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Bishops of Exeter

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Page updated 12th April 2015

Miles Coverdale (1551-1553)

Bishop of Exeter's Coat of ArmsThe city of Exeter is of great age. "Isca Damnoniorum, Caer Wise, Exanceaster, Exeter, keeping essentially the same name under all changes, stands distinguished as the one great city which has, in a more marked way than any other, kept its unbroken being and its unbroken position throughout all ages." But though Whitaker asserts that in the middle of the fifth century it was the seat of a bishop, Professor Freeman, with more authority, declares that the city did not become a bishop's see till the latter half of the eleventh century, at which period the bishopstools were removed from the small to the great towns. Until 703 A.D. Devonshire formed part of the vast diocese of Wessex. About the year 900 A.D. the diocese of Devon and Cornwall was divided into two—the former with its bishop's seat at Crediton—only to be reunited again a hundred and fifty years later when Leofric was appointed bishop.

The first record of a church dedicated to Saints Mary and Peter in Exeter, is that of an abbey church founded by Athelstan. But Sweyn destroyed it seventy years later, and it seems frequently to have been attacked by invaders previous to its destruction. But in 1019 Canute endowed a new church and confirmed by charter their lands and privileges to the monks. This building must have been of some pretensions, for it was given to Leofric for his cathedral church in 1050. It occupied the site of the present Lady Chapel. When Warelwast and Marshall built their Norman church they placed it on the east of the old church, leaving an intervening space. Their nave occupied the site of the present nave, the transeptal towers were the same, but the choir was shorter and probably terminated in an apse flanked by smaller apses at the ends of the choir aisles. Traces of one of these have been found at the end of the third bay of the north choir aisle. Bronscombe and Quivil (see p. 5) began their reconstruction at this end, and by adding the ambulatory and Lady Chapel linked together the sites of the old and new churches.

Page contents based on the Gutenberg Bell's Cathedrals: The Cathedral Church of Exeter by Percy Addleshaw BA (Oxon) 1921 Additional notes from Bishop Archibald Robertson by David Cornforth. Also see Exeter Cathedral.

