Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury

Thanks to Justin Taylor,who links this from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Long post follows.

Stephen Langton (c.1150–1228), manuscript drawing [crowning Henry III]
Langton, Stephen (c.1150–1228), archbishop of Canterbury, was one of three sons, perhaps the eldest, of Henry Langton, a minor landowner in Langton by Wragby, Lincolnshire. A moated farmhouse to the west of the church could mark his birthplace.
Early years and career in Paris
The first certain date in Langton's life is his appointment as cardinal in 1206, though he is known to have taught theology in Paris in the 1180s. By then he would have completed courses in both the arts and theology, which would have taken fifteen years, from perhaps c.1165 to 1180, and it is likely that he would have been fifteen when his studies there began. One brother, Simon Langton, followed him to Paris. Where the brothers were first educated is unknown, though Lincoln, about 12 miles from Langton, had schools. At first the family must have supported Stephen, but later he received benefices at York and Notre Dame, Paris. Some time between 1191 and 1205 Stephen was in York, where he witnessed two charters of Archbishop Geoffrey as Master Stephen Langton. If it were Geoffrey who gave him his prebend (and it is known that another Paris master, Pierre de Corbeil, was made archdeacon by him), this would have added to his later unpopularity with King John, who never enjoyed good relations with his brother. Much later in 1226 Stephen referred warmly to his former membership of the church of York. His position at Notre Dame, on the other hand, which would have provided him with a house as well as an income, must have depended upon the approval of King Philip Augustus, another negative point for John.

About 1165 there may have been approximately 3000 students in Paris, forming one-tenth of the city's total population. The schools were concentrated on the Île de la Cité, and around, even on, the Petit Pont which joined the Île to the Left Bank. Langton's teachers in arts are not known, but when he moved, c.1170–75, to theology, he came into contact with a number of masters, of whom the most significant was Peter the Chanter. Whether he was formally Peter's pupil is a matter of dispute, but it is agreed that Peter influenced him deeply in his choice of questions to tackle, and in interpretation of scripture. Like the Chanter, Langton attracted able pupils, of whom two, probably six, had distinguished careers. Richard Poor became dean of Salisbury in 1197 and was elected to Chichester, the first of his three bishoprics, in 1215, while Thomas of Marlborough became abbot of Evesham (1229–36), having previously taught law in Exeter and Oxford. Henry of Sandford, archdeacon of Canterbury and bishop of Rochester (1227–35), was certainly a great admirer of Langton and, like Alexander of Stainsby, bishop of Coventry and Lichfield (1224–38), may well have been another pupil. Andrew Sunenson, archbishop of Lund (1201–24), may have been a fifth, since some of his writings follow Langton's very closely, and Bernard (II), archbishop of Santiago de Compostela (1224–37), a sixth, because he had an extensive collection of Langton's works.
Langton wrote most as a teacher of theology, exemplifying the three sides of a master's work distinguished by the Chanter: disputation of theological questions, biblical commentary, and sermons. In each area the sheer scale of manuscript evidence has prevented the close study, and certainly the editing, of more than a little. The difficulties are increased because many works survive in a number of forms: as yet no consensus has emerged about whether these reflect notes (reportationes) made by different students of the same, or separate, verbal presentations: the contribution of Langton's own editing is also unclear. It is possible that some revision may have occurred when he was unable to exercise his archiepiscopal office for much of 1207–13 and 1216–18.

The centre of Langton's work is a series of commentaries on the whole of the New and Old testaments, with the probable exception of the Psalms. They form a far larger contribution than that made by any other contemporary scholar. Some commentaries began as lectures, indeed some only exist as notes made by others which refer to Langton as ‘the master’. Normally he draws on the work of earlier teachers contained in the Glossa ordinaria, and on writers nearer his day, like Andrew of St Victor, and Peter Lombard. One manuscript of a commentary on Paul's epistles portrays the relationship: in the centre of the page is the biblical text, around it Lombard's comments, and circling the whole, Langton's. For some books he comments on all the traditional senses of scripture, for some the literal sense only, or merely the moral. It is quite clear that, although establishing the meaning of the text is inescapable, he lays more stress on drawing out the spiritual meaning. At the start of his commentary upon the lesser prophets, taking a verse from Ecclesiasticus, ‘May the bones of the Twelve Prophets spring up out of their place’ (Ecclesiasticus 49: 12), he explains the dry bones as the letter of scripture, but their marrow and fatness as the spiritual interpretation, which is harder to extract.

This extensive biblical work made Langton aware of difficulties caused by the lack of any accepted method of arranging the Bible's books, and of dividing them into chapters. He produced schemes for both of these which rapidly won approval, and were still basically those used at the end of the twentieth century. There is less agreement about his share in a handbook which soon circulated as an appendix to the Bible, explaining the meaning of Hebrew names in the Bible, usually known from its opening entries as Aaz-apprehendens. Some manuscripts attribute it to him, but in view of the fact that some others date back to the eighth century, Langton's share may be that of editor and popularizer. He also produced a commentary on what was then the main textbook for biblical history, the Historia scholastica of Peter Comestor.

