LIVES OF THE BISHOPS OF EXETER
WALTER DE STAPELDON. - The next person who graced the mitre of Exeter was Walter de Stapeldon, son of William de Stapeldon and Mabilla his wife, born, it seems, at Annery, the seat of his family, in the parish of Monkleigh, Devon. Adopting the ecclesiastical state, his acquirements and virtues soon raised him to distinction. The University of Oxford placed him in her chair of professor of canon law; and at the time of his election to the see of Exeter he was precentor of its cathedral, rector of Aveton Giffard, and chaplain to Pope Clement V. From his register (fol. 29) we collect that on the Monday after Martinmas, 1307, twenty-three canons assembled for the election of a successor to their late prelate; that fifteen votes were in favour of the precentor, three for Dean Lechelade, three for Thomas de Chirleton, archdeacon of Totnes, and two for Canon John de Godelegh. On this announcement of the scrutiny the votes concurred at once in the election of Stapeldon; yet in the sequel Richard de Plympstock, rector of Exminster and Uffculm, entered an invidious protest against the proceedings, which occasioned some delay, but which he afterwards withdrew. King Edward II. urged the above-mentioned pope to expedite the business (Wilkins' 'Conc.' vol. ii. p. 290). The primate Rebert Winchelsey (the connecting link between the bishops of his province and His Holiness) was then abroad, and labouring under some disgrace with the holy see : reconciled, however, to Pope Clement V. at Poictiers, on 15th January, 1308, he issued his commission to confirm the election, which was duly carried into effect on Wednesday, 13th March, that year at Reading. On the Saturday following the king restored the temporalities (Stapeldon's 'Reg.' fol. 30). From the delay of the primate's return, and the subsequent pressure of business, the consecration was postponed as late as the 13th October ('Reg.' fol. 35). Towards the end of Brantyngham's 'Register,' vol. ii. fol. 36, is inserted the composition between our bishop and the Lord Hugh Courtenay, dated 22nd December, 1308 (copied into the 'Monasticon' of the diocese, p. 323), which proves that the ceremony of the episcopal enthronisation must have been very splendid. At his accession he found the rebuilding of his cathedral had been commenced, but the progress was slow; and he applied himself diligently to the prosecution of the plan. The fabric rolls testify that he was a benefactor to the amount of eighteen hundred pounds! His example enlisted the co-operation and benevolence of the clergy and laity, as the resolution of 8th May, 1310, demonstrates: the twenty-four canons contributed a moiety of their annuity of six marks received in the name of Prebend ('Grand. Reg.' vol. i. fol. 39), and the monasteries within the diocese simultaneously agreed to admit to a participatigm of all their masses, prayers, alms-deeds, and other good works, every true penitent who should lend the bishop a helping hand in his pious undertaking. That he vaulted a part of his choir is certain- that he prepared a large stock of materials, glazed several windows, provided a gorgeous canopy over the silver high altar cannot be questioned, and to him is assigned the erection of the matchless sedilia on the south side of the sanctuary. With his sovereign, Edward II., he deservedly possessed the highest favour. He made him his treasurer, and for his valued services granted to his see on 12th November, 1320, the power of holding pleas of hue-and-cry in the lands, tenements and fees of the bishopric, within the county of Cornwall. This grant is preserved in our episcopal archives. He further allowed him two additional fairs for Crediton, as also fairs for Ashburton, Chudleigh, and Clist; and we learn from the bishop's register (fol. 63) that the king had bestowed on him the lordship of the hundred of Budleigh. A learned man himself, Stapeldon was anxious for the enlightenment of the public mind and the extension of the circle of knowledge ; and for this purpose he founded and liberally endowed Hart's Hall and Stapeldon's Inn in Oxford, afterwards consolidated into Exeter College; and he left funds to establish in St. John's Hospital here a grammar school to prepare them for that university (see Wood's 'Hist. and Antiq. Oxon,' and the 'Monast. Dioc. Exon.' p. 306).
