Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Stretton, Robert de

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STRETTON, ROBERT de (d. 1385), bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, son of Robert Eyryk or de Stretton by his wife Johanna, was born at Stretton Magna, Leicestershire, from which place he and his elder brother, Sir William Eyryk, knight (ancestor of the Heyricks of Leicestershire), derived their surnames. After taking holy orders he became chaplain to Edward the Black Prince, whose favour he enjoyed, and he is said to have become doctor of laws and one of the auditors of the rota in the court of Rome. Before 1343 he was rector of Wykyngeston or Wilkington, and in that year obtained a canonry in Chichester Cathedral. He was also collated to prebends or canonries in St. Paul's and Lichfield Cathedrals. In 1349, at the request of the Black Prince, he obtained a canonry at Salisbury. Before October 1351 he had become a king's clerk, and in 1353 he was collated to the canonry of St. Cross in Lincoln Cathedral. In 1354 he was rector of Llanpadern Vawr in the diocese of St. Davids, and in the following year was directed by the pope to assist the nuncio in preventing hostilities between the Black Prince and the Count of Ponthieu (Cal. Papal Registers, passim). On 14 Dec. 1358 he was collated to the prebend of Pipe Parva in the church of Lichfield, and on 1 Jan. following was chosen bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, on the death of Bishop Northburgh [q. v.], by Edward III at the request of the Black Prince. Stretton was so illiterate that a complaint was made to Innocent VI of his want of learning and consequent unfitness for the bishopric. Accordingly the pope sent a special injunction to Archbishop Islip not to consecrate him, and Islip and his assessor, John de Sheppey [q. v.], bishop of Rochester, rejected him for insufficiency. Stretton, however, either at the suggestion of the Black Prince or because he was cited by the pope, hastened to Avignon, and submitted himself to the examination of the pope's examiners, who rejected him ‘propter defectum literaturæ.’ But the king insisted on Stretton's appointment, and kept the see of Lichfield vacant for two years, himself enjoying the temporalities during that period. The Black Prince now besought the pope to put an end to the scandal by appointing a commission to examine Stretton again, and Innocent referred the matter to the archbishop of Canterbury. The archbishop, on re-examining him, still found him insufficient, and refused to consecrate him. At length the pope gave way. He issued his bull of provision on 22 April 1360, presently confirmed Stretton's election, and directed the archbishop to consecrate him without examination. This, however, the archbishop refused to do in person, though he confirmed his election on 26 Sept. 1360, and commissioned two of his suffragans, Northburgh, bishop of London, and Sheppey, bishop of Rochester, to consecrate Stretton, which they did reluctantly on 27 Sept. 1360. The temporalities of the see had been restored on 19 Sept. On 6 Feb. following Stretton made the usual profession of canonical obedience in the archbishop's presence at Lambeth, ‘alio professionem legente, quod ipse legere non posset.’ It is difficult to conceive such a degree of ignorance in a prelate, but the words of the register are conclusive.

Stretton presided over the diocese of Coventry and Lichfield for a period of twenty-five years, and his acts are preserved in two volumes of his registers which are extant at Lichfield. Much of his episcopal work in the diocese was done by suffragans. He founded and endowed a chantry in the chapel of his native place, Stretton Magna, on 4 Sept. 1378, and he ordained that the chaplain should pray for the founder, and for the souls of Edward III, the Prince of Wales and Isabella his wife, as also of his father and mother, brothers and sister. In the same year he also endowed a chantry at Stretton-super-Dunsmore in Warwickshire (patent 2 Rich. II, pars. 1, m. 33). At some period during his episcopate he appears to have restored or renovated the shrine of St. Chad, which stood in the lady-chapel of Lichfield Cathedral. On 7 Sept. 1381, having become infirm and blind, he was ordered by the chapter of Canterbury to appoint a coadjutor within ten days. He died at his manor-house at Haywood in Staffordshire on 28 March 1385, and was interred in St. Andrew's Chapel in Lichfield Cathedral, on the north side of the shrine of St. Chad. An altar-tomb, depicted in Shaw's ‘History of Staffordshire’ (vol. i. plate 23), and there erroneously described as that of Bishop Blith, is in all probability the monument of Bishop Stretton. It was standing in Dugdale's time, but has long since been destroyed. Stretton's will, dated 19 March 1384–5, and proved on 10 April 1385, is preserved at Lambeth Palace (Reg. Courtenay, f. 211 a).

[Robert de Stretton, bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, 1360–85, in the Associated Architectural Society's Reports and Papers, xix. 198–208; Nichols's Leicestershire, vol. ii. passim; Shaw's Staffordshire, i. 247, 269, sq.; S.P.C.K. Diocesan History of Lichfield, pp. 155–7; Moberly's William of Wykeham, pp. 40–2; Godwin, de Præsulibus, pp. 262, 321; Wharton's Anglia Sacra, i. 44 and 449; Hook's Lives of the Archbishops, i. 448–9; Dugdale's Warwickshire, i. 41; Le Neve's Fasti, i. 550–1, 620; Cal. Papal Registers and Cal. Pat. Rolls, 1377–81.]

W. G. D. F.