The history of the Deans of St Buryan makes sad reading. They were all of them holders of royal office and pluralists. They rarely resided in the parish, leaving the daily affairs to prebendaries and minor clerks. When they did reside in the parish the fact is referred to as a matter of surprise. Between the years 1301 and 1850 only two Deans seem to have resided in their cure; they were both French. They lived here for a few months only so that in 1538 Leland could write, 'there belongeth to St Buryan a dean and a few Prebendaries that almost never be there.'
Walter de GRAY
The earliest appointment to come to light is that of Walter de Gray. According to the records he was already the King's Chancellor when he was appointed Dean by King John in 1212. Howard Jewell says that King John and his Lord Chancellor crossed over from Ireland and landed on Sennen beach. They spent the night at the monastery of St Buryan and King John gave the living to Walter de Gray.
Two years later he was also made Bishop of Worcester. He was very prominent in affairs of State and went on to become Archbishop of York. His tomb, the most beautiful of all in York Minster was opened in 1963. It contained his ring, crook and paten, and on the back of the wooden lid of the coffin was a full length portrait, in splendid condition, of Walter de Gray. This now hangs in The Treasury in York Minster.
PATRON : The Duke of Cornwall
In 1252 it appears that the Patron was Richard, King of the Romans, Earl of Cornwall and the rule set in that the patronage of St Buryan belongs to the Duke of Cornwall.
William de HAMELDONE
The Dean who did the most harm to the parish was William de Hameldone, appointed in 1300 by King Edward I. He was an important officer of state, Chancellor and Dean of York, with livings sans noibre. The Bishop, Thomas de Bytton of Exeter (1292), was upset by this and refused to install him. At Hameldone's suggestion the Crown began to claim the Deanery as a Royal Peculiar, Donative and Sinecure, exempt from all episcopal and archidiaconal jurisdiction. The Bishops contested the claim in the Courts, but the case was given in favour of the Crown and the following mandate was issued to the Bishop:
To Thomas, Bishop of Exeter and his official:
Inhibition of his doing anything that may in any wise prejudice the King or his Chapel of St Buryan in Cornwall, as the Church of St Buryan ought to be the King's free Chapel and has been the free chapel of his ancestors and Progenitors, Kings of England, from old time, and ought to be wholly exempt, with the prebends annexed to it, from all ordinary jurisdiction and the Chapel has now newly reverted to the Crown as to its founder. The Bishop is Ordered to conduct himself so in the premises that the King may not have to apply another remedy.
The claim that the parish was free from episcopal jurisdiction "from old time,' was quite false, as up to and including Hameldone the Dean had always been appointed by the Earl of Cornwall or the King, instituted by the Bishop of Exeter and inducted by the Archdeacon of Cornwall.
Matthew de MEDENTOR
The next two Deans were Frenchmen, almost the only ones to have taken up residence. The first, Matthew de Medentor, belonging to the household of Queen Margaret and appointed on the 10th March 1303, refused to allow the Bishop to hold his visitation whereupon the assembled clergy of ten neighbouring parishes marched upon St Buryan, broke down the church door and proceeded to hold their own visitation.
Meanwhile, Bishop Grandisson was busy fighting in the courts that there was nothing to justify treating St Buryan as a royal peculiar outside of his discipline. In 1310 he imposed an embargo on supplies of Chrism, Holy Oil for anointing. He tried to impose two outside clergy but they were ignored so he finally decided to visit in person but he was also ignored. Grandisson managed to get his 'own man in as one of the three prebends.
John de MAUNTE
In 1318 Queen Isabella, wife of Edward II put in a second Frenchman John de Maunte (or de Medinta). He was heavily in debt but claimed the benefit of clergy and quickly spent all his revenues. His first objective was to get rid of the Bishop's man, prebend Richard Beaupre, and there was a fight in the churchyard. Blood was spilt (possibly not seriously) and 43 people, including the Dean, were arrested and the Bishop put the parish under interdict suspending all sacraments and implying the excommunication of any who resisted Beaupre.
