Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Langton, Walter

LANGTON, WALTER (d. 1321), bishop of Lichfield and treasurer, is said to have been born at Langton West, a chapelry in the parish of Church Langton, four miles from Market Harborough in Leicestershire. He continued his connection with the district, receiving in 1306 a grant of free-warren at Langton West (Hill, Hist. of Langton, p. 15). Yet at his death he only held three acres of land in the parish (Cal. Inq. post mortem, i. 300). He was the nephew of William Langton, dean of York; but there seems no reason for making him a kinsman to John Langton [q.v.], bishop of Chichester and chancellor, his contemporary. Neither can any real connection be traced between him and Stephen Langton [q.v.], archbishop of Canterbury (Hill, Hist. of Langton, p. 17). He started life as a poor man (Hemingburgh, ii. 272), and became a clerk of the king's chancery. His name first appears prominently in the records in 1290. He was then clerk of the king's wardrobe (Fœdera, i. 732), and received in the same year license to impark his wood at Ashley, and a grant of twelve adjoining acres in the forest of Rockingham (Foss). In 1292 this park was enlarged (Cal. Inq. post mortem, i. 104, 111). In 1292 he is first described as keeper of the king's wardrobe (Fœdera, i. 762), though he is also spoken of as treasurer of the wardrobe (Ann. Dunstaple in Annales Monastici, iii. 400), and even simply as treasurer (Fœdera, i. 772). He attached himself to the service of the powerful chancellor, Bishop Burnell [q.v.], and on Burnell's death in October 1292 received for a short space the custody of the great seal, until in December a new chancellor, John Langton, was appointed (ib. i. 762). But his custody was merely formal and temporary, resulting apparently from his position as keeper of the wardrobe, and he has no claim to be reckoned among the regularly constituted keepers of the great seal. Langton now became a favoured councillor of Edward I ('clericus regis familiarissimus,' Flores Hist. iii. 280), was rewarded with considerable ecclesiastical preferment, and soon became a landholder in many counties. He became canon of Lichfield and papal chaplain, and also dean of the church of Bruges (Fœdera, i. 766). But the local lists of dignitaries of the chapel of St. Donatian, now the cathedral of Bruges, do not contain his name (Compendium Chronologicum Episcoporum ... Brugensium, p. 80, 1731). It was afterwards objected against him that he held benefices in plurality regardless of church law or papal sanction. By 1297 he had acquired lands worth over 20l. a year in Surrey and Sussex (Parl. Writs, i. 554).

Langton took an active part as one of the judges of the great suit respecting the Scottish succession (Fœdera, i. 766 sq.; Rishanger, p. 261, Rolls Ser.). In 1294 he shared with the Earl of Lincoln the responsibility of advising Edward I to consent to the temporary surrender of Gascony to Philip the Fair (Munimenta Gildhallæ Londoniensis, II. i. 165; Cotton, Historia Anglicana, p. 232). As the chancellor, John Langton, would not sign the grant of surrender, the great seal was handed over temporarily to his namesake, Walter, who signed with it the fatal deed. When the French king treacherously retained possession of the duchy, Langton busied himself with obtaining a special offering from the Londoners to the king. On 28 Sept. 1295 Langton was appointed treasurer in succession to William of March, bishop of Bath (Madox, Exchequer, ii. 37). His tenure was to be during the king's pleasure, and the salary a hundred marks a year (ib. ii. 42). Langton accompanied to the court of the French king the two papal legates who had been sent to England by Boniface VIII to negotiate a truce between Edward and his allies with Philip. The commission to Langton and the other English negotiators is dated 6 Feb. 1297 (Fœdera, i. 859; Flores Hist. iii. 287). He also utilised this journey for acting as one of the negotiators of the peace and alliance with Count Guy of Flanders (ib. iii. 290).

On 20 Feb. Langton was elected both by the monks of Coventry and the canons of Lichfield as their bishop, or, as the see was more often called at the time, bishop of Chester. His election was confirmed by Archbishop Winchelsea on 11 June, and on 16 July the king restored him the temporalities of the see (Wharton, Anglia Sacra, i. 441). He was consecrated on 23 Dec. by one of the legates, Berard de Goth, cardinal-bishop of Albano, and brother to the future pope, Clement V (Stubbs, Registrum Sacrum Anglicanum, p. 49; Ann. Dunstaple in Ann. Mon. iii. 400).

