A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode

Gloucestershire Bishops

Notes on Gloucestershire’s Bishops and Ecclesiastical Boundaries

by Richard Barton and Brian Torode (2008)



Mc Whirr in his book on Roman Gloucestershire has suggested that a representative from Cirencester attended the Council of Arles in 314. Certainly three bishops attended from England and they were said to be the Bishops of York, Colchester and Bishop Restitutus of London. Writing in his booklet, ‘Gloucestershire Achievements’ in 1862, the Reverend Samuel Lysons wrote the following details, which seem to be largely based on Rudder’s county history:

‘One of the Earliest Bishops:- It is a matter of history that with the establishment of Christianity the office of Bishop is most intimately connected. That there were Bishops in Lucius’ time, says the learned Collier, is unquestionable, and we find a Bishop of Gloucester assisting at the earliest councils of the Church, even before the supposed foundation of the See by Eldad, in the year A.D. 490. *

* “The worship of the See of Yorke hath enduryd there alwaye and yet doth, though Scotlande withdrawen from his subjection. The Archbyssopes see of Caer-Gloue, or Glowceter, was tourned from thence to Menevia which is in the west side of demecia, upon the Iryshe sea, which is now called Saynt David.” – Fabyan’s Chronicle, p. 39.

By “alwaye” we presume the Chronicler means from the first establishment of Christianity, and we observe that he couples the ancient Archbishopric of Gloucester with that of York in point of antiquity.’

Rudder gives us the names of two early bishops of Gloucester – the first is Eldad or Eldadym or Eldall or Aldate of Gloucester 489 and the second is Theonus or Cernus who succeeded him and was translated to London in 553.

The dedication of a church in Gloucester to St Aldate gives evidence of a cult in the city. He is described as a 5th century Briton who lived in the west of England. He inspired his country men to defend their land against warring Anglo Saxons, but he was killed at the battle of Deorham (Dyrham) in Gloucestershire. He is recorded in ancient martyrologies as Bishop of Cluvium (probably Gloucester – Glevum). Rudder suggests that Eldad and Aldate are one and the same.

Volume II of the Victoria County History records: ‘The name of Bishop Eldad, who held the see of Gloucester when Hengist invaded Britain, has been handed down by tradition.’ (Geoffrey of Monmouth)

‘According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Christianity was introduced into Gloucestershire during the rule of King Lucius. The legend of the burial of the king in 156 may perhaps testify to the truth that Christianity spread into the district soon after it was brought into Britain’ (BGAS XV, 120)


Pope St Gregory the Great through St Augustine of Canterbury established a new Roman hierarchy. It was intended that the Church in England would be ruled from two metropolitan sees at London and York but in the event the southern province became established at Canterbury because of its associations with St Augustine. Pope St Gregory hoped that the Archbishops proposed for York and Canterbury would each consecrate twelve suffragan bishops. This was wholly unrealistic and York did not even emerge as a settled metropolitan see until 735. In 798 there were also plans to transfer the southern Metropolitan See to London but this did not happen either.

Mercia (Lichfield)

The See of Lichfield represents the seventh century Mercian see, which had no fixed seat and has sometimes been thought to be a survival of a British see. Peada, sub-King of the Middle Angles, was baptised in 653, by Bishop Finan of Lindisfarne, who in 656 consecrated Diuma, an Irishman, as ‘Archbishop of the Mercians, the Lindisfari and the Middle Angles’ (Crockfords). He was followed by several bishops of Scotic consecration but the diocese reveres the name and memory of St Chad, who was installed by Theodore as Bishop of the Mercians and Lindisfari in 669 and who made Lichfield his Episcopal see. Under Wulfhere official sanction was given to Christianity in Mercia. The diocese was now conterminous with the kingdom of Mercia, covering seventeen modern counties, practically the whole of the Midlands from the Humber to the Wye, and stretching south nearly to London. Saint Chad was Bishop of Lichfield (Mercia) from 669 to 672 and he commenced the construction of St Mary’s Cathedral at Lichfield.

Under Bishop Seaxwulf this huge area was divided and sees were formed including Worcester for the Hwiccians and Hereford for the Hecanas (Ollard).

