Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1541-1857: Volume 10, Coventry and Lichfield Diocese. Originally published by Institute of Historical Research, London, 2003.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
The medieval diocese of Coventry and Lichfield linked together the Benedictine priory of Coventry and the secular chapter of Lichfield cathedral. The two chapters took turns in electing a bishop. After Coventry priory was dissolved with the other greater monasteries in 1539, elections of bishops became by act of parliament the preserve of the chapter of Lichfield cathedral alone, as Lichfield was declared to be 'the full and sole see and chapter of the ... bishopric of Coventry and Lichfield'. (fn. 1) The name of the diocese was slow to change, however: although there are examples of the use of the title 'Lichfield and Coventry", Bishop John Hacket (1661-70) was the first bishop who consistently used this style, and it was only with the appointment of Frederick Cornwallis in 1750 that all the official papers concerning the bishop's election and installation used it. By 1836 the name had officially become Lichfield only. (fn. 2)
In the middle ages the diocese of Coventry and Lichfield had five archdeaconries, of Chester, Coventry, Derby, Salop and Stafford. The area these covered comprised the counties of Cheshire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, the southern part of Lancashire, the northern part of Shropshire, northern and eastern Warwickshire, and a few parishes in Flintshire and Denbighshire. With the creation of the new diocese of Chester in 1541 the archdeaconry of Chester, including Cheshire and Lancashire, was severed from Lichfield diocese. (fn. 3) As the prebend of Bolton was annexed to the archdeaconry of Chester, the number of prebends was reduced from thirtytwo to thirty-one, four of which had been annexed to archdeaconries or dignities. Because of the poor endowments of some of the prebends, and in an attempt to augment the revenues of the residentiary canons, a private Act of parliament secured in 1706 empowered the bishop to confer two or more prebends on one person, while the prebend of Eccleshall was vested in the bishopric. (fn. 4) In 1796 a further Act established six residentiaries (in addition to the dean) with two prebends each (apart from the treasurer). The prebends of Tervin and Stotfold were to be vested in the dean and chapter fabric fund. (fn. 5)
The ecclesiastical commissioners, appointed in 1832 to inquire into ecclesiastical revenues and patronage, produced figures of the average incomes of bishops, deans and cathedral corporations for the three years to the end of 1831. These showed the bishop of Lichfield as fifteenth out of the twenty-six bishops, having an income of £3,923, well below the average of £5,936. This compared with the archbishop of Canterbury with £19,182 and the bishop of Durham with £19,066, while at the opposite end of the scale were the bishops of Rochester and Llandaff, with £1,459 and £924 respectively. The cathedral corporation was 22nd out of 26, among the Welsh cathedrals and Chester, with £1,311, its income a mere fraction of the £27,933 of Durham or the £15,982 of Canterbury. The dean's income was £280, but with fines received on the renewal of leases, and other sources, it rose to a not inconsiderable £2,130. As a result of the ecclesiastical commission's work of rationalization, made effective in various Acts of parliament, those parts of the diocese in Warwickshire were transferred to the diocese of Worcester, and those in Shropshire to that of Chester. From 1836 the diocese of Lichfield was to consist simply of the counties of Derby and Stafford. Two of the residentiary canonries were suspended in 1840. (fn. 6)
John Le Neve, in his Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae published in 1716, provided lists up to that date of the bishops, deans, dignitaries and archdeacons. The references he cites are not detailed. He used the archbishops' registers at Lambeth Palace, Bishop White Kennet's collection, and printed works such as Rymer's Foedera, Wood's Athenae Oxonienses and Historia Universitatis Oxoniensis, Dugdale's History of Warwickshire and Walker's Sufferings of the Clergy. (fn. 7) He gives no references for many of the installations and deaths which had taken place since 1660. His lists are punctuated with regrets, such as, 'Here I am at a Loss', 'I can find no more till ...', 'Now I am to seek again, till ...' or 'Here I am obliged to leave a very wide Hiatus, no more having yet occurr'd till ...'. He gave no lists of any of the prebendaries, and attributed 'the several Omissions which want to be filled up in this Account' to the fact that the records of Lichfield cathedral 'happened to have the ill Fortune to undergo more dismal Marks of Rebellious Fury than any other I have yet heard of'.
Thomas Duffus Hardy's revision of Le Neve's Fasti, published in 1854, was mainly based on material in the Public Records, of which he was Assistant Keeper. Using these, he was able to give additional holders of the dignities and archdeaconries and attempted to list all the prebendaries. Some of Le Neve's gaps are thus filled. The disadvantage of his work is that, apart from references to the patent rolls (which are given fully), he merely cites classes of records, such as 'Bishops' Certificates' or 'Church Book, Home Office', without any more precise detail, and in most instances even this minimal reference is lacking. Moreover, he or his research workers were responsible for misreading records and introducing mythical office-holders. He did not consult any of the Lichfield records, but does appear to have used Browne Willis's Survey of Cathedrals, particularly for monumental inscriptions. This work, published in 1742, is much fuller than Le Neve's Fasti, and seems to have made use of chapter acts and even of some which are not now in existence.
Lichfield sources now available include the bishops' registers, which have major gaps from the late sixteenth century to 1660 (apart from 1619 to 1632) and from 1717 to 1750, and the chapter act books, which do not provide a complete record, particularly in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The present lists of officeholders are based on these sources and other documents at Lichfield, together with material from the registers of the Archbishops of Canterbury, the Public Records, wills and parish registers from all over the country, printed lists of monumental inscriptions, and contemporary journals and newspapers.
Inevitably, given the records, there are some gaps in the lists. This is particularly the case with the list of the residentiary canons at Lichfield, provided in order to indicate the men who were actually running the cathedral's affairs. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but also in the first half of the eighteenth century, there are many occasions when Le Neve's words might be echoed, 'Here I am at a Loss'.