Notwithstanding his office of lord treasurer, and the duty of attending the cabinet councils, and the person of his sovereign, he never forgot what was demanded by his episcopal character; and his invaluable 'Register' bears ample testimony to his diligence in visiting his diocese, and how attentive he was to the administration of holy orders. But, during the last two years of his life, the service of his king and country demanded much of his absence. He left the diocese in September, 1324, having previously addressed his dean and chapter on 9th August, from Lawhitton in Cornwall, on the neglected state of several of the parochial churches, exhorting them to look to their substantial repairs, and especially calling on the dean, as holding archidiaconal jurisdiction in the peculiars of the chapter, to enforce obedience to this episcopal ordinance. With his inbred sense of honour and patriotism he must have been annoyed at the progress of disaffection goaded on by the faithless queen consort, and that the king could not be induced to estrange himself from his unworthy and obnoxious favourites and evil counsellors. According to Adam de Murimoth's 'Chronicle' the queen left England for France in May, 1325: by the king's desire our bishop on 9th September following accompanied Prince Edward, the heir to the throne, to do homage, in place of his father, to the French monarch, for the provinces of Aquitaine and Poitou. Dr. Lingard justly describes our prelate as "a minister of irreproachable integrity;" his vigilance, his uncompromising regard for the interests of his royal master proved a vexatious restraint to the adverse party abroad, who even attempted his life. Returning to England his penetration satisfied him that everything portended a speedy revolution. At last the king became sensible of his danger, and fearful that treason had done its worst, when Isabella and her paramour Mortimer had effected a landing on the coast of Suffolk with a powerful force, on 28th September, 1326, he issued a proclamation from the Tower against them (Rymer's 'Foedera,' vol. v. p. 233). Next committing the custody of London to this faithful bishop on 2nd October, he hurried off to Bristol. Our bishop had concurred with some of the privy council in promulgating the sentence of excommunication against those who had invaded the realm; but the king's flight, and the successful advance of the queen's army towards London, encouraged its citizens to break out into open rebellion against the Government.
In the French 'Chronicle' of London, published in 1844 by the Camden Society (page 52), it is stated that "the Bishop of Exeter, riding towards his inn or hotel in Eldedeanes-lane for dinner, encountered the mob, and, hearing them shout 'Traitor,' he rode rapidly to St. Paul's for sanctuary, but was unhorsed, and taken to Cheapside, stript and beheaded. William Walle (his nephew) and John Padyngton, the bishop's steward, met with the same fate. About the hour of vespers, the same day, 15th October, the choir of St. Paul's took up the headless body of the prelate, and conveyed it to St. Pauls, but, on being informed that he died under sentence, the body was brought to St. Clement's beyond the Temple, but was ejected; so that the naked corpse, with a rag given by the charity of a woman, was laid on a spot called 'Le Lawless Chirche,' and, without any grave, lay there with those of his two esquires, without office of priest or clerk." Other circumstances attending this murder are thus supplied by Thomas of Walsingham ('Historia Brevis,' p. 104) :- "The citizens, continuing their rage, assailed the house of the Bishop of Exeter, Master Walter de Stapulton, and setting fire to the gates, entered it, but not finding the bishop, whose destruction was their object, they plundered his jewels, plate, and furniture. It happened in an evil hour that the bishop returned from the country, who, although he had been apprised of these violences, yet felt no dread of them. He rode on horseback, and when he had, with boldness enough, arrived at the north gate of St. Paul's, he was presently seized by the populace, wounded, torn, thrown down, and, at length, dragged to the place of execution. When they had dragged him to the street of Chepe, they there proclaimed him a public traitor, a seducer of the king, and a destroyer of the liberties of their city. The bishop was clad in a kind of armour, which we commonly call Aketon, and, being stripped of that, and of his other apparel, he was beheaded. Two others of his household, namely, his esquire and his valet, underwent the same fate. This sacrilege being perpetrated, they fixed the head of the bishop on a long pole by way of trophy, that it might be to all beholders a lasting memorial of the attempted crime. His body, like that of an excommunicated person, and without any funeral rites, they cast into a pit, in a certain old cemetery, which had formerly belonged to the fraternity called 'Freres Pyes,' but was then entirely neglected. The cause of their enmity was that, when he was treasurer of the kingdom, of the king's council he procured, that the justices in Eyre should sit in the City of London ; on which occasion, because the citizens had committed various offences, they were heavily punished, by the loss of their liberties, by pecuniary mulcts, and by bodily chastisement, as they deserved. It was also said that he had collected a great number of forces to act against the queen and her son the Duke of Aquitain, and therefore the Londoners endeavoured, as they said, to hinder, as quickly as possible, the bishop's enterprise."
