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Vivian, Thomas (d. 1533), prior of Bodmin and suffragan bishop, was probably born in Cornwall in the late 1470s. There was a Vivian family of gentry at Trenowth in the parish of St Columb Major, which later possessed a coat of arms similar to that of the prior, and the district was one in which Bodmin Priory owned property. The prior had brothers named John, who founded a line of gentry in Bodmin, and Thomas, who became a fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, and was promoted by the prior to be vicar of Bodmin in 1516. Thomas the prior entered Bodmin Priory as an Augustinian canon in or before 1493, when he received the first tonsure and ordination as acolyte, for which a minimum age of fourteen was required. There is no evidence that he studied at Oxford like his brother.

Vivian rose to be subprior and was elected prior in 1508 after the death of William John, receiving confirmation in the office from Hugh Oldham, bishop of Exeter, on 13 April. Soon afterwards, in 1509, Oldham instituted him to the vicarage of Egloshayle, Cornwall, a privilege without precedent for a prior of Bodmin, which suggests that he already enjoyed the bishop's favour. This was followed, doubtless at Oldham's initiative, by papal provision to the titular see of Megara in 1517, enabling Vivian to act as a suffragan bishop in Exeter diocese. He served both Oldham and his successor, John Veysey, in this capacity until his own death, carrying out ordinations and probably confirmations in Cornwall and Devon. Vivian marked his distinction by obtaining a grant of arms from the College of Arms in London. As a reward for his services, the bishops allowed him also to occupy the rectory of Withiel and a prebend in St Endellion's, two Cornish benefices which were in the gift of the priory.

Vivian's management of his monastery does not seem to have come adversely to the bishops' attention, but the priory's lordship over Bodmin led to resentment among that town's inhabitants. In 1524–5 and again in about the early 1530s, the townsmen petitioned Henry VIII against the restrictions and encroachments that the prior and canons laid on them. Vivian was alleged to have stopped their access to local lime pits and to Dunmere wood, where they had customarily pastured animals and lopped branches. He had impaired religion in the town by removing the priests who had said twice-weekly masses in the chapels of St Leonard and St Thomas. His brother Thomas, the vicar of Bodmin, was accused of living in London and engaging there in litigation against the townsmen, and the prior had allegedly appointed a priest of evil life to serve the parish church in his brother's absence. Vivian was also said to pursue worldly activities such as leasing churches and temporal properties, enclosing land, and smelting and selling tin. Discontents were common in towns controlled by monasteries, and much of what Vivian was charged with doing was widely practised. More positively, he has been credited with building the south aisle of Egloshayle church and adding to the prior's residence at Rialton and the rector's house at Withiel. His coat of arms has been identified in the churches of Bodmin and Withiel.

Vivian died on 1 June 1533, and was buried in the choir of Bodmin Priory beneath a splendid altar tomb surmounted by his effigy equipped with a mitre and staff. The tomb is of black Catacleuse stone and grey marble, decorated with figures of the Evangelists, cherubs, shields with the arms of the prior and the priory, and Italianate balusters, making it the most up-to-date monument of its day in Cornwall. After the priory was dissolved in 1539, the tomb was moved to its present position in St Petroc's Church, Bodmin, between the chancel and the north chancel aisle.

Nicholas Orme


VCH, 2.150–51 · J. L. Vivian, ed., The visitations of Cornwall, comprising the herald's visitations of 1530, 1573, and 1620 (1887), 533, 537 · J. Wallis, The Bodmin register (1827–38), 298–313 · J. Maclean, The parochial and family history of the deanery of Trigg Minor in the county of Cornwall, 3 vols. (1873–9), 1.133, 307–8 · bishops' registers, Devon RO, Chanter XIII–XIV · Coll. Arms, L 10, f. 71r; M 3, f. 79v


tomb effigy, St Petroc's Church, Bodmin; repro. in VCH Cornwall