The Reformation brought changes of various kinds to Wells cathedral. With the
dissolution of Bath abbey, Wells became the sole cathedral church of the diocese of
Bath and Wells. (fn. 1) The Dissolution also resulted in the disappearance of the prebends
attached to religious houses, namely Carhampton, Cleeve, Ilminster, Long Sutton and
Pilton. In 1547, the prebend of Wedmore I was surrendered to the Crown with the
deanery to which it was formerly annexed. (fn. 2) Thus the number of prebends was reduced
from fifty-five to forty-nine.
The deanery was refounded after its surrender as a Crown donative, with a different
prebend (North Curry) annexed to it. The archdeaconry of Wells was also surrendered
to the Crown in 1546 and abolished in 1547, but was refounded by Queen Mary in
1556. (fn. 3) As a result, the deanery and archdeaconry were left with reduced revenues,
and the bishopric suffered likewise a severe loss of possessions to the Crown. (fn. 4)
The legal position of the dean and chapter was in some doubt after the refoundation
of the deanery in 1548, so to clarify the position Queen Elizabeth was asked by the
dean and chapter to refound the cathedral, which she did by letters patent of 25
November 1591. (fn. 5) This lengthy document listed the prebends and the dignities, in
order of precedence, confirmed the named holders and listed the endowments of each
office. A new 'office and dignity', that of canon residentiary was established, and the
number of residentiaries was limited to eight including the dean. The title of 'the
dean and chapter of the cathedral church of Wells' was given to them, rather than to
the body of all the prebendaries, as previously. They were constituted a corporation
and charged with managing the cathedral's affairs. (fn. 6) This gave legal recognition to a
situation which had gradually developed.
There were no further changes in the composition of the chapter until the Cathedrals
Act of 1840. All prebends were then made honorary and their revenues were vested
in the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The residentiary canonries were reduced in
number to four, in addition to the dean, and were to be in the bishop's gift, after the
death or cession of all existing members of the chapter. (fn. 7) The boundaries of the
diocese were not altered nor was there any change in the archdeaconries throughout
the period under consideration.
Wells prebends were of moderate value, worth more than, for example, those of
Exeter, Hereford and Chichester, but considerably less than those of Salisbury and
York. The most valuable were Yatton and Wiveliscombe, valued at £42 and £38 per
annum respectively, while the least valuable were Holcombe and North Curry at £1.
The fifteen prebends of Combe were valued at about £5 each, and the four Wedmore
prebends at £4. Of the forty-nine prebends, thirty-four were valued at less than £10. (fn. 1)
For the purposes of comparison, in Salisbury cathedral the most valuable was valued
at about £64, and the least at £2, with only six out of thirty-three prebends under £10.
In Exeter, however, each of the twenty-four prebends was valued at £4. (fn. 2) The moderate value of Wells prebends meant that in general they were not particularly sought
after by churchmen of national importance.
The present work is an entirely new compilation of Wells Fasti, although it takes
account of its predecessors, the Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae of John Le Neve and
T. D. Hardy's revision published in 1854. Le Neve's original edition gave lists of the
dignitaries only, up to 1715. Hardy continued these lists to about 1851 and supplied
rudimentary and incomplete lists of prebendaries from the Reformation, apparently
based solely on the bishops' certificates in the Public Record Office.
The principal sources used in this work are the bishops' registers and the chapter
act books. There are gaps of a few years between bishops' registers in the sixteenth
century, with more serious losses in the early seventeenth century, but from 1632 the
series is complete apart from the Interregnum. The chapter act books begin in 1571
and apart from a gap of twenty years from 1644 to 1664 form a continuous sequence.
In both series, efficiency in entering business is not constant. The bishops' certificates
to the Exchequer, beginning in 1576, and the registers of compositions for first-fruits
from 1536 sometimes supply information which is missing in the principal sources.
The survival of some bishops' commissions to institute, consignation books and
records of resignations also supplement them. The deaths or burials of prebendaries
and dignitaries are seldom in the episcopal or chapter records. Deaths of the more
notable may be discovered in periodicals such as The Gentleman's Magazine, The
Historical Register and The Annual Register, or newspapers such as The Times, especially
in the nineteenth century. The deaths of those that do not figure here have to be
sought in the records of the parish benefices which Wells men held, if these can be
discovered. Although the majority are in Somerset and the adjacent counties, others
are scattered throughout the country, and warm thanks must be recorded to the staff
of many county record offices and to innumerable parish clergy who searched parish
registers and supplied details. Monumental inscriptions and wills have also provided
Editorial conventions are the same as in earlier volumes of this series. Prebends
are called by the names in current use in the cathedral, and dignitaries are listed in
the order of precedence customary at Wells. (fn. 3)