of cunnynge rules which ar nowe within this region, it hathe pleased your goodnes to accept me as worthy to have the charge of the instrucyon and bryngyng uppe of suche you the as resorteth to your gramer schole founded by your antecessours in thys your towne of Redyng.
About the last act of Abbot Hugh was this arrangement with Leonard Cox for the carrying on of the abbey's school, so long famed for the education of the children of the nobility and gentry. In April, 1539, a new Parliament met, which condoned the past illegal surrenders and practically vested all monastic property in the crown.
There is no surrender extant of Reading; it seems certain that nothing of the kind was executed, and that the abbot refused to be a party to the betrayal of his trust. The phraseology of the new suppression Act (fn. 78) did not state blankly that all monasteries were to be dissolved, but that those that were suppressed, renounced, relinquished, forfeited, or given up were to be the king's. There is also what Abbot Gasquet terms 'an ominous parenthesis,' including such others as 'shall happen to come to the king's highness by attainder or attainder of treason.' No surrender could be obtained from Reading, Glastonbury, or Colchester; hence by the attainder of their abbots for high treason their property was secured for the crown, 'against,' as Hallam says, 'every principle of received law.' (fn. 79)
Apparently some kind of justification for the charge of high treason against Abbot Hugh was devised or forthcoming, but it is impossible now to find out what it was. The abbot was hurried off to the Tower, probably early in the summer, and whilst there Cromwell coolly decided, as we have seen, that he was to be tried and executed at Reading. Meanwhile it was assumed that the abbey was even then the king's, the superior was under lock and key, and on 8 September, Thomas Moyle, an agent employed on like work at Glastonbury, wrote from Reading that he, with Layton and 'Master Vachell of Reading,' had been through the inventory of the abbey plate 'at the residence,' that is at the abbot's chambers. There, too, they found a room hung with 'metely good tapestry, which do well for hanging some mean little chamber in his majesty's house.' There was another chamber 'hung with six pieces of verdure with fountains, but it is old and at the ends of some of them very foul and greasy.' They noted several beds with silk hangings (in the guest rooms where kings often tarried), and in the church eight pieces of tapestry 'very goodly' but small. In conclusion, Moyle reported that he and his fellows thought the sum of £200 a year would serve for the monks' pensions. (fn. 80)
Soon after Cromwell turned a pair of his most trusted visitors, Pollard and Williams, into the abbey to ransack it. On 17 September, 1539, Pollard thus writes to Cromwell:—
Pleasyth your Lordship to be advertysed that att my comyng to Readynge I did dyspatche Mr. Wrytheslys servant wyth every thyng accordyng to your comandment wyche amountythe to the some of cxxxili ixs viijd as apperythe by the partyculars herein inclosyd, and part of the stuffe receyvyd for the kings majesties use, wyth the schole house and church undefasyd. I and my followers have lefte hytt by Indenture in the custody of Mr. Penyson. And as for the Plate, vestements, copys and hangyngs wyche we have left hytt in the custody of Mr. Vachell by Indenture wych shalbe conveyed to London agaynste my coming thyther, and thanks be to God every thyng ys well fynyshed there and every man well contentyd and gyvyth humble thanks to the kings grace. I with my followers intend on Tuesday next, God wyllyng, to take owr journey from Readynge as knowyth God who ever preserve youre good lordshyp
From Readyng the xv daye of
September. Yor servant assuryd to comand
Rychard Pollard (fn. 81)
In one of the miscellaneous books of the
Public Record Office is a schedule of
such peaces of clothe of gold tyssue and bawdkyn as also remainiths (remnants) of the same of diverse colors taken out of the monastery of Readyng to the use of oure Sovereyne lord the kyng by Rychard Pollard and John Wylliams Esquyeres Comyssioners assigned for the same.
The schedule opens with 'fyrst a peace of clothe of gold wyth pyrled ground Garnetts.' Pieces of white, green, crimson, and variegated cloth of tissue are next named, and these are followed by pieces of purple and of white baudekin. The remnants were of blue and crimson baudekin, and of red and white cloth of tissue.
