Lives of the Bishops of Exeter

The annotations for the Bishops of Exeter are drawn from a book published in Exeter in 1861, by the Reverend George Oliver, D.D. Despite the antiquity of this book it is still regarded as probably the most complete work on the subject. There are many errors and omissions. Time has revealed many historical facts as then unknown or only guessed at.

Oliver's footnotes are not included and, with the exception of a few early charters, virtually all other documents have been omitted. The original work also contained a History of the Cathedral and an Illustrated Appendix, neither of which are offered here.

Please accept my appologies for any new errors that may have crept in as a result of interpretation for the internet.

The coloured pictures of the arms have been added. They differ from Oliver's description where they appear differently in the Cathedral.

David Snell






BEFORE we enter on this wide field of investigation, we may premise that Wessex originally formed but one episcopal see, under St. Birinus, who first introduced the lamp of faith into that kingdom in the year 634. This saintly prelate fixed his residence at Dorchester, a town seated on the Thames in Oxfordshire, and there ended his course after fifteen years of apostolical labour. About fifty years after his death, Bishop Hedda, the friend of King Ina, transferred this see, which lay exposed to the inroads of the Mercians, to the important city of Winchester, where the sovereigns of Wessex held their court. But it was out of the range of possibility for a single bishop to superintend a flock scattered from the frontiers of Kent to the extremities of Cornwall; upon Hedda's death the diocese of Shireburn (Sherbourne), comprehending Wilts, Berks, and the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall, was taken from that of Winchester, and was assigned to the charge of Aldhelm, the learned abbot of Malmesbury.

This arrangement continued in force upwards of two centuries, when, according to the evidence of William of Malmesbury, the librarian and precentor of that renowned monastery, both sees becoming vacant about the year 910, Plegmund, Archbishop of Canterbury, availed himself of the opportunity to establish three several dioceses, viz. Cornwall, Devon, and Somerset. Of course we reject the letter of Pope Formosus to King Edward, who did not ascend his throne until five years after that Pontiff's death; as also the assertion that Plegmund, Archbishop of Canterbury, in consequence of such letter, proceeded to consecrate seven bishops on one and the same day of the year 910. The Saxon Chronicle shows that as early as 870, Aelthred Bishop of Wilts had been translated to Canterbury. From the Saxon Chronicle, and our ancient writers, we collect the following series of the Bishops of DEVON, who fixed their see at CREDITON, where it remained about 140 years :-

The first we believe to have been EADWULF, or ÆDULPHUS, or ADULPHUS. After filling the episcopal chair twenty-one years, he died in 931, and was buried at Crediton. See Will. of Malm. 'De Gestis Pontif.,' lib. 2, and 'Chron. Florentii Wigorniensis.'

ÆTHELGAR or ALGAE was the next Bishop of Crediton. Matthew of Westminster writes thus:- " Anno gratiæ 931, Eadulfus Crediensis Episcopus diem clausit extremum cui Æthelgarus successit." In a charter of Athelstan 30th Dec. 938, copied by William of Malmesbury in his 'Life of St. Aldhelm,' part ii., he occurs as a witness. He died in 952, and was buried at Crediton.

ÆLFWOLD or ALFWOLD was selected by King Edred for the next prelate of Devon, at the recommendation of St. Dunstan, as Matthew of Westminster informs us. He appears in 966 as Episcopus Dumnonias. See Mr. Kemble's 'Diplomata,' vol. ii., p. 418. He died in 972, in the nineteenth year of his episcopacy, according to Florentius's ' Chronicon,' and was buried at Crediton; he was succeeded by

SIDEMAN, according to the author of the 'Flores Historiarum,' Matthew of Westminster. He had been appointed abbot of a congregation of monks, whom King Edgar in 968 had formed in Exeter, "anno gratias 968, Eadgarus in Exonia, monachos congregans, virum religiosum Sidemannum illis vice abbatis præfecit." The date of his promotion to the episcopacy is unknown; but he died rather suddenly on 30th April, 977, whilst assisting at a great synod held at Kyrlington in Oxfordshire. The Saxon Chronicle relates that the bishop had expressed his wish to be buried with his predecessors at Crediton; but that King Edward the Martyr and St. Dunstan directed that his remains should be honourably deposited in the chapel of St. Paul's, on the north side of St. Mary's Minster at Abingdon.

ALFRICUS or ALURICUS, the aged and learned abbot of Malmesbury, was next promoted to the vacant see of Crediton, but survived his preferment scarcely four years ('Augl. Sacra,' vol. ii., p. 33). He left some MISS., "non exigua ingenii monumenta," the life of St. Adelwold, an abridgment of the death of St. Edmund King and Martyr, and many translations into English of Latin books.

ÆLFWOLD the Second, or ALEWOLD, succeeded. We learn from the Wilton register, in the possession of the Earl of Pembroke, and printed at the expense of the late Sir Richard Colt Hoare, that our bishop in 988 witnessed a charter of King Ethelred as "Crediensis Ecclesie Archimandrita;" as also another charter of the same sovereign in 995.

EDNOD, EADNOTH, EDWYNUS, OF EADWINE, 'qui et Wine' (Will. of Malmes., p. 145), was consecrated in 1022, and governed the diocese about ten years. Some scholars have supposed him to be the same as LIVINGUS; and indeed we sometimes find subscribing witnesses, before the Conquest, passing by different names : thus, in King Ethelred's confirmation of the possessions of Woolverhampton Church, we observe "Ego Leofricus Abbas, qui alio nomine Ethelnoth vocatur, subscripsi" ('Mon. Angl.' vol. vi. p. 1446). But the 'Chronicon' of Florence of Worcester, calls this Livingus "Eadnothi Successor," and we have the authority of our own Bishop Stapeldon to confirm this.

In the foundation-deed of the Archpresbytery of Whitchurch (Regr. fol 165), dated 14th January, 1321, this prelate enjoins perpetual prayers for them, as distinct bishops., "pro animabus Edwyni et Livingi, quondam episcoporum Exon."

LIVINGUS, originally a monk of St. Swithun's, Winchester, afterwards appointed Abbot of Tavistock. Whilst discharging this office, he accompanied his sovereign Canute to Rome. On the king's return in 1031, by way of Denmark, he despatched this abbot to England, with a letter announcing to his council the object of his journey to Rome and its results. The letter may be seen in Malmesbury, and the 'Chronicon' of Florence of Worcester. Shortly after, the abbot was preferred by the king to the vacant see of Crediton; and on the demise of his uncle Burhwold, the Bishop of St. Germans in Cornwall, succeeded in obtaining from Canute the consolidation of the two dioceses in perpetuity. In 1030 King Harold added to his preferments the vacant see of Worcester. This eloquent bishop, as he is styled in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, held them all, till his death 20th March, 1044, or more probably 23rd March, 1047, according to the Saxon Chronicle. The place of his death is unknown; but his remains were conveyed for interment to Tavistock Abbey, and in William of Malmesbury's time the grateful monks continued their supplications for the repose of his soul ('De Gestis Pontificum').

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