Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Stratford, John de
STRATFORD, JOHN de (d. 1348), archbishop of Canterbury, was born at Stratford-on-Avon, where he and his brother Robert de Stratford [q. v.] held property. His parents were called Robert and Isabella. Ralph de Stratford [q. v.], bishop of London, was his kinsman, possibly his nephew (Anglia Sacra, i. 374). To the elder Robert de Stratford is attributed the foundation in 1296 of the chapel of the guild at Stratford and of the almshouses in connection therewith. John de Stratford was educated at Merton College, Oxford. He graduated as doctor of civil and canon law before 1311, when he was a proctor for the university in a suit against the Dominicans at the Roman court. Afterwards he received some position in the royal service, perhaps as a clerk in the chancery, for in 1317 and subsequent years he was summoned to give advice in parliament (Parl. Writs, II. ii. 1471). He was also official of the bishop of Lincoln before 20 Dec. 1317, when he received the prebend of Castor at Lincoln. He was likewise parson of Stratford-on-Avon, which preferment he exchanged on 13 Sept. 1319 for the archdeaconry of Lincoln. At York he held a canonry, and Edward II granted him the prebend of Bere and Charminster at Salisbury, to which, however, he was never admitted. Archbishop Walter Reynolds [q. v.] made him dean of the court of arches, and from December 1321 to April 1323 he was employed on the business of Scotland at the papal curia (Fœdera, ii. 462–515). His colleague, Reginald de Asser, bishop of Winchester, died at Avignon on 12 April 1323, and, though the king directed him to use his influence on behalf of Robert Baldock, Stratford contrived to obtain a papal bull in his own favour, and he was consecrated bishop of Winchester by the cardinal bishop of Albano on 22 June (Chron. Edward I and Edward II, i. 305; Murimuth, p. 39; Birchington, p. 19; Fœdera, ii. 518, 525, 531–3). Edward II in wrath dismissed Stratford from his office, and on his return to England refused to recognise him as bishop and withheld the temporalities of his see till 28 June 1324 (ib. ii. 557). Even then he had to purchase favour by a bond for 10,000l. (Parl. Writs, II. ii. 258); payment was, however, not exacted, and Stratford was soon restored to favour. On 15 Nov. 1324, and again on 5 May 1325, Stratford was commissioned to treat with France, and it was by his advice that Edward permitted Queen Isabella to go to the French court (Fœdera, ii. 575, 595, 597). On 6 Nov. 1325 he was appointed lieutenant of the treasurer for William de Melton [q. v.], and on 30 Sept. 1326 joined with the archbishop of Canterbury in publishing an old bull against invaders of the realm (Chron. Edward I and Edward II, i. 315).
Stratford was willing to take the risk of offering his mediation between the king and queen, but could get no one to support him (Dene, Hist. Roffensis, p. 366). He then yielded to necessity, and on 15 Nov., as treasurer, swore at the Guildhall to observe the liberties of London (Chron. Edward I and Edward II, i. 318). When parliament met in January 1327 Stratford acquiesced in the election of Edward III, preaching on the text, ‘Cujus caput infirmum cætera membra dolent’ (Dene, p. 367). He drew up the six articles giving the reasons for the king's deposition, and was one of the three bishops sent to obtain from the king his formal abdication (Chron. Lanercost, pp. 257–8; Baker, pp. 27–8).
Stratford was a member of the council for the young king's guidance, and on 22 Feb. was appointed to go on a mission to France (Cal. Pat. Rolls, Edward III, i. 16). But his own sympathies were constitutional, and he could not join cordially with the new government, by whom he was himself regarded with suspicion. He withdrew without permission from the parliament of Salisbury in October 1328 (Fœdera, ii. 753), and at Christmas attended the conference of Henry of Lancaster and his friends at London (Chron. Edward I and Edward II, i. 343–4). Like others of Lancaster's supporters, Stratford incurred the enmity of Mortimer, and Birchington (Anglia Sacra, i. 19) relates that during the Salisbury parliament Mortimer's supporters counselled that he should be put to death, and that the bishop owed his safety to a timely warning and had for a while to remain in hiding.
