WESTMINSTER: Introduction

Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1541-1857: Volume 7, Ely, Norwich, Westminster and Worcester Dioceses. Originally published by Institute of Historical Research, London, 1992.

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'WESTMINSTER: Introduction', Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1541-1857: Volume 7, Ely, Norwich, Westminster and Worcester Dioceses, (London, 1992), pp. 65-67. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/fasti-ecclesiae/1541-1847/vol7/pp65-67 [accessed 14 June 2024].

. "WESTMINSTER: Introduction", in Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1541-1857: Volume 7, Ely, Norwich, Westminster and Worcester Dioceses, (London, 1992) 65-67. British History Online, accessed June 14, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/fasti-ecclesiae/1541-1847/vol7/pp65-67.

. "WESTMINSTER: Introduction", Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1541-1857: Volume 7, Ely, Norwich, Westminster and Worcester Dioceses, (London, 1992). 65-67. British History Online. Web. 14 June 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/fasti-ecclesiae/1541-1847/vol7/pp65-67.


Westminster was a diocese for a mere ten years. Henry VIII established it by letters patent of 17 December 1540, in accordance with the statute 31 Hen. VIII c. 9, when the former monastery of St. Peter, Westminster, was reconstituted as a cathedral church, with a bishop, dean and twelve canons. Thomas Thirlby was named as the first bishop. The dean, William Benson or Boston, had been abbot of Westminster before the Dissolution, and the former prior and five other monks were among the new canons. The town of Westminster was to be known as the city of Westminster. The new diocese was to consist of the whole county of Middlesex, formerly in the diocese of London, except for Fulham, and the archdeacon of Middlesex was transferred to the jurisdiction of the new bishop. (fn. 1) The next month the endowment of the bishopric was described and that of the dean and chapter on 5 August 1542. (fn. 2) The deanery and all the prebends were in the king's gift.

In 1550 the diocese of Westminster was reunited with that of London. Thomas Thirlby surrendered the diocese to the Crown on 30 March and was translated to Norwich, while Nicholas Ridley was made bishop of London and Westminster by letters patent of 1 April. (fn. 3) An act of parliament of 3 March 1552 confirmed the position of Westminster as a 'cathedral church and episcopal see to the bishop of London'. At least one royal presentation to a prebend was directed to the bishop of London for institution. (fn. 4) Further upheaval followed the accession of Mary, when no fewer than nine of the canons were deprived by the queen's commissary on 30 March 1554 and replaced by others. Two years later, on 26 September 1556, the chapter was abolished and the monastery restored by Cardinal Pole, archbishop of Canterbury, and on 10 November the endowments of the dean and chapter were transferred to the monastery by royal letters patent. The dean was moved to the deanery of Windsor to make room for the new abbot, John Feckenham, and the canons were to receive annual pensions. (fn. 5)

A fresh start was made in 1560. An act of parliament annexed to the Crown all the monasteries which had been restored by Mary. The monks of Westminster were obliged to surrender their house to the Crown in July 1559 and by charter of 21 May 1560 Elizabeth I founded 'the college or collegiate church of St. Peter, Westminster ... on the site of the monastery of Westminster'. A new dean and canons were appointed, they were incorporated with the same liberties as held by the 'late dean and ... chapter of Westminster cathedral', and their endowment was restored. Not surprisingly, none of those who had surrendered their prebends in 1556 was reappointed, but two of those deprived in 1554 received grants of prebends. The new presentees were inducted and installed by special commission to the archbishop of Canterbury and others. (fn. 6) Henceforward new canons were not instituted by the bishop of London after royal presentation but simply installed. The term 'Westminster cathedral' was replaced by 'the collegiate church St. Peter, Westminster', but already by 1579 the expression 'St. Peter's abbey, Westminster' is found, and this became the frequent description. (fn. 7)

Until the Civil War the prebends were referred to by their numbers, and are given in this way in this volume. From 16 November 1645 the abbey was governed by a committee of Lords and Commons while the dean and canons were dispersed. (fn. 8) Four canons survived the Interregnum and their number was rapidly restored to twelve by royal grants at the Restoration. Four new canons were installed on 5 July 1660 and four more by 1 September. They were no longer appointed to specific numbered prebends, however, and at subsequent vacancies the prebends were described merely in terms of the previous holder. Therefore in these lists the canons from 1660 are listed in order of appointment, giving their predecessors and successors.

