Colleges: The cathedral of Wells

A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.

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'Colleges: The cathedral of Wells', in A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 2, ed. William Page( London, 1911), British History Online [accessed 15 July 2024].

'Colleges: The cathedral of Wells', in A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 2. Edited by William Page( London, 1911), British History Online, accessed July 15, 2024,

"Colleges: The cathedral of Wells". A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 2. Ed. William Page(London, 1911), , British History Online. Web. 15 July 2024.

In this section


When in 909 (fn. 1) Edward the Elder founded the bishopric of Wells, the Glastonbury monk Athelm who became the first bishop found at Wells a church already in existence and a house in which to live. That the bishop had some clergy to live with him we can well believe, but we know nothing of them, nor do we know whether the church of St. Andrew was rebuilt when it was raised to cathedral rank. Our first definite information concerning the clergy of this church comes to us in Bishop Giso's relation of his work in Wells. He came from the town of St. Trudo in Lorraine and was consecrated Bishop of Wells by Pope Nicholas II at Rome on Easter Day 1061. (fn. 2) On his arrival at Wells he says 'he made a survey of his cathedral church and the four or five clerks who served it and who had no common refectory or cloister.' He determined at once to organize these priests and to build for the clergy of his cathedral in Wells a cloister, refectory and dormitory and the community life was established. They were now canons of the cathedral church, under the rule or canon of St. Chrodegang. (fn. 3) They were also to have a head or leader of their own. Of course as bishop, Giso was their head, but he made them elect from among themselves one to preside over them, and they chose as their first president Isaac, a priest whom by age and learning they considered well qualified for the post.

This constitution however was not to last for long. Bishop Giso's successor, John de Villula of Tours, obtained from King William II a grant of the abbey church of Bath and permission, which Pope Urban II also endorsed, to make the abbey church of Bath the cathedral church of the diocese. Bishop John pulled down the conventual buildings in Wells which his predecessor had erected, the refectory, dormitory, store room and other necessary offices and the private chambers of the canons and turned the canons out to find lodgings for themselves among the people of the town. Provost Isaac apparently was dead and in his place Bishop John, and not the canons, appointed his own brother Hildebert. The provost or steward does not seem to have had any duties but those of managing the estates for the best advantage of the canons. We hear of Benthelius the archdeacon and afterwards of John, son of Hildebert, the archdeacon, who seems to have directed the services in the cathedral church.

The destruction of the conventual house naturally demanded that each canon, since he lived alone, should have a fixed income paid to him from the funds of the body. Bishop John therefore granted to Hildebert the whole of the church estates, making him liable for a payment of £30 to the canons; (fn. 4) and as each canon received £3 a year we may assume that during Bishop Giso's episcopate the number of canons had increased from four or five to ten. On the death of Hildebert his son John, the archdeacon, succeeded to the estates as by hereditary right, and in his last illness bequeathed them to his brother Reginald with a request however that he would restore them to the bishop; and this he did to Bishop Robert (1136–66). Coming to Bath, where Bishop Robert was, he delivered up the lands of the cathedral church of Wells and was made by the bishop precentor of St. Andrew's Church and given a life-interest in the large estate of Combe St. Nicholas which belonged to the see, and which Bishop Robert designed for the further enrichment of the church of Wells. (fn. 5) Then the bishop was able to grant £5 a year to each canon instead of the £3 they had received since 1090.

Bishop Robert was certainly the founder of the Wells chapter on lines such as had been adopted at Salisbury and Lincoln, a system which in England became general for chapters of secular canons. His care for Wells began with his episcopate in 1135. The canons had been engaged ever since the departure of Bishop John in 1088 for Bath in a vigorous attempt to recover their lost position. They had never ceased to regard their church as of cathedral rank and though Bishop Robert obtained from Rome the right to call himself 'Episcopus Bathoniensis' they made much of the fact that the popes had always called the bishop 'episcopus Fontanensis.' (fn. 6) Bishop Robert undertook the rebuilding of the church of St.Andrew, (fn. 7) and the new Romanesque church was dedicated early in 1148 (fn. 8) by himself in the presence of Jocelin Bishop of Salisbury, Simon Bishop of Worcester and Robert Bishop of Hereford. But it is as the creator of the cathedral constitution at Wells that Bishop Robert is best remembered. During the episcopate of his successor Bishop Reginald (fn. 9) (1174– 91) we find a good deal in the development of the chapter already in existence, which had clearly arisen under the hand of Bishop Robert.

