Thetford, chapter 11: Of Thetford Bishoprick, the Bishop's palace, and Cathedral chruch

An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2. Originally published by W Miller, London, 1805.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.

'Thetford, chapter 11: Of Thetford Bishoprick, the Bishop's palace, and Cathedral chruch', in An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2, (London, 1805) pp. 47-51. British History Online [accessed 12 April 2024]


Of thetford Bishoprick, the Bishop's palace, and cathedral church.

Sigebert, son of Redwald King of the East-Angles, being suspected by his brother Erpenwald, or Corpwald, to aspire to the crown, was, soon after his father's death, banished into France, where he applied himself diligently to his studies, under Felix, a Burgundian, who fully instructed him in the Christian faith, and then baptized him, by which means having contracted an intimate familiarity, when Sigebert was made King at Corpwald's death, he brought Felix along with him, and encouraged him to preach, and convert his people to the knowledge of the Gospel; this Felix undertook with the utmost expedition, and greatest diligence, and having made many converts, he built several churches, as Babingley, Felixtoxe, (fn. 1) &c. and being consecrated by Honorius Archbishop of Canterbury, (fn. 2) became the first Bishop of the East-Angles, and placed his see at Dunwich in Suffolk, in the year 636, according to the Saxon Chronicle, and 630, according to Godwin, and other historians; he died March 8th, 6. 7. There sat only two Bishops at Dunwich after him, before the see was divided by Bisus into two bishopricks, one to be Bishop over Suffolk, whose see remained at Dunwich, the other over Norfolk, whose see was placed at North-Elmham, which, after a succession of eleven Bishops at Dunwich, became the only see of both counties, and so continued till

Herfast, or Arfast, the Conqueror's chaplain, who was made Bishop in the year 1070, removed the see from Elmham to Thetford in 1075, according to the order of the council held by Lanfrank Archbishop of Canterbury, which appointed, that all bishops sees, which were settled in villages, should be removed to the most eminent cities in their dioceses, and so this became fixed here, Thetford being far superiour to Elmham in populousness and wealth.

The mother church of this city was dedicated to St. Mary, and stood where the free-school, and master of the hospital's house now stands; this, in all probability, belonged to the Bishop of the province, (who, it is to be thought, had a house near it,) till Stigand retained it in his hands, with other revenues of the bishoprick, after he left the see: but upon his disgrace, the King gave it, with the four churches appendant to it, and all that belonged to them, to Bishop Arfast and his heirs, in fee and inheritance, who placed his episcopal chair in it, and afterwards gave the inheritance of it to Richard, his eldest son, and the other four churches to his other sons, and their heirs. This Arfast, assisted by Roger Bygod, rebuilt the church, dedicating it to St. Mary, the Holy Trinity, and all the Saints, and joined his palace, or mansion-house, to the north side of it, towards its west end, of which there is so much now standing, (which serves for a wall to the garden, facing the Canons,) that we can plainly distinguish its breadth; it consisted of a nave, two isles, a north and south transept, (the arch of which now divides the school and master's apartment,) and a chancel or choir, the east end of which reached the street, within about 12 yards, as its foundation discovers, so that it was a noble church, fit for the cathedral of such a see. Arfast was in great favour with the Conqueror, being his Chancellor for some time, as well as chaplain; he spared no cost nor pains to augment his see in wealth and buildings; Weaver tells us, (fn. 3) he was chaplain to the Conqueror, when he was only Duke of Normandy, and was first a monk of Bec abbey in Normandy, being well esteemed among them for his learning, because before Lanfrank (who was after Archbishop of Canterbury) was made abbot of that house, the monks were illiterate, and mere drones, and there Arfast, who had a smattering of learning, made a great shew among them; but when Lanfrank became their abbot, he soon brought his house to be even an university, flourishing with all knowledge of good letters. Hither Arfast came, after a pompous and bragging manner, attended with a great troop; Lanfrank, who immediately espied his ignorance, caused an A B C to be laid before him, mocking the pride of the man with a witty jest, which Arfast look so to heart, that he never ceased till he caused the Duke to banish him out of Normandy; howbeit, Lanfrank happening to ride on a lame jade when he came to take leave of the Duke, the Duke fell into such a laughter at the halting of his horse, as in that merry mood, by reason of some friends, he was quickly reconciled to him again. But though Lanfrank was afterwards in great favour, yet Arfast, it is plain, did not forget him; for at his disgrace the King gave him good part of Lanfrank's estate. Arfast sat Bishop till 1084, and then dying here, (fn. 4) was buried in his cathedral, (fn. 5) with this epitaph on his monument,
Nic, Arfaste pie, Pater optime at Acca Sophie, Uibis per merita nirtutum Laude perita: Uos qui transitis hic omes atque reditis, Dicite, quod Christi Pietas sit promptior isti.

