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Bishop of Exeter

Bishop of Exeter
Arms of the Bishop of Exeter: Gules, a sword erect in pale argent hilted or surmounted by two keys addorsed in saltire of the last[1]
Robert Atwell
Province Canterbury
Diocese Exeter
Cathedral Exeter Cathedral
First incumbent Leofric
Formation 1050

The Bishop of Exeter is the Ordinary of the Church of England Diocese of Exeter in the Province of Canterbury.[2] The current incumbent, since 30 April 2014, is Robert Atwell.[3] The incumbent signs his name as his Christian name or forename followed by Exon., abbreviated from the Latin Episcopus Exoniensis ("Bishop of Exeter").

From the first bishop until the sixteenth century the Bishops of Exeter were in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. However, during the Reformation the church in England broke away from the authority of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church, at first temporarily and later more permanently. Since the Reformation, the Bishop and Diocese of Exeter has been part of the Church of England and of the Anglican Communion.


  • History 1
    • Cathedral 1.1
    • Organization 1.2
    • Modern history 1.3
  • List of bishops 2
    • Pre-Reformation 2.1
    • During the Reformation 2.2
    • Post-Reformation 2.3
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Sources 5


The history of Christianity in the South West of England remains to some degree obscure. At a certain point the historical county of Devon formed part of the diocese of Wessex. About 703 Devon and Cornwall were included in the separate Diocese of Sherborne and in 900 this was again divided, the Devon bishop having from 905 his seat at Tawton (now Bishop's Tawton) and from 912 at Crediton, birthplace of St Boniface. Lyfing became Bishop of Crediton in 1027 and shortly afterwards became Bishop of Cornwall.

The two dioceses of Crediton and Cornwall, covering Devon and Cornwall, were permanently united under Edward the Confessor by Lyfing's successor Bishop Leofric, hitherto Bishop of Crediton, who became first Bishop of Exeter under Edward the Confessor, which was established as his cathedral city in 1050. At first the abbey church of St Mary and St Peter, founded by Athelstan in 932 and rebuilt in 1019, served as the cathedral.


The present cathedral was begun by Bishop William de Warelhurst in 1112, the transept towers he built being the only surviving part of the Norman building, which was completed by Bishop Marshall at the close of the twelfth century. The cathedral is dedicated to St Peter.

As it now stands, the cathedral is in the decorated style. It was begun by Bishop Quinel (1280–1291), continued by Bishops Bytton and Stapeldon, and completed, much as it has since remained, by Bishop Grandisson during his long pontificate of 42 years.

In many respects Exeter cathedral resembles those of France rather than others found in England. Its special features are the transept towers and the choir, containing much early stained glass. There is also an episcopal throne, separated from the nave by a choir screen (1324) and a stately West front. In a comparison with certain other English cathedrals, it is perhaps disadvantaged by the absence of a central tower and a general lack of elevation, but it is undoubtedly very fine.


The bishops of Exeter, like the general population of the diocese, always enjoyed considerable independence, and the see was one of the largest and richest in England. The remoteness of the see from London prevented it from being bestowed on statesmen or courtiers, so that over the centuries the roll of bishops possessed more capable scholars and administrators than in many other sees. The result was a long and stable line of bishops, leading to active Christian observance in the area.

The diocese contained 604 parishes grouped in four archdeaconries: Cornwall, Barnstaple, Exeter, and Totnes. There were Benedictine, Augustinian, Premonstratensian, Franciscan and Dominican religious houses, and four Cistercian abbeys.

Modern history

This wealthy diocese was forced to cede land during the reign of Henry VIII, when Bishop Vesey was obliged to surrender fourteen out of twenty-two manors, and the value of the see was reduced to a third of what it formerly was. Vesey, despite his Catholic sympathies, held the see until 1551, when he finally had to resign, and was replaced by the Bible translator Miles Coverdale. Following the accession of Mary, in 1553, Vesey was restored, but died soon after in 1554. He was succeeded by James Turberville, the last Catholic Bishop of Exeter. Turberville was removed from the see by the Protestant Elizabeth I in 1559, and died in prison, probably in or about 1570.

Henry Phillpotts served as Lord Bishop of Exeter from 1830 to his death in office in 1869. He was England's longest serving bishop since the 14th century. The diocese was divided in 1876 along the border of Devon and Cornwall, creating the Diocese of Truro (but five parishes which were at the time in Devon were included in this diocese as they had always been within the Archdeaconry of Cornwall). The diocese covers the County of Devon. The see is in the City of Exeter where the seat is located at the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter which was founded as an abbey possibly before 690. The current incumbent is the Lord Bishop of Exeter