As bishop of the diocese he held large estates in Somerset which were not for his own personal expenditure but also for the needs of the Church in the diocese. Some of these he now designed to allocate permanently to the church of St. Andrew. He divided therefore the revenues into two funds. One was for the common expenses of the church, and the other for division among the canons. They were to have a distinct endowment in which they had an absolute life-interest. Moreover they were to have a president over them who was no longer to be the archdeacon or the secular steward, but one of themselves, and further Bishop Robert instituted a series of officers with special endowments over and above the payment which they would get as ordinary canons. We only have documentary evidence of the institution of the deanery, but it is certain that he founded also the offices of precentor, chancellor and treasurer and perhaps of the sub-dean.

He assigned the church and manor of Wedmore with Mudgley and Mark and the rectory of Wookey to the office of the dean and also the manor of Litton and ordained that these estates managed by the dean for the time being should provide an income for the dean and for four canons. That there might always be a certain fund for the maintenance and repair of the fabric the manor of Biddisham was assigned to St. Andrew himself. Then Dulcote and Chilcott formed another prebend, and Wormstre, Wanstrow, and Bromfield or Bromley in the Quantocks three more. The manor of Winsham was sufficient for the endowment of five canons, and the manor of Combe St. Nicholas, which had been granted to Reginald for his lifetime, was assigned for five more canons. Whitchurch also, a tithing of Binegar, was the prebend of another canon. (fn. 10) To them the bishop added two more prebends from Yatton and Huish in Brent Marsh with the church of Compton Bishop, and King Stephen gave him for another two canons the manors of North Curry and Petherton. (fn. 11)

Thus at the very beginning Bishop Robert organized and endowed a dean and twentythree canons, and Ivo he appointed in 1140 as the first dean. In 1157 (fn. 12) Dean Ivo and his fellow canons obtained from Pope Adrian IV a confirmation of their possessions, and again in 1176 (fn. 13) this was confirmed once more by Pope Alexander III.

Bishop Robert however did not forget the common fund which was to be equally enjoyed by those canons who resided in Wells. He gave to it the church of St. Cuthbert in Wells (fn. 14) and confirmed also an endowment from lands in North Wootton which had been made in the time of Bishop Giso to the chapel of the blessed Virgin in the cathedral church.

Another institution, of the origin of which we have no documentary proof, was that of the canons' vicars which it is almost certain Bishop Robert instituted. (fn. 15) Any canon who was absent from Wells was bound at his own expense to provide a vicar who should take his place and perform his duties in the church.

As at Bath there was a confraternity of prayer so in Wells there was a fellowship of praise, the work in all probability of Bishop Robert. The Psalter was divided out to all the canons so that bishop and dean and all the officers and canons as members of one great body at Wells should among themselves daily recite the Psalter. (fn. 16) This division of the Psalter among the canons appears among the 'Antiqua Statuta ' and must be assigned to the founder of the constitution of the church.

The work which Bishop Robert had begun was carried on by his successor Bishop Reginald (1174–91) and during his episcopate there flowed a steady stream of gifts for the needs of the church and a large increase of canons. King Richard confirmed to Bishop Reginald the endowments granted to him. (fn. 17) William de Camvilla had given the church of Henstridge (fn. 18) for a prebend, Oliver de Dinham the church of Buckland Dinham, near Frome, (fn. 19) William Fitz John the church of East Harptree, (fn. 20) William Fitz William the church of Haselbergh or Haslebury, (fn. 21) Hamon of Blackford the church of 'Scanderford,' or Shalford, (fn. 22) James of Mountsorel the church of White Lackington near Ilminster, (fn. 23) Ralph son of Bernard the church of Holcombe Rogus on the Devonshire border, (fn. 24) the three sisters with the consent of their husbands, Alicia, Christina and Sara the church of Timberscombe, (fn. 25) Alan de Fornellis the church of Cudworth with the chapel of Knowle, (fn. 26) and Ralph Fitz William the church of St. Dionysius at Warminster. (fn. 27) Then ten more prebends were founded and in addition prebends were founded which did not long survive. Gerbert de Perci gave the church of Chilcompton and Matilda Arundel the church of Broomfield, (fn. 28) Jocelin de Treminet the church of Awliscombe (fn. 29) in Devonshire and Robert de Bolevill the church of East Lydford, (fn. 30) four prebends which only lasted for a time.

The story of the formation of prebends to be held by the Abbots of Glastonbury, Athelney and Muchelney and by the alien abbot of Bec has been already told. (fn. 31)

On the death of Bishop Savaric Jocelin Troteman, a native and canon of Wells, was elected his successor and was consecrated at Reading 12 May 1206. In a double sense he finished the work which his predecessors had begun. (fn. 32) He developed into completion the constitution which Bishop Robert had foreshadowed and he finished the church which Bishop Reginald had largely built. The instrument of his election shows that the organization was almost complete. It is signed by fifty-five priests (fn. 33) including the dean, precentor, chancellor, treasurer, sub-dean, succentor and the three archdeacons of Wells, Bath and Taunton. The archdeacons also have already taken up that position in the chapter which their successors to-day enjoy. As the representative of the original personal officer of the bishop and of him whom Bishop John de Villula had given charge over the church which he had himself forsaken the archdeacon of Wells takes the third place, following the dean and precentor and preceding the chancellor. To the other two archdeacons the honourable position is assigned immediately after the five dignitaries of the cathedral church, who became members of this chapter not as archdeacons but as holding prebends of the church.