Leofric (1046-1072). In 1050 the see was removed from Crediton and the new See of Exeter founded. More on Bishop Leofric
Osbern (1072-1103). No alterations were made to the building during this period. The bishop was admired for his "simplicity of English manners and habits," for although Norman by birth he had been educated in England.
William Warelwast (1107-1136), a nephew of William the Conqueror, began to demolish the Saxon Church. To him may be attributed the towers, choir, apse, and nave of the Norman building. The story of hisblindness, and of his being sent on an embassy to Rome, rests on somewhat slender authority.
Robert Chichester (1138-1155) was promoted from the deanery of Salisbury at the Council of Northampton. He continued Warelwast's work.
Robert Warelwast (1155-1160) was a nephew of the former bishop of that name.
Bartholomæus Iscanus (1161-1184), a native of Exeter, was of humble birth. He is said to have been an enemy of Becket's and was called by Pope Alexander III. "the luminary of the English Church."
John the Chaunter (1186-1191) continued the buildings which had been suspended during the last episcopate.
Henry Marshall (1194-1206), brother to the Earl of Pembroke, Marshal of England, was promoted from York, of which cathedral he was dean. He completed the buildings as designed by the first Warelwast. To him we owe the Lady Chapel, the larger choir, the north porch, cloister doorway, and six chapels. He assisted at the coronation of King Richard at Winchester in 1194, and at that of John in 1199.
Simon de Apulia (1214-1223). But little is recorded of this bishop. He assisted at Henry III.'s coronation at Gloucester when the king was a lad of ten. To him also is attributed the fixing of the boundaries of the city parishes. His tomb is in the Lady Chapel.
William Bruere (1224-1244) served as Precentor of Exeter before he was made bishop. To him are due the chapter house and stalls in the old choir. For five years he was in the Holy Land, and Matthew Paris writes of his energy and untiring devotion in administering to the wants of his countrymen.
Richard Blondy (1245-1257). According to Hoker this bishop was the son of Hilary Blondy, Mayor of Exeter in 1227.
Walter Bronescombe (1257-1280), a native of Exeter, was only in deacon's orders when chosen bishop. He restored the chapels of St. Gabriel, St. Mary Magdalene and St. James. He also founded a college at Glasney and restored "the establishment of Crediton" to much of its former splendour.
Peter Quivil (1280-1291) was born in Exeter, and a protégé of Bronescombe's. His first preferment was as Archdeacon of St. David's, from whence he was promoted bishop of his native city. He it was who designed the Decorated cathedral and transformed transepts with chapels, eastern bay of the nave, and the Lady Chapel.
Thomas de Bytton (1292-1307) continued Quivil's work, transforming the choir and its aisles. He was a native of Gloucestershire and had been Dean of Wells. An indulgence of forty days was granted by the Pope, Boniface VIII., three archbishops and five bishops, to all who should pray for his prosperity. The rules he made for the government of the collegiate church at Crediton won general approval.
Walter de Stapledon (1308-1326) was Professor of Canon Law at Oxford and a chaplain to Pope Clement V. He was killed by a London mob. The transformed choir transepts are his work, and he erected the organ screen, bishop's throne, and sedilia. During his episcopate, also, the cloisters were begun.
James Berkeley (1326-1327), Archdeacon of Huntingdon, and grandson of William de Ferrers, Earl of Derby, died a few weeks after his consecration.
John Grandisson (1327-1369) was born in Herefordshire, of good family. His long tenure of the see is one of the most memorable chapters in the history of Exeter. The fatal Black Death occurred during his episcopacy, 1348-1369. He inherited the transforming zeal of his predecessors and set his seal on the six Chapter to 33 western bays of the nave, the great west windows, and the vaulting and the aisles. He completed the north cloister.
Thomas Brantyngham (1370-1394) was educated at the Court of Edward III., and was a canon of Exeter when chosen bishop. He was a constant adviser of the king, only being released from his privy council and parliamentary duties when his advanced age made them irksome to him. He was very busy in all the affairs of the diocese, but found time to complete the cloisters, east window, and west front.
Edmund Stafford (1395-1419) came of a greatly distinguished family. He was a canon of York when Pope Boniface IX. advanced him to the See of Exeter. For a time he served the king as Lord High Chancellor. He has been abused by Campbell in his "Lives of the Lord Chancellors of England": but there seems little doubt that he deserved the reputation he certainly got of being learned, grave, and wise, and "very well accounted generally of all men." To him are attributed the canopies over the tombs in the Lady Chapel.
John Ketterick or Catterick (1419) died at Florence a month after his appointment.
Edmund Lacy (1420-1455), composer of an office in honour of the Archangel Raphael, left a saintly reputation, and pilgrimages were, for long, made to his tomb. According to Canon Freeman he raised the chapter house and glazed the nave windows.
