YORKSHIRE: Hierarchy of the Church of England in the 1820 period (and later.)


Hierarchy of the Church of England in the 1820 period (and later.)

Section One, the 1820 period (and before).

The following is intended to show the functions of the various people in the Church of England at around the time which the Topographical Dictionary of Yorkshire and other books transcribed on this site were written. It is a combination of several people's inputs, each of whom have agreed that it is correct; this does not of course mean that it is, and if you know something we don't, or feel something should be added, then please drop me a line via the link at the bottom of the page.

Thanks - Colin Hinson

| An Archbishop has a see.
BISHOPS A bishop has a cathedra
| (literally a bishop's seat)
| this is housed in a cathedral.
| A bishop has a diocese
SUFRAGAN BISHOPS Have no cathedral
| Responsible for part of
| a Bishop's diocese
| | |
Has a historical living | Same eclesiastical
Appointed by the Patron. | status as a Rector.
Can't be sacked easily. | Can be easily sacked.
Can be an honorary Dean. | (See note below)
(see note below) |
| |
(in old days) |
Wasn't high born. |
Had a parish where the |
living was not good |
enough for a Vicar/Rector. |
(See note below) |
Trainee Priest
(Literally a helper/assistant/servant)


DEAN - (can be a priest)
| Responsible for the Cathedral
| fabric and the day to day
| running and finances.
CHAPTER (group of men)
ARCHDEACONS (are priests)
usually a priest
Responsible for a Deanery
(the fabric thereof)
A deanery is a group of

My 1756 dictionary says:
Rector: The parson of a parish church.
Rectory: a Parish Church, Parsonage or spiritual living with all its rights, glebes, tithes etc.
Vicar: The parson of a parish where the tithes are impropriated.
Vicarage (endowed): is one which has a sufficient revenue for the maintenance of the Vicar, when the Benefice is impropriated.
Impropriate: to employ the revenues of a church living for his own use.
("his own use" means the use of a chapter, religious house or layman. The Vicar receives only a smaller tithes or a salary.) My 1850 dictionary says:
Rector: A clergyman who has the charge and cure of a parish, and has the parsonage and tithes; or the parson of a parish where the tithes are not impropriate: in the contrary case, the parson is a Vicar.
Curate: A clergyman in the Church of England who is employed to perform divine service in the place of the incumbent, parson or vicar. He must be licensed by fixed estate in the curacy, he may be removed at pleasure. But some curates are perpetual. Further information on Parsons and Vicars (relating particularly to Northern Ireland) from Malcolm McClure in 2005:
He says: I reached your web-page after finding definitions of Vicar and Parson in the Concise Oxford unsatisfactory. The distinction has some historical interest, as it derives from medieval practice that may have its origins in the old Celtic Church of Columbcille of Iona. In Ulster, towards the end of the 16th century, every church had a vicar and a parson instead of a co-arb and an erenagh. The vicar, like the co-arb, was always in orders. He said the mass ('serveth the cure') and received a share of the tithes. The parson, like the erenagh, had a major portion of the tithes, maintained the church and provided hospitality. As he was not usually in clerical orders, his responsibilities were mainly temporal. However, there were differences in the divisions of the tithes between the various dioceses in Tyrone. In the Diocese of Clogher, the vicar and the parson shared the tithes equally between them; in the Diocese of Derry, church income came from both tithes and the rental of church lands ('temporalities'). The vicar and the parson each received one third of the tithes and paid an annual tribute to the bishop. In places where there was no parson, the erenagh continued to receive two thirds of the income in kind from the church lands, and delivered the balance, after defraying maintenance, to the Bishop in cash as a yearly rental. In other places, the parson, the vicar and the erenagh shared the costs of church repairs equally between them. In the Diocese of Armagh the parson received two-thirds of the tithes and the vicar one third. The archbishop and the erenagh impropriated no part thereof, presumably because they received the entire income from the termon lands. I hope this makes the distinction a bit clearer.
Some further information from John Orchard (2009) which caused me to modify the above diagram: A cathedral does not have a bishop, a bishop has a cathedra, literally meaning the bishop's seat. And this is housed in a large church called a cathedral. The cathedral itself is not the responsibility of nor belonging to a bishop. The cathedral is run and controlled, and therefore might be said to belong to, the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral. A bishop does have a diocese, although generally this is known as a see for an Archbishop. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York were not part of a straightforward lineal chain of responsibility although I can understand why someone might think so. The two provinces of the Church of England are separate and to a large extent the Archbishop of Canterbury has never had jurisdiction in the Province of York, or vice versa. The 'ranking' was that established from the Augustinian mission, when the Pope commissioned Augustine to establish a see in what was regarded as the most important town in the newly developing post-Roman Anglo-Saxon states; London was known to Rome and the pope had envisaged Augustine becoming Bishop of London - in the end politics made Augustine choose to site his 'cathedra' in Canterbury. The Bishop of London remains one of the more important bishoprics, still providing the incumbent with one of the permanent bishop's seats in the house of Lords. York by contrast was a political thing brought about after the synod of Whitby, and others, and acknowledged the political split in what was becoming England, with York province taking most of the area of influence of the old Kingdoms of Northumbria and Lindsey in what had become Danelaw.
As suggested by Ron Long, the following is included as an example to show the career path of "Hutton" Dr. Matthew Hutton, archbishop of Canterbury: chaplain to the Duke of Somerset
ordained deacon (at a proper age)
elected Fellow of Christ's College
became rector of Spofforth
was made Prebendary of York
appointed one of the chaplains to George II.
obtained a Canonry of Windsor
exchanged for Prebend of Westminster
resigned to become Bishop of Bangor
was translated to the archbishopric of York
then to Canterbury lies buried at Lambeth, near the communion Table.

