Hugh COOK of Faringdon

(Abbot of Reading)

Died: 14 Nov 1539, Reading, Berkshire, England

Copyright of David Nash Ford.

Biography reproduced by kind permission of the Royal Berkshire History Website.

Hugh Faringdon alias Hugh Cook was sub-chamberlain of the Benedictine Abbey of Reading at the death of Abbot Thomas Worcester in Jul 1520, and was elected to supply the vacancy. The election was confirmed on 26 Sep and, a few days after, Henry VIII visited the newly elected abbot and was hospitably entertained. He was probably of obscure birth and a native of Faringdon in Berkshire. He was, however, a friend of Arthur Plantagenet, Lord Lisle, the natural son of Edward IV, and received his stepson, James Basset, to be educated in the Abbey School under his eye. His relations with the King, as far as recorded, were of the usual courteous character for a man in his position. New Year's gifts were exchanged and, when the King was hunting in the neighbourhood, the Abbot sent him presents of fish (Kennet trout probably) and hunting knives. Furthermore, while the King was searching everywhere in England and on the Continent for authorities to support his views on matrimonial law, Faringdon sent him a catalogue of the abbey library and, subsequently, the books which he thought would serve his purpose. He took his share of the public work expected of a mitred abbot. He sat in Parliament from 1523 to 1539 and, in the former year, was one of the triers of petitions from Gascony and the parts beyond the sea. He was present, also, in the House of Lords at the passing of the Act for the Suppression of the greater monasteries in 1539. In Nov 1529, he attended Convocation personally and not by proxy, as was usual at that time. In the following Summer, he appended his signature, with other spiritual and temporal lords, to the letter to the Pope pointing out the evils likely to result from delaying the divorce desired by the King; and, again in 1536, he signed the Articles of Faith passed by Convocation at the King's desire, which virtually acknowledged the Royal Supremacy. In his county, Hugh was Justice of the Peace and also, in 1527, one of the commissioners appointed to take stock of all the corn in barns and stacks and see that it was put upon the market, the scarcity which was seriously felt that year being supposed to be due to forestalling, regrating, and engrossing. Upon Thomas Cromwell coming into power, Faringdon, like other abbots, thought it advisable to gain his favour and, according to a common practice, paid him an annual pension of twenty marks. In 1535, the Abbot, it is said, intended to have resigned in favour of the Prior of Leominster, a cell of Reading, but changed his intention in consequence of the passing of the Statute of Abatement of Pensions.

When the commissioners to take the surrender of the monasteries visited Reading Abbey, they reported favourably of the Abbot's willingness to conform, but the surrender of the Abbey does not happen to be extant, and it is not therefore known whether Faringdon signed it. In 1539, Faringdon was indicted of high treason, being supposed to have assisted the Northern rebels with money. He was tracked down at Bere Court, his manor at Pangbourne, and dragged back to Reading where he was executed outside the Abbey Gateway on 14 Nov.

The chronicler, Hall, calls Faringdon "a stubborn monk and utterly without learning," but this may be prejudice. Browne-Willis refers to his letters in the 'Register of the University of Oxford,' which, however, were not necessarily composed by him. The specimens of his correspondence preserved in the Public Record Office are but short and in English. He was at all events a patron of learning. Leonard Cox, the Master of Reading Grammar School, about 1524 dedicated a book on rhetoric to him as to one who "hathe allwayes tenderly favored the profyte of yonge studentes". Further, the expression of a correspondent of Lord Lisle's that the Abbot "makes much of James Basset and plieth him to his learning both in Latin and French", does not convey the impression that he considered the Abbot illiterate.

Edited from Leslie Stephens & Sidney Lee's "Dictionary of National Biography" (1891).
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