GLOUCESTER: 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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'GLOUCESTER: Introduction', in Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1541-1857: Volume 8, Bristol, Gloucester, Oxford and Peterborough Dioceses, (London, 1996) pp. 35-37. British History Online [accessed 19 April 2024]


Gloucester diocese was created out of the medieval diocese of Worcester on 3 September 1541, (fn. 1) and followed the fairly standard pattern for new foundations. The church of the former abbey of Gloucester was made the cathedral of the new diocese, its dedication altered from St. Peter to the Holy Trinity. The chapter consisted of a dean and six canons, all of whose prebends were in the king's gift. The abbot of Gloucester having died in 1539, (fn. 2) the former abbot of Tewkesbury, John Wakeman, was made bishop, and the prior of St. Oswald, Gloucester, became dean. Two former monks of Gloucester, and the former prior of Tanbridge, Surrey, were appointed canons, and three other ex-religious entered on subsequent vacancies. The possessions of the former abbey were divided as the endowments of the bishopric and of the dean and chapter. (fn. 3)

The diocese, as set up in September 1541, consisted of the whole of Gloucestershire. However, in June 1542, and apparently as an after-thought, the city of Bristol was detached to form a separate diocese. (fn. 4) Both sees were poor and barely viable. In 1552, the diocese of Gloucester was dissolved and combined again with Worcester, and the bishop and his successors were granted the right of presenting to all archdeaconries and prebends within the cathedrals of Worcester and Gloucester, because the 'revenues of ... Gloucester [are] too slender for a bishop'. (fn. 5) This proved a short-lived arrangement, and separate bishops were appointed on the deprivation of Bishop Hooper two years later. In 1562, Bishop Cheyney was given a royal licence to hold the see of Bristol together with Gloucester; (fn. 6) his successor, Bishop Bullingham, also held both sees, but resigned Bristol in 1589. (fn. 7) In the nineteenth century, when it seemed desirable to suppress a bishopric in order to create a new one in the populous north of England, the two small neighbouring sees were once again combined under James Henry Monk in 1836. (fn. 8) The arrangement was unpopular in Gloucester as well as Bristol. A petition for their severance, sent on 12 June 1856 to the queen from the dean and chapter, argued that the city of Gloucester had had few visits from the bishop, that the estates of the united sees, if properly managed, could afford adequate support for two bishops, and that the Church of England as a whole would benefit from smaller dioceses. The laity, 'of all parties, sects and opinions', were said to be of the same opinion. (fn. 9) It was not until 1897 that the dioceses were eventually separated.

The six prebends remained in the Crown's gift, until in 1713, by royal letters patent, confirmed by Act of Parliament, the next vacant prebend was annexed for ever to the Mastership of Pembroke College, Oxford. (fn. 10) A prebend fell vacant in 1718, and from then onwards each Master of Pembroke College would present his letters of election to the mastership to the dean and chapter, and would be installed as canon. (fn. 11)

In the eighteen-thirties, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners recommended that the number of canons be reduced from six to four (including the Master of Pembroke College). As in other cathedrals, honorary canons were introduced. These changes came into effect in the statute 3 & 4 Vic. c. 113, implemented by detailed Orders in Council. The first and third prebends to fall vacant were suspended, and the requisite number was reached by 1853. (fn. 12)

Le Neve was clearly dissatisfied with the Gloucester section of his Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae, for he wrote that 'this, howsoever imperfect, is the best Account I am yet able to give ... wherein I thankfully acknowledge the Assistance given me by Mr. Robert Moore, Deputy-Register'. (fn. 13) He hoped for further information before the book went to press, but was disappointed in this. Bishops, deans and archdeacons are listed from 1541, but the canons only from 1660. References are given to some printed works, but to no more precise manuscript sources than 'Reg. Glouc.' Thomas Duffus Hardy's revision of Le Neve gives the canons from 1541, probably drawing his evidence from the bishops' transcripts in the Public Records although no reference at all is given.

For the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the manuscript sources for Gloucester fasti are plentiful, with many original documents besides the episcopal and chapter registers. There are problems, however, before 1616, as no chapter act books or deeds exist and not all institutions were recorded in the general act books of the bishops.

At the foundation the canons were appointed to numbered prebends and subsequent presentations often refer to the number as well as to the name of the previous holder. After the Restoration in 1660, reference to the prebends' numbers ceases: in the cathedral choir, there were no fixed stalls for each prebend by number, but a new canon was admitted into the sixth stall, whereupon all the others moved up appropriately. (fn. 14) It should therefore theoretically be possible to list the canons under individual prebends, and several scholars, including Brown Willis in his Survey of Cathedrals and Samuel Rudder in his History of Gloucester, have attempted to do this. (fn. 15) These lists vary in the sequences they posit, and their assumptions and guesses where explicit evidence is lacking (especially in the sixteenth century) can often be demonstrated to be faulty in the light of fuller information. However, constructing alternative sequences is not straightforward in view of the gaps in the sources and the contradictory information they sometimes give. On many occasions, details about the predecessor and the alleged number of the prebend are at variance. (fn. 16) It therefore seems advisable to list all the prebendaries in the order of their appointment, giving the reader all the evidence of succession that has been found. Lists of the probable chapter personnel are provided at five-yearly intervals, and after 1660 at ten-yearly intervals.


  • 1. L. & P. XVI no. 1226 (2).
  • 2. Ibid. XIV i no. 1096.
  • 3. Ibid. XVI no. 1226 (4-5).
  • 4. Ibid. XVII no. 443 (9), and see above, introduction to Bristol.
  • 5. C.P.R. 1550-3 pp. 225, 231.
  • 6. Reg. Parker III 952-6.
  • 7. P.R.O., C 66/1353.
  • 8. Order in Council, 5 Oct. 1836 (Lond. Gaz. no. 19426), and see above, introduction to Bristol.
  • 9. Gloucester cath. libr., D & C 6 p. 320.
  • 10. Letters patent of 11 Nov. 1713, confirmed by 12 Anne Stat. 2 c. 6 s. 7.
  • 11. After taking legal advice, Bishop Richard Willis declared that neither a specific Crown presentation nor institution by the diocesan bishop was required (Gloucester R.O., GDR H2/2).
  • 12. See table to illustrate suspension of prebends, 1840-53.
  • 13. Le Neve, p. 106.
  • 14. Ibid. p. 104.
  • 15. Survey of Cath. I 734-45; Rudder, New Hist. Glos. pp. 165-70; I.M. Kirby in Diocese of Gloucester: a Catalogue of the Records (Gloucester, 1968); typescript list by Eric Roe at Gloucester cath. libr.
  • 16. E.g. see the entries for the following canons: John Williams 1545, Walter Jones 1559, Guy Etton 1559 and Elias Wrench 1599.