Immediately after the overthrow of Mortimer, Stratford was appointed chancellor on 30 Nov. 1330, and for the next ten years was the young king's principal adviser. In April 1331 he accompanied Edward abroad, both assuming the disguise of merchants to conceal the real purpose of the expedition. Stratford attended the parliament in September, but in November again crossed over to the continent to treat with Philip of France concerning the proposed crusade, and to negotiate a marriage between the king's sister Eleanor and the Count of Gueldres (Cal. Pat. Rolls, Edward III, ii. 188, 218, 223, 250). He returned for the parliament in March 1332, but was soon afterwards again commissioned to treat with France (ib. ii. 273). In the autumn of 1333 the archbishopric of Canterbury fell vacant, and, Stratford being favoured by king and pope, the prior and chapter postulated him on 3 Nov. The royal assent was given on 18 Nov., and on 26 Nov. (Birchington, p. 19; Murimuth, p. 70, says 1 Dec.) the pope, disregarding the postulation by the chapter, provided Stratford to the archbishopric. Stratford received the bull at Chertsey on 1 Feb. 1334, and on 5 Feb. the temporalities were restored to him. In April he went abroad on the business of Ponthieu (Cal. Pat. Rolls, ii. 532, 534), and the pall was delivered to him by Bishop Heath of Rochester at Rue in Ponthieu on 23 April. He returned to England for the summer, and on 28 Sept. resigned the chancellorship. During September he held a convocation at St. Paul's, and on 9 Oct. he was enthroned at Canterbury. Almost immediately afterwards he crossed over to treat with Philip of France concerning Aquitaine and the proposed crusade (ib. iii. 30). He returned to England in January 1335, and visited his diocese in February. Stratford was made chancellor for the second time on 6 June 1335, and during almost the whole of the next two years was engaged with the king in the north of England and in Scotland (Murimuth, pp. 75–6; cf. Litt. Cant. ii. 76, 96–100, 140). He came south for the funeral of John of Eltham on 13 Jan. 1337. On 24 March he resigned the great seal. About the end of November the cardinals whom the pope had sent to negotiate peace between England and France arrived in England, and were received by the archbishop. Their mission proved fruitless, and on 16 July 1338 Stratford accompanied the king to Flanders. He remained abroad till September 1339, taking part in the negotiations with France (Murimuth, pp. 83, 85, 90). On 28 April 1340 Stratford was for the third time made chancellor, but, when the king refused to accept his advice against the proposed naval expedition, he finally resigned the seal on 20 June (Fœdera, ii. 1126; Avesbury, p. 311, where the king is said to have restored the archbishop to office).
Up to this time Stratford had been foremost among the king's advisers, and even now he was left as president of the council in Edward's absence. But there was a strong party hostile to his influence. Stratford had perhaps opposed the French war, and this circumstance, combined with the king's ill-success, gave his enemies their opportunity. Under their advice, Edward returned from Flanders suddenly on 30 Nov. 1340, and on the following day removed Robert Stratford, the archbishop's brother, from his office as chancellor, and had a number of prominent judges and merchants arrested. The archbishop himself was at Charing, and on receipt of the news took refuge with the monks of Christchurch at Canterbury. On 2 Dec. the king summoned him to attend at court; the archbishop excused himself from compliance, and made his defence in a series of sermons and letters. On 29 Dec. he preached on the text ‘In diebus suis non timuit principem’ (Ecclesiasticus, xlviii. 12), comparing himself to St. Thomas of Canterbury, and denouncing all who broke the great charter. On 1 Jan. 1341 he addressed a long letter of remonstrance to the king. On 28 Jan. he wrote to the new chancellor, begging him to stay execution of the collection of the clerical grant, and on the following day directed the bishops to forbid it. Edward and his advisers replied on 10 Feb. in a long letter of violent abuse, called a ‘libellus famosus;’ Stratford had kept him without funds and so caused the failure of the late expedition, and was responsible for all the rash policy of the last eight years. On 18 Feb. William Kildesby, keeper of the privy seal, and certain Brabant merchants appeared at Canterbury, summoning Stratford to go to Flanders as security for the king's debts. Stratford replied in a sermon on Ash Wednesday and in a long letter to the king, in which he claimed to be tried before his peers. On 23 April parliament met. Stratford was ordered to appear in the court of exchequer and hear the charges against him. The king refused to meet the archbishop, and Stratford on his part insisted on taking his place in parliament. On 27 April the chamberlain refused him admission to the Painted Chamber, where the bishops were sitting, but Stratford, with a conscious imitation of Thomas Becket, forced his way in. On 1 May he offered to clear himself before parliament, and on 3 May a committee of lords was appointed to advise the king whether the peers were liable to be tried out of parliament. The committee reported adversely, and Edward, finding himself compelled to yield, consented on 7 May to a formal reconciliation (see principally Birchington, pp. 22–41; Hemingburgh, ii. 363–88).
