Bishop of Ely

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigationJump to search
Bishop of Ely
Diocese of Ely arms.svg
Arms of the Bishop of Ely: Gules, three ducal coronets or[1]
Stephen Conway
CathedralEly Cathedral
ResidenceBishop's House, Ely (since 1941)
Bishop's Palace, Ely (15th century – 1941)
First incumbentHervey le Breton

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, Cambridgeshire, where the seat is located at the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity. The current bishop is Stephen Conway, who signs +Stephen Elien: (abbreviation of the Latin adjective Eliensis, meaning "of Ely"). 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 Bishop of Ely is referenced as a landholder of Foxehola. This 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 Bishops Palace was in Wisbech on the site of the former Wisbech Castle.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 bishops 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.

List of abbesses and abbots[edit]

Convent of sisters (673–870)[edit]

Benedictine monastery (970–1109)[edit]

  • Brythnoth (970–996/999)
  • Ælfsige (996/999–1016)
  • Leofwine (1019–1022, 1022–1023)
  • Leofric (1022, 1023–1029)
  • Leofsige (1029–1044)
  • Wulfric (1044 or 1045–1066)
  • Thurstan (–1072) – the last Saxon abbot
  • Theodwin (secular governor)
  • Godfrey (secular governor)
  • Simeon (1082–1094) – began building the cathedral
  • Ranulf Flambard (as custodian 1093–1100)
  • Richard FitzRichard de Clare (1100–1107) – the last abbot
  • Hervey, Bishop of Bangor (as custodian 1107–1109)

List of bishops (1109—)[edit]

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

Pre-Reformation bishops[edit]

Pre-Reformation Bishops of Ely
11091131Hervey le BretonTranslated from Bangor.
11741189Geoffrey Ridel
11891197William Longchamp
12151219Robert of YorkElection quashed 1219.
12201225John of Fountains
12251228Geoffrey de Burgh
12291254Hugh of Northwold
12551256William of Kilkenny
12581286Hugh de Balsham
12861290John Kirkby
12901298William of Louth
12981299John SalmonMonks' candidate; opposed Langton; election quashed.
12981299John LangtonKing's candidate; opposed Salmon; election quashed.
12991302Ralph WalpoleTranslated from Norwich.
13021310Robert Orford
13101316John Ketton
13161337John Hotham
13371345Simon MontacuteTranslated from Worcester.
13451361Thomas de Lisle
13621366Simon LanghamTranslated to Canterbury.
13671373John Barnet
13741388Thomas ArundelTranslated to York.
13881425John FordhamTranslated from Durham.
14261435Philip MorganTranslated from Worcester.
14381443Lewis of LuxembourgArchbishop of Rouen. Held Ely in commendam.
14441454Thomas BourchierTranslated to Canterbury.
14541478William Grey
14791486John MortonTranslated to Canterbury.
14861500John AlcockTranslated from Worcester.
15011505Richard RedmanTranslated from Exeter.
15061515James Stanley
15151533Nicholas West

Bishops during the Reformation[edit]

Bishops of Ely during the Reformation
15341554Thomas GoodrichAlso recorded as Thomas Goodricke.
15541559Thomas ThirlbyTranslated from Norwich; deprived on 5 July 1559.

Post-Reformation bishops[edit]

