Note on sources and succession of prebendaries

Pages xiii-xiv

Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1300-1541: Volume 9, Exeter Diocese. Originally published by Institute of Historical Research, London, 1964.

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Note on the Exeter sources and on the succession of prebendaries

A peculiarity of Exeter cathedral is that it retained the system, which was probably general throughout the country before the Conquest, (fn. 1) of paying each prebendary the same amount from a common fund. Each prebend at Exeter was worth £4 (fn. 2) and had no prebendal estate attached to it individually, and hence had no name or distinguishing feature. On the succession of a new prebendary, his prebend is merely distinguished by the name of his predecessor.

As the chapter act books exist only for limited periods, and the bishops' registers are not always kept meticulously, records of accounts of various kinds-of which there is a great wealth at Exeter-and obit books have proved a major source of information. (fn. 3) Chief among these are the Exeter cathedral stewards' account rolls, which cover the years 1296-1525, although the series is by no means complete. These list all the prebendaries, resident and non-resident, in each quarter of the year-the Easter, Midsummer, Michaelmas and Christmas terms. Their limitation is that they often omit Christian names, always omit degrees, and only rarely state to whose prebend a new prebendary is succeeding. It is seldom safe to assume from the disappearance of one man and appearance of another that the latter took the place of the former, especially as the accounts are further complicated by the practice of paying a year's commons to the executors of a dead prebendary (known as the annus post mortem). Other types of accounts are useful only for resident prebendaries. At the end of the fifteenth century, the quotidian accounts record the names of every prebendary present daily in the cathedral, and frequently record the precise day of death. There is a rough record of excrescences for the sixteenth century which similarly gives the death of resident prebendaries. Dates of death can also be learned from the various obit books in existence, though these usually omit the year, and sometimes, if the calendar was already full, seem to have celebrated the obit, not on the actual date of death, but on the nearest free day. One obit book records the prebendaries present in the cathedral to celebrate the obits in the period 1313-26, and the consequent payments made to them.

In view of the type of these sources, it is obvious that the succession of prebendaries can, with a few exceptions, be safely known only when it is recorded in the chapter act books or bishops' registers. In the nineteen-thirties, Prebendary H. B. Hyde produced a Series Canonicorum, of which several manuscript copies exist in the cathedral library and muniment room. Each page of this has spaces for the twenty-four prebends, and purports to give the succession in each one. The Series Canonicorum contains few references, but fuller details of each prebendary included are given in a companion volume. From this, it can be seen how much surmise has gone into its compilation. For the period before 1300, when very few records exist, large sections appear to be pure imagination, and even subsequently, when the names are usually genuine, the succession has frequently been assumed on insufficient evidence, and in numerous cases can be proved wrong. In fact, it is impossible to compile a reliable series, even though in certain individual prebends the succession can apparently be traced over long periods. A little uncertainty remains even here, however, because of the practice of exchanging prebends within the cathedral, and should mention of one of these exchanges be omitted in the sources, the succession would be incorrect. In this edition of the Fasti, the prebendaries have been given in order of collation or first occurrence, with reference to their predecessor and successor whenever known.


  • 1. K. Edwards, English Secular Cathedrals (Manchester, 1949) p. 20.
  • 2. Cf. Reg. Langham pp. 71-84.
  • 3. See A. M. Erskine, 'The medieval financial records of the cathedral church of Exeter', Four. Soc. Archivists ii (1962) 254-66.