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)

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]

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
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").


Main article: Exeter Cathedral

‘South Tower of Exeter Cathedral’, attributed to W. Davey, about 1800-1830
‘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 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 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
Arms SimonOfApulia BishopOfExeter Died1223.svg
1224-44[15] William Briwere
1245-57[16] Richard Blund
Arms RichardBlund BishopOfExeter Died1257.svg
1258-80[17] Walter Branscombe
1280-91[18] Peter Quinel
Arms PeterQuinel BishopOfExeter Died1291.svg
1291-1307[19] Thomas Bitton
1308-1326 Walter de Stapledon
BishopWalterStapledonArms ExeterCathedral.JPG
1326-27 James Berkeley
Berkeley arms.svg
1327[20] John Godeley
1327-69 John Grandisson
Arms JohnDeGrandisson (1292-1369) BishopOfExeter.svg
1370-94[21] Thomas de Brantingham
1395-1419 Edmund Stafford
Face EdmundStafford Died1419 BishopOfExeter ExeterCathedral.xcf
1419[22] John Catterick
1420-55[23] Edmund Lacey
Coat of Arms Bishop Edmund Lacey (died1455).svg
1455-56[24] John Hales
1458-65[25] George Neville
Neville arms.svg
1465-78 John Booth
BoothArms JohnBooth BishopOfExeter Died1478.svg
1478-87[26] Peter Courtenay
Courtenay of Devon Powderham.svg
1487-92[27] Richard Foxe
RichardFoxe BishopOfWinchester NPGLondon.jpg
Arms RichardFoxe BishopOfWinchester Died1528.svg
1493-95[27] Oliver King
1496-1502[28] Richard Redman
1502-4[29] John Arundel
Shield of Arms of the Lord Arundell of Wardour.svg
1505-19 Hugh Oldham

During the Reformation

Dates of reign Name Portrait Arms
1519-51[30][10][31][32] John Vesey
Arms JohnVesey Died1554 BishopOfExeter.svg
1551-53[33][10][31][32] Myles Coverdale
Myles Coverdale.jpg
1553-54[34][10][31][32] John Vesey
Arms JohnVesey Died1554 BishopOfExeter.svg
1555-60[10][31][32] James Turberville


Post-Reformation Bishops of Exeter
From Until Incumbent Notes
1560 1571
No image.svg
William Alley
Also recorded as William Alleyn
1571 1578
No image.svg
William Bradbridge
1579 1594
No image.svg
John Woolton
1595 1597
Bishop Gervase Babington by Simon De Passe.jpg
Gervase Babington
Translated to Worcester
1598 1621
No image.svg
William Cotton
1621 1626
ValentineCary BishopOfExeter Died1626 ExeterCathedral.PNG
Valentine Cary
1627 1641
Bp Joseph Hall.jpg
Joseph Hall
Translated to Norwich
1642 1646
Bp Ralph Brownrigg.jpg
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 by John Greenhill.jpg
Seth Ward
Translated to Salisbury
1667 1676
Bp Anthony Sparrow.jpg
Anthony Sparrow
Translated to Norwich
1676 1688
Thomas Lamplugh-kneller.jpg
Thomas Lamplugh
Translated to York
1689 1707
Jonathan Trelawny.jpg
Sir Jonathan Trelawny, Bt.
Translated from Bristol; later translated to Winchester
1708 1716
Bp Ofspring Blackall.jpg
Ofspring Blackall
1717 1724
Lancelot Blackburne (1658–1743), Archbishop of York.jpeg
Lancelot Blackburne
Translated to York
1724 1742
Stephen Weston by Arthur Pond.jpg
Stephen Weston
1742 1746
No image.svg
Nicholas Clagett
Translated from St David's
1747 1762
George Lavington
1762 1777
Bp Frederick Keppel.jpg
Frederick Keppel
1778 1792
Bp John Ross by LF Abbott.jpg
John Ross
1792[37] 1796
Bp William Buller.jpg
William Buller
1797 1803
Henry Reginald Courtenay, Bp of Exeter.jpg
Reginald Courtenay
Translated from Bristol
1803 1807
Bp John Fisher.jpg
John Fisher
Translated to Salisbury
1807 1820
Bp George Pelham.jpg
George Pelham
Translated from Bristol; later translated to Lincoln
1820 1830
Bp William Carey.jpg
William Carey
Translated to St Asaph
Christopher Bethell
Translated from Gloucester; later translated to Bangor
1831 1869
Henry Phillpotts NPG.jpg
Henry Phillpotts
1869 1885
Frederick Temple by EAF Prynne.jpg
Frederick Temple
Translated to London
1885 1900
Bishop of Exeter, Edward Henry Bickersteth.PNG
Edward Bickersteth
1901 1903
Dr HE Ryle NPG.jpg
Herbert Edward Ryle
Translated to Winchester
1903 1916
Archibald Robertson.jpg
Archibald Robertson
1916 1936
Lord William Cecil
1936 1948
Charles Curzon.jpg
Charles Curzon
Translated from Stepney
1949 1973
Robert Mortimer.jpg
Robert Mortimer
1973 1985
Eric Mercer.jpg
Eric Mercer
Translated from Birkenhead
1985 1999
Hewlett Thompson.jpg
Hewlett Thompson
Translated from Willesden
1999 2013[38]
Michael Langrish.png
Michael Langrish
Translated from Birkenhead
2014 present
Robert Atwell visits BRNC 2 (cropped).jpg
Robert Atwell
[3] Translated from Stockport

Assistant bishops

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

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. ^ "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. ^ "Church News". Church Times. No. 100. 31 December 1864. p. 419. ISSN 0009-658X. Retrieved 26 December 2019 – via UK Press Online archives.
  40. ^ "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.
  41. ^ "Church News". Church Times. No. 243. 28 September 1867. p. 337. ISSN 0009-658X. Retrieved 26 December 2019 – via UK Press Online archives.
  42. ^ "Clerical obituary". Church Times. No. 2407. 12 March 1909. p. 332. ISSN 0009-658X. Retrieved 14 March 2020 – via UK Press Online archives.
  43. ^ "Smith, Rocksborough Remington". Who's Who. A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)