Bishop of Durham
Coat of arms of the (({name))}
Coat of arms
acting: the Bishop of Jarrow
Ecclesiastical provinceYork
First holderAidan
Aldhun (first bishop of Durham)
Established635 (at Lindisfarne)
995 (translation to Durham)
CathedralDurham Cathedral (since 995)
St Mary and St Cuthbert, Chester-le-Street (882–995)
Lindisfarne (635–875)

The bishop of Durham is responsible for the diocese of Durham in the province of York. The diocese is one of the oldest in England and its bishop is a member of the House of Lords. Paul Butler was the most recent bishop of Durham until his retirement in February 2024.

The bishop is officially styled The Right Reverend (First Name), by Divine Providence Lord Bishop of Durham, but this full title is rarely used. In signatures, the bishop's family name is replaced by Dunelm, from the Latin name for Durham (the Latinised form of Old English Dunholm). In the past, bishops of Durham varied their signatures between Dunelm and the French Duresm. Prior to 1836 the bishop had significant temporal powers over the liberty of Durham and later the county palatine of Durham. The bishop, with the bishop of Bath and Wells, escorts the sovereign at the coronation.

Durham Castle was a residence of the bishops from its construction in the 11th century until 1832, when it was given to the University of Durham to use as a college. Auckland Castle then became the bishops' main residence until July 2012, when it was sold to the Auckland Castle Trust. The bishop continues to have offices there.[1][2]


The bishop of Lindisfarne is an episcopal title which takes its name after the tidal island of Lindisfarne, which lies just off the northeast coast of Northumberland, England. The title was first used by the Anglo-Saxons between the 7th and 10th centuries. In the reign of Æthelstan (924–939) Wigred, thought by Simon Keynes to have been Bishop of Chester-le-Street, attested royal charters.[3] According to George Molyneaux, the church of St Cuthbert "was in all probability the greatest landholder between the Tees and the Tyne".[4] Traditionally, following the chronology of the twelfth-century writer Symeon of Durham, historians have believed that the body of St Cuthbert and centre of the diocese lay at Chester-le-Street from the ninth century until 995, but recent research has suggested that the bishops may have been based at Norham on the River Tweed until after 1013.[5] [6] The title of "bishop of Lindisfarne" is now used by the Roman Catholic Church for a titular see.

The Anglo-Saxon dioceses before 925

The Anglo-Saxon bishops of Lindisfarne were ordinaries of several early medieval episcopal sees (and dioceses) in Northumbria and pre-Conquest England. The first such see was founded at Lindisfarne in 635 by Saint Aidan.[7]

From the 7th century onwards, in addition to his spiritual authority, the bishops of Lindisfarne, and then Durham, also acted as the civil ruler of the region as the lord of the liberty of Durham, with local authority equal to that of the king. The bishop appointed all local officials and maintained his own court. After the Norman Conquest, this power was retained by the bishop and was eventually recognised with the designation of the region as the County Palatine of Durham. As holder of this office, the bishop was both the earl of the county and bishop of the diocese. Though the term 'prince-bishop' has become a common way of describing the role of the bishop prior to 1836, the term was unknown in Medieval England.[8]

A UNESCO site describes the role of the bishops as a "buffer state between England and Scotland":[9]

From 1075, the bishop of Durham became a prince-bishop, with the right to raise an army, mint his own coins, and levy taxes. As long as he remained loyal to the king of England, he could govern as a virtually autonomous ruler, reaping the revenue from his territory, but also remaining mindful of his role of protecting England's northern frontier.

A 1788 report adds that the bishops had the authority to appoint judges and barons and to offer pardons.[10]

Except for a brief period of suppression during the English Civil War, the bishopric retained this temporal power until it was abolished by the Durham (County Palatine) Act 1836 with the powers returned to the Crown.[11] A shadow of the former temporal power can be seen in the bishop's coat of arms, which contains a coronet as well as a mitre and crossed crozier and sword. The bishop of Durham also continued to hold a seat in the House of Lords; that has continued to this day by virtue of the ecclesiastical office.[12][13]

