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Stratton, Adam de (DNB00)

STRATTON, ADAM de (fl. 1265–1290), clerk and chamberlain of the exchequer, is first mentioned as being in the service of Isabella de Fortibus, countess of Albemarle, one of the two hereditary chamberlains of the exchequer. Hence it is probable that his name was derived from Stratton, Wiltshire, one of the manors held by the countess as pertaining to the chamberlainship. He had three brothers, Henry, Ralph, and William, for all of whom employment was found at the exchequer in connection with his own office of chamberlain. He was certainly a clerk, being styled ‘dominus Adam clericus de Strattune,’ and, if he indeed survived till 1327, he may be the clerk of that name described as ‘Magister Artium’ in a papal letter. Possibly he was educated at the monastery of Quarr in the Isle of Wight, founded by the family of his patroness. With this monastery he had close relations, having even been reckoned, though quite erroneously, as one of its abbots (Annales Mon. Rolls Ser. iv. 319, v. 333).

Adam de Stratton's first appearance at the exchequer seems to have been made in the forty-sixth year of Henry III (1261–2), when he was retained in the king's service there by a special writ. It is probable that he owed his advancement to the Countess of Albemarle, for whom he acted as attorney in the upper exchequer during the rest of the reign. At this time he was specially engaged as clerk of the works at the palace of Westminster, and in this connection his name frequently occurs in the rolls of chancery as the recipient of divers robes, and bucks and casks of wine, besides more substantial presents in the shape of debts and fines due to the crown, together with land and houses at Westminster attached to his office in the exchequer.

He had already acquired the interest of the Windsor family in the hereditary serjeantry of weigher (ponderator) in the receipt of the exchequer, which he handed over to his brother William as his deputy. Another brother, Henry, was apparently keeping warm for him the lucrative office of deputy-chamberlain, to which he was formally presented by the Countess of Albemarle in person in the first year of Edward I's reign (1272–3).

With the new king Adam de Stratton found such favour that he was not only retained and confirmed with larger powers in his office of the works at Westminster, but he was even allowed to obtain from his patroness a grant in perpetuity of the chamberlainship of the exchequer, together with all the lands pertaining thereto. This was in 1276, and Stratton had now reached the turning-point of his career. So far all had prospered with him. From private deeds and bonds still preserved among the exchequer records, it appears that, thanks to official perquisites and extortions and usurious contracts, he had become one of the richest men in England. Just as the crown connived at the malpractices of Jews and Lombards with the intent to squeeze their ill-gotten gains into the coffers of the state, so the unscrupulous official of the period enjoyed a certain protection as long as his wealth and abilities were of service to his employers.

In 1279 Stratton was dismissed from his office of clerk of the works, and proclamation was made for all persons defrauded by him to appear and give evidence. He was also suspended in his offices at the exchequer, while he was at the same time convicted at the suit of the abbot and monastery of Quarr for forgery and fraud in connection with their litigation with the Countess of Albemarle. In spite of this exposure, Adam de Stratton found the usual means to make his peace with the crown, and his exchequer offices were resumed by him in the same year. Ten years later a fresh scandal provoked a more searching inquiry, which resulted in his complete disgrace. On this occasion it was the monastery of Bermondsey that was victimised by his favourite device of tampering with the seals of deeds executed by his clients. At the same time he figured as the chief delinquent in the famous state trials of 1290, which led to the disgrace of the two chief justices and several justices, barons, and other high officials. The charges brought against the accused, and particularly against Stratton, reveal an almost incredible audacity and callousness in their career of force and fraud. Stratton at least defended himself with courage, but he was convicted on a charge of sorcery, and his ruin was complete. It is said that the treasure which he had amassed, with his other property in lands and goods, exceeded the whole treasure of the crown, and he had besides valuable advowsons in almost every diocese.

Even after this final disgrace Stratton was still secretly employed by the crown on confidential business, and it was whispered that he was engaged to tamper with the deeds executed by the Countess of Albemarle on her deathbed, in order to obtain for the crown a grant of the Isle of Wight to the disinheritance of the countess's lawful heirs. However this may be, after 1290 Stratton is mentioned in public documents only as an attainted person whose estates were administered in the exchequer. His name does indeed occur as sheriff of Flint, a distant employment that might denote his continued disgrace. A beneficed clerk of his name is referred to in a papal letter of 1327, and there is some reason for supposing that he was still alive at this date.

[The authorities for Adam de Stratton's life and times are set out in detail in the Red Book of the Exchequer (Rolls Series), pt. iii. pp. cccxv–cccxxx, including a large number of references to contemporary records and chronicles. The few printed notices that have appeared are inaccurate.]

H. H.