The completion of the fabric could not have been entered on much before the year 1220. It was finished (fn. 34) and the church was dedicated on St. Romanus day, 1239, when in honour of St. Andrew Jocelin assigned the manor and church of Winscombe which he had received from Glastonbury in 1219 to the increase of the common fund of the cathedral.

During his episcopate there was a considerable increase of the number of canons. The church of Wiveliscombe (fn. 35) which Bishop Savaric had given to the common fund, Bishop Jocelin now made the prebend for another canon. Then Robert de Meisi gave to the bishop the church of Barton St. David and a moiety of the church of Nunney and this went to form a second prebend. (fn. 36) George Desfuble gave him the church of Easton in Gordano which became the prebend of a third canon. (fn. 37) In 1226 William Briwere gave the church of Milverton (fn. 38) and in 1241 (fn. 39) this was made the endowment of two prebends of which the former was definitely attached to the office of archdeacon of Taunton, as the prebend of Huish and Brent had been attached to the archdeaconry of Wells. In 1214 the monks of Bath were induced to surrender the church of Dogmersfield (fn. 40) to Bishop Jocelin and in 1215 he made of it another canonical prebend for the church of Wells. In the last year of his episcopate however Bishop Jocelin re-arranged the endowments for the dean; (fn. 41) Dogmersfield was added to the Wedmore and Mark estate and a fifth Wedmore canonry was created, the title of Dogmersfield disappearing. There was a considerable rearrangement also of the Combe St. Nicholas prebend. It had formed the endowment for five canons under Bishop Robert's arrangement and now in 1217 (fn. 42) it was wealthy enough to form the prebend of ten canons, and with the consent of the chapter Bishop Jocelin so decreed. The estate however was very large and since it was not part of the common fund its management devolved on the canons who enjoyed the revenues. Close by was the large manor of Winsham which had also been assigned for five canons in Bishop Robert's plan. So in 1234 (fn. 43) Bishop Jocelin united these two estates, making them the endowment of fifteen canons, and giving the prebend of one as the income of a provost who should manage these estates for his fourteen colleagues. The provost was to be a canon but was to be free from the service at Wells demanded from the others, and so in the 14th century (fn. 44) there arose a considerable controversy whether the provost of Combe was a canon and could claim as such entry into the chapter. This union makes us lose sight of Winsham, and the title Combe with its divisional number was given to all of the fifteen canons.

The greatest number of canons forming the chapter at Wells at any time was fifty-three, and we have still to record the creation of the canonries of Ashill, Taunton, Ilton and Dinder. Ashill was given to Bishop Jocelin by Alice Vaux, (fn. 45) and the advowson of Ilton was given to him by Robert Abbot of Athelney, and while the latter was made a canon's prebend in 1260 we find Ashill also a prebendal church as early as 1320. (fn. 46) Dinder Chapel was made prebendal in 1268 by decree of Bishop William Button II, (fn. 47) and Taunton was the title of a prebendal stall as early as 1360. (fn. 48)

The increase of the number of canons belonging to the chapter of Wells would have created some embarrassment had they all with their vicars come to Wells to reside. We find Bishop Jocelin providing for this in the creation of a liberty or area of ground to the north of the cathedral church on which houses for the canons could be built ' free of secular demands.' In this matter Nicholas de Wells and Hugh de Wells were the chief benefactors (fn. 49) who through the bishop gave ground and houses for the residences of the canons' before the great gate of the canons,' i.e. opposite to the north porch of the church.

In 1209 Bishop Jocelin made a decree (fn. 50) by which the income of the dean was to be made fitting to his increased responsibility. For this purpose he caused an exchange between the dean and sub-dean and assigned to the dean the church of Wedmore and its chapels and the church of Wookey to the sub-dean. The document seems to suggest that he had done much also for the other dignitaries, the precentor, chancellor, treasurer and succentor, by increasing their endowment in order to insist on their residence. We may clearly identify this work of Jocelin with the row of houses on the north of the cathedral green which originally were the houses of the treasurer, precentor, dean, chancellor and archdeacon of Wells. Soon after, in 1213, (fn. 51) he assigned to the dean and chapter the fruit of vacant canonries in the diocese and of vacant benefices as a fabric fund for the cathedral church while he reserved to himself the issues from the vacant dignitaries. (fn. 52)

In 1216 there is entered on the chapter register (fn. 53) an account of the method which Jocelin decreed for the election of a dean, who since the times of Ivo seems always to have been elected by the canons themselves, the canons and the dignitaries being chosen by the bishop.

