Richard Whiting
elsewhere, Richard Whyting
b. ca. 1460, Glastonbury
d. November 15, 1539, Glastonbury.

The last abbot of Glastonbury Abbey.

His early life is largely unknown. He is believed to have been born near Glastonbury. He graduated from Cambridge in 1483 with an M.A., and with a D.D in 1505. It is thought he may have already been a Benedictine monk and member of the abbey when he left for college. He was ordained in 1501.

In 1525, the previous abbot of Glastonbury died, and Cardinal Wolsey was entreated by the brothers to choose a successor. He selected Whiting, the abbey chamberlain. Records indicate that Whiting was an effective administrator, despite the monarchy's growing hostility towards the Catholic church. In 1535, Dr. Richard Layton, one of Thomas Cromwell's commissioners, came to the abbey looking for discrepensies in order to facilitate a government takeover, but was disappointed. Still, by the end of the 1530s, many of Whiting's non-eccesiastic power had been whittled away.

There are conflicting reports as to whether he declined to attend Parliament in 1539, fearful of what the business might be--namely, the Dissolution Act; some sources instead say that he did attend Parliament in order to protest the act.

By 1539, Glastonbury Abbey was the only monestary in Somerset. On September 19, the royal commissioners arrived, though Whiting himself was at his manor out of town. He was subsequently arrested and brought to the Tower of London, where he was examined by Thomas Cromwell. The the charges are rather obscure, perhaps relating to treason, in the same manner under which Thomas More was arrested and executed; in some records, Whiting is accused of having written a book--not published, but supposedly found while the crown's representatives where taking the abbey's treasury--defending Catherine of Aragon.

Whiting and was taken back to Glastonbury, where he and his monks underwent a trial; the next day, November 15, he and two of his monks were dragged to the top of Glastonbury Tor and subsequently hung, drawn and quartered at St. Michael's Tower at the top of the Tor. Whiting's head was placed on the gates of the abbey (which had been deserted and subsequently destroyed), while his limbs were spread to Bath, Wells, Ilchester, and Bridgewater.

Richard Whiting was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1895.

In the 17th century, a song was written about the event, later collected in 1843:

Ice azked whose tooke downe the leads an the beels,
And thay tould me a doctar that lived about Wels:
In the 7th of Jozhua pray bid them goe looke,
Chill be hanged if thick same chaptar be not out of his booke.
Vor thare you mat reade about Achans wedge,
How thick zame goolden thing did zettz teeth an edge.
`Tis an ominous thing how this church is abused,
Remember how poor abbott Whitting was used. --

Halliwell, James Orchard. A Collection of Pieces in the Dialect of Zummerzet. London: 1843.

If you visit the Tor today, you will find a plaque dedicated to Richard Whiting and his two fellow monks. I've seen it, and stood where the gallows were. There is something strange about this; Glastonbury Tor is traditionally associated with the Otherworld; both Avalon and Annwfn are identified with the spot; Joseph of Arimathea built the first church, King Arthur is said to have been buried at the Abbey, and Gwyn ap Nudd is said to haunt the Tor. Even though this is all legendary, there was already something haunted about the place before Richard Whiting was executed there.