ROCHESTER: Introduction

Pages 45-47

Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1541-1857: Volume 3, Canterbury, Rochester and Winchester Dioceses. Originally published by Institute of Historical Research, London, 1974.

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Table of contents

Rochester 1541-1857


Like the other cathedrals of the New Foundation, Rochester cathedral was reconstituted on the dissolution of its monastic chapter of St. Andrew. As the diocese of Rochester was small, and the cathedral much less well-endowed than other cathedrals, the cathedral body was smaller here. A dean and six canons were set up by Henry VIII's foundation charter of 18 June 1541, (fn. 1) the endowments of the priory were transferred to the new chapter 20 June, (fn. 2) and statutes were issued 30 June 1544. (fn. 3) Walter Phillips or Boxley, the last prior, became the first dean, and at least two former monks became canons. (fn. 4) The prebends were all in the royal gift, but Mary granted the right of presentation to bishop Maurice Griffith for his lifetime. (fn. 5)

In time, Rochester developed certain individual features. In 1637 the sixth prebend was attached to the office of archdeacon, (fn. 6) and in 1714 the fifth prebend was attached to the provostship of Oriel College, Oxford. (fn. 7) The other prebends were not normally designated by their numbers, after the original grant in the foundation charter, although the house attached to each prebend continued to be described by the number of the prebend. The Cathedrals Act (Stat. 3 & 4 Vic. c. 113) reduced the number of canons from six to four, and this number was reached by 1857. (fn. 8)

Henry VIII's changes left unaltered the position of the archdeaconry of Rochester, which was in the bishop's gift. The archdeacons did not have a place in chapter unless they also held a prebend, until the sixth prebend was annexed to the archdeaconry in 1637. The Cathedrals Act suppressed this archdeaconry on its next voidance (which happened in 1859), and transferred to Rochester diocese the archdeaconries of Essex, Colchester and St. Albans. These archdeacons had a place in choir, though not in chapter unless they also held a prebend. (fn. 9) This arrangement was short-lived, however. Just after the terminal date of this volume, the archdeaconry of Rochester was revived in 1863, to be held together with that of St. Albans. (fn. 10) The archdeaconries of Essex and Colchester were transferred to the new diocese of St. Albans by 1878, and the archdeaconry of St. Albans was separated from that of Rochester, and also transferred there. (fn. 11) Thus Anthony Grant, who was made archdeacon of St. Albans in 1846, had the archdeaconry of Rochester added to his office in 1863, lost the archdeaconry of St. Albans in 1882, and died as archdeacon of Rochester in 1883.

Le Neve gives lists of the bishops, deans and archdeacons of Rochester. He cites some of the registers of the archbishops of Canterbury at Lambeth, and 'Reg. Cant.', besides printed sources such as Rymer and Strype, but no Rochester registers. Such information as is given on the deans is based on Wood's Historia et Antiquitates Universitatis Oxoniensis. Le Neve evidently had considerable trouble in trying to secure lists of the canons, and wrote, 'the succession of the prebendaries of this Church not being yet come to Hand, I must beg leave to refer them to the Addenda'. However, when he compiled the Addenda he was still obliged to write, 'I must acknowledge that the Prebendaries of Rochester . . . are wanting to fulfil my Intention as first proposed, but though I have used all possible Endeavours, I have not as yet been able to attain them'. Thus, he apparently made no use of any Rochester records, either episcopal or capitular.

Fifty years later the antiquary William Cole came across a list of Rochester prebendaries, and wrote in 1757 as follows:

Having the Use of the late Mr Browne Willis's Copy of Dr Richard Rawlinson's Survey of the Cathedral of Rochester . . . there is a regular List of the Archdeacons and Prebendaries of that Cathedral Church in Mr Willis's own Writing, and which I thought deserving a Place here, as I know of no List of the Prebendaries of Rochester in Print. (fn. 12)

These lists assign the canons to numbered prebends, and were the basis of the lists published by Hardy in his revision of Le Neve's Fasti. Hardy also added references to the public records, principally, as usual, to the bishops' certificates (E 331). However, the numbering of prebends transmitted by these four eminent antiquaries does not fit the actual possession of houses, when as a result of the implementation of the Cathedrals Act in the nineteenth century, various prebends at Rochester were suspended and the houses attached to them fell vacant.

The first source used in the present revision is the bishops' registers. (fn. 13) There are, however, few of these-just three volumes covering 1492-1678. The rapid turnover of bishops may have contributed to the paucity of episcopal business entered in registers. There are no registers at all for John Poynet and John Scory, and very little material in those of Richard Neale, John Buckeridge and John Bowle. Some registers contain no institutions of canons. The registers stop entirely in 1678, to be succeeded by episcopal muniment books, which include merely the bishops' certificates sent to the Exchequer, and these do not mention the predecessors in an office. From 1708, there are no cathedral institutions at all in the muniment books.