In the last year of his episcopate Jocelin strove yet further to increase the common fund of the church and he laid down an increased scale of quotidians or daily allowances. The allowance for the bishop comes as the first on the list. The dean, precentor, archdeacon, chancellor and treasurer are referred to as the five parsons and they have quotidians alike. The other canons enjoyed half of such allowance. At the end of the year any surplus revenue was to be distributed among the five parsons and other resident canons, but only if the parsons had resided for two-thirds of the year and the other canons for a half year.

The vicars choral also now received daily quotidians and also a fixed money payment, but they were still apparently lodged where best they could find room. They were not however to lodge alone but were to live as much as possible together.

The duties of the chancellor included that of the training of the younger clergy and the preparation of youths who aspired to holy orders. There were two schools in Wells. The elementary school for instruction in plainsong was essential. The musical services of the church could not be carried on without it. There was also a school for grammar and ultimately for instruction in theology, and this latter was under the direct care of the chancellor. In 1235 (fn. 54) we find Roger, a canon of Wells, assigning his houses with the whole curtilage to the cathedral church for the use of the school provided that the chancellor for the time being shall confer the same on the schoolmaster.

Meanwhile the independence of the chapter was steadily growing. Edward de la Knoll like Jocelin Troteman was a native of Wells. He was Dean of Wells from 1256 to 1284. In 1259 (fn. 55) we have the first of a series of constitutional enactments made by the dean and canons towards their better self-government. In the preamble of this decree it is expressly stated that they were passed by the will and with the consent of William Button the bishop. But the chapter was taking the initiative. The time was passing away when everything had to wait for and depend on the leisure and will of the bishop. Again in 1273 (fn. 56) yet further statutes were passed concerning the vicars choral, and the four chief quarterly chapter meetings were fixed as audit days and the ordinal of the services was corrected of errors. Dean Knoll's successor Thomas de Bytton followed his example, and in 1286 (fn. 57) called together as large a chapter as possible to consider the restoration of the fabric and the completion of the new work of the chapterhouse and the upper stages of the central tower. From that time onwards chapter meetings were summoned without reference to the bishop, and important building operations carried out on the initiative of the canons themselves. In the copy of the ancient statutes of the church (fn. 58) which was sent to Archbishop Laud at his request in 1634 by Dean Warburton and the then Chapter, reference is made to the Statutes drawn up in 1241 by Bishop Jocelin and afterwards to those drawn up by Dean Knoll in 1273 and Dean Haselshaw in 1295. (fn. 59) Self-government such as this was a clear proof of practical independence.

In the next century the chapter measured its strength with the bishop himself. Since the time of Reginald the issues of the vacant benefices in the diocese had been assigned to the fabric fund of the cathedral church. This special favour had been confirmed by several subsequent bishops, and Bishop Drokensford in 1321 (fn. 60) was made to realize that he had not power to withdraw it. His differences with the chapter referred not only to this financial question but also to the right of visitation. The dean claimed to exercise archidiaconal powers over the church of St. Cuthbert in Wells and over the churches that belonged to the common fund of the chapter. The prebendal churches were the peculiars of the canons holding the prebends formed out of their rectorial endowments, and Bishop Drokensford after some years of controversy yielded to the dean and chapter that the fruits of the vacant benefices in the diocese were to go to the fabric fund of the cathedral church and that he would not visit the churches of the canons except through the dean.

During the episcopate of Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury (1329–63) the procedure of the episcopal visitation of the cathedral church began to take definite shape. The visitation was now distinctly formal. It must observe the rules and limitations which had been agreed on and it had to be done in person. This latter regulation was obviously desirable seeing that most of the bishop's officials were members of the chapter and as such pledged to obey the dean and chapter. On 13 September 1333 (fn. 61) Bishop Ralph met the canons, Dean Richard de Bury being absent, at the manor-house at Wookey. The canons seem to have resented some of his acts when on 31 July he had visited them and he promised them that he would recall any acts which seemed to have infringed their rights and in future would only visit the canons through the dean. (fn. 62)

During 1337 (fn. 63) there was a general visitation of the diocese and on 22 November 1337 the bishop sent notice to Dean Walter de London of his intention to visit the cathedral church. On the next day the bishop met the dean and canons in the chapter-house and the bishop began to make inquiry concerning the titles of the canons to their prebends. The canons, however refused to make any answer but claimed that they could only be visited through the dean and that he would answer for them. So they all then retired leaving the bishop in the chapter-house with Dean London and such canons as John de Carleton and others who were officials and familiars of the bishop. Dean London then consented (fn. 64) that the canons should be made to show their titles and produced his own. To the bishop's questions concerning the appropriation of the church of Burnham (fn. 65) and to questions of defective books, vestments and ornaments he also replied and the bishop took note of what he had said.