Again differing from the preceding relation is that of WILLIAM DE PAKINGTON, clerk and treasurer of Prince Edward's (the Black Prince) household in Gascony, in a 'Chronicle' by him written in French, and dedicated to his master, thus translated by Leland ('Lel. Coll.' vol. i. p. 467):- " In the yere 1326, Elizabeth, Edwarde, Edmund of Wodestock Erle of Kent, and John of Henaude arrived at Harwiche. After the landding of them King Edwarde heard that the Londoners were minded to rendre them self to them. Whereupon he sent Walter Stapleton Bishop of Excestre, his Tresorer, for to be gardiane of the cyte with the mayre, and he cummying to the Guildhaulle desired, according to his commission, the keyes, and custody of the cyte. To whom the commons answered that they worde kepe the towne for the king, the quene, amd his sunne. And the bishop, not content with this answer, they toke hym and smith of his hedde in the middle of Westchepe, and after beheddid 2 Esquires that waytid on hym. Wylliam Waulle his nephew was the one, and John Padington the other, and after they behedid a Burges one John Mareschal, Espy yn London for the Dispensars. At this tyme Walter Stapleton was making a faire toure on the very Tamys side at this place, with oute Temple bar, and lakking stone and lyme to finishid it, sent a force to the Chirch of the White Freres (Freres de la Eie), and toke it, and yn despite of this the Loundener biryid Stapleton and his 2 Esquires in the hepe of rubrische aboute his toure, as they had bene dogges. And no mervel. For he was fumische, and without pite. But after xi. weeks at the requeste of Queue Isabels lettres the Bishops body was caried to the chirch thereby, and after to Excestre. And the 2 Esquires bodyes were caryed to S. Clementes Chirch and there buried."
Those who do not pronounce on events merely from their success, who attend to the springs and principles of actions, must award the tribute of praise and admiration to this high-minded bishop and minister; they will appreciate his zeal and energy to sustain the declining fortunes of his royal master, and venerate him for his disregard of self, and for his incorruptible honour and loyalty under every discouragement. The remains of the heroical bishop were permitted, by the adultress Queen Isabella, in January, three months after his murder, to be consigned to Christian burial, probably in St. Clementis Church, London. The 'Chronicon' of Exeter Church (Harleian MSS. No. 545, &c.) simply states that on 28th March, 1327, the body was solemnly interred "solemni traditur sepulturæ" without specifying where.. In a letter of Henry Gower, Bishop of St. David's, bearing date from York 16th August, 1328, in the possession of our dean and chapter, he recommends Bishop Walter's soul to tho prayers of the faithful, and mentions his actual interment in Exeter Cathedral "cujus corpus in Ecclesiâ Cathedrali Exoniensi est humatum." The Registrar of Newenham, fol. 117, a contemporary, after mentioning his decapitation on Tuesday 15th October, 1326, "pro magnâ fidelitate suâ, est sepultus apud Exon." But we know not how to reconcile this assertion with the omission of all charges for such removal of the body in the accounts of the bishop's executors; and, above all, with the letter of Bishop Grandisson ('Reg.' vol. ii. fol. 183b) addressed to one of them, Robert de Tauton, a canon of this Cathedral so late as 30th June, 1334, in the 8th year after the sad tragedy, commending his pious intention of erecting a tomb and chapel and founding a perpetual chantry in suburbio London, where the body "primitus quiescit humatum". As for the present epitaph on his monument on the north side of the Cathedralchoir, it was composed by John Hoker in Queen Elizabeth's reign (1568), and put up at the expense of Bishop Alley.
In Stapeldon's 'Register,' fol. 170, is his ordinance, dated 2nd March, 1321-2, for the maintenance of his own obit in the cathedral, as also his sovereign's license for that purpose, dated Tewkesbury, 12th November, 1322. Copies are also preserved in the archives of our dean and chapter. Leland ('Itin.' vol! iii. p. 45) asserts that the monument in the wall of the-north aisle of the cathedral choir, and opposite to the bishop's, was erected to the memory of his brother, Sir Richard de Stapeldon, Knight? It may be the case; but there is no truth in the tradition that he fell a sacrifice, with his episcopal brother, to the frantic violence of the mob. There is no reason for even supposing that he was then in London. He certainly was living on 2nd April, 1330, as is manifest from the deed of his brother Thomas of that very date. His anniversary, moreover, was kept here on 10th March; whereas the bishop's was observed on the 15th of October, the day of his murder, and the feast of St. Wulfran. (Obitus Ricardi Stapeldon, Militis, Martii x; obitus Walteri Stapeldon, Epi., xv Octobris. Ex Antiquo Kalentiari Exon.). Bishop Grandisson's ordinance to this effect, dated 28th June, 1328, is in Bishop Brantyngham's 'Register,' vol. ii. fol. 6, where it is added that Bishop Stapeldon not only complied with the ancient custom of his predecessors in leaving an hundred oxen to the see, forty to work the farms in Devon, thirty those in Cornwall, and thirty for those elsewhere; but added another hundred oxen, with directions that at his anniversary one hundred poor should then be fed in the hall of Exeter Palace, or at its outer gate.
It is painful to reflect how this barbarous murder was suffered to pass over with apathy and impunity. About eighteen months later, Bishop Grandisson, writing to Pope John XXII., conjures His Holiness not to lose sight of that revolting tragedy - that the impunity for such an atrocious deed was a scandal to the nation - that His Holiness's clemency should beware of admitting the excuses of the Londoners; for common report affirmed that some, even of the bishops, had been induced by costly presents and future promises of the citizens of London to discolour the facts, and conceal the truth from the holy see - that their success would injure the reputation of His Holiness in the opinion of many, and would cover the writer (himself) with shame and grief: "et me filium sedis apostolicæ, etsi juvenem; et defensorem, licet invalidum retunderet obruentem" ('Reg.' vol. i. fol. 37).
In the episcopal archives is preserved an interesting roll or inventory (though sadly injured by the wanton use of galls) of the deceased prelate's effects, as delivered to Bishop Grandisson in June, 1328, by the executors, Richard de Coleton, precentor, Thomas de Stapeldon, brother to the testator, and Richard de Braylegh, then subdean, all canons of Exeter, in the absence of their co-executor, Robert de Tauton (the canon above mentioned). It comprises the effects of his chapel, library, chamber, wardrobe, cellar, plate, and household goods, and the live and dead stock on the farms. The ornaments of his chapel are numerous and valuable. His books, valued at 201l. 10s. 6d., treated chiefly on Holy Scripture and Canon Law, with a few historical works and some sermons. He had previously granted to the cathedral library a Catholicon, beginning with the words "Temporum Summa," valued at 5l., and the Chronicles of Westminster, "de Gestis Anglorum," valued at 1l. 6s. 8d. In his chamber were found 1006 florens "de agno," 4000 florens "de Florenciâ et ununs florens de regina;" and in ready money, "pecuniâ numeratâ," 801l. 8d. sterling; "in platis argenteis" to the value of 515l. His rings amounted to ninety-one; one was broken; three of them handsome, the rest ordinary, value unknown: but the pontifical and best rings, "tempore mortis defuncti fuerunt Londoni deprædati." The "vasa argentea" must have been splendid, combining gifts from the Kings of England and France and from various noblemen; yet not rated higher than 170l,. The cellar had been reduced in quantity; but we find a pipe half full de vino de Warnath, valued at 4l., whereas two other hogsheads of wine were priced at the same sum. The stock on his farms of Petershays, Flockston, Clist, Chudleigh, Bishop's Teignton, Paignton, Crediton, &c., was very valuable, but the prices moderate, compared with the present times. Good debts were estimated at 3817. 7s. 6d.; but the executors despaired of recovering others to the amount of 378l. 7s. 6d., "propter nimiam paupertatem debitorum." Before his death the bishop had sown 609 acres and a half with wheat and rye, valued at 151l. 11s. 8d., or 3s. 4d. the acre - fifteen acres of winter-barley, valued at 1l. 10s., or 2s. the acre; and in his peculiar manors 160 acres and a half of wheat and rye, valued at 26l. 15s., or 3s. 4d. an acre.
In the archives of the dean and chapter is Bishop Grandisson's acquittance, dated Chudleigh, 28th June, 1328, to the said executors: Within two months later, viz. 26th August, they engaged, in St. Mary's Chapel within the palace at Exeter, to pay Bishop Grandisson, in lieu of all dilapidations and demands, the sum of 300l., to present him with a precious mitre belonging to the late bishop; also with a silver bason and jug, the gift of the King of France. They further surrendered to him all the dead stock set forth in the inventory, and promised him 100l. more if he would assist them in recovering the debts due to the estate ('Reg.' vol. ii. fol. 62), and they obtained his lordship's receipt in full of all demands on the 24th March next ensuing ('Reg.' vol. ii. fol. 117).
The executors distributed 210l. 8s. 8d. in legacies and charities: amongst the items we find 3l. 6s. 8d. towards the building of the chancel of Pilton monastery, and 13s. 4d. to the fabric of Pilton Church; to the repairs of Cowley Bridge and its approaches 3l. 6s. 10½d.; to the repairs of New Bridge juxta Tauton, 2l.; towards the bridge at Bovey Hethfeld, one mark; pro ponte de Bickley, 1l. 5s.; to the prior and convent of Launceston for repairing their church, 10l. ; to the abbot of Athelney (where King Alfred once found shelter, and in gratitude founded its monastery) for repairs of the church and building of the tower, 4l. ; "in subsidium reparationis ecclesias de Plymptree pauperimæ," 10s.; for Stoke Bridge, 4l.; Spilstor Bridge, 20s.; for Wonorde Bridge, near Axminster, 20s.; towards Barnstaple Bridge, 4l., with 2l. for its wardens; for the repairs of Salcombe Church, 5l.; for a cloth embroidered with figures, for the use of the high altar of the cathedral of Exeter, 13l. 3s. 4d., and for a covering of the same, 1l. 8s.
The bishop's brother, Canon Thomas Stapeldon, granted a rent of 1l. 4s. charged on a tenement that once formed the corner-house of the High Street and North Street, Exeter, for the maintenance of his obit and the obits of the family. He further granted four shops in the High Street of Exeter to his brethren of the chapter, with the licence of King Edward III. for the same purpose. In conclusion we may add that Roger de Ralegh, Abbot of Hartland, and his convent, to perpetuate their grateful sense of the services of our prelate to their monastery, agreed to maintain his solemn obit on the 15th of October at all future times, and that, after this office was performed, thirteen poor persons should be fed in the abbot's hall, "et quod in die obitûs sui xiii pauperes in aulâ abbatis, pro ipsius animâ, pascantur."
Arms: - Argent, two bends wavy, sable.
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