George Neville (1458-1465) was a son of the Earl of Salisbury. He was Chancellor of Oxford, and only twenty-four when made bishop. Though for several years Lord High Chancellor, and translated to York, he died in disgrace and comparative poverty.
John Bothe (1465-1478) was the son of a Cheshire knight. He has often, but wrongly, been credited with being the donor of the throne. With more certainty the roof of the chapter house has been acknowledged as his work.
Peter Courtenay (1478-1486), son of Sir Philip Courtenay of Powderham, had been Archdeacon of Exeter and Wiltshire, and Dean of Windsor and Exeter before he was appointed Bishop of Exeter. He assisted at the coronation of Richard III., but was none the less translated, for his services, by Henry to the diocese of Winchester.
Richard Fox (1487-1491), the next bishop, was held in great esteem by Henry VII., whom he represented for a time as Ambassador at the Court of Scotland. He arranged the preliminaries of the marriage of Henry's daughter Margaret with James IV. He was translated to Bath and Wells, then to Durham, and finally to Winchester. He is said to have refused the dignity of Archbishop of Canterbury, which his godson, Henry VIII., was anxious he should accept.
Oliver King (1492-1495) was Bishop of Exeter for a short time only, being translated to Bath and Wells. He began building the Abbey Church at Bath, but did not live to see much of it completed.
Richard Redman (1496-1501) was translated to Exeter from St. Asaph. He resigned the see on becoming Bishop of Ely.
John Arundell (1502-1503) was translated from the See of Lichfield and Coventry. He was famous for his benevolence and hospitality. He died after barely two years' tenancy of the western bishopric.
Hugh Oldham (1504-1519) came of an ancient Lancashire family. A large and flourishing manufacturing town in that county bears his name. He founded the grammar school in Manchester, and on his elevation became famous throughout the west of England for his learning and piety. Chapter to 34
John Vesey (Harman) (1519-1551). A lengthy account is given of this bishop in the first chapter.
Miles Coverdale (1551-1553) was a famous reformer, and revised Tyndale's translation of the Bible. He was not popular in the diocese, and on Queen Mary's accession was deprived of his see, to the great satisfaction of his flock.
James Turberville (1555-1559) was deprived of his see on his refusal to acknowledge the ecclesiastical supremacy of Elizabeth. He had been popular in the west of England, where the Reformation was at first heartily disliked.
William Alleyn (1560-1570). Oliver writes the surname Alley. The diocese was now so poor that he was compelled to reduce the number of canons from twenty-four to nine. Only by accepting the rectorship of Honiton was the bishop himself able to support the dignity of his office. He was the author of several religious books that had considerable popularity in their day.
William Bradbridge (1570-1578) is said to have speculated largely in agricultural land, and to have died a debtor for a large amount, including £1,400 owed to Queen Elizabeth. Beyond this little is recorded of him except that he lived at Newton Ferrers, of which he held the living in commendam, which must have put his clergy to great inconvenience.
John Wolton (1579-1594). During Wolton's episcopate the revenues were restored to the chapter, the crown reserving to itself the sum of £145 yearly. The priest-vicars, also, received back from the queen the greater portion of their possessions.
Gervase Babington (1595-1597) was translated from Llandaff. He remained at Exeter but a short time. He seems to have been a favourite with the queen, who took an early opportunity to promote him to the wealthy See of Worcester.
William Cotton (1598-1621).
Valentine Carey (1621-1626) had been Master of Christ's College, Cambridge, and Dean of St. Paul's.
Joseph Hall (1627-1641) was Dean of Worcester when promoted to the See of Exeter. He was a famous theological writer, and was translated to Norwich in 1641. There he suffered a great deal of unmerited persecution, which he bore bravely, though the ill-treatment of his enemies killed him.
Ralph Brownrigg (1642-1659), Master of St. Catharine's, Cambridge, was bishop in troublous times. He had to retire to a friend's house in Berkshire. He was elected Preacher of the Temple, and was buried at the cost of the Inn.
John Gauden (1660-1662) was Master of the Temple. His title to fame is as the reputed author of the [Greek: EIKÔN BASILIKÊ]. Being the first bishop appointed after the Restoration, his arrival in Exeter was gladly welcomed by the loyal citizens. But he does not seem to have been a lovable man, and was over-eager for riches. He was translated to Worcester on his complaint of poverty reaching the king's ears.
Seth Ward (1662-1667) was already popular as dean when he succeeded Gauden as bishop. He cleared the cathedral of the small traders who desecrated the precincts, and gave to his church the finest organ then known in England. He was translated to Salisbury, and became Chancellor of the Order of the Garter. He obtained an enviable reputation for his good sense, piety, learning, and generosity.
