LIVES OF THE BISHOPS OF EXETER
EDMUND DE STAFFORD was descended from a family rivalling the most ancient and illustrious within the realm of England. His parents, as is evident from the ordinatio or foundation-deed of his chantry, dated 1st October, 1408, were Sir Richard de Stafford, knight (who was summoned to parliament among the barons of the realm from 44th Edward III. to 3rd Richard II.), and Isabella, daughter of Sir Richard Vernon of Haddon, knight, by Hand his wife, eldest daughter and coheir of William Lord Camville. His uncle, Baron Ralph de Stafford, Knight of the Garter, had been created Earl of Stafford on 5th March, 1351. Embracing the ecclesiastical state, Edmund obtained the degree of Doctor of Laws, and was a canon of York Minster, when Pope Boniface IX. promoted him to the vacant see of Exeter, by his bull dated Rome, 15th January, 1395, inserted in the beginning of the first volume of his register. He was consecrated at Lambeth by the primate William Courtenay on Sunday 20th June, 1395, assisted by Robert de Braybroke, Bishop of London, and John Waltham, Bishop of Sarum; and, according to custom, "ratione novas creationis," the new bishop assigned the pension of five marks to a
clerk named by the crown, until he could institute him to a suitable living. As public business prevented his lordship from quitting the court, he lost no time in appointing an efficient vicar-general ('Reg.' vol. ii. fol. 1). King Richard II. on 23rd October, 1396, nomimated him Lord High Chancellor, and he continued in office until the eve of the king's abdicating the crown; he had also appointed him one of his executors (Rymer's 'Foedera,' vol. viii. p. 77). Released from the turmoils of state office, he hastened to visit his diocese. On his way hither from London we find him arrived at Salisbury on 18th March, 1400: on 5th April he was domiciled at his manor-house of Bishop's Clist, and shortly after proceeded in his visitation through the counties of Devon and Cornwall. Thus he continued in the discharge of his pastoral functions until 20th January, 1401, when he started for London; and for those times, and at that season of the year, he must have travelled expeditiously, for a document is entered in his register dated but six days later "in hospitio nostro London." King Henry IV. probably wished to have his counsel: on 9th March that monarch restored to him the Great Seal which he retained for nearly two years, when he returned to his diocese. We meet with him at Clist on 29th March, 1403, and two days after he held an ordination in its domestic chapel. From this period until his death he absented himself as little as possible from his diocese; and the two folio volumes of his register, comprising nearly 1400 pages, attest his diligence in administering to his affairs and the zeal he evinced for the good government of all classes; in fact none of the episcopal registers before or after him are kept in a more business-like manner. The day before his death at Clist he confirmed the election made by the chapter of John Cobthorne for their dean; and on the very day of his death at Clist 3rd September, 1419, aged 75, he instituted an incumbent of Blackauton, and collated to a prebend and canonry in his cathedral, when his registrar adds "et eodem die D. Edmundus, Exoniensis Episcopus, diem suum clausit extremum: cujus animæ propitietur Deus, Amen." The inquisition post mortem, anno sexto King Henry V., proves that he had estates in the counties of Leicester, Gloucester, Derby, Stafford, and Northampton. His will in Archbishop Chicheley's Register is dated 24th July, 1418, and "was proved 18th September," 1419.
Bishop Lacy in his 'Register' (vol. ii. fo]. 17), after extolling Bishop Stafford's "sincere and inviolable purity of devotion, enlarges on his continued works of mercy during his life, and on his generous donation of service-books, and of a chalice to the chapel "de Stapyldon Halle, vulgariter nominatas Exon." at Oxford. To its college library he gave several books; he laid out 200 marks in extending and heightening the library itself; he rebuilt its chapel-porch and covered the whole with lead. Moreover he had new-roofed half of the college hall, and erected a new west gate there. In gratitude to their benefactor's memory, its fellows engaged on 2nd June, 1430, to maintain the perpetual obit of Edmund de Stafford Bishop of Exeter. He had added two scholarships to be chosen from the diocese of Sarum ('Hist. et Ant. Oxon.,' lib. ii. 93), and moreover he altered the name of the house from Stapeldon Hall to Exeter College. Long before his death he had purchased, as he tells us, "de et cum bonis patrimonialibus, et de peculio nostro ad utilitatem nostram" ('Reg.' vol. ii. fol. 282), the manors of Winterbourn Wast, Bockhampton, and Swanwich in Dorsetshire, to which his cousin Humphrey de Stafford added the advowson of Winterbourn Wast Church, for the purpose of founding a perpetual chantry at the altar of St. John the Baptist on the north side of the Lady Chapel within Exeter Cathedral. This property was conveyed to the dean and chapter, with the license of King Henry IV., on 1st October, 1408, and the terms accepted by them on the day following; his present altar-tomb there, with the exception of the beautiful alabaster effigy and gorgeous canopy, must have been prepared shortly after the date of this agreement; for the bishop's cousin, Canon William Langeton, by his will made and proved nearly six years before the bishop's death, desires to be buried in the cathedral "ex parte dexterâ vel sinistrâ tumbe Reverendi Patris Domini mei Edmundi Episcopi Exoniensis," which was accordingly done. Leland in his 'Itinerary' (vol. iii. p. 44) has preserved the bishop's epitaph, now illegible :-
Hic jacet Edmundus de Stafforde intumulatus
Quondam profundus legum doctor reputatus
Verbis facundus, Comitum de stirpe creatus
Felix et mundus Pater hujus Pontificatûs.
Hoker in his 'MS. History' thus describes our bishop - "A man no more noble than learned, and no more learned than grave and wise, for he was very well accounted generally of all men, but most speciallyin favour with the king and nobility." After enumerating his preferments and chancellorship, the historian continues: "his government tended very much to the benefit of the commonwealth; he was a great favourer and furtherer to good learning. A singular man he was in that age, and also left many good memorials behind him."
With these historic details before us, we were not a little surprised at the character affixed to his memory by Lord Campbell in his 'Lives of the Lord Chancellors of England,' vol. i. p. 302, as "one presiding over atrocities - possessing little theological knowledge, and without any knowledge of the law - a daring and reckless politician - sanctioning hasty and tyrannical measures, which precipitated the fate of his sovereign Richard II." That "on the restoration of the seals by King Henry II. he resigned them at the end of February, 1403, as he felt himself so unfit for the office, and retired to his diocese to exercise baronial hospitality, and to enjoy hunting and the other sports of the field, in the vain hope that some revolution in politics would again enable him to mix in factious strife, which still more delighted him. But he continued to languish in tranquillity until he was gathered to his fathers." Such assertions, unsupported by evidence, must detract from the merit of the learned and noble biographer.
Arms: - Or, a chevron gules, (his addition, entoyred with Bishop's mitres proper).
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