At the synod of Hertford, which was summoned by Archbishop Theodore in 673, the proposal to create more manageable units through the increasing number of dioceses was put forward. As it stood, each kingdom was ruled by one bishop in a single diocese, often of immense size. No agreement on the number of dioceses was reached at the Synod as the move was unpopular with those bishops who felt such a re-organization would reduce their authority. Indeed, Bishop Wilfred of York appealed to the synod of Rome in 679, which stipulated an increase to only 12 dioceses.

The co-operation of the ruler of a province was also important in the establishment of a new diocese. Athelred was well-disposed towards the Church, and of the 12 new sees, three were set up in the areas of Aethelred’s auspices: the Hwiccian see at Worcester, that of Magonsaete at Hereford, and between 675-685, a Mercian bishopric was established at Dorchester-on-Thames in what is now Oxfordshire (‘Mercia’ by Sarah Zaluckyj).

As a result of the Council of Chelsea in 787 King Offa was given permission to establish a Mercian Province and as a result both Hereford and Worcester Dioceses were placed within this new Province of Lichfield and the first Archbishop received his pallium from Rome by the end of 788.  However, this was suppressed by a synod at Clofesho on 12th October 803, the proceedings stating: ‘ that never shall kings or bishops or ealdormen or men of any tyrannical power presume to diminish the honour of St. Augustine and his holy see, or to divide it to the slightest extent’ (Zaluckyi).

Worcester (and Westbury)

King Ethelred and Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury placed Bosel at Worcester as first bishop in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 680 (or 679). It is said that Tatfrith, who came from Whitby, was selected as bishop, but died before his consecration, and Bosel, another Whitby monk, became the first Bishop of Worcester (Ollard). The boundary of Worcester Diocese coincided with the Mercian Sub-kingdom of the Hwicca.

In the tenth century a connection between the archbishopric of York and the bishopric of Worcester, which is not altogether easy to account for, grew up, four of the Bishops of Worcester holding York in plurality.

Amongst the Bishops of Worcester were four canonised saints:

St Egwin(e) (693-717)

St Dunstan (957-960) (with London 959-60)

St Oswald (961-992)

St Wul(f)stan (1062-1095)

Bishop John Carpenter who became Bishop in 1444 re-founded the College at Westbury-on-Trym for which place he had so great an affection as to wish to be styled ‘Bishop of Worcester and Westbury’. He resigned in 1476.

The Diocese of Worcester consisted of:

All of Worcestershire except for twenty-one parishes in the west and were part of the Deanery of Burford in the Archdeaconry of Salop in Hereford.

All the parishes of Gloucestershire except for the parishes west of the River Severn and River Leadon.

All of Warwickshire except the Archdeaconry of Coventry, which was in the Diocese of Coventry and Lichfield.

The Diocese of Worcester also consisted of two Archdeaconries:

The Archdeaconry of Worcester (first mentioned 1089) (Ollard) which consisted of the Rural Deaneries of Worcester, Powick, Pershore, Droitwich, Kidderminster, Blockley, Kineton, Warwick (Evesham exempt).

The Archdeaconry of Gloucester was first mentioned in 1135 (Ollard) and the Rural Deaneries were established in 1291. The Archdeaconry consisted of the rural deaneries of Gloucester, Stonehouse, Dursley, Bristol, Bitton & Hawkesbury (amalgamated 1535), Cirencester, Fairford, Stow, Winchcombe, and Campden (Churchdown which was exempt and Bibury which was a peculiar).

There were suffragan bishops at Gloucester from as early as the thirteenth century (Rudder).

From about 1497 the see was used openly for non-resident Italians, who were employed as emissaries between Pope and King. Two of these held the deanery of Lucca as well, and two were Cardinals. The last, Jerome Ghinucci, was deposed for non-residence by Act of Parliament in 1534 and pensioned. He died at Rome in 1541 as de jure Bishop of Worcester. Together with the See of Salisbury, Rome continued to appoint Bishops to Worcester.

Richard Pate was papally provided on the death of Cardinal Ghinucci in 1541. He attended the Council of Trent as Bishop of Worcester in 1547. He obtained possession of the see from Mary in 1555 but was deposed by Elizabeth in 1559. He was incarcerated and eventually died at Louvain on 5th October 1565 as de jure Bishop of Worcester.