On 15 December 1337 (fn. 66) the bishop collated Canon Simon de Bristol to the chancellorship of the cathedral church, laying down very definitely his duty to give or cause to be given lectures in theology or in decretis at the usual times that lectures were given in the University of Oxford. A fortnight afterwards Chancellor Bristol (fn. 67) refused to swear allegiance to the dean and chapter and asserted that as the bishop's officer he could not be compelled to obey.

Then on 5 September 1338 (fn. 68) Canon Carleton at a chapter meeting cited the dean and canons to appear before the bishop. On 30 October there was an informal gathering in the bishop's hall of the palace (fn. 69) where the bishop met the dean and chapter to discuss the points concerning which the chapter had appealed. The bishop promised to go to the chapter-house on the following Friday (fn. 70) and correct what was found amiss in his late visitation and to do nothing else. Then he went to the chapter-house and laid before the dean his injunctions. The church of Burnham had been appropriated for the fabric and must be so applied. (fn. 71) The books, vestments and ornaments were to be repaired by next Michaelmas. Dean Godelegh's statutes had been referred to and these were to be produced and of those the bishop would sanction such of which he approved. Canons and vicars were receiving the daily distribution though they were not present at Divine Offices. The canons were to be admonished to attend and the vicars to be punished for their absence. The statutes of Dean Godelegh had been drawn up by the dean and chapter in 1331 (fn. 72) and apparently had been quoted in the bishop's presence as authoritative without having been submitted to him for confirmation. However in 1339 Dean Walter de London went to Wookey where the bishop was and exhibited to him these statutes and the bishop does not seem to have greatly objected to them.

The claim of the dean and chapter seems to have been chiefly that the bishop should visit in person. It was insulting to them to be visited by one of their own canons acting as the bishop's commissary, and regardless of Bishop Drokensford's pledge Bishop Ralph seems to have used his officials in a way which annoyed the dean and chapter. Yet throughout in the correction of moral offences, as far as such duty belonged peculiarly to his office, the bishop never seems to have hesitated to act through his commissary. It was his duty as bishop, which could not be restrained by any conditions of the dean and chapter, and when in 1342 (fn. 73) he punished certain altarists for various excesses and delinquencies he assured Dean London that the dean's jurisdiction in the church should remain unimpaired.

Two important steps were taken by Bishop Ralph and his successors Bishops John Harewell and Ralph Erghum to organize and place under stricter discipline the numerous priests in Wells who were serving as vicars of the canons or as chaplains attached to chapels in the cathedral church.

For the use of the vicars of the canons, who were now called the vicars choral to distinguish them from the other assistant priests in the cathedral, Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury about 1354 (fn. 74) began to build a series of small houses to the north of the church. These houses with the refectory at the southern end, and the chapel which Bishop Bubwith built for them at the northern end, formed a long narrow quadrangle and in it fifty vicars were able to find houses. The executors of Bishop Beckington repaired many of these houses (fn. 75) and built over the chapel a chamber to form a library. Bishop Beckington himself in 1457 built the chain gateway and the passage over it leading by a series of steps from the cathedral to the refectory of the vicars. The vicars were thus able to go from their lodgings to the church without being able to wander into the town. They were now placed under the care of two senior priests and the college of vicars was effectually brought under discipline.

For the chantry priests and other chaplains Bishop John Harewell began a similar effort. About 1384 (fn. 76) he purchased a house in the market-place known as 'Cristesham ynn' in which he placed as many as there was room for. A few years later Bishop Erghum (1388–1400) and the dean and chapter began a larger building to the north of the Liberty to which the name of the New College was given and here the chantry priests were lodged.

The history of the cathedral and deanery of Wells during the troubled period of the Reformation has already been dealt with. (fn. 77)

On the final establishment of the Reformed Church under Elizabeth a question arose as to the relationship of the new dean to the old chapter. The dean and chapter for several centuries had formed an ecclesiastical corporation. Did the new dean and the old chapter constitute the old corporation ? The Private Act of 1547 had created a dean who should preside in the chapter. There were doubts however and the chapter was compelled to apply to the Crown for a settlement of this question. The College of Vicars Choral had been reorganized and had obtained a charter confirming to the vicars the rights which their predecessors had enjoyed. The vicars were giving trouble to the dean and chapter and it was mooted that the dean and chapter had no legal power to compel obedience, as they did not form the old corporation of earlier days. On 25 November 1591 (fn. 78) therefore at the petition of the Dean and canons of Wells Queen Elizabeth granted a charter of official interpretation. The new dean and the old chapter continued the old corporation. The deanery was now in the patronage of the Crown, but the affairs of the chapter and of the cathedral church were to be regulated by the dean and chapter or the major part of them. So it had ever been and so it was to continue to be. What the Crown had done was merely to deprive the canons of Wells of their right to elect their dean. In all other respects he was as his predecessors.

