Bishop of Exeter

The Bishop of Exeter is the ordinary of the Church of England Diocese of Exeter in the Province of Canterbury.[2] Since 30 April 2014 the ordinary has been Robert Atwell.[3]

Bishop of Exeter
Coat of arms of the {{{name}}}
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 Anglo-Saxon dioceses after 950

Roman episcopal organization survived the fall of the Roman Empire in south-western Britain, which became the British kingdom of Dumnonia. In about 700, Aldhelm, abbot of Malmesbury wrote a letter to King Geraint of Dumnonia and his bishops.[5] However, by this time eastern Devon had been conquered by the Anglo-Saxons and was part of the diocese of Bishop of Winchester, covering the whole of Wessex. In around 705 The diocese was divided in two and Aldhelm was appointed the first Bishop of Sherborne, covering eastern Devon. Over the next two centuries western Devon was conquered.[6]


In about 909 the diocese of Sherborne was divided and the Diocese of Crediton was created to cover Devon and Cornwall.[7] 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.[8]

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.[8]


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 bishop of Exeter signs his name as his Christian name or forename followed by Exon., abbreviated from the Latin Episcopus Exoniensis ("Bishop of Exeter").


‘South Tower of Exeter Cathedral’, attributed to W. Davey, about 1800-1830

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 historyEdit

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 bishopsEdit


Bishops of Crediton
From Until Incumbent Notes
c.909 934 Eadwulf
934 c.952/53 Æthelgar
953 972 Ælfwold I
973 977 Sideman Died on 30 April 977 or 1 or 2 May 977.
c.977/79 c.986/87 Ælfric
c.986/87 ? Ælfwold II
? c.990 Alfred of Malmesbury[9]
? c.1011/15 Ælfwold III
c.1011/15 c.1019/23 Eadnoth
1027 1046 Lyfing Also Bishop of Cornwall and Worcester; died in March 1046.
1046 1050 Leofric Consecrated on 19 April 1046; also Bishop of Cornwall; became the first Bishop of Exeter in 1050.
In 1050, Leofric transferred the see to Exeter.[8]


Dates of reign Name Portrait Arms[12]
1050-72[13] Leofric Pre-heraldic
1072-1103 Osbern FitzOsbern Pre-heraldic
1107-38 William Warelwast Pre-heraldic
1138-55 Robert Warelwast Pre-heraldic
1155-60 Robert of Chichester Pre-heraldic
1161-84 Bartholomew Iscanus Pre-heraldic
1186-91 John the Chanter Pre-heraldic
1194-1206 Henry Marshal Pre-heraldic
1206-14[14] Vacant
1214-23 Simon of Apulia  
1224-44[15] William Briwere  
1245-57[16] Richard Blund  
1258-80[17] Walter Branscombe  
1280-91[18] Peter Quinel  
1291-1307[19] Thomas Bitton
1308-1326 Walter de Stapledon  
1326-27 James Berkeley  
1327[20] John Godeley
1327-69 John Grandisson  
1370-94[21] Thomas de Brantingham  
1395-1419 Edmund Stafford    
1419[22] John Catterick
1420-55[23] Edmund Lacey  
1455-56[24] John Hales
1458-65[25] George Neville  
1465-78 John Booth  
1478-87[26] Peter Courtenay  
1487-92[27] Richard Foxe    
1493-95[27] Oliver King
1496-1502[28] Richard Redman
1502-4[29] John Arundel  
1505-19 Hugh Oldham    

During the ReformationEdit

Dates of reign Name Portrait Arms
1519-51[30][10][31][32] John Vesey  
1551-53[33][10][31][32] Myles Coverdale    
1553-54[34][10][31][32] John Vesey  
1555-60[10][31][32] James 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 1646   Ralph Brownrigg Deprived of the see when the English episcopacy was abolished by Parliament on 9 October 1646; died 1659.
1646 1660 The see was abolished during the Commonwealth and the Protectorate.[35][36]
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[37] 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 Mercer Translated from Birkenhead
1985 1999   Hewlett Thompson Translated from Willesden
1999 2013[38]   Michael Langrish Translated from Birkenhead
2014 present   Robert Atwell [3] Translated from Stockport; retirement announced for 30 September 2023.[39]

Assistant bishopsEdit

Among those who have served as assistant bishops of the diocese have been:

See alsoEdit


  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. ^ "Robert Ronald Atwell". Crockford's Clerical Directory (online ed.). Church House Publishing. Retrieved 25 June 2017.
  5. ^ Pickles, Thomas (2013). "Church Organization and Pastoral Care". In Stafford, Pauline (ed.). A Companion to the Early Middle Ages: Britain and Ireland c. 500–c. 1100. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 164. ISBN 978-1-118-42513-8.
  6. ^ Yorke, Barbara (1995). Wessex in the Early Middle Ages. London, UK: Leicester University Press. pp. 60, 85, 95. ISBN 978-0-7185-1856-1.
  7. ^ Crediton Festival 2009 Archived 21 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 5 June 2008.
  8. ^ a b c Exeter: Ecclesiastical History. Retrieved on 5 June 2008.
  9. ^ Joseph Thomas (1 January 2010). The Universal Dictionary of Biography and Mythology. Cosimo, Inc. p. 93. ISBN 978-1-61640-069-9.
  10. ^ a b c d e f "Historical successions: Exeter (including precussor offices)". Crockford's Clerical Directory. Retrieved 18 July 2012.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Izacke, Richard (c.1624–1698), (improved and continued to the year 1724 by Samuel Izacke), Remarkable Antiquities of the City of Exeter, 3rd Edition, London, 1731, A Perfect Catalogue of all the Bishops of this Church ... together with the Coats of Armory and Mottoes Described, pp.25-50 [1][2]
  13. ^ The first to unite and transfer the Sees of Crediton and Cornwall to Exeter
  14. ^ See vacant due to Pope Innocent III's interdict against King John's realms
  15. ^ Aliter William Brewer
  16. ^ Aliter Richard Blundy
  17. ^ Aliter Walter Bronescombe
  18. ^ Aliter Peter de Quivel or Quivil
  19. ^ Aliter Thomas de Bytton
  20. ^ Also recorded as John Godele. Elected, but quashed
  21. ^ Aliter Thomas Brantyngham
  22. ^ Aliter John Ketterick, translated from Lichfield
  23. ^ Also recorded as Edmund Lacy. Translated from Hereford
  24. ^ Appointed, but resigned before consecration
  25. ^ Translated to York
  26. ^ Translated to Winchester
  27. ^ a b Translated to Bath and Wells
  28. ^ Translated from St Asaph; later translated to Ely
  29. ^ Translated from Lichfield
  30. ^ (deposed, Roman Catholic)
  31. ^ a b c d e 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.
  32. ^ a b c d Horn, J. M. (1962). "Bishops of Exeter". Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1300–1541: Volume 9: Exeter Diocese. British History Online. pp. 1–3.
  33. ^ Protestant
  34. ^ recovered, Roman Catholic)
  35. ^ Plant, David (2002). "Episcopalians". BCW Project. Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  36. ^ King, Peter (July 1968). "The Episcopate during the Civil Wars, 1642-1649". The English Historical Review. Oxford University Press. 83 (328): 523–537. doi:10.1093/ehr/lxxxiii.cccxxviii.523. JSTOR 564164.
  37. ^ "No. 13457". The London Gazette. 8 September 1792. p. 694.
  38. ^ BBC News – Bishop Langrish retires from office (Accessed 1 July 2013)
  39. ^ "Bishop of Exeter Announces Retirement". Diocese of Exeter. 10 May 2023. Archived from the original on 13 May 2023. Retrieved 17 May 2023.
  40. ^ "Church News". Church Times. No. 100. 31 December 1864. p. 419. ISSN 0009-658X. Retrieved 26 December 2019 – via UK Press Online archives.
  41. ^ "Consecration of St Peter's Church, Newlyn, Penzance". Church Times. No. 174. 2 June 1866. p. 175. ISSN 0009-658X. Retrieved 26 December 2019 – via UK Press Online archives.
  42. ^ "Church News". Church Times. No. 243. 28 September 1867. p. 337. ISSN 0009-658X. Retrieved 26 December 2019 – via UK Press Online archives.
  43. ^ "Clerical obituary". Church Times. No. 2407. 12 March 1909. p. 332. ISSN 0009-658X. Retrieved 14 March 2020 – via UK Press Online archives.
  44. ^ "Smith, Rocksborough Remington". Who's Who. A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)


  • Some text adapted from Catholic Encyclopaedia, 1908.