Robert Burnell, Bishop of Bath and Wells

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Robert Burnell

Birthplace: Shropshire, UK
Death: October 25, 1292 (49-57)
Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, England, United Kingdom
Immediate Family:

Son of Roger Burnell and NN Burnell
Father of Amabilla Burnell; Isabelle de Scales; William Burnell, Dean of Wells and Johanna Grendon
Brother of Sir Philip Burnell; Sir Hugh Burnell; John Burnell; Sir William Burnell and Helen Lacon

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About Robert Burnell, Bishop of Bath and Wells

Robert Burnell (sometimes Robert Burnel)[1] (circa 1239 – 25 October 1292) was an English bishop who served as Lord Chancellor of England from 1274 to 1292. A native of Shropshire, he served as a minor royal official before entering into the service of Prince Edward, the future King Edward I of England. When Edward went on the Eighth Crusade in 1270, Burnell stayed in England to secure the prince's interests. He served as regent after the death of King Henry III of England while Edward was still on crusade. He was twice elected Archbishop of Canterbury, but his personal life—which included a long-term mistress who was rumoured to have borne him four sons [and several daughters] —prevented his confirmation by the papacy. In 1275 Burnell was elected Bishop of Bath and Wells, after Edward had appointed him Lord Chancellor in 1274.

Burnell was behind the efforts of the royal officials to enforce royal rights during his term of office as chancellor, including the implementation of the Quo warranto procedures. He also helped with the legislative and legal reforms of Edward's reign. During Burnell's tenure the chancellor's office and records became fixed in London rather than travelling with the king. Burnell went abroad on diplomatic missions for Edward, and for a time governed Gascony. He continued to enjoy the king's trust until his death in 1292; one historian has suggested that Burnell may have been the most important royal official of the 13th century.


The manor house was built in 1284 by Robert Burnell, Bishop of Bath and Wells, friend and advisor to King Edward I. Its position was important at the time because it was near to the old Roman road of Watling Street.[2] The extent of the estate is not known, as much of the building has been completely destroyed or remains undiscovered. It would have been substantial enough to accommodate Edward I and his retinue, soldiers and advisers, but was never an actual castle.

All that remains of the first Parliament building:

Robert Burnell was granted a royal licence to crenellate and fortify the manor on 28 January 1284, a benefit only extended to trusted people.[citation needed] The building was rectangular with a tower at each corner. It was three storeys high consisting of a hall, solar, bedrooms, offices, chapel and kitchen.[2] Robert Burnell also built the nearby Church of St Mary and the surrounding village.[2]

Prior to this, in the autumn of 1283, Edward I had held a Parliament at Acton Burnell, presumably in the adjacent great barn,[2] the only building large enough. It is significant in that it was the first time in English history that the law-making process included the Commons. The law passed became known as the Statute of Acton Burnell, a law giving protection to creditors, indicating the increasing significance of traders during those times.[3]


[Acton Burnell Castle] was believed to have started in 1283 as a replacement for the original building, home of the Burnell family. The head of the family, Robert Burnell, was the Chancellor of England and a personal friend of King Edward I. He had been granted a licence to crenelate the castle from the King. This licence would allow the owner to place battlements on the structure; however there are no remains of any fortifications at the castle today.


Burnell was a land-shark. "He amassed great wealth, and acquired numerous estates in Shropshire, Worcestershire, Somerset, Kent, Surrey and elsewhere. At his death, he owned 82 manors over 19 counties, most of them his personal property rather than that of the diocese of Bath and Wells." (

He passed off his daughters as "nieces", the more easily because three of his four brothers predeceased him, and got them married off to prominent and wealthy noblemen. He also arranged the marriage of his (genuine) nephew Philip to Maud Fitzalan (daughter of the 7th and sister of the 8th Earl of Arundel). Philip became the Bishop's ultimate heir, only to squander his entire inheritance and die deeply in debt in just two years.

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Robert Burnell, Bishop of Bath and Wells's Timeline

Shropshire, UK
Age 21
Age 23
Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England
Age 26
Shropshire, England, United Kingdom
Age 31
October 25, 1292
Age 53
Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, England, United Kingdom