Bishop of Ely

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Bishop of Ely
Diocese of Ely arms.svg
Arms of the Bishop of Ely: Gules, three ducal coronets or [1]
Stephen Conway
Ecclesiastical province Canterbury
ResidenceBishop's House, Ely (since 1941)
Bishop's Palace, Ely (15th century 1941)
First holder Hervey le Breton
Diocese Ely
Cathedral Ely Cathedral

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 Bishop’s 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

Convent of sisters (673–870)

Benedictine monastery (970–1109)

List of bishops (1109—)

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

Pre-Reformation bishops

Pre-Reformation Bishops of Ely
11091131 Hervey le Breton Translated from Bangor.
11331169 Nigel
11741189 Geoffrey Ridel
11891197 William Longchamp
11981215 Eustace
12151219 Robert of York Election quashed 1219.
12201225 John of Fountains
12251228 Geoffrey de Burgh
12291254 Hugh of Northwold
12551256 William of Kilkenny
12581286 Hugh de Balsham
12861290 John Kirkby
12901298 William of Louth
12981299 John Salmon Monks' candidate; opposed Langton; election quashed.
12981299 John Langton King's candidate; opposed Salmon; election quashed.
12991302 Ralph Walpole Translated from Norwich.
13021310 Robert Orford
13101316 John Ketton
13161337 John Hotham
13371345 Simon Montacute Translated from Worcester.
13451361 Thomas de Lisle
13621366 Simon Langham Translated to Canterbury.
13671373 John Barnet
13741388 Thomas Arundel Translated to York.
13881425 John Fordham Translated from Durham.
14261438 Philip Morgan Translated from Worcester.
14381443 Lewis of Luxembourg Archbishop of Rouen. Held Ely in commendam .
14441454 Thomas Bourchier Translated to Canterbury.
14541478 William Grey
14791486 John Morton Translated to Canterbury.
14861500 John Alcock Translated from Worcester.
15011505 Richard Redman Translated from Exeter.
15061515 James Stanley
15151533 Nicholas West
Source(s): [5] [6] [7] [8] [9]

Bishops during the Reformation

Bishops of Ely during the Reformation
15341554 Thomas Goodrich Also recorded as Thomas Goodricke.
15541559 Thomas Thirlby Translated from Norwich; deprived on 5 July 1559.
Source(s): [5] [8] [9] [10]

Post-Reformation bishops

Post-Reformation Bishops of Ely
15591581 Bp Richard Cox.jpg Richard Cox
15811600See vacant
16001609 Martin Heton Bishop of Ely (cleaned up).jpg Martin Heton
16091619 Lancelot Andrewes Pembroke.jpg Lancelot Andrewes Translated from Chichester; translated to Winchester.
16191628 Bp Nicholas Felton.jpg Nicholas Felton Translated from Bristol.
16281631 Bishop Buckeridge.jpg John Buckeridge Translated from Rochester.
16311638 Bp Francis White.jpg Francis White Translated from Norwich.
16381667 Bp Matthew Wren, Pembroke.jpg Matthew Wren Translated from Norwich.
16671675 Bp Benjamin Laney.png Benjamin Lany Translated from Lincoln.
16751684 Bp Peter Gunning.jpg Peter Gunning Translated from Chichester.
16841691 Francis Turner by Mary Beale.jpg Francis Turner Translated from Rochester.
16911707 Bp Simon Patrick.jpg Simon Patrick Translated from Chichester.
17071714 John Moore, Bp Norwich & Ely by Godfrey Kneller.jpg John Moore Translated from Norwich.
17141723 WilliamFleetwood.jpg William Fleetwood Translated from St Asaph.
17231738 Bp Thomas Green.jpg Thomas Green Translated from Norwich.
17381748 No image.svg Robert Butts Translated from Norwich.
17481754 ThomasGooch.jpg Thomas Gooch Translated from Norwich.
17541771 Bp Matthias Mawson.jpg Matthias Mawson Translated from Chichester.
17711781 Bp Edmund Keene by Zoffany.jpg Edmund Keene Translated from Chester.
17811808 Bp James Yorke.jpg James Yorke Translated from Gloucester.
18081812 Bp Thomas Dampier.jpg Thomas Dampier Translated from Rochester.
18121836 No image.svg Bowyer Sparke Translated from Chester.
18361845 Joseph Allen by Thomas Phillips.jpg Joseph Allen Translated from Bristol.
18451864 Thomas Turton by HW Pickersgill.jpg Thomas Turton
18641873 EH Browne by Bassano.jpg Harold Browne Translated to Winchester.
18731885 Bp James Russell Woodford.jpg James Woodford
18861905 Lord Alwyne Compton.jpg Lord Alwyne Compton
19051924 No image.svg Frederic Chase
19241933 No image.svg Leonard White-Thomson
19341941 Bernard Heywood 001.jpg Bernard Heywood Translated from Hull.
19411957 No image.svg Edward Wynn
19571964 No image.svg Noel Hudson Translated from Newcastle.
19641977 No image.svg Edward Roberts Translated from Kensington.
19771990 No image.svg Peter Walker Translated from Dorchester.
19902000 No image.svg Stephen Sykes Resigned
20002010 No image.svg Anthony Russell Translated from Dorchester.
2010incumbent No image.svg Stephen Conway Translated from Ramsbury.
Source(s): [5] [9] [11]

Assistant bishops

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


  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. Consumption and Pastoral Resources on the Early Medieval Estate, accessed July 12, 2007
  5. 1 2 3 "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. 1 2 Jones 1962, Bishops of Ely, Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1300–1541, volume 4, pp. 13–16.
  9. 1 2 3 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.
  12. "Hodges, Edward Noel". Who's Who . A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc.(subscription or UK public library membership required)
  13. "Price, Horace MacCartie Eyre". Who's Who . A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc.(subscription or UK public library membership required)
  14. "Walsh, Gordon John". Who's Who . A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc.(subscription or UK public library membership required)

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Further reading

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