The charter of Queen Elizabeth however created a new governing body. The affairs of the church were placed in the hands of a new body consisting of the dean and eight residentiary canons. To this body were committed all the estates of the church as well as complete authority over its affairs. The voice of the non-resident canon was silenced except for the election of a bishop. Vacancies in this body, which naturally called itself the dean and chapter, were to be filled by co-option from the body of non-resident canons. If the duties of the dignitaries such as those of the precentor, chancellor and treasurer might remain to them, because the endowments were still theirs, yet the authority which alone could make the performance of those duties effective was now withdrawn. It rested only with the new corporation known as that of the dean and chapter. The number of residentiary canons which at first was fixed at eight, was in the 18th century reduced to six and after 1837 yet further reduced to four, and that is the number which at present exists.

The charter of 1591 has nothing to say of the bishop and his authority in his cathedral church. To him belonged the patronage of all the non-residentiary canons and of the dignitaries, but the residentiaries were co-opted solely by this new corporation. It was possible therefore that the chapter might not contain a single dignitary except the dean. The bishop had always used these dignitaries in the work of the diocese to hold commissions of inquiry or as his vicars general and commissaries and therefore it was to his interest that at least most of them should reside in Wells. During the 17th century there were often disagreements between the bishop and the dean and chapter in reference to this co-option. The bishop contended that because a man was a dignitary the dean and chapter should prefer him first of all if a vacancy in their body existed, and the dean and chapter contended that if such was the case then their co-option would be a mere form since the bishop had already marked out the man they should choose. The bitter ill-feeling between Bishop Kidder and the chapter in 1695 (fn. 79) arose in reference to the vacancy which Dr. Busby's death had caused, the chapter wishing to show their feeling towards the supplanter of Dr. Ken by choosing one whom Bishop Kidder had not made a dignitary.

The question of the visitation of the cathedral by the bishop also entered on a new phase. Bishop Barlow in 1550 had incurred the penalties of Præmunire because he had visited the dean and chapter, the dean being now the nominee of the Crown. However the church was visited in 1592 by Archbishop Whitgift and on 17 June 1594 (fn. 80) the dean and chapter decreed—'quod dominus episcopus si in persona sua propria præsens fuerit comperta in visitatione sua vocet et audiat in domo capitulari.'

On 14 July 1692 (fn. 81) Bishop Kidder held his primary visitation of the dean and chapter in the chapter-house. He exhibited to them his articles of inquiry and on 23 August the dean and chapter returned answers to them. During the 18th century the bishops rarely visited the cathedral church and in the 19th century never. It cannot be said that there is any longer need for such visitations as the former bishops had held, since all appropriations of benefices had ceased and the estates of their endowment are managed by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The co-option ceased in 1879; and the bishop now collates to the prebendal stalls except that of the Dean and also to the right to come into residence. The jus episcopale has never been questioned, and any controversy of to-day can only refer to the right of the bishop of the diocese to assume the position which he has not claimed for centuries, of being himself the head of the chapter of his cathedral church. Such a claim is certainly barred by the Elizabethan charter.

Deans of Wells

Ivo, 1159 (fn. 82)

Richard de Spakeston, 1160–74 (fn. 83)

Alexander, 1180–1204 (fn. 84)

Leonius, 1213 (fn. 85)

Ralph de Lechlade, 1217 (fn. 86)

Peter de Cicester, 1220 (fn. 87)

William de Merton, 1237 (fn. 88)

John Saracenus, 1250 (fn. 89)

Giles de Bridport, 1256 (fn. 90)

Edward de la Knoll, 1264, 1284 (fn. 91)

Thomas de Bytton, 1284–92 (fn. 92)

William Burnell, 1292 (fn. 93)

Walter de Haselshaw, 1295 (fn. 94)

Henry Husee, 1302 (fn. 95)

John de Godelegh, 1305 (fn. 96)

Richard de Bury, 1332 (fn. 97)

Wibert de Lyttleton, 1334 (fn. 98)

Walter de London, 1335–50 (fn. 99)

John de Carleton, 1351–60 (fn. 100)

Stephen de Pempel, 1361–79 (fn. 101)

John Fordham, 1379–81 (fn. 102)

Thomas Sudbury, 1381–89 (fn. 103)

Nicholas Slake, 1398 (fn. 104)

Thomas Tuttebury, 1400 (fn. 105)

