The Bishops of Winchester

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The Bishops of Winchester

There would be no Farnham Castle without the Bishops of Winchester. They link the Castle to the centre of English history.

Supported by vast estates, the medieval Bishops of Winchester possessed great wealth and political influence. In later centuries, the bishops’ wealth and importance declined, reflecting the changing balance of power between Crown, Church and Parliament.

The Diocese

The Diocese of Winchester is one of the oldest and most important in England.

In 688, King Caedwalla of Wessex gave the Manor of Farnham to the Church. By 803, the manor belonged to the Bishop of Winchester. The Domesday Book records that Farnham had ‘always’ belonged to Winchester.

One of the great estates of England during the Middle Ages, the wealth of the diocese came from property holdings extending from Devon to the Channel Islands.

Potent figures during this period, the bishops possessed wealth, status and influence in matters of Church and State. The men appointed were often royal servants deeply involved in the king’s government.

The Reformation changed the relationship of Church and State. While the connection between Crown and Church remained strong, the bishops’ direct political influence gradually waned.

The Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 marked the end of an era in the history of the English Established Church. Since the time of Queen Anne, the Anglican Church had served as an appendage of the political system. Now the bishops’ sphere of influence shrank to the Church and the care of their diocese.

The Men

Before the Reformation, the Abbey of St. Swithin’s officially chose the next Bishop of Winchester. In reality, the king or his advisors almost always selected him.

After the Reformation, the choice of the bishop gradually shifted from the Crown to the Government. Today, once again, the Church chooses its own bishop.

From Bishop Giffard’s tenuous first link to Bishop Wood’s final farewell, 55 Bishops of Winchester were associated with Farnham Castle. Some rarely visited, devoting themselves to national politics. Others had close ties to the Castle’s history.

The bishops came from many backgrounds: crown officials and royal relations, monks and lawyers, soldiers and scholars, loyal servants and rebellious subjects. Even a surveyor and a schoolmaster, a ‘saint’ and a ‘sinner’.

Farnham Castle still stands as a testimony to these men.