A prebend at Westminster was a plum of the ecclesiastical establishment, and the canons' status is evident from the speed with which vacant prebends were always filled and the fact that it has been possible to discover the dates of death (or at least burials) of almost all of them, as being persons of national importance. Besides the value of the prebend, it was also very convenient to have a prebend at Westminster. (fn. 9) Several bishops, particularly if their sees were poor ones, retained their prebends at Westminster, and it was not unusual, in the sixteenth century as well as in the nineteenth, for three or four bishops to be present in chapter. (fn. 10) For 140 years, from 1666 to 1802, the bishops of Rochester held the deanery of Westminster, as the income from the latter was worth twice that of the bishopric. (fn. 11) Of the fifteen deans after 1660, eleven were or became bishops; of the 147 canons twenty became bishops (nine of them continuing to hold their prebend), ten became deans elsewhere, and ninety-nine held their prebend to death as resignations (apart from promotion to a bishopric) were unusually rare. Other distinguishing features of the Westminster chapter were the close links with Westminster school, thirteen of whose headmasters were canons, and the fact that eleven members of the peerage or baronetage were at various times members of the chapter.

The Reports issued by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1835 and 1836, embodied in the statute 3 & 4 Vic. c. 113, called for a reduction in the number of canons from twelve to six. Two of the remaining prebends were to be united with the rectories of St. Margaret and of St. John, Westminster. The procedure by which the prebends were to be suspended is illustrated in a table in the Appendix, and the requisite number was reached by 1859.

When John Le Neve published his lists of the deans and canons in 1716, he relied almost exclusively on Richard Newcourt's Repertorium Ecclesiasticum (London, 1708-10). Details on individuals before 1660 are scanty and conjectural: from then until 1715 they consist mainly of installations which Newcourt had apparently gathered from the chapter minutes, followed by an unsubstantiated mention of the man's death or subsequent career. Thomas Duffus Hardy's revision and continuation of Le Neve (published in 1854) adds little to the pre-Civil War lists, and drops even the few references which Le Neve gave. After 1660 he merely inserts the predecessor of each canon on installation, but otherwise reproduces Le Neve verbatim. For two brief periods, 1689-1701 and 1822-33, he gives the royal presentation from the patent rolls, but otherwise supplies only the installations, without any references.

The sources for compiling Fasti of Westminster are in fact normally fairly adequate. The royal presentations are to be found on the patent rolls, and from the eighteenth century are published in the London Gazette. Installations are recorded in the chapter minute books, consistently from 1660. Most deaths are recorded in national sources: other canons were buried in Westminster abbey, and in only a relatively few cases has it been necessary to search for their burial in a parish benefice.


  • 1. L.& P. XVI nos. 333, 379 (30, 35); Guildhall MS. 9531/12 ff. 248-9. Thirlby's episcopal register is bound with the registers of the bishops of London, Edmund Bonner and Nicholas Ridley.
  • 2. L. & P. XVI no. 503 (33); ibid. XVII no. 714 (5).
  • 3. Monasticon Anglicanum I 321-3; C.P.R. 1549-51 pp. 171-2; Guildhall MS. 9531/12 ff. 363v- 365v.
  • 4. Lords Journals I 405-6, 425-7; Stat. 5 & 6 Edw. VI c. 36; W.A.M. no. 6490; C.P.R. 1549-51 p. 293; Guildhall MS. 9531/12 ff. 363v-365v.
  • 5. C.P.R. 1555-7 pp. 348-54, 546-7; Monasticon Anglicanum 1282-3, 323-4.
  • 6. Stat. 1 Eliz. I c. 24; Wriothesley's Chronicle, ed. W.D. Hamilton (Camden Soc., 1875-7) II 145; Reg. Parker I 348-51.
  • 7. C.P.R. 1558-60 pp. 397-403; C.P.R. 1578-80 no. 1131.
  • 8. Hist. and Ant. Westminster I 167.
  • 9. Cf. petition of John Williams to the duke of Buckingham for the deanery in 1620: 'I trouble not your Honour for Profit, but only for Conveniency' (J. Hacket, Scrinia Reserata (London, 1692) p. 44).
  • 10. CA 1 f. 109v; CA 16 p. 325.
  • 11. Income of bishopric of Rochester £1,523 (average of three years to 1831); of deanery £2,979 (average of seven years to 1834) (Rept. of Commissioners on Ecclesiastical Revenues [67] p. 6, H.C. (1835) XXII 32; 2nd Rept. of Commissioners on Established Church, H.C. 86 p. 26 (1836) XXXVI 38).