Thomas Stanley, 1401–10 (fn. 106)

Richard Courtenay, 1410–13 (fn. 107)

Walter Medford, 1414 (fn. 108)

John Stafford, 1423–5 (fn. 109)

John Forrest, 1425–46 (fn. 110)

Nicholas Carent, 1446–67 (fn. 111)

William Witham, 1469–72 (fn. 112)

John Gunthorp, 1472–98 (fn. 113)

William Cousyn, 1498–1525 (fn. 114)

Thomas Winter, 1526 (fn. 115)

Richard Woolman, 1529–37 (fn. 116)

Thomas Cromwell, 1537–40 (fn. 117)

William Fitz James or Fitz William, 1540–8 (fn. 118)

John Goodman, 1548–50, 1553–7 (fn. 119)

William Turner, 1550–3, 1560–8 (fn. 120)

Robert Weston, 1570–3 (fn. 121)

Valentine Dale, 1574–89 (fn. 122)

John Herbert, 1589–1602 (fn. 123)

Benjamin Heydon, 1602–6 (fn. 124)

Richard Meredith, 1607–21 (fn. 125)

Ralph Barlow, 1621–31 (fn. 126)

George Warburton, 1631–41 (fn. 127)

Walter Raleigh, 1641–6 (fn. 128)

Robert Creyghton, 1660–70 (fn. 129)

Ralph Bathurst, 1670–1704 (fn. 130)

William Graham, 1704–12 (fn. 131)

Matthew Brailsford, 1713–33 (fn. 132)

Isaac Maddox, 1733–6 (fn. 133)

John Harris, 1736–8 (fn. 134)

Samuel Creswick, 1739–66 (fn. 135)

Francis Seymour, 1766 (fn. 136)

George William Lukin, 1799–1812 (fn. 137)

Henry Ryder, 1812–31 (fn. 138)

Edmund Goodenough, 1831–45 (fn. 139)

Richard Jenkins, 1845–54 (fn. 140)

George Henry Sacheverell Johnson, 1854– 81 (fn. 141)

Edward Hayes Plumptre, 1881–91 (fn. 142)

Thomas William Jex-Blake, 1891– (fn. 143)