Langton still retained the office of treasurer, and devoted his energies to affairs of state rather than to the work of his diocese. He shared the growing unpopularity of Edward I towards the end of his reign. On the meeting of the famous Lincoln parliament on 20 Jan. 1301, the barons and commons, urged on apparently by Archbishop Winchelsea, requested Edward to remove Langton from his office. At the same time they presented, through Henry of Keighley, member for Lancashire, a bill of twelve articles complaining of the whole system of administration. Edward gave way for the time, but in June he ordered the imprisonment of Keighley, putting him under the charge of Langton, against whom he had complained, and directing that Keighley's considerate treatment in the Tower should seem to come from the good will of the incriminated minister, and not from the order of the king (Stubbs, Const. Hist. ii. 151). On 14 Oct. of the same year Langton was associated with other magnates on an embassy to France (Fœdera, i. 936; Ann. Lond. in Ann. Edw. I and II, Rolls Ser. i. 103). They negotiated the continuance of a truce until November 1302, and returned to England on 21 Dec.

Grave charges were now brought against Langton. A knight, named John Lovetot, accused him of living in adultery with his stepmother, and finally murdering her husband, Lovetot's father. He was also charged with pluralism, simony, and intercourse with the devil, who, it was alleged, had frequently appeared to him in person (Fœdera, i. 956–7; Flores Historiarum, iii. 305). So early as February 1300 Boniface VIII wrote to Winchelsea demanding an investigation, and citing Langton to appear before the papal curia (Chron. Lanercost, pp. 200–1, Bannatyne Club). It was not, however, until May 1301 that a formal citation was served on the bishop, who was suspended from his office pending the investigation. Langton went to Rome to plead his cause in person, spending vast sums of money on the papal officials, who knew his wealth and did not spare him. He was at a disadvantage, moreover, as he did not make his appearance before the papal court until the date of his citation had passed. Langton remained for some time in Italy, Edward covering his retreat by appointing him in March 1302 a member of a special embassy then sent to the pope (Fœdera, i. 939). The king all along upheld the cause of his treasurer (ib. i. 943, 956). Boniface urged Edward not to show his rancour against the accuser Lovetot until the investigation was concluded (ib. i. 939). At a later stage the pope sent back the matter to Archbishop Winchelsea, who, after a long investigation, was forced to declare the bishop innocent. Lovetot was soon afterwards committed to prison on a charge of homicide, and died there (Flores Hist. iii. 306). At last, on 8 June 1303, Boniface formally absolved Langton of the charges brought against him (Fœdera, i. 956–7). All through the business Winchelsea had shown a strong animus against the accused, and a bitter and lifelong feud between the treasurer and the archbishop was the most important result of the episode.

In June 1303 Edward showed his sense of Langton's trustworthiness by making him principal executor of his testament. In 1303 and 1304 Langton was with the king in Scotland. On 15 June 1305 he was involved in a grave dispute with Edward, prince of Wales [see EDWARD II], who had invaded his woods, and answered his remonstrances with insult. Hot words passed between the minister and the prince, but the king warmly took the treasurer's side, and the prince was forced into submission. But the continued remonstrances of Langton against the prince's extravagance must have effectually prevented any real cordiality (Trokelowe, pp. 63–4). In October of the same year Langton was sent with the Earl of Lincoln and Hugh le Despenser on an embassy to the new pope, Clement V, at Lyons (Ann. Lond. p. 143). They took with them a present of sacred vessels of pure gold from the king (Rishanger, p. 227), and were present at Clement's coronation on 14 Nov. The main object of this mission was to procure the absolution of the king from the oaths which he had taken to observe the charters, and particularly the charter of the forests. But Langton took advantage of his position to urge the complaints which both the king and himself had against Archbishop Winchelsea. On 12 Feb. Clement issued a bull suspending the archbishop from his functions. On 24 Feb. 1306 the embassy was back in London. In the summer Winchelsea went into exile. This secured the continuance of Langton's power for the rest of the king's life. He was now unquestionably Edward's first minister and almost his only real confidant. On 2 July 1306 Langton was appointed joint warden of the realm with the Archbishop of York during the king's absence in Scotland (Fœdera, i. 989). But early next year he followed Edward to the borders, appointing, on 8 Jan. 1307, a baron of the exchequer named Walter de Carleton as deputy during his absence (Madox, Hist. of the Exchequer, ii. 49). Edward now directed Langton to open the parliament at Carlisle (Fœdera, i. 1008). Langton seems to have been present at the king's death, and conveyed his body with all due honour on its slow march from the Scottish border to Waltham.