List of bishops

Early Medieval bishops

Bishops of Lindisfarne
From Until Incumbent Notes
635 651 Aidan Saint Aidan.
651 661 Finan Saint Finan.
661 664 Colmán Saint Colmán.
664 Tuda Saint Tuda.
In 664 the diocese was merged to York by Wilfrid (who succeeded Tuda following his death), leaving one large diocese in the large northern Kingdom of Northumbria.
The diocese was reinstated in 678 by Theodore of Tarsus, Archbishop of Canterbury following Wilfrid's banishment from Northumbria by King Ecgfrith. Its new seat was initially (at least in part) at Hexham (until a new diocese was created there in 680).
678 685 Eata of Hexham Saint Eata.
685 687 Cuthbert Saint Cuthbert.
688 698 Eadberht Saint Eadberht.
698 721 Eadfrith Saint Eadfrith.
721 740 Æthelwold Saint Æthelwold.
740 780 Cynewulf
780 803 Higbald
803 821 Egbert
821 830 Heathwred
830 845 Ecgred
845 854 Eanbert
854 875 Eardulf
883 889 Eardulf
900 c. 915 Cutheard
c. 915 c. 925 Tilred
c. 925 maybe 942? Wilgred
maybe 942? unknown Uchtred
unknown, expelled after 6 months Sexhelm
before 946 maybe 968? Aldred
maybe 968? maybe 968? Ælfsige Called "Bishop of St Cuthbert".
990 995 Aldhun According to the traditional account, the see was moved to Durham.
In 995, the King had paid the Danegeld to the Danish and Norwegian Kings and peace was restored. According to the legend, Aldhun was on his way to reestablish the see at Lindisfarne when he received a divine vision that the body of St Cuthbert should be laid to rest in Durham.
Bishops of Durham
From Until Incumbent Notes
995 1018 Aldhun
1021 1041 Edmund
1041 1042 Eadred
1042 1056 Æthelric
1056 1071 Æthelwine

Pre-Reformation bishops

Bishops of Durham
From Until Incumbent Notes
1071 1080 Walcher
1081 1096 William de St-Calais
1099 1128 Ranulf Flambard
1133 1140 Geoffrey Rufus
1141 1143 William Cumin
1143 1153 William of St. Barbara
1153 1195 Hugh de Puiset
1197 1208 Philip of Poitou
1209 1213 Richard Poore Election quashed by Pope Innocent III (who was quarrelling with King John); later elected and consecrated.
1214 1214 John de Gray Died before consecration.
1215 1215 Morgan Election quashed.
1217 1226 Richard Marsh
1226 1227 William Scot Election quashed.
1229 1237 Richard Poore Translated from Salisbury.
1237 1240 Thomas de Melsonby Resigned before consecration.
1241 1249 Nicholas Farnham
1249 1260 Walter of Kirkham
1260 1274 Robert Stitchill
1274 1283 Robert of Holy Island
1284 1310 Antony Bek Also Titular Patriarch of Jerusalem from 1306 to 1311 (the only English person ever to hold this post).
1311 1316 Richard Kellaw In the ensuing vacancy, Thomas de Charlton, John Walwayn and John de Kynardesley were nominated by Edward II, Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford and Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster respectively, but the chapter elected Henry de Stamford OSB on 6 November 1316. That election was never confirmed, but quashed by Pope John XXII on 10 December.
1317 1333 Lewis de Beaumont
1333 1345 Richard de Bury
1345 1381 Thomas Hatfield
1382 1388 John Fordham Translated to Ely.
1388 1406 Walter Skirlaw Translated from Bath & Wells.
1406 1437 Thomas Langley
1437 1457 Robert Neville Translated from Salisbury
1457 1476 Lawrence Booth Translated to York.
1476 1483 William Dudley
1484 1494 John Sherwood
1494 1501 Richard Foxe Translated from Bath & Wells, later translated to Winchester.
1502 1505 William Senhouse Translated from Carlisle.
1507 1508 Christopher Bainbridge Translated to York.
1509 1523 Thomas Ruthall
1523 1529 Thomas Wolsey Archbishop of York. Held Durham in commendam.
1530 1552 Cuthbert Tunstall Translated from London.

Post-Reformation bishops

Bishops of Durham
From Until Incumbent Notes
1530 1552 Cuthbert Tunstall
1552 1554 The diocese was abolished under Edward VI and restored after Mary I became queen.[16]
1554 1559 Cuthbert Tunstall Deprived in 1559, when he refused to take the Oath of Supremacy after the accession of Elizabeth I. Died on 18 November that year.[17]
1561 1576 James Pilkington
1577 1587 Richard Barnes Translated from Carlisle.
1589 1595 Matthew Hutton Translated to York.
1595 1606 Tobias Matthew Translated to York.
1606 1617 William James
1617 1627 Richard Neile Translated from Lincoln, later translated to Winchester.
1627 1628 George Montaigne Translated from London, later translated to York.
1628 1632 John Howson Translated from Oxford
1632 1646 Thomas Morton Translated from Lichfield; deprived of the see when the English episcopacy was abolished by Parliament on 9 October 1646; died 1659.
1646 1660 The diocese was abolished during the Commonwealth and the Protectorate.[18][19]
1660 1672 John Cosin
1674 1722 Nathaniel Crew Translated from Oxford.
1722 1730 William Talbot Translated from Salisbury.
1730 1750 Edward Chandler Translated from Lichfield.
1750 1752 Joseph Butler Translated from Bristol.
1752 1771 Richard Trevor Translated from St David's.
1771 1787 John Egerton Translated from Lichfield.
1787 1791 Thomas Thurlow Translated from Lincoln.
1791 1826 Shute Barrington Translated from Salisbury.
1826 1836 William Van Mildert Translated from Llandaff.

