Plurality of Benefices: Nice work if you can get it

Rt Rev Richard Watson (1737-1816) Anglican prelate & academic, the Bishop of Llandaff from 1782 to 1816.
Elected Fellow of Trinity, Cambridge in 1760; received MA in 1762. He would go on to become a professor of chemistry in 1764, even though, he confessed, “At the time this honour was conferred upon me, I knew nothing at all of chemistry, had never read a syllable on the subject, nor seen a single experiment in it!” Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1769. At the age of 34 the ambitious Watson was appointed Regius Professor of Divinity in 1771, & not surprisingly, his qualifications in academic theology were non-existent. The day after his marriage in 1773 he took a sinecure rectory in North Wales, a living which he soon exchanged for a prebend in the church at Ely. All told, while still holding his university chair, as cleric he held 14 other widely scattered, but nevertheless stipended livings. As bishop it was reported that he only visited his diocese once, “preferring the life of a country gentlemen at Windermere.” It was there that the likes of Coleridge & Wordsworth came calling. Among his notable writings were an Apology for Christianity (1776), in reply to Gibbon & an Apology for the Bible (1796), in reply to Paine. During his tenure in the House of Lords, Watson supported many unpopular causes, e.g., Irish & American independence.
In the late medieval period, the abuse of clerical non-residence was relatively common. Obviously, since one can’t be in two or fourteen places at the same time, it would have been immensely helpful to have had direct deposit for pay checks. In spite of reforms & canon law, the practice continued unabated. According to returns made to Parliament in 1831, some 33% of the beneficed clergy in England & Wales held more than one living, & 6% held three or more. Only 44% of the parishes of England & Wales had an incumbent who actually resided within the parish boundaries.

Brain, Timothy J. “Some Aspects of the Life & Work of Richard Watson, Bishop of Llandaff, 1782–1816,” PhD dissertation, University of Wales (Aberystwyth), 1982
Brown, Stewart J. “‘Guardians of the Faith’: The Established Churches of the United Kingdom, 1801–1828,” in The National Churches of England, Ireland, & Scotland 1801-46 Oxford: OUP, 2002

addendum: other Welsh compatriots of the diocese –
Charlotte Church, born in Llandaff February 21, 1986
Francis Lewis, signer of the US Declaration of Independence as a representative of New York, was born in Llandaff on March 21, 1713

Lest we forget, of all the bishops who had survived the flu epidemic of 1557-58 (which claimed Mary) but refused Elizabeth’s Oath of Supremacy on her accession, were deprived of office, save one.   Only one of all the English bishops took the oath of royal supremacy: Anthony Kitchin.  He had been a bishop under Henry, Edward, Mary, & upon Elizabeth’s reign he was a bishop still in the see of Llandaff.

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