The See of Hereford was carved out of the vast Mercian diocese of Lichfield in the late seventh century, but its boundaries were for a long time ill defined, and have been subject to change. In early times the diocese stretched much farther southwards, including Cheltenham and Monmouth (Ollard (?)). Before the Norman Conquest the see of Llandaff seems to have embraced all of Herefordshire west of the Wye, where the population was chiefly Welsh, and for a century and a half it claimed, by repeated appeals to the Pope, the district of Irchinfield, which it had lost during the old age of Bishop Herwald. The disputed parishes were not regained.

The first bishop is reputed to have been Putta who was appointed in 676 but modern historians now dispute this and there were also possibly earlier British Bishops at Leominster. It is further suggested that the first Roman bishops were simply the bishops of the Mercian Sub-kingdom of the Magonsaete and that we can only properly talk of Bishops of Hereford from about 800.

St Thomas Cantilupe was Bishop of Hereford from 1275 until his death at Orvieto in 1282.

 The diocese of Hereford included the County of Herefordshire, nearly all of Shropshire south of the Severn, together with twenty-one parishes wholly or partly in Worcestershire, eight parishes in Radnorshire, and eight in Montgomeryshire with parts of four others of which the remaining parts are in Shropshire (Ollard). During the late medieval period the Diocese of Hereford also included the following areas of Gloucestershire – The Forest Deanery, Newland, English Bicknor and Preston in Ross Deanery and Staunton in Irchinfield Deanery.

These Gloucestershire parishes were all west of the River Severn and the River Leadon (including Bromsberrow but not Lassington) and the boundary that ran through Gloucestershire dividing the dioceses of Worcester and Hereford was settled by the early eleventh century. From the Leadon River the boundary ran to the summit of Chase End Hill, the only Malvern Hill in Gloucestershire. The village of Redmarley d’Abitot was then in Worcestershire and in Worcester diocese.

The diocese of Hereford was split into the Archdeaconry of Ludlow (first mentioned as Salop in 1162) and the Archdeaconry of Hereford, which was first mentioned in 1109. The Forest Deanery still remained in the Hereford Archdeaconry after the creation of the Diocese of Gloucester.

Bishop Charles Booth died in 1535 and on 6th July 1554 the Holy See appointed  Robert Parfew or Wharton who was Bishop of Hereford until his death on 22nd September 1558. His successor, Thomas Reynolds, was nominated in 1558 but was not consecrated. He ended his days in the Marshalsea Prison.


Before 1541 Churchdown, Lassington, Norton, Compton Abdale, Sandhurst, Saint Catherine in Gloucester and possibly also Oddington and Great Witcombe were in the diocese of York.


On 3rd September 1541 King Henry VIII founded a new Diocese of Gloucester and the former Benedictine Abbey Church of St Peter became the Cathedral Church for the new diocese and was rededicated to the Holy and Undivided Trinity. The diocese included the whole county of Gloucester and the City of Bristol except for the three parishes of Bristol south of the River Avon, which remained in Bath and Wells Diocese. The new bishopric followed the old county boundary, which had a most fantastically jagged northern boundary. Gloucestershire owned some outlying fractions scattered eastward, and these e.g. Widford in the heart of West Oxfordshire, and Shenington under Edgehill in Warwickshire, became part of the new Gloucester bishopric. On the other hand, some of the small islands of Wiltshire land enclosed in south Gloucestershire such as Pulton, remained in the bishopric of Salisbury.

 The new diocese consisted of one Archdeaconry and this contained eleven rural deaneries – Hawkesbury (Bitton), Dursley, Stonehouse, Gloucester, the Forest, Winchcombe, Chipping Campden, Stow-on-the-Wold, Cirencester, Fairford and Bristol.  This area was reduced simply to the County of Gloucester from the following summer when the Diocese of Bristol was created and the rural deanery of Bristol was lost. Even after 1542 the Archdeaconry of Gloucester continued to include the deanery of Bristol together with certain parishes in the diocese of Worcester.


The Arms of James Brooks

This arrangement was gradually recognised, first Pope Julius III sent Cardinal Pole as his legate to England and he formally absolved the realm from schism on 30th November 1554 at Whitehall. The only Bishop of Gloucester in communion with the Holy See was James Brooks who was consecrated for Gloucester on 1st April 1554 and his appointment as Bishop of Gloucester was confirmed by the Pope in the Consistory on 6th July 1554. He died on 7th September 1558 and John Bouchier who was named as his successor was never consecrated. He died in about 1581.


