Bishop of Ely
Coat of arms of the (({name))}
Arms of the Bishop of Ely: Gules, three ducal coronets or[1]
vacant (acting: the Bishop of Huntingdon)
Ecclesiastical provinceCanterbury
ResidenceBishop's House, Ely (since 1941)
Bishop's Palace, Ely (15th century – 1941)
First holderHervey le Breton
CathedralEly Cathedral

The Bishop of Ely is the ordinary of the Church of England Diocese of Ely in the Province of Canterbury. The diocese roughly covers the county of Cambridgeshire (with the exception of the Soke of Peterborough), together with a section of north-west Norfolk and has its episcopal see in the City of Ely, Isle of Ely in Cambridgeshire, where the seat is located at the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity. The diocesan bishops resided at the Bishop's Palace, Ely until 1941;[2] they now reside in Bishop's House, the former cathedral deanery. Conway became Bishop of Ely in 2010, translated from the Diocese of Salisbury where he was Bishop suffragan of Ramsbury.[3]

The roots of the Diocese of Ely are ancient and the area of Ely was part of the patrimony of Saint Etheldreda. Prior to the elevation of Ely Cathedral as the seat of the diocese, it existed as first as a convent of religious sisters and later as a monastery. It was led by first by an abbess and later by an abbot. The convent was founded in the city in 673. After St Etheldreda's death in 679 she was buried outside the church. Her remains were later translated inside, the foundress being commemorated as a great Anglican saint. The monastery, and much of the city of Ely, were destroyed in the Danish invasions that began in 869 or 870. A new Benedictine monastery was built and endowed on the site by Saint Athelwold, Bishop of Winchester, in 970, in a wave of monastic refoundations which also included Peterborough and Ramsey.[4] In the Domesday Book in 1086, the Abbot of Ely is referenced as a landholder of Foxehola. The abbey became a cathedral in 1109, after a new Diocese of Ely was created out of land taken from the Diocese of Lincoln. From that time the line of bishops begins.


The earliest historical notice of Ely is given by the Venerable Bede who writes (Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, IV, xix):

Ely is in the province of the East Angles, a country of about six hundred families, in the nature of an island, enclosed either with marshes or waters, and therefore it has its name from the great abundance of eels which are taken in those marshes.

This district was assigned in 649 to saint Æthelthryth, daughter of Anna, king of the East Angles, as a dowry in her marriage with Tonbert of the South Girvii. After her second marriage to Ecgfrith of Northumbria, she became a nun, and in 673 returned to Ely and founded a monastery on the site of the present cathedral. As endowment she gave it her entire principality of the isle, from which subsequent Bishops of Ely derived their temporal power. Æthelthryth died in 679 and her shrine became a place of pilgrimage. In 870 the monastery was destroyed by the Danes, having already given to the Church four sainted abbesses, Æthelthryth and her sister Seaxburgh, the latter's daughter Ermenilda, and Ermenilda's daughter Werburgh. Probably under their rule there was a community of monks as well as a convent of nuns, but when in 970 the monastery was restored by King Edgar and Ethelwold it was a foundation for monks only.

For more than a century the monastery flourished, and about the year 1105 Abbot Richard suggested the creation of the See of Ely, to relieve the enormous Diocese of Lincoln. The pope's brief erecting the new bishopric was issued 21 November 1108, and on 17 October 1109 King Henry I granted his charter, the first bishop being Hervé le Breton, or Harvey (1109–1131), former Bishop of Bangor. The monastery church thus became one of the "conventual" cathedrals. Of this building the transepts and two bays of the nave already existed, and in 1170 the nave as it stands to-day (a complete and perfect specimen of late Norman work) was finished. As the bishops succeeded to the principality of St Etheldreda they enjoyed palatine power and great resources.

