Walter de Stapeldon, Bishop of Exeter and Founder of Exeter College
Maddicott, John (Oxford University)
Paper given at Oxford University, September 26 (2009)
Almost the first thing that we can be sure about in the life of Walter de Stapeldon is that he was educated at Oxford. We know this because he tells us so, in the College’s foundation charter drawn up in April 1314 and still here in the college archives. ‘The University of Oxford’, he says ‘which so greatly advanced us in the study of letters when we were young, nourished us, and promoted us, though we were unworthy’. This simple statement immediately raises two problems: when exactly was young Stapeldon at Oxford, and how exactly did he get there? The ‘when’ question is up to a point answerable. Stapeldon is first mentioned with a date attached to him in a legal record of 1286. Here he’s already described as magister, or ‘master’, meaning that he’d already graduated as a master in arts from the university. This normally took about seven or eight years, so Stapeldon can’t have gone up to Oxford much after 1278 at the very latest. If he arrived at the usual age of 17 or 18, that would put his birth about 1260.