On 5th June 1542 King Henry VIII founded a new Diocese of Bristol and the former Augustinian Abbey Church of St Augustine became the Cathedral Church for the new diocese and was rededicated to the Holy and Undivided Trinity. The diocese included the City and Deanery of Bristol, which were taken from the new Diocese of Gloucester, the three parishes together with Abbot’s Leigh from Bath and Wells Diocese and the Archdeaconry of Dorset, which was taken out of the Diocese of Salisbury. This arrangement was gradually recognised, first Pope Julius III sent Cardinal Pole as his legate to England and he formally absolved the realm from schism on 30th November 1554 at Whitehall. The only Bishop of Bristol in communion with the Holy See was John Holyman who was consecrated for Bristol on 18th November 1554. He died on 20th December 1558


After the accession of Queen Elizabeth the members of the Catholic Hierarchy had either died out, were exiled or incarcerated. Only Barlow, Bishop of Llandaff, complied with the new religious settlement. The bishops appointed by the Crown were not in communion with the Holy See but Rome still considered making new appointments as late as 1562. In some respects the twenty-seven dioceses were considered as ‘sedes vacante’, at least until the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in 1850. The last of the Marian bishops, Thomas Goldwell of St Asaph, died in exile in Rome on 3rd April 1585 whilst Bishop Watson of Lincoln had died in the previous year in prison. In 1598 a Superior of the English mission was appointed and given the title of Archpriest and twelve assistants who represented the interests of the various regions helped him in the exercise of his responsibilities.

Before the Reformation the Benedictines formed the chapters of nine of the cathedrals of England including Worcester. The superior was the Cathedral Prior. As an expression of this claim the new congregation revived these nine medieval monastic chapters in readiness for such time that the Catholic Church be restored in England, a view held by some to be a real possibility as the reign of King Charles I unfolded. In 1629 the General Chapter formally elected nine Cathedral Priors and in July 1633 a papal bull, ‘Plantata’, of Pope Urban VIII confirmed the appointments forbidding these titles to be ever given up. The titles of three other new dioceses, including Gloucester, were also added as their cathedrals had formerly been Benedictine Abbey churches although they had never had monastic cathedral chapters. On 21st August 1633 Dom Thomas Hill D.D. was appointed the first Cathedral Prior of Gloucester and in due course four monks were assigned by name as the Gloucester Chapter. Cathedral Priors of Gloucester and also Worcester have been elected to this day. It has been questioned whether the Holy See would seriously have considered, in the event of a full Catholic restoration, handing over twelve of the country’s cathedral chapters to the infant English Benedictine Congregation.

Vicars-Apostolic of England (1623-1688)

In 1623 Pope Gregory XI appointed a Vicar-Apostolic, William Bishop. Although possessing Episcopal orders, such a prelate does not enjoy the authority of a diocesan bishop as enacted by the ‘ordinary’ laws of the Church. There were actually three Vicars-Apostolic of England between the years 1623 and 1688 but effectively there was no Vicar-Apostolic resident in England between 1631 and 1685.

Vicars-Apostolic of the Western District (1688 – 1850)

During the Reign of King James II Pope Blessed Innocent XI increased the number of Districts or Vicariates to four. The Western District covered Gloucestershire, Somerset, Wiltshire, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall and Wales. The first Vicar-Apostolic of the Western District was Philip Michael Ellis who was imprisoned at Newgate after the “Glorious Revolution” and when he was released he went to the Court of James II at St. Germains and then to Italy. . He resigned the Western District in 1705 and became Bishop of Segni in 1708. His successor Andrew Giffard refused to be consecrated or to take up office and so the interregnum continued until 1713 when Pritchard was eventually appointed as Vicar-Apostolic. During this time the District was in the hands of Bishop Bonaventure Giffard of the Midland District. Nine of the ten Vicars-Apostolic of the Western District were either Benedictines or Franciscans and this was in recognition of the important part played by religious orders in staffing the English Mission. In 1840 a separate District was formed for Wales, which substantially reduced the size of the Western District.


Pope Pius IX restored normal ecclesiastical government to the English Catholic Church on September 29th 1850. The bull Universalis Ecclesiae established a metropolitan see at Westminster and twelve other dioceses, one of which was Clifton. With prudent foresight Rome chose not to assume the titles, by now held by Anglicans, of the Pre-Reformation sees (like Worcester) nor of those (like Gloucester) created by Henry VIII. The title chosen for the bishopric to be based at Bristol was ‘Clifton’, at that time a fashionable suburb of the city (Harding).


