John de Stratford, Archbishop of Canterbury

Born: c. 1275

Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England

Died: August 23, 1348

Mayfield, East Sussex, England (Age c. 73)

Winchester in History

Little is known about the early life of John Stratford, but he did come from a fairly wealthy and influential Warwickshire family. It appears that Stratford's rise to power was a slow one, and he did not receive his doctorate in civil law until 1312, when he was already a man in his late thirties. By 1317, Stratford's career was finally on the rise; he frequently attended council meetings and Parliaments, was given several preferments within the church and was used frequently as a foreign diplomat and papal envoy. One of Stratford's most significant missions came in 1323 when he was sent to deliver the recommendation for King Edward II's favorite Robert Baldock for the vacant bishopric of Winchester. However, Pope John XXII outright refused Baldock's appointment and instead appointed Stratford himself. Edward II was furious at the pope's appointment but ultimately acquiesced to the decision, and Stratford was allowed to keep the bishopric and continued to serve as a diplomat. In 1325, Winchester was sent to France in an attempt to convince Queen Isabella to return home to England, an attempt he was unsuccessful in, and when the queen and her lover, Roger Mortimer, invaded England the following year in an attempt to depose the king and rid the realm of his evil counselors, the bishop put his support behind them.

In January 1327, Winchester one of the major figures who persuaded Edward II to abdicate the throne in favor of his son, the new King Edward III, and participated in the young king's coronation ceremony. The bishop continued to serve as a diplomat and was a member of the king's council. Since the king was only a teenager, his mother and Mortimer acted as co-regents. Winchester was a staunch opponent of the regents and was undoubtedly overjoyed when Mortimer was executed and the king began his majority reign (1330). Throughout the 1330s, Winchester served (sporadically) as chancellor of England, giving him control of the great seal, nearly the equivalent of the king's own signature. In addition, the bishop was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury (1333), elevating him to the highest position within England's church. However, by 1337, the king was eager to go to war with France, and although the preparations for the war dragged on for several years, the royal party was set to invade the continent by 1340. Canterbury proved to be one of the most outspoken opponents of the campaign, thinking it was rash, youthful thinking on the part of the king. The expedition was, at first, successful, and the king achieved a major naval victory against the French at Sluys. However, it seems as if the king did not have his next move planned out and, due to a lack of resources, was forced to sign a temporary truce with the French. The war would not see significant progress for the English until 1346.

Edward III was furious at how events had turned out and sought to blame those who had objected to the invasion in the first place. Canterbury, being the primary opponent, received most of the blame for the failed expedition and spent the next year and a half defending himself from all sorts of heinous accusations from the king and his close followers. Finally though, in May 1341, the archbishop was cleared of all charges and was allowed to live quietly, occasionally being consulted on political matters, until his death in August 1348.

Winchester in Marlowe

Appears in: Edward II

The Bishop of Winchester appears briefly in Edward II when he is seen attempting to convince the king to abdicate the throne to the prince, which he is ultimately successful in achieving. This is a historically accurate portrayal of the bishop, who was indeed one of the men who forced the king's abdication.


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