The Blessed Hugh Faringdon O.S.B. (died 14 November 1539), earlier known as Hugh Cook, later as Hugh Cook alias Faringdon and Hugh Cook of Faringdon, was a Benedictine monk who presided as the last Abbot of Reading Abbey in the English town of Reading. At the dissolution of the monasteries under King Henry VIII of England, Faringdon was accused of high treason and executed. He was declared a martyr and beatified by the Catholic Church in 1895.
Born Hugh Cook, he adopted the surname of Faringdon when he became a monk, sometime prior to 1500. The use of this surname suggests that he came from Faringdon, a town some 30 miles (48 km) northwest of Reading. However it is also significant that he subsequently used the arms of the Cook family of Kent, suggesting that he had connections there. He is believed to have been educated within the abbey, and later served as the sub-cellarer of the abbey.
Hugh Faringdon was elected Abbot of Reading Abbey in 1520, upon the death of Abbot Thomas Worcester. As well as his spiritual duties, he also took up the civil duties expected at that time of a mitred abbot, being appointed as Justice of the Peace and to various governmental Commissions for Berkshire from 1526 to 1538.
At first Faringdon's relationship with King Henry VIII of England seems to have been supportive. King Henry was his guest on 30 January 1521, and he later became one of the royal chaplains. Among Henry's New Year gifts in 1532 was £20 in a white leather purse to the Abbot of Reading. When the king was hunting in the neighborhood the abbot would take the opportunity of sending him presents of Kennet trout or hunting knives.
Faringdon seems to have taken the king's side during the divorce controversy. While Henry was searching for authorities to support his views on matrimonial laws, Faringdon sent him books which he thought would serve the purpose. He sat in Parliament from 1523 to 1539 and, in 1530, he signed, with other members of the House of Lords, a 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 drawn up in Convocation which virtually acknowledged the supremacy of the Crown over the Church. On Sunday, 4 November 1537, he sang the requiem and dirge for Queen Jane Seymour at St. George's Chapel, Windsor and was present at the burial on 12 November. As late as March, 1538, he was in favour, being placed in the commission of the peace for Berkshire.
When the commissioners arrived to take the surrender of Reading Abbey, they reported favorably of the abbot's willingness to conform, but the surrender of the abbey does not survive, and it is not therefore known whether or not Faringdon actually signed it.
In 1539 Faringdon was indicted for high treason, being accused of having assisted the Northern rebels with money. He was tracked down at Bere Court, his manor at Pangbourne, and taken back to the Tower of London, where he spent two months. As a mitred abbot he was entitled to be tried by Parliament, but no scruples troubled the chancellor, Thomas Cromwell. His death sentence was passed before his trial began. Along with John Rugg, a known associate, and John Eynon, the priest of St Giles' Church in Reading, he was found guilty and hanged, drawn and quartered before the inner Abbey gatehouse on 14 November 1539. John Rugg had been charged with taking and concealing one of the Abbey's celebrated relics, being the purported hand of one St. Anastasius. The monks of Reading, not under suspicion of complicity in the Abbot's alleged treason, were given pensions normally set upon monks and nuns at the dissolution of their monasteries.
He is commemorated by a stained glass window in St James' Church, the Roman Catholic parish church that occupies part of the footprint of the now ruined Reading Abbey, and by a plaque at the English Martyrs Church in Liebenrood Road, Reading. He is also depicted on The Martyrdom of Hugh Faringdon, last Abbot of Reading, painted by Harry Morley in 1917, and now in the collection of the Museum of Reading.
The Blessed Hugh Faringdon Catholic School, a specialist performing arts college in Reading, is named after him. The Blessed Hugh Catholic Church in Faringdon is named after him. The Abbot Cook pub in Reading, a Mitchells and Butlers pub at Cemetery Junction in Reading, was named after him also until a name change in May 2018.
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- Camm O.S.B.,Dom Bede. "Blessed John Forest". Lives of the English Martyrs Declared Blessed by Pope Leo XIII, Vol. I, p.359, Longmans, Green and Co., London 1914
- Stephen, Leslie, ed. (1889). . Dictionary of National Biography. 18. London: Smith, Elder & Co. p. 206.
- Nash RBH: Hugh Cook of Faringdon's Memorial
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