In 1850 Pope Pius IX created the third Hierarchy and the new Diocese of Clifton was formed out of the counties of Gloucestershire, Somerset, Wiltshire and the City and County of Bristol. The Church of the Twelve Apostles in Park Place, Bristol, became the Pro-Cathedral until the present Cathedral of SS Peter and Paul was opened in 1973. From 1855 until 1857 the diocese was placed under an administrator as a result of a Decree of the Sacred College promulgated on 22nd December 1855, which prevented the appointment of a new Bishop of Clifton until the problems were resolved at Prior Park.

The northern boundaries of the new Diocese of Clifton coincided with the County of Gloucester as they were in 1850 and thus included Kemerton, and the area to the north of Chipping Campden but not Redmarley d’Abitot or the area south of Chipping Campden which are still in Birmingham Diocese.

Clifton Diocese was in the Province of Westminster until 1911 when it was transferred to Birmingham.


Gloucester to (1836)

John Wakeman was appointed in 1541 and was Bishop until his death in 1549. John Hooper succeeded him in 1551 but in the following year the see of Gloucester was in fact dissolved, and became for two years an archdeaconry in the diocese of Worcester, Hooper being given the title of ‘Bishop of Worcester and Gloucester’. However, the diocese of Gloucester was restored in 1554. No bishop was appointed after the death of the last Catholic Bishop in 1558 until 1562.

From 1562 until 1589 the see of Gloucester was held in commendam with the bishopric of Bristol and John Bullingham was styled ‘Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol’. After twenty-seven years of this union, a separate bishop of Bristol was appointed in 1589. Godfrey Goodman was deprived in 1640 but returned. He died a Catholic in 1656 and the see was again vacant, this time for four years. Robert Frampton was deprived in 1691 as a Nonjuror but was allowed to retain the living of Standish. He died in 1708 but was regarded by many of the clergy as the real bishop.

Bristol (to 1836)

Paul Bush was appointed as Bishop of Bristol in 1542 but was deprived by Mary in 1554. He died as Rector of Winterbourne in 1558. From 1562 until 1589 the see of Gloucester was held in commendam with the bishopric of Bristol and John Bullingham was styled ‘Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol’. After twenty-seven years of union, a separate bishop of Bristol was appointed in 1589, although from 1593 to 1603 the see was left vacant. Thomas Howell was consecrated in 1644, the last Bishop consecrated in England for sixteen years. He died in 1646 in consequence of rough treatment at the capture of Bristol during the previous year. There was then another interregnum, this time for fifteen years, before his successor was appointed.

Gloucester and Bristol (1836-1897)

By Order in Council of 5th October 1836 the County of Dorset was restored to Salisbury Diocese and the sees of Gloucester and Bristol were united. The diocese consisted of the County of Gloucester and the deaneries of Malmesbury and Cricklade in the county of Wiltshire, which with four deaneries in the county of Gloucester constituted the new Archdeaconry of Bristol. Bedminster was added to it by transference from Bath and Wells in 1845. The chapters of Gloucester and Bristol were to elect the bishop alternately. From 1836 until 1897 the two dioceses were a united see. In 1884 the Bishopric of Bristol Act was passed which allowed for the diocese of Bristol to be restored when a sufficient endowment was secured. This was achieved in 1897 (Ollard)

Gloucester (from 1897)

From 1897 the see of Gloucester was once again a shire diocese, save that it lacked the three rural deaneries next to Bristol, and included the ‘island’ of Cutsdean, which though in the county of Worcester, was later transferred by Order in Council from the diocese of Worcester to that of Gloucester (Ollard). Further parishes have also been transferred to and from the diocese over the years. Since 1938 there have been Suffragan Bishops of Tewkesbury.

Bristol (from 1897)

The new Diocese of Bristol was constituted by Order in Council of 7th July 1897. It consisted of the deaneries of Bristol, Stapleton, and Bitton, the portion of Wiltshire already in the united diocese, and three parishes in Somerset transferred from Bath and Wells. Since 1927 there have been Suffragan Bishops of Malmesbury and more recently of Swindon.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: