Beach, John (DNB00)

BEACH or BECHE, JOHN (d. 1539), last abbot of St. John's Abbey, Colchester, was educated at Oxford, but nothing is known of his career until his election to the abbacy of St. John's early in 1538. His predecessor, Thomas Marshall, had forfeited his office by resistance to Cromwell's reforming measures, and had been attainted of high treason. But Beach held the same opinions as Marshall, and soon roused the suspicions of the government. In May 1539 Beach (as a mitred abbot) was in his place among the peers while the bill for the dissolution of all monasteries still standing passed its various stages, but raised no open protest. Outside Westminster, however, Beach loudly denounced the measure. ‘The king shall never have my house,’ he told Sir John St. Clair, who reported the conversation to the lord privy seal, ‘but against my will and against my heart; for I know by my learning he cannot take it by right and law’ (MS. State Papers, 2nd series, vol. xxxviii., quoted by Froude, iii. 426). He apparently made a fierce resistance to the inspectors ordered to put the act of 1539 in force. He concealed the abbey plate, and entered into correspondence with Hugh Faringdon, the abbot of Reading, and Richard Whiting, the abbot of Glastonbury, who, like himself, strenuously opposed the king's commands. Cromwell obtained information, of which the exact details have not reached us, involving Beach in a treasonable conspiracy, according to some authorities, ‘to restore the pope.’ It was further reported that he had aided, at least with his sympathy, the northern rebellion of 1537. ‘The abbot of Colchester did say,’ one witness deposed before the privy council, ‘that the northern men were good men. … Further the said abbot said at the time of the insurrection “I would to Christ that the rebels in the north had the bishop of Canterbury, the lord chancellor, and the lord privy seal amongst them, and then I trust we should have a merry world again”’ (Rolls House MS., 2nd series, No. 27, quoted by Froude, iii. 426). For these offences Beach, like the abbots of Reading and Glastonbury, was attainted of high treason. We have been unable to discover any report of the trial, which probably took place at Colchester. According to a tradition current at Colchester in the eighteenth century, the magistrates of the town invited Beach to a feast, and at its close, having shown him the warrant for his execution, led him out and hanged him without further ceremony. It is certain that he met his death on 1 Dec. 1539. At the same time the abbey of St. John's was finally dissolved.

[Dugdale's Monasticon, ed. Caley, Ellis, and Bandinel, iv. 605; Grafton's Chronicle, 1569, p. 1242; Morant's History of Colchester, ii. 38; Burnet's History of the Reformation, ed. Pocock, i. 380–1, 410, 417, 428–9; Orig. Letters of the Reformation, Parker Soc., i. 316–7, ii. 614; Froude's History of England, iii. 425–6.]

S. L. L.