Though Stratford never resumed his old position in politics, his friendly relations with the king were after a time restored. In October 1341, while Stratford was holding a provincial synod at St. Paul's, a more complete reconciliation was effected between him and the king (Murimuth, p. 122). He was the king's adviser in refusing to receive the two cardinals whom the pope sent to negotiate for peace in August 1342 (ib. p. 125), and in the parliament of April 1343 his full restoration to favour was marked by the annulment of the proceedings against him as contrary to reason and truth (Fœdera, ii. 1141–54).
During the last years of his life Stratford, though occasionally consulted by the king, was occupied mainly with ecclesiastical affairs. In October 1343 he proposed to visit the diocese of Norwich, and, being resisted by the bishop and clergy, laid both bishop and prior under excommunication. Edward acted under Stratford's advice in his negotiations with the pope as to papal privileges in England during 1344 and 1345, and the legates who came to England in the latter year were long entertained by Stratford (Murimuth, pp. 157–62, 176–7). Stratford was head of the council during the king's absence abroad in July 1345 and during the campaign of Crécy in 1346 (Fœdera, iii. 50, 85). Perhaps his last public appearance of note was on 16 Aug. 1346, when he read the convention of the French king for a Norman invasion of England at St. Paul's (Murimuth, p. 211). In 1348 he fell ill at Maidstone. Thence he was taken to Mayfield in Sussex, where he died on 23 Aug. He was buried in Canterbury Cathedral near the high altar. His tomb bears a sculptured effigy (engraved in Longman's ‘Edward III,’ i. 179).
Stratford is described as a man of great wisdom and a notable doctor of canon and civil law (Baker, p. 55). He was rather a politician than an ecclesiastic, and Birchington speaks of him as being in the early years of his archiepiscopate too much absorbed in worldly affairs (Anglia Sacra, i. 20). But he was more than a capable administrator, and was ‘somewhat of a statesman’ (Stubbs). He was ‘the most powerful adviser of the constitutional party’ (ib.), and his sympathies kept him from supporting Isabella and Mortimer, and governed his administration of affairs for the ten years that followed their fall. By his resistance to Edward III in 1341 he established the great principle that peers should only be tried before their own order in full parliament.
Stratford spent much money on the parish church of his native town; he widened the north aisle and built the south aisle, in which he established a chantry in honour of Thomas Becket. He endowed a college of priests in connection with the chantry, and purchased the advowson of the church for them (Dugdale, Warwickshire, pp. 683–4, 692; Lee, Stratford-on-Avon, pp. 35–41; Cal. Pat. Rolls, Edward III, ii. 79, 399). He was also a benefactor of the hospitals of St. Thomas the Martyr at Southwark and Eastbridge, Canterbury (Cal. Pat. Rolls, Edward III, i. 366; Litteræ Cantuarienses, pp. 251–3, 267). Of his writings, besides the letters written by him during the controversy of 1341, some constitutions published in 1342 and 1343 are printed in Wilkins's ‘Concilia,’ ii. 696, 702. Many of his letters are printed in the ‘Litteræ Cantuarienses,’ vol. ii.; in one he rebukes prior Oxenden for his ‘inutilis verbositas’ (ii. 155). A number of sermons by Stratford are contained in a fourteenth-century manuscript in Hereford Cathedral Library. Among them are included those which he delivered at Canterbury during his dispute with Edward III in 1340–1. Some extracts were printed in the ‘English Historical Review’ (viii. 85–91).[Chronicles of Edward I and Edward II, Chronica Murimuth et Avesbury, Blaneford's Chronicle, Litteræ Cantuarienses (all these in Rolls Ser.); Hemingburgh's Chronicle (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Chron. Galfridi le Baker, ed. Thompson; Rolls of Parliament; Rymer's Fœdera; Calendars of Patent Rolls, Edward III; Birchington's Vitæ Archiepiscoporum Cantuariensium and Dene's Historia Roffensis in Wharton's Anglia Sacra; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.-Hib. p. 696; Foss's Judges of England; Hook's Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury, iv. 1–79; Barnes's Hist. of Edward III; Longman's Life and Times of Edward III; Stubbs's Constitutional Hist.]