The Register of John de Stratford, Bishop of Winchester, 1323–1333
This book has been published by Surrey Record Society in two volumes, 42 and 43.
The registers of the bishops of Winchester are a major source for national and ecclesiastical history and the history of medieval Surrey and Hampshire. John de Stratford was a leading figure in Church and State in the first half of the fourteenth century who successively occupied the offices of treasurer and chancellor and became first bishop of Winchester and then archbishop of Canterbury. His register includes entries relating to the international political activities of the Avignon papacy and the affairs of Church and State in England at a time of unrest and conflict which led to the deposition of Edward II. It is also significant for the light it throws on administration, social and other aspects of the diocese.
The register has been edited by Professor Roy Martin Haines who has published biographies of John de Stratford, Adam de Orleton his successor at Winchester, and Edward II, with many other studies of this period.
At that time Surrey was divided into the deaneries of Ewell, Guildford and Southwark, which no doubt explains why Ewell is frequently mentioned. This is because there are references to correspondence with the dean of Ewell. A typical entry is the following:
The bishop to the dean of Ewell. It has come to his ears by public report and information from trustworthy persons that the prior and convent of Merton who hold the church of Kingston to their own uses [i.e. by appropriation] take so much of the fruits and profits that the vicar, left with the remainder, has insufficient to support himself and to discharge episcopal rights and other burdens in accordance with established practice of the diocese, as was discovered by the commissary of the bishop’s official in his visitation. The diocesan, wishing to provide a remedy, requires the dean peremptorily to cite the religious to appear before him or his special commissary for the purpose in the parish church of Kingston on the second juridical day after the festival of souls [All Souls’ Day, 2 November] to advance reasons, if they have any, why he should not proceed to the augmentation of the vicarage and to do everything necessary that is just. The dean is to warn the vicar to appear, should he deem it expedient, on the day appointed to see what shall have been determined.
Most of the entries in the register are concerned with administration including appointments of vicars and other church officials and the maintenance of discipline, although some make reference to the bishop’s involvement in affairs of state. When I see records like this I am amazed at how efficient administration was in the days before computers, typewriters and even the printing press. There are lengthy reports on proceedings and it was all done with quill pens!
Financial affairs are much to the fore with an insistence that tithes are fully paid and that those not complying are in danger of excommunication; and a variety of offences are to be avoided as they will lead to the loss of the perpetrators’ souls.
As one would expect, since Epsom was less important than Ewell in medieval times, there are fewer references to it. One of them is a complaint that some rectors and vicars including Richard of Epsom had produced less than sufficient for a legal title and this led to the bishop ordering the sequestration and retention of the fruits and profits of the benefices claimed by the rectors and vicars until the bishop had been fully informed about their rights.