Section Two - from a modern dictionary.

The following are modified extracts from the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian church.

Where historical references of the period of interest are included in the article, I have reproduced them for you but in most cases, these are historical offices and have not substantially changed over the last century or two.

This is not likely to be the pattern for the future! Change is underway. For further reading on the forthcoming changes, see "Working as one body", Church House Publishing (Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BN; price £5.95p.)

Many of the words have subtly different connotations in other Christian denominations than the Church of England.


  • In the Anglican communion, bishops are held to be distinguished from priests chiefly by their power to confer holy Orders and to administer the rite of Confirmation. They are consecrated to a particular diocese.
  • In the C of E today, the crown gives leave to the dean and chapter to make an election and to this, royal assent is then given.
  • The chief duties consisting in administering those Sacraments which he alone is competent to confer - Confirmation and Ordination, also general oversight of the diocese, in which he may be assisted by the suffragan bishop.
  • He exercises jurisdiction through his Consistory court over which he himself presides in theory though he usually delegates the presidency to his chancellor.
  • From medieval times the English bishops have had seats in the House of Lords; but under the bishoprics act of 1878 only 26 English bishops enjoy this privilege.


  • A cleric having a defined administrative authority delegated to him by the bishop in the whole or part of the diocese. The territory assigned to him is known as a archdeaconry and gives him a territorial title e.g. "Archdeacon of Lindsey". He is styled "Venerable". Duties include a general disciplinary supervision of the clergy of their archdeaconry and a more particular care over the temporal administration of its ecclesiastical property. They induct parish priests to new benefices and admit churchwardens to their offices. Originally, as the name implies, an archdeacon was merely the chief of the deacons who assisted diocesan bishops in their work. They were in deacon's orders and gradually acquired what was almost a right of succession to the episcopal throne. The transition from this to the present position of archdeacons was accomplished by the 9th century but the steps by which it came about are not clear. In England since 1662 an archdeacon must be in priest's orders, and since 1840 must have been so for six years. The Anglican Ordinal presupposes that among his functions is the examination and presentation of candidates for Ordination.


  • Rural deans assist the bishop in administering a subdivision of an archdeaconry. In the 9th Century this office replaced the arch-presbyterate.


  • Former archpresbyter controls its services, and, with the chapter supervises its fabric and property. He ranks next to the bishop, of whom in the Anglican, but not the Roman, Church he is considerably independent. In some recent foundations, the bishop is also dean, and decanal function are largely discharged by a provost under his authority. In the church of England, deans are appointed by the crown.


  • In the early usage was the official next in dignity to the abbot of a monastery, but now more usually used for the head of an ecclesiastical chapter. In the newer dioceses used of the head of the cathedral chapter where the cathedral is also a parish church and the Provost is thus also an incumbent with the cure of souls.

CANON (residentiary canon)

  • The permanent salaried staff of a cathedral responsible for the maintenance of its services and fabric. They have the right of electing or refusing to elect the crown's nominee to a vacant episcopal see. Pre 19th century, canons were often known as prebendaries.

CANON (non residentiary or honorary)

  • One who holds an unsalaried post which may entail various privileges and responsibilities.


