Bishop of Exeter

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").

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
Ecclesiastical provinceCanterbury
ResidenceThe Palace, Exeter
First holderWerstan
Leofric (first Bishop of Exeter)
Established905 (founded at Tawton)
912 (translated to Crediton)
1050 (translated to Exeter)
CathedralExeter Cathedral (1112–present)

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 of 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 reformed and catholic Church of England. The bishop's residence is The Palace, Exeter.[4]


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.


According to Tristram Risdon (died 1640), the present village of Bishops Tawton, on the River Taw two miles south of Barnstaple in North Devon, was the earliest bishop's see in the shire of Devon, when in 905

"Edward, surnamed Senior, a nurse-father of the church, finding these western parts to want ecclesiastical discipline, by the advice of Pleymond, (sic) Archbishop of Canterbury, ordained a provincial synod and decreed that three new bishops should be consecrated, whereupon Edulph was appointed to Wells, Herstan to Cornwall and Werstan to Devon, who had here his see, where after him one only of his successors sat being hence removed to Crediton".[5]

Werstan's successor appears to have been Putta (bishop 906–910), who was murdered whilst travelling from his see at Tawton to visit the Saxon viceroy Uffa, whose residence was at Crediton.[6] It is believed that Copplestone Cross, mentioned in a charter dated 947 and situated 6 miles north-west of Crediton and 22 miles south-east of Bishops Tawton, was erected in commemoration of his murder.[7]


The Diocese of Crediton was created out of the Diocese of Sherborne in 909 to cover the area of Devon and Cornwall.[8] Crediton was chosen as the site for its cathedral possibly due it having been the birthplace of Saint Boniface and the existence of a monastery there.[9]

In 1046, Leofric became the Bishop of Crediton. Following his appointment he decided that the see should be moved to the larger and more culturally significant and defensible walled town of Exeter. In 1050, King Edward the Confessor authorised that Exeter was to be the seat of the bishop for Devon and Cornwall and that a cathedral was to be built there for the bishop's throne. Thus, Leofric became the last diocesan Bishop of Crediton and the first Bishop of Exeter.[9]


The two dioceses of Crediton and Cornwall, covering Devon and Cornwall, were permanently united under Edward the Confessor by Lyfing's successor 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, rebuilt in 1019, etc., finally demolished 1971, served as the cathedral.


The present cathedral was begun by William de Warelhurst in 1112, the transept towers he built being the only surviving part of the Norman building, which was completed by 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 Peter Quinel (1280–1291), continued by Bytton and Stapeldon, and completed, much as it has since remained, by John Grandisson during his long tenure 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 Vesey was obliged to surrender fourteen of twenty-two manors, and the value of the see was reduced to a third of what it had been. 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 Reformist Elizabeth I in 1559, and died in prison, probably in or about 1570.

Henry Phillpotts served as 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 Robert Atwell.

List of bishops


Bishops at Tawton
From Until Incumbent Notes
Bishops of Crediton
From Until Incumbent Notes
953972 Ælfwold I
973977SidemanDied on 30 April 977 or 1 or 2 May 977.
c.986/87?Ælfwold II
?c.990Alfred of Malmesbury[10]
?c.1011/15Ælfwold III
10271046LyfingAlso Bishop of Cornwall and Worcester; died in March 1046.
10461050LeofricConsecrated on 19 April 1046; also Bishop of Cornwall; became the first Bishop of Exeter in 1050.
In 1050, Leofric transferred the see to Exeter.[9]
Pre-Reformation Bishops of Exeter
From Until Incumbent Notes
10501072LeofricThe first bishop who united and transferred the sees of Crediton and Cornwall to Exeter
10721103Osbern FitzOsbern
11071138William Warelwast
11381155Robert Warelwast
11551160Robert of Chichester
11611184Bartholomew Iscanus
11861191John the Chanter
11941206Henry Marshal
12061214See vacantDue to Pope Innocent III's interdict against King John's realms.
12141223Simon of Apulia
12241244William BriwereAlso recorded as William Brewer
12451257Richard BlundAlso recorded as Richard Blundy
12581280Walter BranscombeAlso recorded as Walter Bronescombe
12801291Peter QuinelAlso recorded as Peter de Quivel or Quivil
12911307Thomas BittonAlso recorded as Thomas de Bytton
13081326Walter de Stapledon
13261327James Berkeley
1327John GodeleyAlso recorded as John Godele. Elected, but quashed.
13271369John Grandisson
13701394Thomas de BrantinghamAlso recorded as Thomas Brantyngham
13951419Edmund Stafford
1419John CatterickAlso recorded as John Ketterick. Translated from Lichfield.
14201455Edmund LaceyAlso recorded as Edmund Lacy. Translated from Hereford.
14551456John HalesAppointed, but resigned before consecration.
14581465George NevilleTranslated to York
14651478John Booth
14781487Peter CourtenayTranslated to Winchester
14871492Richard FoxeTranslated to Bath and Wells
14931495Oliver KingTranslated to Bath and Wells
14961502Richard RedmanTranslated from St Asaph; later translated to Ely
15021504John ArundelTranslated from Lichfield
15051519Hugh Oldham

During the Reformation

Bishops of Exeter during the Reformation
From Until Incumbent Notes
15191551John Vesey (resigned)
15511553Myles Coverdale
15531554John Vesey (restored)
15551560James Turberville


Post-Reformation Bishops of Exeter
From Until Incumbent Notes
1560 1571 William Alley Also recorded as William Alleyn
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 Trelawny, 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[15] 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 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 MercerTranslated from Birkenhead
1985 1999 Hewlett Thompson Translated from Willesden
1999 2013[16] Michael Langrish Translated from Birkenhead
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. Diocese of Exeter – Election of new Bishop of Exeter formally confirmed (Accessed 9 May 2014)
  4. "Robert Ronald Atwell". Crockford's Clerical Directory (online ed.). Church House Publishing. Retrieved 25 June 2017.
  5. Risdon, Tristram (d.1640), Survey of Devon, 1811 edition, London, 1811, with 1810 Additions, p.321
  6. Chattaway, Joseph, An Historical Sketch of the Danmonii: Or Ancient Inhabitants of Devonshire, 1830, p.79
  8. Crediton Festival 2009 Archived 21 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 5 June 2008.
  9. Exeter: Ecclesiastical History. Retrieved on 5 June 2008.
  10. Joseph Thomas (1 January 2010). The Universal Dictionary of Biography and Mythology. Cosimo, Inc. p. 93. ISBN 978-1-61640-069-9.
  11. "Historical successions: Exeter (including precussor offices)". Crockford's Clerical Directory. Retrieved 18 July 2012.
  12. Fryde, E. B.; Greenway, D. E.; Porter, S.; Roy, I. (1986). Handbook of British Chronology (3rd, revised ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 287. ISBN 0-521-56350-X.
  13. 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. ISBN 0-521-56350-X.
  14. Horn, J. M. (1962). "Bishops of Exeter". Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1300–1541: Volume 9: Exeter Diocese. British History Online. pp. 1–3.
  15. "No. 13457". The London Gazette. 8 September 1792. p. 694.
  16. BBC News – Bishop Langrish retires from office (Accessed 1 July 2013)


  • Some text adapted from Catholic Encyclopaedia, 1908.
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