List of bishops


Pre-Reformation Bishops of Exeter
From Until Incumbent Notes
1050 1072 Leofric The first bishop who had transferred the sees of Crediton and Cornwall to Exeter
1072 1103 Osbern FitzOsbern
1107 1138 William Warelwast
1138 1155 Robert Warelwast
1155 1160 Robert of Chichester
1161 1184 Bartholomew Iscanus
1186 1191 John the Chanter
1194 1206 Henry Marshal
1206 1214 See vacant Due to Pope Innocent III's interdict against King John's realms.
1214 1223 Simon of Apulia
1224 1244 William Briwere Also recorded as William Brewer
1245 1257 Richard Blund Also recorded as Richard Blundy
1258 1280 Walter Branscombe Also recorded as Walter Bronescombe
1280 1291 Peter Quinel Also recorded as Peter de Quivel or Quivil
1291 1307 Thomas Bitton Also recorded as Thomas de Bytton
1308 1326 Walter de Stapledon
1326 1327 James Berkeley
1327 John Godeley Also recorded as John Godele. Elected, but quashed.
1327 1369 John Grandisson
1370 1394 Thomas de Brantingham Also recorded as Thomas Brantyngham
1395 1419 Edmund Stafford
1419 John Catterick Also recorded as John Ketterick. Translated from Lichfield.
1420 1455 Edmund Lacey Also recorded as Edmund Lacy. Translated from Hereford.
1455 1456 John Hales Appointed, but resigned before consecration.
1458 1465 George Neville Translated to York
1465 1478 John Booth
1478 1487 Peter Courtenay Translated to Winchester
1487 1492 Richard Foxe Translated to Bath and Wells
1493 1495 Oliver King Translated to Bath and Wells
1496 1502 Richard Redman Translated from St Asaph; later translated to Ely
1502 1504 John Arundel Translated from Lichfield
1505 1519 Hugh Oldham

During the Reformation

Bishops of Exeter during the Reformation
From Until Incumbent Notes
1519 1551 John Vesey (resigned)
1551 1553 Myles Coverdale
1553 1554 John Vesey (restored)
1555 1560 James Turberville


Post-Reformation Bishops of Exeter
From Until Incumbent Notes
1560 1571 William Alley Also recorded as William Alley
1571 1578 William Bradbridge
1579 1594 John Woolton
1595 1597 Gervase Babington Translated to Worcester
1598 1621 William Cotton
1621 1626 Valentine Cary
1627 1641 Joseph Hall Translated to Norwich
1642 1659 Ralph Brownrigg
1660 1662 John Gauden Translated to Worcester
1662 1667 Seth Ward Translated to Salisbury
1667 1676 Anthony Sparrow Translated to Norwich
1676 1688 Thomas Lamplugh Translated to York
1689 1707 Sir Jonathan Trelawney Bt Translated from Bristol; later translated to Winchester
1708 1716 Ofspring Blackall
1717 1724 Lancelot Blackburne Translated to York
1724 1742 Stephen Weston
1742 1746 Nicholas Clagett Translated from St David's
1747 1762 George Lavington
1762 1777 Frederick Keppel
1778 1792 John Ross
1792[7] 1796 William Buller
1797 1803 Reginald Courtenay Translated from Bristol
1803 1807 John Fisher Translated to Salisbury
1807 1820 George Pelham Translated from Bristol; later translated to Lincoln
1820 1830 William Carey Translated to St Asaph
1830 1830 Christopher Bethell Translated from Gloucester; later translated to Bangor
1831 1869 Henry Phillpotts
1869 1885 Frederick Temple Translated to London
1885 1900 Edward Bickersteth
1901 1903 Herbert Edward Ryle Translated to Winchester
1903 1916 Archibald Robertson
1916 1936 Lord William Cecil
1936 1948 Charles Curzon Translated from Stepney
1949 1973 Robert Mortimer
1973 1985 Eric Mercer Translated from Birkenhead
1985 1999 Hewlett Thompson Translated from Willesden
1999 30 June 2013[8] Michael Langrish Translated from Birkenhead
30 April 2014 present Robert Atwell [3]Translated from Stockport

See also


  1. ^ Debrett's Peerage, 1968, p.432
  2. ^ Crockford's Clerical Directory, 100th edition, (2007), Church House Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7151-1030-0.
  3. ^ a b Diocese of Exeter – Election of new Bishop of Exeter formally confirmed (Accessed 9 May 2014)
  4. ^ a b c Fryde, E. B.; Greenway, D. E.; Porter, S.; Roy, I. (1986). Handbook of British Chronology (Third Edition, revised ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 246–248.  
  5. ^ a b Horn, J. M. (1962). "Bishops of Exeter". Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1300–1541: Volume 9: Exeter Diocese.  
  6. ^ a b c "Historical successions: Exeter (including precussor offices)". Crockford's Clerical Directory. Retrieved 18 July 2012. 
  7. ^ The London Gazette: no. 13457. p. 694. 8 September 1792.
  8. ^ BBC News – Bishop Langrish retires from office (Accessed 1 July 2013)


  • Some text adapted from Catholic Encyclopaedia, 1908.
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