  • A parish incumbent whose tithes are not impropriate. Tithes were paid to the parson, often by the action of the lord of the manor who by this means obtained the endowment to build a church on his estate.
  • When entitled to the whole tithes of the parish, the incumbent was called a Rector.


  • Vicars used to be entitled to the small tithe and a portion of the glebe. These were allocated by an appropriator. During the early 20th century, tithes were abolished.
  • As a parish priest the vicar had the same spiritual status as a rector and the forms of institution and induction are identical since in both cases he holds his full spiritual jurisdiction from the bishop. He also holds the freehold of church, churchyard, vicarage and glebe.


  • (Properly) A clergyman who has the charge 'cure' of souls 'instituted' or 'licensed' by the bishop of the diocese. He is chosen by the patron who has the right to nominate a clergyman for the parish in question. He can be removed only by resignation, exchange of cure, promotion to another benefice involving the cure of souls, or deprivation following a public conviction for some disgraceful offence.
  • In general speech however, the word is used to denote an assistant to unbeneficed clergyman, e.g. one appointed to assist the incumbent in the performance of his duties, or to take charge of a parish temporarily during a vacancy, or while the incumbent is unable to perform his duties. Assistant curates are nominated by the incumbent or the bishop, and licensed to the Bishop. This licence may be revoked by the bishop after due notice.


  • A priest nominated by a lay rector to serve a parish in which there was no endowed vicarage. The appointment, when licensed by a bishop, is in perpetuity and the incumbent could not be removed (-Bryan Slim). All Perpetual curacies were abolished in the 1960s. They became vicarages (-Fr Richard Woods TSSF, July 2003).


  • The rank next below priest.
  • In the C of E the cleric begins his ministerial work on becoming a deacon. He is debarred from celebrating the Eucharist, from giving absolution and from pronouncing the blessing. Before entering the diaconate the candidate must provide the bishop with evidence of moral and intellectual suitability, and must have been accepted form some ecclesiastical preferment. Unless his has a faculty, he may not enter the diaconate before he is 23 years old. He generally remains in the order for one year.


It occurred to me (and I was later asked) that I had come across the title "Father" in the Church of England and I had no idea in which sense it was used. Being asked about this spurred me into asking (Revd) Roger Quick about this, and this is the answer I received from him:

I hope this will do as an answer to your question: the paragraphs below are probably in diminishing order of significance....

Any Anglican priest, from the lowliest curate to the Archbishop of Canterbury, may be addressed as "Father", but this is usual only amongst those who uphold the Catholic tradition, sometimes called Anglo-Catholic or High Church.
From the 1970s onwards, as the use of first names became more the norm throughout society generally, it became common to address priests of this tradition as Fr John, rather than Fr Smith.

Anglican clergy of the Evangelical - Low Church - tradition, prefer not to be called Father. It is really down to local custom and individual preference. As a very rough guide, a priest wearing a shirt coloured anything other than black will prefer to be called John or Mr Smith!

All letters should be addressed to The Reverend John Smith, and begin "Dear Mr Smith" unless you know he prefers "Dear Fr Smith".

No priest worthy of the calling is going to get upset about it! Most would get their best laugh of the day if you began: "Most Exalted, Eminent & Reverend Sir," and would write back saying "Just call me Jack".


Historically only Bishops and members of some religious communities were addressed as Father, but it became common for RC priests in Ireland to be called Father, from whence the custom spread to the RC Church in England only as late as the 1880s, and gradually gained favour amongst High Anglicans as well.

In some churches, again of the broadly Catholic tradition, deacons are known as either Brother Smith or Brother John; in America however, where the permanent diaconate is more common, they are usually known and addressed as Deacon Smith.

Only priests in a Monastic Order (RC or Anglican) are properly addressed on an envelope as The Reverend Father Smith.
In conversation, most bishops will cope with being called Father.

Best wishes

(Revd) Roger Quick, generally addressed as Hey You!

Further Information.

A Glossary of old words and unusual words used within the Genuki Yorkshire pages.
Land area definitions (Administrative and Ecclesiastical)

Tana Willis Johnson's What is a wapentake
Tana and Brian Pears's The divisions and sub-divisions of England and its counties

A History of the North Riding (1890)
A History of the East Riding (1892) A History of Yorkshire (1892)

Written by Colin Hinson
and then modified by lots of other people!.

Written by Colin Hinson © 1996