Langton's old quarrel with Edward II had indeed been patched up, and Langton had even professed to intercede with the old king on behalf of Gaveston (Hemingburgh, ii. 272, Engl. Hist. Soc.). But he had done this so unwillingly that there is no need to believe the chronicler's story of Edward I's answering his advances by tearing the hair out of his head and driving him out of the room (ib. ii. 272). Langton was well known to be Gaveston's enemy (Chron. Lanercost, p. 210), and the speedy return of the favourite from exile, soon to be followed by the restoration of Winchelsea, sealed the doom of the treasurer. As he rode from Waltham to Westminster, to arrange for the interment of his old master, he was arrested and sent to the Tower (Hemingburgh, ii. 273; Ann. Paulini, p. 257). On 22 Aug. 1307 he was removed from the treasurership. On 20 Sept. his lands, reckoned to be worth five thousand marks a year, were seized by the king (Fœdera, ii. 7). On 28 Sept. Edward invited by public proclamation all who had grievances against the fallen minister to bring forward their complaints (Riley, Memorials of London, p. 63). The king and Gaveston also seized upon the vast treasure hoarded up by Langton at the New Temple in London, including, it was believed, fifty thousand pounds of silver, besides gold and jewels (Hemingburgh, ii. 273–4). Most of this went to Gaveston. So vast a hoard explains Langton's unpopularity. A special commission of judges, headed by Roger Brabazon, was appointed to try Langton, now formally accused of various misdemeanors as treasurer, such as appropriating the king's moneys for his own use, selling the farms at too low a value for bribes, and giving false judgments (Madox, Exchequer, ii. 47). On 19 Feb. 1308 Edward ordered the postponement of the trial until after his coronation (Fœdera, ii. 32); but before the end of March judgments were being levied on the lands belonging to his see. Langton himself remained in strict custody, being moved to Windsor for his trial, and then being sent back to the Tower (Parl. Writs, ii. iii. 230). Gaveston was entrusted with his custody, and appointed the brothers Felton as his gaolers (Murimuth, p. 11). They maliciously carried their prisoner about from castle to castle. For a time he was confined at Wallingford (Chron. Lanercost, p. 210; Canon of Bridlington, p. 28), and was finally shut up in the king's prison at York.

Clergy, pope, and baronage interceded in vain in Langton's favour. Even Winchelsea, who hated him, could not overlook the grave irregularity of confining a spiritual person without any spiritual sentence. In April 1308 Clement V strongly urged on Edward the contempt shown to clerical privilege by Langton's confinement. The legate, the bishop of Poitiers, pressed for his release. At last, on 3 Oct. 1308, Edward granted Langton the restitution of his temporalities (Fœdera, ii. 58). But nothing of advantage to him resulted at once from this step. In 1309 further accusations were brought against him in the articles of the barons, and he remained in prison, though Adam Murimuth, a partisan of Winchelsea's, assures us (p. 14) that the archbishop refused to have any dealings with the king on account of his continued detention of Langton. It is noteworthy that during his imprisonment Langton still received writs of summons to parliament and to furnish his contingents for the king's wars (Parl. Writs).

