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John de Feckenham

John de Feckenham (or Fecknam) was an English priest, the last abbot of Westminster.

He was born of poor parents in Feckenham Forest, Worcestershire. The family name was Howman; and it is noted by Thomas Fuller (in Worthies of England) that the abbot was the last clergyman who was "locally surnamed". After receiving his education from the parish priest, he was sent to the Benedictine monastery of Evesham. From there, aged about eighteen, he went to Gloucester College, Oxford. Returning to Evesham, he remained there till the dissolution of the monastery in 1536, when he received a pension of a hundred florins. Resuming his studies at Oxford, he took his degree of Bachelor of Divinity in 1539.

He became 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 placed in the Tower of London. His learning and eloquence made him such a successful advocate that he was temporarily freed ("borrowed from the Tower" he says in old English phrase) in order to hold 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 on 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 in a final attempt to convert her. Two months later, he was one of the disputants at Oxford against Thomas Cranmer, at the martyrdom of Ridley and Latimer. He showed no hostility to the martyrs; and indeed throughout Queen Mary's reign he tried to help the persecuted reformers. He also pleaded earnestly for the release of the future Queen Elizabeth I, at the risk of offending Mary.

In May 1556 the degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred on him by the University of Oxford; and in the following September he was made abbot of Westminster, fourteen Benedictine monks being placed under him. Queen Elizabeth on her accession (1558) sent for the abbot and is said to have offered him 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 to do so. His influence there was steadfastly directed against all movements of Protestantism. In 1560 he was sent to the Tower of London, and with intervals of freedom, remained imprisoned for most of the remaining twenry-five years of his life. He died at 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