The Bishops of Ely frequently held high office in the State and the roll includes many names of famous statesmen, including eight Lord Chancellors and six Lord Treasurers. The Bishops of Ely spent much of their wealth on their cathedral, with the result that Ely can show examples of Gothic architecture of many periods. Another of the Bishop’s Palaces was in Wisbech on the site of the former Wisbech Castle. Thurloe's mansion which replaced it was allowed to fall into disrepair and sold to Joseph Medworth. They also had a London residence called Ely Place.

Among the bishops Geoffry Riddell (1174–1189) built the nave and began the west tower, Eustace (1198–1215) the West Porch, while Hugh de Northwold (1229–1254) rebuilt the Norman choir and John Hotham (1316–1337) rebuilt the collapsed central tower – the famous Octagon. Hugh (or Hugo) de Balsham (1258–1286) founded Peterhouse, the first college at the University of Cambridge, while John Alcock (1486–1500) was the founder of Jesus College and completed the building of the bishop's palace at Wisbech, commenced in 1478 by his predecessor John Morton later Archbishop of Canterbury.

Goodrich was a reformer and during his episcopate the monastery was dissolved. The last bishop in communion with the see of Rome was Thomas Thirlby. Since the Reformation, notable bishops have included Lancelot Andrewes, Matthew Wren, Peter Gunning and Simon Patrick who, in 1695 gave the Shambles estate in Wisbech, to provide clothing for the poor.[5]

List of abbesses and abbots

Convent of sisters (673–870)

Benedictine monastery (970–1109)

List of bishops (1109–)

From then on, Ely was under the Bishop of Ely.

Pre-Reformation bishops

Pre-Reformation Bishops of Ely
From Until Incumbent Notes
1109 1131 Hervey le Breton Translated from Bangor.
1133 1169 Nigel
1174 1189 Geoffrey Ridel
1189 1197 William Longchamp
1198 1215 Eustace
1215 1219 Robert of York Election quashed 1219.
1220 1225 John of Fountains
1225 1228 Geoffrey de Burgh
1229 1254 Hugh of Northwold
1255 1256 William of Kilkenny
1258 1286 Hugh de Balsham
1286 1290 John Kirkby
1290 1298 William of Louth
1298 1299 John Salmon Monks' candidate; opposed Langton; election quashed.
1298 1299 John Langton King's candidate; opposed Salmon; election quashed.
1299 1302 Ralph Walpole Translated from Norwich.
1302 1310 Robert Orford
1310 1316 John Ketton
1316 1337 John Hotham
1337 1345 Simon Montacute Translated from Worcester.
1345 1361 Thomas de Lisle
1362 1366 Simon Langham Translated to Canterbury.
1367 1373 John Barnet
1374 1388 Thomas Arundel Translated to York.
1388 1425 John Fordham Translated from Durham.
1426 1438 Philip Morgan Translated from Worcester.
1438 1443 Lewis of Luxembourg Archbishop of Rouen. Held Ely in commendam.
1444 1454 Thomas Bourchier Translated to Canterbury.
1454 1478 William Grey
1479 1486 John Morton Translated to Canterbury.
1486 1500 John Alcock Translated from Worcester.
1501 1505 Richard Redman Translated from Exeter.
1506 1515 James Stanley
1515 1533 Nicholas West

Bishops during the Reformation

Bishops of Ely during the Reformation
From Until Incumbent Notes
1534 1554 Thomas Goodrich Also recorded as Thomas Goodricke.
1554 1559 Thomas Thirlby Translated from Norwich; deprived on 5 July 1559.

Post-Reformation bishops

Post-Reformation Bishops of Ely
From Until Incumbent Notes
1559 1581 Richard Cox
1581 1600 See vacant
1600 1609 Martin Heton
1609 1619 Lancelot Andrewes Translated from Chichester; translated to Winchester.
1619 1628 Nicholas Felton Translated from Bristol.
1628 1631 John Buckeridge Translated from Rochester.
1631 1638 Francis White Translated from Norwich.
1638 1646 Matthew Wren Translated from Norwich; deprived of the see when the English episcopacy was abolished by Parliament on 9 October 1646.
1646 1660 The see was abolished during the Commonwealth and the Protectorate.[12][13]
1660 1667 Matthew Wren Restored; died in office.
1667 1675 Benjamin Lany Translated from Lincoln.
1675 1684 Peter Gunning Translated from Chichester.
1684 1691 Francis Turner Translated from Rochester.
1691 1707 Simon Patrick Translated from Chichester.
1707 1714 John Moore Translated from Norwich.
1714 1723 William Fleetwood Translated from St Asaph.
1723 1738 Thomas Green Translated from Norwich.
1738 1748 Robert Butts Translated from Norwich.
1748 1754 Thomas Gooch Translated from Norwich.
1754 1771 Matthias Mawson Translated from Chichester.
1771 1781 Edmund Keene Translated from Chester.
1781 1808 James Yorke Translated from Gloucester.
1808 1812 Thomas Dampier Translated from Rochester.
1812 1836 Bowyer Sparke Translated from Chester.
1836 1845 Joseph Allen Translated from Bristol.
1845 1864 Thomas Turton
1864 1873 Harold Browne Translated to Winchester.
1873 1885 James Woodford
1886 1905 Lord Alwyne Compton
1905 1924 Frederic Chase
1924 1933 Leonard White-Thomson
1934 1941 Bernard Heywood Translated from Hull.
1941 1957 Edward Wynn
1957 1964 Noel Hudson Translated from Newcastle.
1964 1977 Edward Roberts Translated from Kensington.
1977 1990 Peter Walker Translated from Dorchester.
1990 2000 Stephen Sykes Returned to academia
2000 2010 Anthony Russell Translated from Dorchester.
2010 2023 Stephen Conway Translated from Ramsbury; translated to Lincoln[14]
2023 acting Dagmar Winter, Bishop of Huntingdon Acting diocesan bishop during the vacancy in See.[15]

Assistant bishops

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

See also


  1. ^ Debrett's Peerage, 1968, p. 420.
  2. ^ BBC News — Behind the scenes at Cambridgeshire's only palace (Accessed 2 October 2017).
  3. ^ Diocese of Ely, 10 Downing Street website, 31 August 2010.
  4. ^ [1] Consumption and Pastoral Resources on the Early Medieval Estate, accessed July 12, 2007.
  5. ^ Craddock and Walker (1849). The History of Wisbech and the Fens. Richard Walker. p. 407.
  6. ^ a b c "Historical successions: Ely". Crockford's Clerical Directory. Retrieved 18 July 2012.
  7. ^ Fryde et al. 1986, Handbook of British Chronology, pp. 244–245.
  8. ^ Greenway 1971, Bishops of Ely, Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1066–1300, volume 2, pp. 45–47.
  9. ^ a b Jones 1962, Bishops of Ely, Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1300–1541, volume 4, pp. 13–16.
  10. ^ a b c Horn 1996, Bishops of Ely, Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1541–1857, volume 7, pp. 7–10.
  11. ^ Fryde et al. 1986, Handbook of British Chronology, p. 245.
  12. ^ Plant, David (2002). "Episcopalians". BCW Project. Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ "Announcement — The New Bishop of Lincoln". Diocese of Lincoln. 24 May 2023. Archived from the original on 24 May 2023. Retrieved 2 June 2023.
  15. ^ "Announcement to the Diocese of Ely of the Bishop's move to Lincoln". Diocese of Ely. 24 May 2023. Archived from the original on 1 September 2023. Retrieved 1 September 2023.
  16. ^ Fryde et al. 1986, Handbook of British Chronology, pp. 245–246.
  17. ^ "Hodges, Edward Noel". Who's Who. A & C Black. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  18. ^ "Price, Horace MacCartie Eyre". Who's Who. A & C Black. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  19. ^ "Walsh, Gordon John". Who's Who. A & C Black. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)


Further reading

Peter Meadows, ed., Ely: Diocese and Bishops, 1109-2009 (The Boydell Press, 2010).