The same schedule shows that in addition to the above, which seem to have been the abbey's store for the making and repairing of vestments and hangings as required, these two commissioners seized and dispatched to the king, as specially valuable, ten copes of green cloth of tissue, ten copes of white cloth of tissue, six rich copes of diverse sorts, four copes of baudekin, two altar cloths, a complete suit of vestments of crimson tissue, and a vestment of red tissue. (fn. 82) At the same time they specially reserved for the king 41 oz. of gold plate, and 47 oz. of broken gold plate; gilt plate, 378 oz.; broken parcel gilt, 311 oz.; plate, parcel gilt, 423 oz.; white or plain silver plate, 32 oz. The total of the plate that thus went straight to the king from this one wealthy abbey amounted to the great weight of 2,645 oz. (fn. 83)
On 19 September, 1539, whilst Abbot Hugh was in prison, and the abbey sacked for the king, the burgesses of Reading assembled in the Gild Hall under Thomas Mirth, the mayor, to nominate, according to custom, three names for the coming mayoralty, Richard Justice, Robert Watlyngton, and John Whyte. But the entry in the town minute book then proceeds to state that before that day the monastery had been suppressed and the abbot deprived of his abbacy; that after the suppression all things there remained in the king's hands; that on the king's precept they proceeded to make their own election of a mayor, and, with the assent and consent of Thomas Cromwell, high steward of the liberty of the town, appointed Richard Justice mayor, and presented him in the great hall of the late monastery before Thomas Vachell, who had entertained the commissioners the previous year. On 9 October Thomas Vachell, by the king's precept, as deputy of the high steward, administered the oath to the mayor. (fn. 84)
Among Cromwell's notes or 'remembrances'
of October, 1539, in his own handwriting, are
memoranda that amply justify Froude in asserting
that he acted as 'prosecutor, judge, and jury'
in the case of the three Benedictine abbots of
Reading, Glastonbury, and Colchester, who were
executed in the following month. (fn. 85) So far as
the aged abbot of Reading was concerned, it was
nothing but a judicial murder; his death was
decided upon ere he had been sent down from
the Tower to Reading. Cromwell's notes read
that the abbot was
to be sent down to be tried and executed at Redyng with his complices. Similarly the abbot of Glaston at Glaston. Counsellors to give evidence against the abbot of Redyng, Mr. Hynde and the King's Attorney. To see that the evidence be well assorted and the indictments well drawn. (fn. 86)
According to all current law, Abbot Hugh, a mitred abbot, who had sat in many a Parliament, ought to have been arraigned for high treason before Parliament; but Cromwell set law completely at defiance, and Hugh, with two brother abbots, had been cut to pieces by the common executioner ere Parliament reassembled.
On 15 November, the same day that the abbot of Glastonbury was done to death at Glastonbury, the abbot of Reading, with two priests, suffered the butchery reserved for traitors on a platform outside the gateway of his own abbey, decked with the gallows for partially hanging, the knife for disgustingly mutilating the still living body, and the caldron of boiling pitch into which to fling the limbs when the quartering was accomplished. With him suffered John Eynon, a priest attached to St. Giles', Reading, and John Rugg, a former prebendary of Chichester, who had retired to the monastery of Reading.
At the Public Record Office are thirty-three pages of a closely-written mutilated manuscript concerning Abbot Hugh and the two priests executed with him. It is in an educated but unidentified handwriting. The occasion for which it was written and its author are both unknown. From its presence among these state papers it was probably the work of some tool of Cromwell's, and was perhaps intended to be printed and circulated to try to stem the odium excited by the execution of 'my lord of Reading.' It is impossible to exaggerate the ribaldry and low scurrility of this infamous production. Great play is made on the name 'Cook,' and the king is supposed to have raised a mere kitchen scullion to this exalted position. The king is represented as the bountiful benefactor of Abbot Hugh, who has repaid him with the most dastardly treachery —'if he had lived when Christ was betrayed he would have put Judas out of his office,' and again he was 'able to teach even Judas the part of a traitor.' Such a sentence as 'a ragman's roll of old rotten monks, and rusty friars, and pockyd priests' is a fair sample of this literary reviler. No attention would have been paid to this stuff, only that its very virulent violence and total absence of any definite charge of treason against the king is a strong proof that no true treason, as ordinarily understood, existed. The worst that could be said of the abbot is that he is accused of stating that 'he wolde pray for the pope's holynes as long as he lived and wolde ons a weke saye masse for hym.' The writer also unconsciously bears witness to the integrity of the abbot, stating that he was ever a great student and setter forth of St. Benet's, St. Francis's, St. Dominic's, and St. Augustine's rules as being right holy and of great perfectness; adding that he never left mattins unsaid, spoke loud in the cloister, or ate even eggs on a Friday. (fn. 87)
Marillac, the French ambassador, writing to Francis I on 30 November, states that the remains of the abbot of Reading were hanged and left in chains outside the abbey gateway. (fn. 88)
With the execution of Abbot Hugh, this great monastery, wherein for the four centuries of its existence kings and queens had been lodged and the poorest entertained, where great councils of the Church and Parliaments of the state had frequently been held, and which had been a great centre of almsgiving and of a liberal education, passed absolutely into the hands of Henry VIII, together with its property, declared to be of the clear annual value of £1,908 14s. It remained uninterruptedly in the immediate control of the crown down to the Commonwealth.