Post-Reformation Bishops of Ely
15591581Bp Richard Cox.jpg Richard Cox
15811600See vacant
16001609Martin Heton Bishop of Ely.jpg Martin Heton
16091619Lancelot Andrewes Pembroke.jpg Lancelot AndrewesTranslated from Chichester; translated to Winchester.
16191628Bp Nicholas Felton.jpg Nicholas FeltonTranslated from Bristol.
16281631Bishop Buckeridge.jpg John BuckeridgeTranslated from Rochester.
16311638Bp Francis White.jpg Francis WhiteTranslated from Norwich.
16381667Bp Matthew Wren, Pembroke.jpg Matthew WrenTranslated from Norwich.
16671675Bp Benjamin Laney.png Benjamin LanyTranslated from Lincoln.
16751684Bp Peter Gunning.jpg Peter GunningTranslated from Chichester.
16841691Francis Turner by Mary Beale.jpg Francis TurnerTranslated from Rochester.
16911707Bp Simon Patrick.jpg Simon PatrickTranslated from Chichester.
17071714John Moore, Bp Norwich & Ely by Godfrey Kneller.jpg John MooreTranslated from Norwich.
17141723WilliamFleetwood.jpg William FleetwoodTranslated from St Asaph.
17231738Bp Thomas Green.jpg Thomas GreenTranslated from Norwich.
17381748Fond blanc.svg Robert ButtsTranslated from Norwich.
17481754ThomasGooch.jpg Thomas GoochTranslated from Norwich.
17541771Bp Matthias Mawson.jpg Matthias MawsonTranslated from Chichester.
17711781Bp Edmund Keene by Zoffany.jpg Edmund KeeneTranslated from Chester.
17811808Bp James Yorke.jpg James YorkeTranslated from Gloucester.
18081812Bp Thomas Dampier.jpg Thomas DampierTranslated from Rochester.
18121836Fond blanc.svg Bowyer SparkeTranslated from Chester.
18361845Joseph Allen by Thomas Phillips.jpg Joseph AllenTranslated from Bristol.
18451864Thomas Turton by HW Pickersgill.jpg Thomas Turton
18641873EH Browne by Bassano.jpg Harold BrowneTranslated to Winchester.
18731885Bp James Russell Woodford.jpg James Woodford
18861905Lord Alwyne Compton.jpg Lord Alwyne Compton
19051924Fond blanc.svg Frederic Chase
19241933Fond blanc.svg Leonard White-Thomson
19341941Bernard Heywood 001.jpg Bernard HeywoodTranslated from Hull.
19411957Fond blanc.svg Edward Wynn
19571964Fond blanc.svg Noel HudsonTranslated from Newcastle.
19641977Fond blanc.svg Edward RobertsTranslated from Kensington.
19771990Fond blanc.svg Peter WalkerTranslated from Dorchester.
19902000Fond blanc.svg Stephen SykesResigned
20002010Fond blanc.svg Anthony RussellTranslated from Dorchester.
2010incumbentFond blanc.svg Stephen ConwayTranslated from Ramsbury.


  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. ^ a b c "Historical successions: Ely". Crockford's Clerical Directory. Retrieved 18 July 2012. 
  6. ^ Fryde et al. 1986, Handbook of British Chronology, pp. 244–245.
  7. ^ Greenway 1971, Bishops of Ely, Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1066–1300, volume 2, pp. 45–47.
  8. ^ a b Jones 1962, Bishops of Ely, Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1300–1541, volume 4, pp. 13–16.
  9. ^ a b c Horn 1996, Bishops of Ely, Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1541–1857, volume 7, pp. 7–10.
  10. ^ Fryde et al. 1986, Handbook of British Chronology, p. 245.
  11. ^ Fryde et al. 1986, Handbook of British Chronology, pp. 245–246.


  • Fryde, E. B.; Greenway, D. E.; Porter, S.; Roy, I., eds. (1986). Handbook of British Chronology (3rd, reprinted 2003 ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-56350-X. 
  • Greenway, D. E. (1971). "Bishops of Ely". Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1066–1300. Volume 2: Monastic Cathedrals (Northern and Southern Provinces). Institute of Historical Research. 
  • Jones, B. (1962). "Bishops of Ely". Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1300–1541. Volume 4: Monastic Cathedrals (Southern Province). Institute of Historical Research. 
  • Horn, J. M. (1996). "Bishops of Ely". Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1541–1857. Volume 7: Ely, Norwich, Westminster and Worcester Dioceses. Institute of Historical Research. 

Further reading[edit]

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