Our longest and shortest Deans

David Conner retired from the post of Dean of Windsor at the end of July 2023. He had completed twenty-five years’ service in the role, which makes him the seventh-longest-serving Dean of Windsor since the foundation of St George’s Chapel in August 1348.

In its 675-year history, the Chapel has had 62 Deans. Split equally, that would be a little bit less than eleven years for each of them. In reality, the ten longest-serving Deans have managed almost three hundred years between them, and more than half of the total number were here for eight years or less.

The longest-serving to date is Dr Peniston Booth, who held the Deanery for thirty-six years between 1729 and 1765. Not only that, but he had already served seven years as a Canon of Windsor before he was promoted as Dean!

Booth was born in Lincolnshire in 1679, the son of Thomas and Elizabeth Booth. He was named after his mother’s deceased first husband, Rev. Anthony Penyston. Booth was educated at Lincoln School and then Magdalene College, Cambridge. He was ordained deacon in 1703 and then priest in 1707. He was curate of Apley, rector of Hanworth and a prebendary of Lincoln Cathedral before he came to Windsor.

Shortly after his appointment as Dean in April 1729, he married Catherine Jones, the daughter of his colleague, Canon Edward Jones. The record of their marriage in St George’s Chapel in January 1730 survives in the Chapel’s Register [SGC R.1], as do the records of baptism of their two children: Robert in November 1730 and Catherine in November 1732.

By contrast, the shortest-serving Dean, Edward Hyde, never even made it to Windsor. Hyde was born in 1607 and educated at Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge and became ordained. However, the promising career that he had begun in the church was interrupted by the English Civil War and Commonwealth. In 1647, Parliament sequestered his living at Brightwell in Berkshire, taking 80% of the income away from him and giving care of the church to a Puritan minister instead.

Hyde then took his family to Oxford, which had become a haven for Royalist sympathisers. Some of the sermons he preached during his time there were later collected together and published in a volume titled Allegiance and Conscience not Fled out of England (Cambridge, 1662). These sermons were particularly concerned with the wickedness of a nation who murdered their king.

Through the influence of a kinsman, also called Edward Hyde, who was in exile with the court of Charles II and would later go on to be Lord Chancellor of Great Britain and the father of the first wife of James, Duke of York, Hyde was put forward as a candidate for dean of Windsor. He obtained letters patent for the office in 1658, but he died in August 1659, before the monarchy was restored and while the Dean and Canons were still in exile from Windsor, so he was never installed.

Kate McQuillian, Archivist & Chapter Librarian

The King's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.