The vast conventual church, where the remains of royalty and other notables had been laid to rest, remained desolate, but undisturbed so far as its fabric was concerned, until 1548. The lead on the roof of the abbey church and buildings was then so considerable that the amount helps to form some idea of the extent of the premises. It was measured and estimated to weigh 417 fodders, at the rate of 15 ft. sq. to the fodder. Six great bells still swung in the monastery's belfry. (fn. 89)
When the pension roll of Philip and Mary was drawn up there were thirteen ex-monks of Reading on the list; one in receipt of £6, eight of £5, one of £4 6s. 8d., one of £3 6s. 8d., and two of £2. (fn. 90)
Abbots of Reading (fn. 91)
Hugh II, 1180-99
Adam de Lathbury, 1226 (fn. 92) -38
Richard de Cycestre, 1238-61
Richard de Rading alias Banaster, 1261-68
Robert de Burghate, 1268 (fn. 93) -90
William de Sutton, 1290 (fn. 94) -1305
Nicholas de Quappelade, 1305 (fn. 95) -27
John de Appleford, 1328 (fn. 96) -42
Henry de Appleford, 1342 (fn. 97) -60
William de Dombleton, 1361 (fn. 98) -68
John de Sutton, 1368 (fn. 99) -78
Richard Yateley, 1378 (fn. 100) -1409
Thomas Erle, 1409 (fn. 101) -30
Thomas Henley, 1430 (fn. 102) -45
John Thorne, 1446 (fn. 103) -86
John Thorne II, 1486 (fn. 104) -1519
Thomas Worcester, 1519 (fn. 105) -20
Hugh Cook alias Faringdon, 1520 (fn. 106) -38
The twelfth-century seal of this abbey (fn. 107) shows the crowned Virgin seated on a throne, in her right hand a dove-topped sceptre and in her left the model of a church; the holy Child seated on her knee has the right hand raised in benediction, and in the left an orb. The legend is wanting.
The second noteworthy and elaborate seal is remarkable for giving the exact date of its production, 1328. It is circular, and 3¼ in. in diameter.
On it is the crowned seated Virgin with holy Child, between the figures of St. James the Great, with the usual pilgrim symbols, and of St. John standing on an eagle with a scroll inscribed In principio in the right hand and a palm branch in the left. Each figure is in a canopied niche. Legend:—
S . CŌE . ECBE . COVĒTVAL' . RADYNG FEDATE . Ī . HONORE . SCE . MARIE . ET APOSTL'OR' . IOH'IS . ET . IACOBI.
Inside the edge in smaller letters is the first line of the date verse, Anno milleno tricēteno fabricat.
On the reverse are three more figures under three similar canopies. The centre figure represents the seated founder Henry I, with sceptre in right hand and model of church in the left; to his right is St. Paul, with book and sword; to his left is St. Peter, with keys and book. Legend:—
DNS . REX . HENRICVS . SVMM . DEITAT AMICVS . SECVR' . DEGIT . ENTE . DOM ISTE . PEGIT.
Inside the edge, in smaller letters, is the second half of the date verse, 'Signū bis deno b' quarto consociat.' (fn. 108)
There are impressions extant of three of the abbots' seals. Of these the most striking is the early one of Abbot Hugh II (1180-99). The abbot is represented standing on a dwarf column, holding a pastoral staff in the right hand and a book in the left. Legend:—
+ SIGILLVM . HVGONIS . RADINGENSIS . ABBATIS.