(Abbot of Westminster)

Born: ABT 1518, Feckenham, Worcestershire, England

Died: 1584, Wisbeach Castle

Buried: 10 Oct 1584, Parish Church, Wisbeach

English abbot, was born at Feckenham, Worcestershire, of ancestors who, by their wills, seem to have been substantial yeomen. The family name was Howman, but, according to the English custom, Feckenham, on monastic profession, changed it for the territorial name by which he is always known.

He was sent at an early age to the claustral school at Evesham and thence, in his eighteenth year, to Gloucester Hall, Oxford, as a Benedictine student. After taking his degree in arts, he returned to the abbey, where he was professed by Abbot Clement Lichfield about 1530; but he was at the university again in 1537. Returning to Evesham he was there when the abbey was surrendered to King Henry VIII (27 Jan 1540); and then, with a pension, he once more went back to Oxford, but soon after became chaplain to Bishop Bell of Worcester and then served Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London in that same capacity from 1543 to 1549. In 1544 Bonner gave him the living of Solihull; and Feckenham established a reputation as a preacher and a disputant of keen intellect but unvarying charity.

Feckenham's sympathies were Roman Catholic, and his fortunes varied under the successive Tudor monarchs. Henry VIII pensioned Feckenham. When the King died, Feckenham preached strong sermons against the new religious practices creeping into England. He considered them heretical. In the reign of Edward VI, about 1549, Cranmer sent him to the Tower of London, and while there he was borrowed out of prison to take part in seven public disputations against Hooper, Jewel and others.

Released by Queen Mary, 5 Sep 1553, he returned to Bonner and became prebendary of St Pauls, rector of Finchley, then of Greenford Magna, chaplain and confessor to the Queen, and dean of St Pauls, 10 Mar 1554.

He took part, with much charity and mildness, in the Oxford disputes against Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley; but he had no liking for the fierce bigotry and bloody measures then in force against Protestants. Feckenham used all his influence with Mary to procure pardon of the faults or mitigation of the punishment for poor Protestants, and he was sent by the Queen to prepare Lady Jane Grey for death. He tried to convert Lady Jane and was present at her execution. Lady Jane appreciated his kindness to her, and hoped he would be shown mercy because of it, but said, "The faith of the church must be tried by God's word, and not God's word by the church; and the same goes for my faith". After Wyatt's rebellion, when Elizabeth was sent to the Tower, 18 Mar 1554, Feckenham interceded for her life and liberty, even at the cost of displeasing the Queen. Some of Mary's counselor's argued for Elizabeth's death. It was thanks to Feckenham's pleas that she and others were spared.

During Mary's reign, Feckenham helped established St. John's College and Trinity College Oxford. The royal abbey of Westminster having been restored to its primitive use, Feckenham was appointed abbot, and the old life began again within its hallowed walls on the 21 Nov 1556. The abbey school was reopened and the shrine of St Edward restored.

He preached Mary's funeral sermon, taking his text from Ecclesiates, saying the dead are happier than either the living or those as yet unborn.

On the accession of Elizabeth, Feckenham consistently opposed all the legislation for changes in religion, and, when the hour of trial came, he refused the oath of supremacy, rejecting also Elizabeth's offer to remain with his monks at Westminster if he would conform to the new laws. The abbey was dissolved, and within a year Feckenham was sent by Archbishop Parker to the Tower on 20 May 1560, according to Jewel, for having obstinately refused attendance on public worship and everywhere declaiming and railing against that religion which we now profess (Parker Society, first series, p. 79). Henceforth, except for some brief periods when he was a prisoner at large, Feckenham spent the rest of his life in confinement either in some recognized prison, or in the more distasteful and equally rigorous keeping of the bishops of Winchester and Ely. After fourteen years confinement, he was released on bail and lived in Holborn, where his benevolence was shown by all manner of works of charity.

He set up a public aqueduct in Holborn, and a hospice for the poor at Bath; he distributed every day to the sick the milk of twelve cows, took care of orphans, and encouraged manly sports on Sundays among the youth of London by giving prizes. In 1577 he was committed to the care of Richard Cox, Bishop of Ely, with strict rules for his treatment; and the Bishop could find no fault with him except that he was a gentle person but in the popish religion too, too obstinate. In 1580 he was removed to Wisbeach Castle, and there exercised such an influence of charity and peace among his fellow-prisoners that was remembered when, in after years, the notorious Wisbeach Stirs broke out under the Jesuit Weston. Even here Feckenham found a means of doing public good; at his own cost he repaired the road and set up a market cross in the town. After twenty four years of suffering for his conscience he died in prison and was buried in an unknown grave in the parish church at Wisbeach on the 10 Oct 1584.

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