Skip to content

Prince Bishops

Coat of arms of Nathanial, Lord Crewe, Durham's longest serving prince-bishopWhen William the Conqueror and his Norman army successfully invaded England in 1066 they found that the further away from London they got the more difficult it was to maintain control. In 1069 an expedition led north by Robert Comines was massacred in Durham by a host of angry Northumbrians. This resulted in a long campaign of savage reprisals that came to be known as ‘the harrying of the north’ (fortunately however, Durham escaped the worst of its excesses). After it was over William installed William Walcher, a trusted cleric from Liege, as Bishop of Durham to administer the region alongside Waltheof, a Northumbrian earl. When Waltheof was executed for his involvement in a Norman plot against William, the earldom was sold to Walcher who became the first ‘Prince-Bishop’ in 1071.

The bishop thus effectively became not only spiritual but temporal lord over all the lands that constituted the Patrimony of St Cuthbert or which we loosely refer to today as the ‘Land of the Prince Bishops‘. He was able to administer his own laws, collect and spend his own taxes, mint his own currency and appoint his own officials without seeking authority from the crown. However, as a ‘quid pro quo’ he was also expected to raise and maintain armies to defend the country from Scottish aggression and to accompany the monarch on campaign when necessary. Several including Puiset, Hatfield and Fordham – but perhaps most notably Bek, the ‘Patriarch of Jerusalem’ – personally and aggressively led forces raised under their banner.

It can be no surprise therefore that bishops were very rarely appointed from a monastic background, most of them being favoured courtiers, administrators or diplomats appointed by the sovereign (or in some cases, the Pope) to one of richest sees in the country. This resulted very often in open conflict with the prior and his monks, and after the reformation in 1540, the Dean and his canons who were constantly at pains to reinforce and maintain their own status as well as that of the church and its lands.

DOWNLOAD OUR FREE CHART: ‘ENGLISH MONARCHS & BISHOPS, PRIORS AND DEANS OF DURHAM

'Prince' Bishops of Durham 1071-1836

No.BISHOPDATESYRS
1William Walcher1071-10809
1080-1081
2William de St Calais1081-109615
1096-1099
3Ranulf Flambard1099-112829
1128-1133
4Geoffrey Rufus1133-11407
1140-1143
5William de St Barbara1143-115310
6Hugh du Puiset1153-119542
1195-972
7Philip de Poitu1197-120811
1208-12179
8Richard Marsh1217-12269
1226-12293
9Richard Poore1229-12378
1237-12414
10Nicholas Farnham1241-12498
11Walter of Kirkham1249-126011
1260-12611
12Robert of Stichill1261-127413
13Robert of Holy Island1274-12839
14Antony Bek1283-131128
15Richard Kellawe1311-13165
1316-13182
16Lewis de Beaumont1318-133315
17Richard de Bury1333-134512
18Thomas Hatfield1345-138136
1381-13821
19John Fordham1382-13886
20Walter Skirlaw1388-140517
1405-14061
21Thomas Langley1406-143731
1437-14381
22Robert Neville1438-145719
23Lawrence Booth1457-147619
24William Dudley1476-14836
1483-14841
25John Sherwood1484-149410
26Richard Foxe1494-15017
27William Senhouse1502-15053
1505-15072
28Christopher Bainbridge1507-15081
1508-15091
29Thomas Ruthall1509-152314
30Thomas Wolsey1523-15285
1528-15302
31Cuthbert Tunstall1530-155929
1559-15612
32James Pilkington1561-157615
1576-15771
33Richard Barnes1577-158710
1587-15892
34Matthew Hutton1589-15956
35Tobias Matthew1595-160611
36William James1606-161711
37Richard Neile1617-162811
38George Montague1628<1
39John Howson1628-16324
40Thomas Morton1632-165927
1659-16601
41John Cosin1660-167212
1672-16742
42Nathanial Crewe1674-172147
43William Talbot1721-17309
44Edward Chandler1730-175020
45Joseph Butler1750-17522
46Richard Trevor1752-177119
47John Egerton1771-178716
48Thomas Thurlow1787-17914
49Shute Barrington 1791-182635
50William van Mildert1826-183610

Bishops of Durham 1836 - Present

No.BISHOPDATESYRS
1Edward Maltby1836-185620
2Charles Longley1856-18604
3Henry Villiers1860-18611
4Charles Baring1861-187918
5Joseph Lightfoot1879-188910
6Brooke Foss Westcott1890-190111
7Handley Moule1901-192019
8Herbert Hensley Henson1920-193919
9Alwyn Williams1939-195213
10Michael Ramsey1952-19564
11Maurice Harland1956-196610
12Ian Ramsey1966-19726
13John Hapgood1973-198310
14David Jenkins1984-19939
15Michael Turnbull1994-20039
16Thomas Wright2003-20107
17Justin Welby2011-20132
18Paul Butler2014-