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Walter Stapledon

Born: 1st Fenruary 1261 at Annery, Devon
Bishop of Exeter
Died: 15th October 1326 at Cheapside, Middlesex

Walter Stapledon, was the first of a series of 14th century Bishops of Exeter drawn from aristocratic families. Walter was the son of William & Mabel Stapledon and younger brother of Sir Richard Stapledon of Stapledon, near Holsworthy. He entered the service of the Church as Vicar of Aveton Gifford (Devon) around 1293 and later became Professor of Canon Law at Oxford as well as Chaplain to Pope Clement V. His enthronement, in October 1308, was unusually splendid and the feast, which followed it, is said to have consumed the revenues of the see for an entire year. In his own cathedral, besides other decorations which have long disappeared, he erected the sedilia and the choir screen. In Oxford, he was the founder of Stapledon's Inn (now Exeter College) and of Hart Hall, which stood on the north side of Broad Street. In London, Bishop Stapeldon built "a very fair house " in the Strand for the use of himself and his successors. It was afterwards bought by Queen Elizabeth I's favourite, the Earl of Essex, and known as Essex House.

The Bishop early became one of Edward II's privy counsellors and, in 1320, was created Lord High Treasurer. In 1325, he was attached to the embassy which accompanied Queen Isabella to the court of her brother, King Charles of France, who was planning to deprive Edward II of his French dominions. A treaty, to which Edward agreed, was concluded and Bishop Stapeldon returned to England. The Queen, asserting her fear of the Despencers, the favourites of her husband, remained in France, attended by "her gentle Mortimer". After war had been declared between the two countries, she landed on the Suffolk coast, supported by a body of 2,000 troops from Hainault. She was immediately joined by the great body of discontented nobles and advanced, at once, to London. The King fled to Bristol, leaving the City of London in charge of the Bishop of Exeter who, accordingly, demanded the keys of the City from the Mayor. But the citizens rose on the Queen's side, attacked the Bishop as he was riding through the streets, dragged him from St. Paul's Cathedral, where he had taken refuge, and hurrying him to the "great cross in Cheap," there beheaded him, together with certain other knights (15th October 1326). The body of the Bishop was at first flung aside irreverently, but afterwards, for the sake of concealment, was buried in the sand on the riverside, near his own palace. Six months later it was removed, by the Queen's command, to his cathedral at Exeter, where it was interred with great magnificence. His tomb remains on the north side of the choir. A diligent search after the murderers of Bishop Stapeldon was ordered in a synod held in London in 1329, under Simon Mepham, Archbishop of Canterbury. Such of them as could be discovered were tried and executed accordingly.

Edited from Richard John King's "Handbook to the Cathedrals of England: Southern Division" (1903).

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