Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Litlington, Nicholas

LITLINGTON or LITTLINGTON, NICHOLAS (1316?–1386), successively prior and abbot of Westminster Abbey, was a monk of Westminster for many years, and was notable as a ‘stirring person,’ ‘very useful to the monastery.’ He became prior in 1352, and while holding that office obtained ‘in free gift the custody of the temporalities in three vacancies,’ the first by favour with Queen Philippa, the other two direct from Edward III. He also improved the abbey estates of Hyde (Hyde Park) and Benfleet, Essex, without any charge to the monastery, and in recognition of these services had while prior an anniversary service allowed him, a very unusual favour. On the advancement of Simon Langham [q. v.] to the see of Ely, Litlington succeeded him as abbot (1362). The January preceding his election a high wind had blown down most of the abbot's manor-houses, and these he rebuilt in three years. The monastery buildings were greatly in need of repair, and Litlington rebuilt and repaired them all, besides finishing the south and west sides of the cloisters, building the college hall, the Jerusalem chamber, and adding to the abbot's house. He also presented much plate, vestments, ‘furniture,’ &c., to the convent, besides service books, one of which, the ‘Litlington Missal,’ is preserved in the Chapter Library, and has been transcribed by the Henry Bradshaw Society. The funds for these benefactions were chiefly drawn from the gifts and bequests, amounting to 10,800l., of Archbishop Langham, of whose will Litlington was executor in 1378. As abbot, Litlington took a prominent part in the coronation of Richard II (1377). The ‘Liber Regalis,’ which prescribed the order of that and all subsequent coronations, was probably drawn up about his time, and an illuminated transcript (edited for the Roxburghe Club by Earl Beauchamp) is in the Chapter Library. The next year a great sensation was caused by the murder of one Hawley, who had taken sanctuary in the abbey during high mass, the murder being due to the instigation of the Duke of Lancaster. The abbey was shut up for four months, and in a parliament held at Gloucester shortly after the murder Litlington boldly protested against the violation of the sanctuary. In consequence of his speech it was ordained in the next parliament that all privileges of the abbey were to remain inviolable. The murderers had to do penance and pay the abbot 200l. Under Litlington's rule there was a long dispute between the abbey and the collegiate body of St. Stephen's, Westminster. Finally, in 1394, after the cause had been carried to Rome, a composition was effected by the intervention of the king. Litlington's extraordinary energy was shown even in the last year of his life, when he was about seventy. He and two of his monks, on a false alarm of a French invasion, actually bought armour and prepared to go to defend the coast. He died 29 Nov. 1386 at his manor-house of Neate, and was buried before the altar of St. Blaize, i.e. near the Poets' Corner; Widmore and Dart quote his Latin epitaph, long obliterated. In the refectory, to which he left silver vessels, a prayer for his soul was long said after grace; his initials are carved in the cloisters, a head of him is carved over the deanery entrance, and the organist's house, one of his buildings, still bears his name (Stanley, Memorials, pp. 64, 359).

[Widmore's History of Westminster Abbey, p. 102; Dart's History of Westminster Abbey, vol. ii. p. xxxi; Neale's History of Westminster Abbey, i. 79; Holinshed's Chronicles, ii. 720.]

E. T. B.