PETERBOROUGH: Introduction

Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1541-1857: Volume 8, Bristol, Gloucester, Oxford and Peterborough Dioceses. Originally published by Institute of Historical Research, London, 1996.

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'PETERBOROUGH: Introduction', in Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1541-1857: Volume 8, Bristol, Gloucester, Oxford and Peterborough Dioceses, (London, 1996) pp. 111-112. British History Online [accessed 19 April 2024]


Peterborough cathedral's foundation charter was granted by the king, Henry VIII, a couple of days after he founded Gloucester and a few days before he refounded Ely as a secular cathedral. Peterborough, like Oxford, was carved out of the enormous medieval diocese of Lincoln. The archdeaconry of Northampton, consisting of the counties of Northants and Rutland, was made into the new diocese. However, unlike Oxford, where the archdeaconry's administrative centre became the cathedral city, in this case, the church of the former abbey of Peterborough, at one extremity of the diocese, was made the cathedral. On the dissolution of the abbey on 29 November 1539, the list of pensions granted shows that some monks had left, but that another category was 'appointed to remain'. This suggests that plans for the new cathedral foundation were already in motion. The last abbot, John Chambers, was appointed 'guardian' and accounted for the revenues, and on 4 September 1541, when the new diocese and cathedral were set up, in fairly standard form, he was made the first bishop. At the cathedral, a dean and a chapter consisting of six canons were established. The former prior of St. Andrew, Northampton, became dean; the former prior of Peterborough and three other monks became canons. One version of the foundation charter gives the remaining two prebends as held by former monks of Peterborough also: perhaps it was at the last minute that two secular priests were appointed to the chapter. The archdeacon of Northampton was released from the jurisdiction of the bishop of Lincoln and placed under that of the new bishop of Peterborough. (fn. 1) The king presented to the deanery and the bishop to the archdeaconry. The prebends were all initially in the gift of the Crown, but the right of presentation was granted to the bishop of Peterborough by Queen Mary I in 1553 and 1557, (fn. 2) and the bishops retained it. Collations referred to the prebends by their numbers, and this practice persisted. In the nineteenth century, the diocese was further enlarged at the expense of Lincoln by the transfer of the archdeaconry of Leicester in 1837. (fn. 3) At the same time, the number of prebends was reduced from six to four, of which one was annexed to the archdeaconry of Northampton. (fn. 4)

Peterborough was not a wealthy cathedral. At the foundation, the bishop's annual income was £333. In 1575, it was assessed at £414 19s 11d, which placed Peterborough nineteenth in value on a national scale, with only Rochester, Oxford, Gloucester, Bristol and the Welsh dioceses worth less. Sir Thomas Cecil, writing in 1595 to his brother Robert, declared, The place is of small revenue, and but for the title of a bishop, I think few will affect it but to step forward to a better'. By 1831, the bishop's average income over the previous three years was £3,103, which was higher than that of eight other bishops, but was expected to be less in future. (fn. 5) The dean's income at the foundation was £100, which was of course augmented when leases of chapter property were renewed. The average income of the dean for the three years to 1831 was £1,139 10s 0d, in comparison with the dean of Christ Church, Oxford's £3,200 6s 8d (less some college and university dues). This partly explains why Peterborough had as many as thirty-five deans during the period 1541-1857, of whom eighteen were promoted to higher office. White Kennett, when dean, is said to have excused himself on the grounds of poverty from donating the customary piece of plate for the table of the royal chaplains at Court, saying that he was 'only Dean of Pewterborough'. (fn. 6) At the foundation, the prebends were worth twenty pounds, although 'but 7l, unless resident'. By 1720, the nominal value of a prebend was thirty-six pounds a year, but when a proportion of the fines for renewal of leases was included, one canon's yearly profits ranged between forty-nine pounds and £281. In the eighteen-thirties, a canon's average income amounted to £525 15s 0d, far short of that of a canon of Christ Church, Oxford, at £1,510 1s 6d (less some dues). (fn. 7)

Peterborough's diocesan records are at the Northamptonshire Record Office, while those of the dean and chapter are divided between that record office and the Cambridge University Library, with some remaining in the Peterborough Cathedral Library. The bishops' institution act books form a complete series, though they contain gaps, especially in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The series of dean and chapter registers begins in 1692, but prior to that many installations are to be found in the various act books, leger books and registers of earlier deans, and other information on tenure of offices can be gleaned from treasurers' accounts and miscellaneous documents. Simon Gunton, a canon 1646-76, and a resident in Peterborough from birth, wrote a History of Peterburgh, which was enlarged and revised for publication in 1686 by the dean, Simon Patrick, (fn. 8) and this is a useful source for details within Gunton's lifetime.


  • 1. P.R.O., E 315/245 ff. 160-1; L. & P. XVI no. 1226 (6-8); Foundation of Peterborough Cath. p.
  • 2. C.P.R. 1553-4 pp. 60-1; C.P.R. 1557-8 p. 129.
  • 3. In accordance with Stat. 6 & 7 Will. IV c. 77 and Order in Council 21 Aug. 1837 (Lond. Gaz. no. 19539).
  • 4. Stat. 3 & 4 Vic. c. 113s. 13.
  • 5. Public Record Office, S.C. 11/842, 11/843; Brit. Libr., Stowe MS. 570 ff. 92-3; Hist. MSS. Comm., Salisbury MSS. V 333; Rept. on Ecclesiastical Revenues p. 6.
  • 6. Foundation of Peterborough Cath. p. 71; Brit. Libr., Stowe MS. 570 f. 94; Rept. on Ecclesiastical Revenues pp. 21, 23; J. Swift, Journal to Stella, ed. G.A. Aitken (1901), p. 309 (6 Oct. 1711).
  • 7. Foundation of Peterborough Cath. p. 71; L. & P. XVIII ii app. no. 2; Accounts of John Russell (Northants. N. & Q. new ser. i (1905-7) 31-44); Rept. on Ecclesiastical Revenues pp. 21, 23.
  • 8. Patrick wrote that he 'found it so imperfect, that I made many additions to it, as large as the book itself, and corrected several mistakes in it' (S. Patrick, Auto-Biography (Oxford, 1939) p. 100).