Willes family

Dr Edward Willes, bishop of Bath and Wells, was buried in the north ambulatory of Westminster Abbey, together with his wife Jane and sons Edward and Sir Francis and his wife. The inscription on the bishop's grave reads:

Under this stone lyes interred the remains of Dr Edward Willes, many years a prebendary of this Church afterwards Dean of Lincoln, Bishop of St David's, and of Bath and Wells who departed this life Nov 24 1773 in the eightieth year of his age truly thankful to God for the long and prosperous life he enjoyed here, but much more for ye comfortable hope of a joyfull resurrection to everlasting life thro the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ. Here also was interred Jane wife of the Bishop of Bath and Wells, who departed this life upon the 9th day of Oct. 1771 in the 77th year of her age.

The coat of arms at the top is rather rubbed but showed the See of Bath and Wells impaling "a chevron between three mullets" for Willes.

He was born on 6th March 1694, a son of John Willes (d.1700) rector of the parish of Bishop's Itchington in Warwickshire and later prebendary of Lichfield, and his wife Anne (Walter). His brother was the eminent judge Sir John Willes. Edward was educated at Oxford university where he learnt decoding skills and was later Decipherer to George I. Understanding several languages he cracked a code between Jacobite supporters, including the Dean of Westminster Francis Atterbury. As a reward for his work he was given the living of Barton in the Clay, Bedfordshire, and became a canon of Westminster Abbey (1724-1743).

On 2nd February 1719 in Merton College chapel he married Jane White. They had six sons and four daughters. Of these children six were baptised in the Abbey: Henry baptised 24th May 1726 - he became prebendary, chancellor and precentor of Bath and Wells and died unmarried 3rd August 1772; George baptised 29th June 1727 and buried in the Abbey in 1735; Margaret baptised 26th June 1728 and buried here on 5th June 1742; John baptised 10th March 1730 - he became a captain in the Royal Navy and died unmarried in 1804; William baptised 20th December 1731 - he was prebendary and chancellor of Wells, and archdeacon of Taunton and of Wells and married Margaret Jeans and died 12th May 1815; Mary baptised 11th March 1733 and she married Reverend Paul Snow, prebendary of Bath and Wells and died 31st August 1818.

Edward Willes

Next to his father's stone is one for Edward (now with a very worn inscription):

Underneath this stone lyes the body of Edward Willes Esqr. [Esquire] the eldest son of Dr Edward Willes late bishop of Bath and Wells who dyed unmarried 25 December 1812 aged 91. He was a gentleman of great worth and beneficence, descended from an ancient family in Warwickshire and had held a place of considerable trust under Government for a series of about sixty years being greatly distinguished by his ability, zeal and integrity

Sir Francis Willes

In the same aisle is a stone to Sir Francis Willes and his wife Mary:

Dame Mary Willes died December the 25th 1813 aged 71 years. Near this place are interred in the hope of a joyful resurrection the bodies of Sir Francis Willes, Knight, and Dame Mary his wife of Cockenhatch Herts. and Hampstead, Middlesex, who lived in happy and faithful union during their marriage of 35 years but left no issue. He was the youngest son of Dr Edward Willes bishop of Bath and Wells, was one of the under secretary's of state and served with great zeal and integrity in the secret department of the Foreign Office for a period of 70 years and died in the 93rd year of his age, on the 30th of October 1827. She was the youngest daughter of the Honorable George Clinton, Admiral of the White, a lady of distinguished merit and a true Christian.

Further reading for Dr Edward

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography


6th March 1694


24th November 1773


Priest/Minister; codebreaker


North Ambulatory

Memorial Type


Willes family
Dr Edward Willes grave

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

Willes family
Sir Francis Willes grave

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster