REED Pre-Pub Launch: Records from the Durham Cathedral Treasurer’s Books

REED: Durham editors are pleased to announce the launch of the ‘pre-pub’ records from the post-Reformation accounts of Durham Cathedral.

Image of Durham Cathedral courtesy of

After the death of the first dean (and last prior), Hugh Whitehead, in 1548, Durham had a succession of strongly protestant deans, one of whom, William Whittingham, dean 1563-79, had even spent some years in Geneva and was married to John Calvin’s sister.[1] It is therefore not surprising that most Treasurer’s Books from this period yield no evidence of performance, and the solitary payment to the Earl of Leicester’s players on 28thJuly 1580 probably reflects the unique privileges enjoyed by that company as a result of its royal patent rather than any appreciation of drama by the dean and chapter (see End Note).[2]

William James, Bishop of Durham (1606-1617), by an unknown artist; Auckland Castle; public domain;

But a more relaxed attitude began to appear in the affairs of the cathedral after the arrival of William James (as dean 1596-1606, then as bishop until 1617), for he was famous for the quality of his entertainment. This trend was maintained under Bishop Richard Neile (1617-28) and Dean Richard Hunt (1620-38), when the Cathedral came under increasing Laudian, high-church influence.[3]

The Dean and Chapter’s statutes also required continued annual accounts in roll form, but these continue the trend towards mere formality which is already apparent in the late Bursar’s rolls. Treasurer’s rolls survive between 1547 and 1607 and have all been searched, but they present the Cathedral’s finances in such a summarised form that they contain no material relevant to performance.

Among other fascinating details, the records contain evidence of payments to the Earl of Leicester’s players (mentioned above), to Durham’s city waits and other musicians, for performers probably attached to King James I’s visit in 1617, and for music and bonfires for ‘The King’s Day’ (Bonfire or Guy Fawkes Night) in the 1630s.


[1]          See The Rites of Durham 216-17.

[2]          This entry is the only relevant one to receive notice in Surtees Soc. 103 (see p. 717), where it is summarised but not given verbatim; the other entries from the Treasurer’s Books are all previously unpublished.

[3]          See Lists of Deans and Major Canons of Durham 1541-1900, DUL, 1974, p. 3. For William James’s reputation for hospitality, see DNB XXIX, 225-26.


These records are offered in a pre-pub format, meaning they have not yet been through REED’s vigorous editorial procedures. Permission to use, share or quote the records must be sought from the REED: Durham editors John McKinnell and Mark Chambers.

The records may be accessed here:

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