Chapter business of all kinds was at first entered in the registers or lease books (DRc/Elb). Unfortunately, part of Registrum Primum is now missing, as are registers Secundum, Tertium and Quartum. Registers exist from 1575 to 1640. In 1575, a draft chapter minute book was started, but ends in 1584 (DRc/Ac). From 1660, the Red Book (DRc/Arb) included all business transacted at the two general chapters, besides official documents relating to the election and installation of bishops, and the installation of deans and canons, and also a rough record of chapter minutes to 1672. In this year, the system was reorganized, with new separate series of chapter minute books (although the first one now in existence dates from 1678), and lease books, kept in conjunction with the Red Book, which now merely registered official documents. From 1660, records of the installation of canons are therefore normally found in the Red Book, but may occur elsewhere. Thus for the sixteenth century and the first half of the seventeenth, the Rochester sources have serious limitations, and have to be supplemented by treasurer's accounts and odd papers which happen to have survived relating to the appointment of bishops, deans, archdeacons and canons.

At the Public Record Office, the bishops' certificates begin in 1554, but canons do not occur regularly, and their predecessors in office are not stated. From 1625 to 1670, there were no institutions of canons, because of the practice of not instituting a man who had a presentation from the king to a specific prebend. (fn. 14) Some royal grants to prebends are to be found in the patent rolls (C 66), though there are none for Charles I's reign.

From this, it will be seen that the sources are incomplete and far from satisfactory, at least before 1660. It might well have proved impossible to draw up reliable lists of the succession in each prebend, but for the fact that at Rochester houses on certain known plots of land were attached to each prebend, and exchanges were forbidden. (fn. 15) At certain dates the occupants of these houses are known: from a list of canons' houses c. 1593-1606, (fn. 16) from the parliamentary survey of 1649, (fn. 17) and from the Orders in Council bringing into effect the measures of Stat. 3 & 4 Vic. c. 113. It is also possible to work out the occupants of certain prebendal houses by comparing leases of the same piece of adjacent land at different dates. In this task, the work done by archdeacon John Denne (fn. 18) proves an invaluable guide. Among his papers in the British Museum are lists of the canons in the first three prebends, which were continued by his son Samuel to 1790. (fn. 19) These lists tally with the ownership of the houses in the nineteenth century, unlike those of Browne Willis and William Cole, printed by Hardy. (fn. 20) Denne based his work on the tenure of the prebendal houses, and this method has been followed for the prebends with which he did not deal. The succession in each prebend is reasonably certain, though a mystery still surrounds the succession in the fifth and sixth prebends in the first few years of the seventeenth century. (fn. 21)

Rochester was not a wealthy cathedral. Its bishops frequently stayed only for short periods, until they were found more lucrative sees. While here, they often had licences to hold other offices in commendam, and from 1666 to 1802 the bishops were also deans of Westminster. (fn. 22) Taken as a whole, the cathedral body was perhaps less distinguished than some others, and this fact has made the discovery of precise dates of death or burial of its members more difficult.


  • 1. L. & P. XVI no. 947 (36); Hist. and Ant. Roch. pt. i pp. 6-16.
  • 2. L. & P. XVI no. 947 (42).
  • 3. DRc/As 3 p. 112.
  • 4. See pp. 61 & n., 65 & n.
  • 5. 4 March 1555 (C.P.R. 1554-5 p. 53).
  • 6. 4 Dec. 1637 (Cal. S.P. Dom. 1637-8 p. 6).
  • 7. 14 Jan. 1714 (12 Anne Stat. 2, c. 6; DRc/Arb 2 ff. 161v-164).
  • 8. See table, p. 72.
  • 9. DRc/Ac 13 pp. 759-60, 771; and see p. 59.
  • 10. See p. 59, Anthony Grant.
  • 11. DRc/Ac 14 p. 652.
  • 12. Vol. 28 of the Cole MSS. (Brit. Mus., Add. MS. 5829 f. 52v).
  • 13. The Rochester records are catalogued and described in 'The Archives of the Dean and Chapter of Rochester, c. 1100-1907' by A. M. Oakley (in typescript, Kent Record Office and Canterbury cathedral library).
  • 14. DRc/Elb 4 f. 232v; see p. 60 n. 7.
  • 15. This was not laid down in the statutes (DRc/As), but seems to have been a custom of such longstanding and binding force that Edmund Barrell (canon, 1705-65) could state that 'the statutes of our church direct that the prebendal houses shall go to the successours, without any change of houses among the Prebendarys' (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Willis 41). The houses are described in the parliamentary survey of 1649 (DRc/Esp 1/2; cf. Fisher's Rochester pp. 93-8).
  • 16. DRc/As 3 p. 8.
  • 17. DRc/Esp 1/2.
  • 18. He was archdeacon of Rochester, 1728-67. William Cole says of him that he 'is an excellent Church Antiquary and Historian, having a vast Collection relating to the English Church' (Brit. Mus., Add. MS. 5829 f. 53v).
  • 19. Brit. Mus., Add. MS. 11823.
  • 20. Further lists of canons, dated 1719 and 1724, and compiled by canon Edmund Barrell, are to be found in the Bodleian Library MS. Willis 41, but T. Shindler has effectively demonstrated their inaccuracy (Reg. Roch. cath. pp. 67-70).
  • 21. See pp. 67 n. 3, 67 n. 2.
  • 22. The annual value of the deanery of Westminster was twice that of the bpc. of Rochester (Hist. and Ant. Westminster 1 pt. i p. 206).