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John de Feckenham

John de Feckenham (or Fecknam), the last abbot of Westminster, was born of poor parents in Feckenham Forest in Worcestershire. The family name was Howman; and it is noted by Fuller (Worthies of England) that the abbot was the last clergyman whom was "locally surnamed". He was of good parts and fond of learning; and after receiving instruction from the parish priest, he was sent to the Benedictine monastery of Evesham, whence, at about the age of eighteen, he passed to Gloucester College, Oxford. He afterwards returned to Evesham, and there remained till the dissolution of the monastery in 1536, when he received a pension of a hundred florins. Resuming his studies at Oxford, he took in 1539 his degree of Bachelor of Divinity.

He was subsequently chaplain to Bell, bishop of Worcester, and to Edmund Bonner, bishop of London. When the latter was deprived of his see in 1548, Feckenham was committed to the Tower. His learning and eloquence, however, made him so weighty an advocate that he was temporarily liberated ("borrowed from the Tower" he says in old English phrase) for the purpose of holding discussions on the points in dispute between Catholics and Protestants. Among these disputations were four with John Hooper[?], Protestant bishop of Worcester. Remanded to the Tower, Feckenham was released at the accession of Queen Mary I of England and became her chaplain. In rapid succession he was appointed chaplain to Bishop Bonner and prebendary and Dean of St. Paul's. He was sent to Lady Jane Grey two days before her execution to commune with her, and "to reduce her", says John Foxe[?] in his Protestant Martyrs, "from the Doctrine of Christ to Queen Mary's religion"; and two months later, he was one of the disputants at Oxford against Cranmer, at the martyrdom of Ridley and Latimer. He showed, however, no eagerness of hostility to the martyrs; and indeed throughout Queen Mary's reign he distinguished himself by generous endeavours on behalf of the persecuted reformers. He also pleaded earnestly for the release of the Lady Elizabeth, thereby offending the queen.

In May 1556 the degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred on him by the University of Oxford; and in September following he was made abbot of Westminster, fourteen Benedictine monks being placed under him. Queen Elizabeth on her accession (1558) sent for the abbot and offered him, it is said, the archbishopric of Canterbury, but he could not conform to the new faith.

He sat in her first parliament, and was the last mitred abbot[?] that was seen in parliament. His influence there was steadfastly directed against all movements of Protestantism. In 1560 he was sent to the Tower, and with intervals of freedom, remained in confinement more or less strict for the rest of his life, 25 years. He died in Wisbech Castle, in the Isle of Ely, in 1585.

Among the few pieces published by Feckenham are the Conference-Dialogue held between the Lady Jane Grey and himself, and several funeral orations or sermons.


Text from a paper copy of the 9th edition EB



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