Anthony Sparrow (1667-1676) was Master of King's College, Cambridge, when consecrated bishop. Cosmo III. visited Exeter during his tenancy of the see. Chapter to 35
Thomas Lamplugh (1676-1688) seems to have been a clever politician. By expressing his loyalty to James II., when William had landed at Torbay, he was created Archbishop of York; thereupon he actively supported the Prince of Orange. "My Lord, you are a genuine old Cavalier," was the king's greeting. One hopes the memory of those words troubled the archbishop during his three years' experience of an ill-deserved dignity.
Jonathan Trelawny (1689-1707) came of a famous Cornish family. As Bishop of Bristol he was already famous, for he was one of the seven bishops whose trial and acquittal hastened the downfall of the last Stuart king. He was translated to Winchester. A popular refrain, wedded to verses by the celebrated parson Hawker, of Morwenstow, keeps his memory alive in the western counties.
Offspring Blackball (1708-1716) was chiefly and honourably known as a promoter of charity schools.
Launcelot Blackburne (1717-1724). Of this bishop there is little to record. He was translated to the Archbishopric of York in 1724.
Stephen Weston (1724-1742). The episcopal registers were now kept for the first time in English. His long reign seems to have been quite uneventful, and probably was, therefore, entirely successful.
Nicholas Claggett (1742-1746) was translated from St. David's.
George Lavington (1747-1762).
Frederick Keppel (1762-1777), a son of the Earl of Albemarle, was a canon of Windsor when appointed Bishop of Exeter.
John Ross (1778-1792).
William Buller (1792-1796), of an old west country family, was promoted from the deanery of Canterbury.
Henry Reginald Courtenay (1797-1803), translated to this see from Bristol.
John Fisher (1803-1807) was tutor to the Duke of Kent, father of Queen Victoria. He was translated to Salisbury in 1807.
George Pelham (1807-1820) was translated from Bristol. After, according to Oliver, "for thirteen years expecting higher preferment," he was promoted to Lincoln.
William Carey (1820-1830), head master of Westminster School. When he had been ten years at Exeter he was translated to St. Asaph, a curious reversal of the usual proceeding. For although a Welsh bishopric often led to an English one, a change from Exeter to St. Asaph could hardly have been "preferment" in the ordinary sense.
Christopher Bethell (1830-1831). Exeter, for this bishop also, was merely a stepping-stone between Gloucester and Bangor.
Henry Phillpotts (1831-1868) was the most famous bishop who has held the see in this century. He restored the palace, which had fallen into a ruined condition. He was energetic about the affairs of his diocese, a born ruler of men, and a scholar of eminence. The story of his episcopate is a well-known chapter to students of the ecclesiastical history of the first half of the queen's reign. Not an altogether popular Bishop within the city and had many fights with the journalst Thomas Latimer.
Frederick Temple (1869-1885), head master of Rugby, 1858-1869; Bishop of Exeter, 1869; translated to London, 1885, and to the Metropolitan See of Canterbury, 1896. His son William Temple also became Archbishop of Canterbury.
Edward Henry Bickersteth (1885-1901) was Dean of Gloucester when appointed bishop. Resigned.
Herbert Edward Ryle (1901-1903) translated to Winchester. On resigning the see of Winchester he became Dean of Westminster.
Archibald Robertson (1903-1916) Resigned. He died in 1931 and willed money to set up a theological scholarship at the the University of Durham
Rupert Ernest William Gascoyne Cecil (1916-36) was somewhat eccentric and was said to feed crumpets to rats and throw powdered copper sulphate on the fire to turn the flames green.He was nicknamed 'Fish'. It was Cecil who ordered that St Paul's Church in Paul Street be demolished in 1936. He was noted for his long white beard and for riding a bicycle around the city.
Charles Curzon (1936-1948) was born in 1878 and educated at Lancaster Royal Grammar School and Christ's College, Cambridge. He embarked on an ecclesiastical career with a Curacy at West Kensington. He then went to Sheffield and Goole before elevation to the Suffragan Bishopric of Bishop of Stepney in 1928. He died in 1954.
Robert Mortimer (1949-1973) in 1963, Bishop Robert Mortimer, ordered a small commission to study the subject of exorcism. He stated that there was a popular view, of exorcism as a medieval superstition rather than "a demonstration of the power of the Resurrection to overcome evil and replace it with good."
Eric Mercer (1973-1985) attended Dover Grammar School before going to Kelham Theological College in Nottinghamshire. He fought at El Alamein and was wounded. He encouraged links between the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bayeux and Lisieux and Exeter.
Hewlett Thompson (1985-1999)
Michael Laurence Langrish (2000-2013) the 70th Lord Bishop of Exeter, who signs Michael Exon. He was not a supporter of female priests.
Robert Atwell (2014-) the 71st Lord Bishop of Exeter, Atwell was born in Essex in 1954. He was ordained a priest in1979. He was curate at Mill Hillthen spent 10 years as a Benedictine monk at Burford Priory, and was a vicar at Primrose Hill.

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