Fulbourn, Stephen de (d. 1288), treasurer and justiciar of Ireland, bishop of Waterford and archbishop of Tuam, took his surname from the village of Fulbourn in the hundred of Flendish, about 8 km southeast of Cambridge. He was born sometime in the middle of the thirteenth century and although there is no extant record of his early life or education, it can be said with some certainty that he did not attend either Oxford or Cambridge universities. It can also be stated with confidence that he was ordained a priest at some date prior to 1268, and that he entered holy orders as a monk in the Order of the Knights Hospitaller of St John of Jerusalem (Hospitallers).
The first mention of him in records is when 'Brother Stephen de Fulbourn' was named as preceptor (acting head) of Clerkenwell priory in London from 14 June 1269 to 29 September 1270, while prior Roger de Vere was in the Holy Land on the order's business. Clerkenwell was the residence of the grand prior of Hospitallers and was therefore their foremost priory in England. This prestigious position brought de Fulbourn to prominence and is the first indication we have of his financial skill and efficiency. In 1270 Brother Hugh Ravel, grandmaster of the Hospitallers, issued him a charter as a reward for his achievements, granting him use for life of all property he had acquired or might acquire by his prudence for the Hospital, and leasing him the order's mills on the Thames.
De Fulbourn must have come to royal attention during his time as preceptor of Clerkenwell, for on 5 September 1270 he and John de Bosco were named as Queen Eleanor's proctors and messengers in Ireland. There is no record of how long he remained in Ireland at this time, but he was certainly back in England by October 1273 when he and William de Middleton, were appointed collectors and auditors of a tax of a twentieth applied to moveable property in England. He was also in England in May 1274 when he was named as receiver of a tax on Jews there. However in June 1274, at the request of King Edward I, de Fulbourn was unanimously elected bishop of Waterford by the dean and chapter, thus beginning his continuous connection with the lordship. Word of his financial talent and royal favour must have swayed the dean and chapter, as they expressed the hope that 'by his industry and influence with the king their church, which [had] been reduced to poverty, [would] find timely relief…' (CDI, 1252–84, 174).
In the early 1270s Ireland was in a state of great unrest. No king of England had visited the lordship since John's departure in 1210, and the colony was suffering from neglect, lack of funds and corrupt officials. Although nominally lord of Ireland from 1254, it was only when Edward I succeeded to the throne of England in 1272 that he was fully able to take control of his lordship. He almost immediately sought to impose English-born officials who would reform the administration and take control of Irish revenues. Having recommended de Fulbourn as bishop of Waterford, Edward appointed him treasurer of Ireland on 25 September 1274, to serve at the king's pleasure. In November he wrote to de Fulbourn commending the bishop for his circumspection and diligence and expressing the hope that he would increase the value of the king's demesnes and lands in Ireland through his actions. His faith appears to have been rewarded as, during the early years of the de Fulbourn's tenure as treasurer, exchequer receipts rose and Ireland was able to contribute significantly to Edward's wars in Wales. De Fulbourn's economic success lay, at least in part, in his reopening of the mint at Dublin in 1281 and another at Waterford later that year. Between 1281 and 1283, when both mints closed, more than £40,000 worth of coins were struck, most of which flowed overseas to Edward. The newly issued coins were not without controversy, however. During the transition to the new coins, inferior copies manufactured on the continent were allowed for a certain period of time, before being banned. De Fulbourn allegedly allowed the use of Dutch shillings as equivalent to the new pence for a much longer period, earning these coins the names 'stephenings', 'steepings', 'scaldings' or 'Bishop's money'.
As a further indication of the royal favour which de Fulbourn enjoyed, he was appointed justiciar of Ireland on 21 November 1281 whilst retaining his post as treasurer. He now controlled the two most powerful positions in the English administration in Ireland. Ireland was in almost constant warfare during this period with much of the unrest centred around Leinster, where the Wicklow Irish forced the English administration to launch annual expeditions into the mountains to try and contain them. From 1275 onwards this Gaelic resurgence coalesced around the leadership of Art and Muirchertach MacMurrough (qv) and, as justiciar, it fell to de Fulbourn to defend the colony from them. Roger Bigod, lord of Carlow and therefore the MacMurroughs' immediate superior, attempted to use diplomacy and containment rather than outright confrontation but de Fulbourn clearly considered them an ongoing risk to peace. On 21 July 1282 the MacMurrough brothers were murdered at Arklow whilst waiting to board a ship sailing to England, almost certainly at the justiciar's instigation. Despite the illegality of the killings – the two brothers had been admitted to the king's peace and were sailing for England under his protection – their removal from Leinster had the desired effect and the province remained peaceful for the next twelve years.
Thus far, de Fulbourn had enjoyed an exemplary career. He was trusted by the king and had enjoyed an unrivalled degree of power and influence. It is therefore not surprising that he was also subject to a great degree of envy and accusations of corruption, some of which may have been well deserved. Having deputised the position of treasurer to his brother Walter in 1281, he also brought his nephews Adam, Andrew and John into the administration, taking full control of the chancery between 1283 and 1286. A report issued at Edward's instigation in 1285 reported that de Fulbourn had absolute power as justiciar and complained that ' [he and his brother] are everything and without them there is nothing' (CDI, 1285–92, 1–15). He was accused of taking bribes, profiteering and forcing supplicants to sell him lands. Although most of the charges levelled against him could not be proven, he was eventually found to owe the king £13,000, mostly as the result of inefficiency rather than corruption. He was pardoned of all debts except £4,000 and was replaced as treasurer by Nicholas de Clere (qv) but, as a sign of the royal favour he continued to enjoy, he retained his post as justiciar. Indeed, the following year he was promoted to the vacant archbishopric of Tuam at Edward's request.
Stephen de Fulbourn died on 3 July 1288 and was buried in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. Although he may not have been guilty of all the charges that had been levelled against him, he had certainly profited during his time as treasurer and justiciar of Ireland. Upon his death a list was made of all his possessions and they indicate just how wealthy he had become. Alongside a wide range of gold and silverware were thirty furs, eleven pairs of silken shoes, linens, fifteen horses, armour and luxurious food items including almonds, rice, figs, raisins and dates.