RICHARD WHITING: LAST ABBOT OF GLASTONBURY ABBEY.
November 15th is generally held to be the date on which the greatest trauma in Glastonbury’s recorded history occurred. I gather that new research is suggesting that Richard Whiting, last Abbot of the Abbey, was in fact executed, or murdered as I would prefer to categorize it, on the 14th. He is being honored in the town today, in the High St with a minute’s silence, and also on the Tor, so I honor him here as well and hope that one day a memorial of some kind, however modest, might permanently acknowledge him in the Abbey.
I have dealt with the terrible events of 1539 in my Mysterium Artorius.
‘In November 1539 onetime Renaissance wunderkind Henry VIII perpetrated perhaps the greatest British cultural atrocity. His dissolution of the monasteries was carried out in a needlessly wanton manner. What happened at Glastonbury was the worst example of the entire process. The elderly abbot, Richard Whiting, was set up on a blatantly false charge of treason. Along with two colleagues, he was sentenced to death. The King’s Einsatz Kommando hit-squad stretched and tied the old man on a hurdle. This was dragged by a horse through the town, past the Abbey, and up to the summit of the Tor, where gallows had been erected. There the three men were executed. Whiting’s head was removed and placed above the Abbey gate. The rest of his body was cut into four pieces that were displayed in nearby towns.
Geoffrey Ashe raised some disturbing points about the ghastly scenario in King Arthur’s Avalon. It would require considerable effort, in wet and muddy November, for a horse to drag a man tied to a hurdle up to the top of the Tor. The construction of the gallows there was no easy task either. The summit is renowned for the strong winds that often blow across it. If the sole purpose of the deed was to instil fear in the population then why not choose the front of the abbey, in the middle of the town, where everyone could potentially see it? There’s an unsettling hint of impractical stranger motives amongst the executioners. The three bodies strung up on a hill suggest a blasphemous parody of the crucifixion and archaic sacrificial rites.
The Abbey library was trashed. Pages of priceless manuscripts were found as litter in the streets. The bones displayed as Arthur and Guenevere’s were lost. Who knows what modern forensic science could have told us if they were still available? The monks were dispersed. Before long the majestic edifice of the building was pillaged for raw material. One of its later owners used explosives to blow great holes in the walls to satisfy his materialistic priorities. The Grail chalice of British Christendom disappeared, leaving a wasteland behind.’