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09th August 2018

Play about the founder of Exeter College announced

The Manaton and East Dartmoor (MED) Theatre has announced that it is producing a play about the founder of Exeter College, Walter de Stapeldon.

Stapledon is a new play written by the MED Theatre’s Artistic Director, Mark Beeson. The historical drama charts the life of Walter de Stapeldon (written Walter Stapledon in some records), Bishop of Exeter – from his humble origins coming from a farming family in North Devon, through his meteoric rise in the church and politics to become King Edward II’s most trusted diplomat and also his treasurer, to his murder by a London mob in 1326. Stapeldon’s life is counterpointed in the play by the story of a farming family on Dartmoor during the Great Famine.

Walter de Stapeldon must go down as one of the most successful of English treasurers. When Edward II came to the throne, the country owed thousands of pounds (billions in today’s money) to Italian bankers. By the time Stapeldon had done his work, the coffers were full and England was actually lending back to the Italian bankers. In the process, however, he made himself deeply unpopular with the common people, from whom he extracted funds with ruthless efficiency.

Deeply passionate about the power of education, in 1314 Walter de Stapeldon founded Exeter College (which at the time he named ‘Stapeldon Hall’) to teach poor scholars from Devon and Cornwall. In his foundation document he wrote: Learning dissipates the mists which cloud men’s understanding as a result of the Fall. God has rescued man from the Fall’s consequences by decreeing that he be educated in the liberal arts. He has ordained the Latin language as a common tongue to overcome the diversity of languages among the nations, to make possible the writing of history, and to allow true and false arguments to be distinguished. And in the new world of learning the masters and scholars of the university of Oxford shine like the sun in the firmament, producing streams of knowledge which irrigate the fields of the church and provide men to give wise counsels in church and state.

Stapledon is based on detailed research into the life of the ‘quiet man’ of Edward II’s reign, who flew under the political radar for much of the period but eventually paid the ultimate price for his success, his head severed on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral by a frenzied mob.

The MED Theatre is dedicated to creating original work with a radical perspective on history and ecology. It has been commissioned by the Guild of St Lawrence to
create this play, which will be performed on Thursday 27, Friday 28, and Saturday 29 September 2018 at 7.30 pm in St Andrews Church, Ashburton. Tickets are £8 (or £5 for children under 16) and are available online from the MED Theatre website or from Ashburton Information Centre.

Walter de Stapeldon is buried in Exeter Cathedral

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