He was succeeded by
William Galsagus, (fn. 6) whose right sirname was de Bello-Fago, or Beaufo, who was nominated by the King to the see of Thetford, on Christmas day, 1085, (fn. 7) and was consecrated at Canterbury in 1086; he did all he could to adorn and enrich his see, both in buildings and possessions, being a very wealthy man, and a person of much worth for his learning and conduct; he is said, by some authors, to have been Chancellor to the King, as well as his predecessor; but plain it is, he was in great favour with the Conqueror, who gave him no less than thirty odd manors, in fee, (fn. 8) to him and his heirs, besides lands and revenues in above forty other towns, some of which belonged to Stigand, who had took them from the see, others to Earl Ralph, others to Guert, others to the see, to which at his death, he left all those that ever did belong to it, with many others of his own gift, being the greatest benefactor that the bishoprick ever had. In Domesday-Book, fol. 143, its revenues are described under the title of The Land of the Bishop of Tedford, belonging to the Bishoprick, in the Confessor's Days; (fn. 9) and now (that is in the Conqueror's) belonging to William, Bishop there, who holds them in right of his bishoprick, viz. the manors of Cresingham-Magna, Gaywood, Thornham, Tofts, Elmham, Colkirk, Saxlingham, Thornage, Swanton, Hindringham, Egmere, Hemelinton, Hilderston, Helmingham, Swafield, and Stratton in Depwade Hundred, besides several other lordships and revenues in many places, of all which he left his see possessed at his death, which was in or about 1091, in which year he was succeeded by

Herbert Losinga, (fn. 10) who was born at Orford in Suffolk, and was Prior of the monastery of Fiscamp in Normandy, and came back into England, at the request of William Rufus, who much favoured him, and kept him in his court, where he was not idle, for in three years time he had so feathered his nest, (as Mr. Weaver expresses it,) that he could give the King 1900l. for this see, and also buy, for his father Robert de Losing, the abbacy of Winchester; for satisfaction of which simony, Pope Paschal II. enjoined him to build certain churches and monasteries, as a pennance, all which he performed, and that in a most sumptuous manner, of which the cathedral at Norwich, St. Margaret's at Lynn, St. Nicholas's at Yarmouth, the church of NorthElmham, and St. Leonard's on the Hill, over-against the cathedral, on the other side of the river, (which is now ruined.) are sufficient witnesses; he was an excellent scholar, being author of divers learned treatises: Pits, in his history of English writers, (fn. 11) gives him a great character: he sat in this see till April 9, 1094, and then translated it from Thetford to Norwich, to the great detriment of this city, which hath been decaying by degrees ever since. But that he might make some amends to it, he persuaded Roger Bygod to build a monastery for Cluniac monks, and place them in the church of St. Mary, lately the episcopal see of Thetford, which he did, though he designed to remove them (as his son Hugh Bygod afterwards did) to a more convenient place without the city. The account of the translation of the see is thus recorded in Trevisa's Policronicon, fol. 275.

Aboute that tyme, Robert Losange that haddee ben sometime Abbot of Ramsay, and was thenne Byshope of Tedford, was a grete Houry for symeoye. for he had boughte the Byshopryche of the kinge, but afterwarde he was sory, and bywept the unshylfull Reste of hes Yougth, and toke the Daye to Rome, and came Home agayne, and chaunged and torned his See, from Tedforde to Norwyche. And he founded a solempne Abbaye with his owne Catayle, and not with the Cataylle of his Bysshopryche. But at Tedford he ordeyned monkes of Cluny, that were ryche in the Worlde, and clere of Relungyon to Godwarde And from this time to King Henry the Eighth's days, there was no bishop here, till that King made it a suffragan bishoprick to the see of Norwich, for he appointed that in the larger dioceses there should be suffragan bishops, chosen after this manner, the Bishop should present two persons to the King, who should choose which he pleased: according to this method, Bishop Richard Nix, a few days before his death, nominated to the King, who elected,

John Salisbury, late Prior of Horsham, who was consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, March 19, 1536, and in 1539 became Dean of Norwich, and Archdeacon of Anglesey, in 1546, Rector of Lopham, in 1554, Rector of Diss and of Thorp on the Hill in Lincoln diocese, all which he held by license from Archbishop Parker, dated in 1570. In 1571, he was confirmed Bishop of Sodor, or the Isle of Man, and died in Sept. 1573. After whose death I meet with no successours in his office, though "the late Dr. George Hicks, a nonjuror, to uphold the schism of that party, after the seven non juring bishops were dead, (which in the judgment of Mr. Dodwell and Nelson, did of course expire, and could not be upheld without degenerating into presbytery, and so becoming sinful,) assumed the title of (suffragan) Bishop of Thetford," (fn. 12) and presumed to ordain by that title, as appears by an instrument under his seal, (which represented a shepherd with a sheep on his shoulders, and a crook in his hand, with this motto, The good Shepherd,) in which he declares, that he ordained Laurence Howel, A. M. priest, in his oratory in St. Andrew's, Holbourn, London, October 2, 1712, which instrument is printed in the Daily Courant, for Monday, Sept. 10, 1716. And this is all that I find as to this bishoprick, either in its superiour or inferiour state.


  • 1. I make no doubt but Flixton or Felix's Town, Felixstowe, &c. took their names from him.
  • 2. See p. 18.
  • 3. Fol. 785.
  • 4. Le Neve, in his Fasti, says he was buried in St. Cuthbert's church, and quotes Weaver for it, fol. 827, at which place that author not only tells us he was buried in St. Mary's, or the cathedral, but gives us the inscription on his monument there.
  • 5. It is most likely he, as founder, was buried before the high-altar, and if so, the place of his sepulture is very easily discovered.
  • 6. I take it to be a corruption only of Bel-fagus, or Beaufo. His descendants were afterwards lords of West-Herling.
  • 7. Madox's Hist. of Excheq. p. 5.
  • 8. Domes. fo. 148. Terra Willi. Epi. Tedfordensis, de Feudo.
  • 9. Terra Willi. Epi. Tedfordensis ad Epat. pertin. T. R. E.
  • 10. That is, the Liar; he is called by some William Herbert, by confounding him with William his predecessor, and making them one man, as Weaver and some others by errour have done: he was some time Abbot of Ramsey.
  • 11. Pitsæus De Illustribus Angliæ Scriptoribus.
  • 12. Atlas, p. 339.