Late modern bishops (since 1836)

Bishops of Durham
From Until Incumbent Notes
1836 1856 Edward Maltby Translated from Chichester.
1856 1860 Charles Longley Translated from Ripon, later translated to York, then to Canterbury.
1860 1861 Henry Montagu Villiers Translated from Carlisle.
1861 1879 Charles Baring Translated from Gloucester and Bristol.
1879 1889 J. B. Lightfoot Previously Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity at Cambridge.
1890 1901 Brooke Foss Westcott Previously Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge.
1901 1920 Handley Moule Previously Norrisian Professor of Divinity at Cambridge.
1920 1939 Hensley Henson Translated from Hereford.
1939 1952 Alwyn Williams Translated to Winchester.
1952 1956 Michael Ramsey Translated to York, then to Canterbury.
1956 1966 Maurice Harland Translated from Lincoln.
1966 1972 Ian Ramsey Previously Nolloth Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion at Oxford.
1973 1983 John Habgood Translated to York.
1984 1994 David Jenkins Previously Professor of Theology University of Leeds
1994 2003 Michael Turnbull Translated from Rochester
2003 2010 N. T. Wright Previously Dean of Lichfield; returned to academia.
2011 2013 Justin Welby Translated to Canterbury.[20]
2014 2024 Paul Butler Previously Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham;[21] confirmed 20 January 2014;[22] retired 29 February 2024.[23]

Assistant bishops

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


  1. ^ "Positive Developments at Auckland Castle". Retrieved 18 August 2012.
  2. ^ "Our Plans". Archived from the original on 27 September 2012. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
  3. ^ Keynes, Atlas, Table XXXVII
  4. ^ Molyneaux 2015, p. 30.
  5. ^ Woolf 2018, pp. 232–33.
  6. ^ McGuigan 2022, pp. 121–62.
  7. ^ Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Ancient Diocese and Monastery of Lindisfarne". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  8. ^ Liddy, Christian D. (2008). The Bishopric of Durham in the Late Middle Ages. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press. pp. 2. ISBN 978-1-84383-377-2. The term 'prince-bishop' did not exist in medieval England. It is a literal translation of the German compound Fürstbischof.
  9. ^ "The Prince Bishops of Durham". Durham World Heritage Site. 11 July 2011. Retrieved 5 November 2019.
  10. ^ Drummond Liddy, Christian (2008). The Bishopric of Durham in the Late Middle Ages. Boydell. p. 1. ISBN 978-1843833772.
  11. ^ The Statutes of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. His Majesty's Statute and Law Printers. 1836. p. 130.
  12. ^ "The Lord Bishop of Durham". Parliament of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 5 November 2019.
  13. ^ "Lords Spiritual and Temporal". Parliament of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 5 November 2019.
  14. ^ Fryde et al. 2003, pp. 214–215 and 219.
  15. ^ a b c d "Historical successions: Durham (including precussor offices)". Crockford's Clerical Directory. Archived from the original on 19 June 2015. Retrieved 17 July 2012.
  16. ^ "Tunstal [Tunstall], Cuthbert". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/27817. Retrieved 17 June 2023.
  17. ^ "Tunstall, Cuthbert" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 27 (11th ed.). 1911. p. 410.
  18. ^ Plant, David (2002). "Episcopalians". BCW Project. Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  19. ^ King, Peter (July 1968). "The Episcopate during the Civil Wars, 1642-1649". The English Historical Review. 83 (328). Oxford University Press: 523–537. doi:10.1093/ehr/lxxxiii.cccxxviii.523. JSTOR 564164.
  20. ^ Diocese of Durham – New Bishop Announced
  21. ^ "Election of Paul Butler as 74th Bishop of Durham confirmed in service". Retrieved 20 January 2014.
  22. ^ Archbishop of York – Bishop of Durham Election Confirmed Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine (Accessed 20 January 2014)
  23. ^ "Bishop Paul announces plans to retire". Diocese of Durham. 14 July 2023. Archived from the original on 11 October 2023. Retrieved 11 October 2023.
  24. ^ "Sandford, Daniel Fox (1831–1906)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.
  25. ^ "Hodges, Edward Noel". Who's Who. A & C Black. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  26. ^ "Skelton, Kenneth John Fraser". Who's Who. A & C Black. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)