But resist they did and in 1328 Grandisson came as close to St Buryan as he dared and from the top of St Michael's Mount he pronounced the Greater Excommunication against the people of St Buryan. Some of the parishioners offered their submission to obtain absolution, but de Maunte continued to collect his revenue and refused to hand over anything. In July 1336 the Bishop paid another visitation and found the parishioners ready to submit to his authority so he absolved them from their censures. A General absolution was declared and they sang the hymn 'Come Holy Ghost'. The Bishop preached, the theme of his sermon being 'All ye, as sheep, have gone astray, but are now returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls'. He then requested that the sermon be repeated in the Cornish tongue, the priest from St Just acting as interpreter. By August 1336 Maunte conformed and took an oath of obedience to Bishop Grandisson and his successors in the See of Exeter.
The continuation of absentee Deans went on. In 1663 the Deanery was annexed to the Bishopric of Exeter which had been very badly impoverished by the Civil War, so the Bishops of Exeter became the Deans of St Buryan. Seth Ward (1663), Anthony Sparrow (1667), and Thomas Lamplugh (1676) were followed by one of the more famous of St Buryan's Deans, Sir Jonathan Trelawney from 1685 to 1707. He was one of the seven bishops imprisoned in the Tower of London, and the subject of the Cornish Anthem 'And shall Trelawney die?'. During this Period we have the strange situation of the incumbent of the Parish being unable to minister to his people. As its Ordinary he was forbidden by the Crown to interfere in the King's Free Chapel.
In 1716 the Deanery was separated from the See of Exeter.
Fitz-Roy Henry Richard STANHOPE
The last Dean and non-resident incumbent appointed was Fitz-roy Stanhope in 1817, an army officer who had lost a leg at Waterloo and applied to his Commander-in-Chief, The Duke of York, for a pension. His list was full so he passed Stanhope to his brother, The Prince of Wales, who had nothing to offer except the Deanery of Buryan.
Now he had to be ordained. It was with the greatest difficulty that any bishop could be found who was willing to ordain him so that he could enjoy his pension - the fruits of the Deanery. One day when the Bishop of Cork was on holiday in London Stanhope was sent to see him with a letter which read..... 'Dear Cork, please ordain Stanhope, yours York'
Some hours later Stanhope returned to his Patron with the following letter.... Dear York, Stanhope is now ordained, yours Cork.' This was in 1817 and Stanhope held the deanery for the next 47 years during which he collected some £60,000.
He appeared in the Deanery just once, long enough to read the 39 articles. The further he got into the reading of the Articles the worse his temper got. At times he forgot he was not on the parade ground. Eventually in a flaming bad temper he rushed out of the church, and speaking to no-one climbed on his horse from the mounting block and rode away to London, never to be seen again. He took the income from the Deanery till his death in 1864.
Abolition of the Deanery
St Buryan was by now one of only two Collegiate churches left in Cornwall ( the other one is St Endellion) to have survived through the 16th and 17th century changes. But finally, at the death of Stanhope in 1864, the Deanery was abolished by an Act of Parliament and its revenues taken to form the three rectories of St Buryan, St Levan and St Sennen.
All Peculiar and Exempt Jurisdiction was taken away and all the Wills and Seals ordered to be transferred to the Registry of the Archdeaconry at Bodmin. The three new parishes were restored to the oversight of the Bishop of Exeter and after 1877 to the Bishop of Truro. However the distinctive red cassocks, traditionally worn in a Royal Peculiar, are still seen today in the choir.
The only relic of the old Deanery days are four prebendal stalls inside the screen and the patronage of the three parishes, which remains in the hands of the Duke of Cornwall, to whom it was granted by charter, dated March 17th 11 Edward III, "to remain to the same Duchy for ever so that from the same Duchy they may at no time be separated" .
Between 1966 and 1970 the three Parishes were re-formed as a United Benefice with one rector of all three Parishes. A full list of all the Deans and Rectors of St Buryan can be seen hanging on the wall of the North aisle.