  • 1. Cf. Wharton, Angl Sac. i, 556.
  • 2. Cf. The Historiola of Wells (Camden Soc. 1840), 16, 19.
  • 3. See above, ' Eccl. Hist.' p. 8.
  • 4. Historiola de Wells (Camden Soc. 1840), 22.
  • 5. Ibid. 24.
  • 6. Cf. Historiola de Wells (Camden Soc. 1840), 25.
  • 7. Cf. Church, Early Hist. of Wells, 24.
  • 8. Historiola de Wells (Camden Soc. 1840), 25.
  • 9. Church, Hist. of Wells, App. 352, 353.
  • 10. Cal. Wells D. and C. MSS. (Hist. MSS. Com.) i, 33.
  • 11. Historiola de Wells (Camden Soc. 1840), 25.
  • 12. Cal. Wells. D. and C. MSS. i, 440.
  • 13. Ibid. 438.
  • 14. Ibid. 33.
  • 15. Cf. Church, Hist. of Wells, 21.
  • 16. Ibid. 20, cf. Reynolds, Wells, 69.
  • 17. Cal. Wells D. and C. MSS. (Hist. MSS. Com.) i, 24–5.
  • 18. Ibid. 20, 22.
  • 19. Ibid. 69.
  • 20. Ibid. 68.
  • 21. Ibid. 493.
  • 22. Ibid. 56.
  • 23. Ibid. 44.
  • 24. Ibid. 19.
  • 25. Ibid. 46.
  • 26. Ibid. 42.
  • 27. Ibid. 58.
  • 28. Cal. Wells D. and C. MSS. i, 27, 43.
  • 29. Ibid. 55.
  • 30. Ibid. 24.
  • 31. See above, 'Eccl. Hist.' pp. 16–18.
  • 32. Cal. Wells D. and C. MSS. i, 63.
  • 33. Cf. Wells D. and C. charters 39, 40, 41. The Abbots of Bec and Muchelney probably signed by their proxies.
  • 34. Cal. Wells D. and C. MSS. (Hist. MSS. Com.) i, 59.
  • 35. Ibid. 67.
  • 36. Ibid. 70.
  • 37. Ibid. 486.
  • 38. Ibid. 489.
  • 39. Ibid. 469.
  • 40. Cal. Wells D. and C. MSS. (Hist. MSS. Com.) i, 54.
  • 41. Ibid. 60.
  • 42. Ibid. 58.
  • 43. Ibid. 243.
  • 44. Cf. R. of Shrewsbury's Reg. (Somers. Rec. Soc. ix) p. lix.
  • 45. Cal. Wells D. and C. MSS. (Hist MSS. Com.) i, 42.
  • 46. Ibid. 43, 44.
  • 47. Ibid. 105.
  • 48. Ibid. 263.
  • 49. Cal. Wells D. and C. MSS. (Hist. MSS. Com.) i, 35.
  • 50. Ibid. 66.
  • 51. Ibid.
  • 52. Ibid. 530.
  • 53. Ibid. 65.
  • 54. Cal. Wells D. and C. MSS. (Hist. MSS. Com.) i, 35.
  • 55. Ibid. 141.
  • 56. Ibid. 530.
  • 57. Ibid. 237.
  • 58. Cf. Reynolds, Wells Cathedral, 57.
  • 59. Cal Wells D. and C. MSS. i, 253–5. For these statutes, see Reynolds, Wells Cath. 57–68.
  • 60. Drokensford's Reg. (Somers. Rec. Soc. i), 191.
  • 61. Cal. Wells D. and C. MSS. i, 546.
  • 62. Cf. R. of Shrewsbury's Reg. (Somers. Rec. Soc. ix), 152.
  • 63. Cal. Wells D. and C. MSS. i, 539.
  • 64. Ibid. 541.
  • 65. Cal. Wells D. and C. MSS. i, 540.
  • 66. Ibid. 545.
  • 67. Ibid. 546.
  • 68. Ibid. 535.
  • 69. Ibid. 543.
  • 70. Ibid.
  • 71. Ibid. 540.
  • 72. Ibid. 532.
  • 73. Cal. Wells D. and C. MSS. (Hist. MSS. Com.) i, 537.
  • 74. Cal. Wells D. and C. MSS. i, 379.
  • 75. Ibid. 502.
  • 76. Ibid. 442.
  • 77. See above, 'Eccl. Hist.' pp. 36, 37.
  • 78. Reynolds, Wells Cathedral, 243.
  • 79. Cf. MS. Biography of Bishop Kidder, penes D. and C.
  • 80. Chapter Act Book.
  • 81. MS. Biography of Bishop Kidder, penes D. and C. cap. 12.
  • 82. Cal. Wells. D. and C. MSS. i, 27.
  • 83. Ibid. 19.
  • 84. Cal. Wells D. and C. MSS. i, 90–110.
  • 85. Ibid. 53, 54.
  • 86. Ibid. 491.
  • 87. Ibid. 29, 37.
  • 88. Ibid. 28, 35.
  • 89. Ibid. 60.
  • 90. Ibid. 135, 138.
  • 91. Ibid. 99, 106.
  • 92. Ibid. 151.
  • 93. Ibid. 149.
  • 94. Ibid. 220.
  • 95. Ibid. 170.
  • 96. Ibid. 176.
  • 97. Ibid. 232, 235.
  • 98. Ibid. 235, 236.
  • 99. Ibid. 238, 246.
  • 100. Ibid. 263, 411.
  • 101. Ibid. 270.
  • 102. Ibid. 282–4.
  • 103. Ibid. 302–4.
  • 104. Ibid. 356.
  • 105. Bowet's Reg. (Som. Rec. Soc. xiii), 16.
  • 106. Cal. Wells D. and C. MSS. 446, 469.
  • 107. Ibid. 441.
  • 108. Wells Epis. Reg. Bulwith.
  • 109. Cal. Wells D. and C. MSS. i, 470.
  • 110. Ibid. 329, 468.
  • 111. Ibid. 464–66.
  • 112. Ibid. 407, 502.
  • 113. Ibid. 464, 481
  • 114. Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. x, App. iii, 146.
  • 115. Wells Epis. Reg. Clerk & Chap. Min. Bks.
  • 116. Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. x, App. iii, 224.
  • 117. Ibid. 224, 225.
  • 118. Ibid. 228.
  • 119. Ibid. 271.
  • 120. Ibid. 240.
  • 121. Athenæ Oxonienses.
  • 122. Chapter Minute Books.
  • 123. Chapter Minute Books. In charter Eliz. 1592 the name appears as Harbert.
  • 124. Ibid.
  • 125. Camden, Annales.
  • 126. Chapter Minute Books.
  • 127. Bishop's Certificate.
  • 128. Walker, Sufferings of the Clergy, 71.
  • 129. Bishop's Certificate.
  • 130. Ibid.
  • 131. Church Book, Home Office.
  • 132. Ibid.
  • 133. Bishop's Certificate.
  • 134. Bishop's Certificate.
  • 135. Ibid.
  • 136. Ibid.
  • 137. Chapter Minute Books.
  • 138. Bishop's Certificate.
  • 139. Chapter Minute Books.
  • 140. Ibid.
  • 141. Ibid.
  • 142. Ibid.
  • 143. Ibid.