DURHAM: Introduction

Pages 67-69

Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1541-1857: Volume 11, Carlisle, Chester, Durham, Manchester, Ripon, and Sodor and Man Dioceses. Originally published by Institute of Historical Research, London, 2004.

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The medieval diocese of Durham consisted of the counties of Northumberland and Durham. As the first line of defence against incursions from Scotland, the bishops had considerable power and wealth as head of the Palatine jurisdiction of the County Palatine of Durham. At the Reformation, the boundaries of the diocese remained the same, but a new secular cathedral chapter replaced the Benedictine monastic community dissolved in 1540. The new cathedral was established along similar lines to the other cathedrals of Henry VIII's new foundation on 12 May 1541. (fn. 1) It was the sixth to be established in England, and the second in the northern province. Like Canterbury, Winchester and Westminster, it was founded on a lavish scale, with a dean and twelve canons. Continuity was maintained with the former monastic chapter: the dean was the former prior and nine of the canons were former monks of Durham priory. One other was a former friar from Newcastle. Only two members of the first chapter were not former monks or friars. (fn. 2)

Given the original personnel of the new cathedral, it was not surprising that in Mary I's reign only the dean and one canon were deprived. The accession of Elizabeth I produced more far-reaching changes. Seven canons were deprived for refusal to subscribe to the royal supremacy and the Articles of Religion and three others were initially sequestrated for failure to subscribe, though they seem to have conformed eventually.

At the foundation, the prebends were all in the king's gift. However, in Mary's reign, the right of presentation to them was granted to the bishop and his successors. (fn. 3) Unlike other cathedrals of the New Foundation, each prebend had assigned to it from the cathedral's estates its own endowment in land. As a result, a canon would receive not only his assigned payment and his share in any surplus in the chapter income, but also the income from his own prebendal estate. These estates may have originally been of similar value, but some increased in value more than others over the years. This led to canons moving from prebend to prebend more than is usual in New Foundation cathedrals. The commission to inquire into ecclesiastical revenues revealed that in the three years. 1828–31 the income of the cathedral corporation was an enormous £27,933, making it by far the wealthiest in the country. The next most wealthy was Canterbury with £15,982, while Durham's neighbour Chester, as has already been seen, had a mere £634. The Durham prebends ranged in average annual value from £312 for the ninth to £1,400 for the highly desirable eleventh (or Golden) prebend. (fn. 4) There are several instances of men holding other prebends who transferred to the eleventh when a vacancy arose, and no instances of a holder of the eleventh resigning it for any office short of a deanery. In 1831 three of the canons were also bishops of relatively poor sees John Bird Sumner of Chester, Robert Gray of Bristol and Henry Phillpotts of Exeter. By 1831, the deanery of Durham brought an average net income of £3,266, considerably more than the £1,897 revenue from the bishopric of St. Davids which the current dean, John Banks Jenkinson, held together with the deanery. The bishop's average income was £19,066, only slightly less than the £19,182 that the archbishop of Canterbury received and over £5,000 more than the archbishop of York's annual income. (fn. 5)

Some of this wealth was, however, destined to be used for the establishment of a university at Durham. In 1832 the Act of 2 & 3 Will. IV c. 19 (private) was secured, entitled 'An Act to enable the dean and chapter of Durham to appropriate part of the property of their church to the establishment of a university therewith for the advancement of learning'. Subsequent Acts of parliament and Orders in Council brought the university into being.

The Palatine jurisdiction of the County Palatine of Durham was separated from the bishopric by the Act of 6 & 7 Will. IV c. 19, and was to be vested instead in the Crown. Henceforth, the bishop was to exercise episcopal and ecclesiastical jurisdiction only. His annual income was set at £8,000 by the same Act, which placed him fourth highest, after Canterbury, York and London. (fn. 6)

The Act of 3 & 4 Vic. c. 113 s. 8 reduced the number of Durham prebends from twelve to six. Moreover, the Act of 4 & 5 Vic. c. 39 s. 9 sanctioned the endowment of archdeaconries with benefices, and two prebends were annexed to the archdeaconries of Durham and Northumberland in 1863 and 1846 respectively. In 1841, an Order in Council decreed that the office of warden of the university of Durham should become permanently annexed to the deanery. The fourth prebend, held by Henry Jenkyns, Professor of Divinity and Ecclesiastical History, was to be permanently annexed to this professorship on its next vacancy, and the valuable eleventh prebend (then vacant) was to be annexed to the chair of Greek and Classical Literature. (fn. 7) Thus four of the six remaining prebends of Durham were annexed to archdeaconries or university chairs. The cathedral statutes were amended accordingly on 20 July 1841, ratified by Order in Council of 14 September. (fn. 8)

To the archdeaconries of Durham and Northumberland was added a new archdeaconry, that of Lindisfarne, which was formed in 1842 out of the northern part of the large archdeaconry of Northumberland. (fn. 9)

The ecclesiastical commissioners made only slight alterations to Durham's diocesan boundaries. Parishes locally situated in one diocese, but under the jurisdiction of another diocese were, by 6 & 7 Will. IV c. 77, made subject to the bishop of the diocese within which they were situated. Hence the York peculiar jurisdiction of Hexhamshire was transferred to the diocese of Durham, while the parish of Crayke was assigned in the reverse direction. The Durham estates of Allertonshire and Howdenshire within the diocese of York went to endow the new diocese of Ripon, while the parishes in these former peculiar jurisdictions were transferred to York diocese.

In the original Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae, published in 1716, John Le Neve supplied lists only of the bishops, deans and two archdeacons, based on standard printed works of his day and the registers of the archbishop of Canterbury, his references being cited without precision. Thomas Duffus Hardy, in his much fuller revision of Le Neve's work, extending it to 1854, supplied lists of the prebends, but as was normal with his work did not provide references to sources, by which the accuracy of his details could be assessed.

The following lists are heavily indebted to Lists of Deans and Major Canons of Durham, 1541–1900, compiled by Patrick Mussett (1974), who systematically worked through the Durham records, of which he was then an archivist in the University's Department of Palaeography and Diplomatic. He generously allowed this to form the basis of the present work, besides supplying information he has subsequently discovered. This volume adds lists of the bishops of Durham and the archdeacons, and also makes use of sources outside Durham, such as the Public Record Office, Lambeth Palace Library, the Borthwick Institute, York, and various local record offices, together with a wider range of printed sources, including contemporary journals and newspapers. Alan Piper, the present Durham Chapter Archivist, has also made available the addenda he has compiled to the 1974 work.

The diocesan records have suffered considerable losses, and there are major gaps in the series of registers and act books, offset by the almost complete series of Public Record Office certificates of institution, and by the particularly full capitular records. As a result, and with a few exceptions in the late sixteenth century, the present lists can be regarded as fairly reliable.


  • 1. L. & P. xvi no. 878 (25, 33).
  • 2. Ibid. no. 1493.
  • 3. C.P.R. 1555–7 p. 123.
  • 4. Rept. of the Commissioners ... to inquire into the Ecclesiastical Revenues pp. 14–15, 42–3.
  • 5. Ibid. pp. 4–5, 42–3.
  • 6. Lond. Gaz. no. 19460, 22 Dec. 1836.
  • 7. Lond. Gaz. nos. 19986, 19991, 4 June 1841; 20499, 8 Aug. 1845.
  • 8. Lond. Gaz. no. 20021, 14 Sept. 1841.
  • 9. Lond. Gaz. nos. 20135, 20138, 20153, 27 Aug. 1842.