Langton had been too long a minister, and was too unfriendly to the constitutional opposition, to care to remain a martyr. He had great experience and ability, and as Edward's difficulties increased the king bethought himself that his imprisoned enemy might still be of service to him. The declaration of Winchelsea for the ordainers and against the king made Langton most willing to come to terms with Edward. On 1 July 1311 he was removed from the king's to the archbishop's prison at York (Fœdera, ii. 138). This put Edward right with the party of clerical privilege, though about the same time he appointed new custodians of Langton's estates (ib. ii. 146–50). But on 23 Jan. 1312 Langton was set free altogether. Next day Edward, who was at this time at York, wrote to Pope Clement in favour of his former captive (ib. ii. 154). On 14 March Langton was restored to his office of treasurer until the next parliament should assemble (ib. ii. 159). He was believed to have betrayed the secrets of the confederate nobles to the king as the price of this advancement (Flores Hist. iii. 148). The growing troubles of Edward from the lords ordainers are the best explanation of his falling back on his father's old minister; but Langton never got more than a half support from Edward II, 'ad semigratiam regis recipitur' (Trokelowe, p. 64), and the ordainers, headed by the irreconcilable Winchelsea, soon turned against him. On Monday, 3 April, as Langton was sitting with the barons of the exchequer at the exchequer of receipt, an angry band of grandees, headed by the Earls of Pembroke and Hereford, burst in and forbade them to act any longer (Madox, Exchequer, ii. 266–8). On 13 April Edward strongly urged him to do his duty despite their threats (Fœdera, ii. 164); but power was with the ordainers, and Langton was forced to yield. Winchelsea excommunicated him for taking office against the injunctions of the ordainers. Langton now appealed to the pope, receiving on 1 May a safe-conduct to go abroad from the king, who still described him as treasurer (ib. ii. 166), and wrote to the pope begging for his absolution (ib. ii. 167; cf. 171, 178). Adam Murimuth the chronicler went to Avignon to represent Winchelsea (Murimuth, p. 18).

Langton remained some time at the papal court. In November Edward was forced by the ordainers to write pressing for a conclusion of the suit (Fœdera, ii. 186, 189). Langton was still away in February 1313; but the death of Winchelsea in 1313, and the reconciliation of English parties, again made it possible for him to regain his position in England. He remained in the king's council until the February parliament of 1315 insisted on driving him from office along with Hugh le Despenser (Monk of Malmesbury, p. 209). After the reconciliation of the king with the ordainers in 1318, Langton put before the new council a claim for 20,000/., which he alleged that he had lost in the king's service. He was asked whether he intended to burden the king's distressed finances by so large a demand, and answered vaguely, neither renouncing nor pressing his claim. In the end he received nothing. He died at his house in London on 9 Nov. 1321 (Flores Hist. iii. 200; Chesterfield, De Epp. Cov. et Lichfield in Anglia Sacra, i. 442; other writers say on 16 Nov.). He was buried on 5 Dec. in the lady-chapel of Lichfield Cathedral. His effigy, in Derbyshire marble, still remains, though in rather a defaced condition. It is figured on p. 16 of Hill's 'History of Langton.' His cousin, Edmund Peveril, was his next heir, and, despite all his misfortunes, he left land in eleven counties (Cal. Inq. post mortem, i. 300). He is described as always dealing moderately with the people as an official (Ann. Dunst. in Ann. Mon. iii. 400), and as 'homo imaginosus et cautissimus' (Hemingburgh, ii. 272).

Despite the cares of state Langton found time and money to be a munificent benefactor to his church and see. About 1300 he began the building at Lichfield of the lady-chapel in which he was buried. He left money in his will to complete the work. He also surrounded the cloisters with a wall, built a rich shrine for St. Chad's relics, which cost 2,000/., and gave vestments, jewels, and plate to the cathedral. He encompassed the whole cathedral close with the wall which enabled a royalist garrison to offer a stout defence to Lord Brooke in 1643. He erected the great bridge, built houses for the vicars, and increased their common funds. He built for himself a new palace at the edge of the close, rebuilt Eccleshall Castle, repaired his London house in the Strand, and repaired or rebuilt several of his manor-houses (Anglia Sacra, i. 441, 447; Stone, Hist. of Lichfield, pp. 22–3). He may have been associated with the fine new churches at Church Langton and Thorpe Langton (Hill, Hist. of Langton).

[Chronicles of Edward I and II, Cotton, Trokelowe, Flores Historiarum, Murimuth, all in Rolls Ser.; Hemingburgh (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Chron. of Lanercost (Bannatyne Club); Rymer's Fœdera, Record ed.; Madox's Hist. of the Exchequer; Wharton's Anglia Sacra, i. 441–2, 447, 451; Le Neve's Fasti Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ, ed. Hardy, i. 549–50; Calendarium Inquisitionum post mortem; Parliamentary Writs, i. 554–5, ii., iii. 729–31; Foss's Judges of England; Stubbs's Constitutional Hist. vol. ii.; Hill's Hist. of Langton; Stone's Hist. of Lichfield.]

T. F. T.