Within some of Langton's commentaries there are sections where he explores a quaestio, and references to quaestiones which exist separately. The quaestiones themselves contain some material also in his commentaries, and some which is quite independent, and which may survive in a number of different versions. Some quaestiones on related topics are grouped into collections, or summae—the Summa de virtutibus et vitiis, for example, deals with the seven deadly sins. Many of the quaestiones generally seem to have arisen out of disputation, which by that time took place at a different time from lectures. Only recently has the first thorough catalogue of these quaestiones been made.

The number of Langton's surviving sermons is very considerable: Schneyer's repertory lists over 600, but Roberts based her study on 122 that survive in several named copies. It is likely that the final figure of genuine sermons will fall somewhere between these two figures. Only a handful of them have yet been edited and their discussion has to be tentative. It is generally accepted that most were preached during his Paris years, although a few can be definitely placed later. Most were aimed at clerical audiences, some at monks, rather fewer at a mixed or mainly lay audience. It is supposed, by analogy with other known preachers, like Bernard of Clairvaux, that to the laity Langton would have spoken in the vernacular, although all surviving sermons are in Latin.
The quality of Langton's thought
Some characteristics are common to all Langton's work: here two will be mentioned, self-confidence and liveliness. The first arose from his thorough training and grasp of earlier literature. He was fluent and clear in speech, and familiar with both Parisian masters and the fathers. He had absorbed the work carried out by Hugh and Andrew of St Victor to establish the meaning of the biblical text, which Peter Lombard, Peter Comestor (Peter Manducator), and Peter the Chanter had all accepted was essential. Among the fathers he had read particularly Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory. This preparation gave Langton courage sometimes to agree with a modern master like Andrew rather than Augustine. Quite frequently he referred to Jewish interpretations, but at present there is no consensus about whether he had any knowledge of Hebrew. Many of his references were derived from Hebraists among his immediate predecessors, like Peter Comestor, Peter the Chanter, and Andrew, rather than Jerome, and although he seems to have talked with Jews, he did not approve of entering into disputation with them, which some of his contemporaries did. The Jews were, for him, like slaves who carried the satchels of Christians—‘Iudei enim capsarii nostri sunt’ (Dahan, 130).

Langton's liveliness, although it can be overlooked, is shown in his frequent use of examples to illustrate the argument. The use of exempla, or short stories, in sermons had a long history by his time, going back to Jesus's use of parables. Langton drew upon the Bible most regularly for such stories, but he also turned to many sides of contemporary life. His comments upon life in the schools, for example, are vivid. He knew that many students, whatever they professed to be doing, spent their time gazing at the walls of the lecture room, but justified the charging of fees to them by appeal to the tradition that Abraham had become rich by teaching astronomy in Egypt. He illustrated the effectiveness of exempla in a comment upon the story in Judges 3 of Samgar's killing 600 Philistines with a ploughshare when Aod only dispatched one with a sharp sword:
See! This makes clear that a preacher should not always use polished, subtle preaching, like Aod's sword, but sometimes a ploughshare, that is rustic exhortation. Very often a popular story [exemplum] is more effective than a polished, subtle phrase. Aod killed one man only with a two-edged sword, Samgar six hundred with a ploughshare; so, whereas the laity are easily converted by rude, unpolished preaching, a sermon to clerks will draw scarcely one of them from his error. (Lacombe and Smalley, 173)
Langton's serious approach to sermons may have developed when he experienced some kind of conversion through listening to the charismatic preaching of Foulques de Neuilly, in the 1190s. Jacques de Vitry says that Langton was one of seven remarkable preachers who were deeply affected by him. It must have been his forceful preaching that led to his being nicknamed Thunder-Tongued (de Lingua-Tonante) in some manuscripts. In Paris, Langton belonged to a circle of masters who were committed to the reform of the church, and one of his stories casts a curious light forward to what was to befall him when he went to England. It occurs in the same commentary on the lesser prophets when he reaches the story of Amasius, the high priest of Bethel, hiding behind King Jeroboam as he received Amos. Langton describes Amasius as representing ‘a bad priest or any bad, greedy prelate … [who] for a whore or a little worldly profit’ was ‘ready to go two leagues or more on a winter's night, but to hear a poor man's confession … will not leave his table, even for a few minutes’ (Smalley, ‘Four senses’, 72–3). Amos is the reformer, fresh from Paris. To him Amasius says:
‘Thou seer’, O popular and learned doctor, who threatens us so terribly with thy piety! ‘Go, flee away into the land of Judah’, leave my bishopric or my parish, return to your studies in Paris, ‘eat bread there and prophesy there’, confine your teaching and preaching in Paris. ‘In Bethel’, that is my bishopric, ‘prophesy no more’, that is preach no more. (ibid.)
Certainly there can be no doubt that Langton, once he moved from the schools to the world, found himself faced with pressures and tensions of such complexity that they nearly tore him apart.
The Canterbury election
Early in 1206 Langton's life as a successful teacher came to an abrupt end: Innocent III called him to Rome, to become cardinal-priest of St Chrysogonus; by the end of that year he had persuaded the monks of Canterbury to elect him archbishop of Canterbury. Just what considerations had moved the pope to either course are not entirely clear, but they may be connected. Both men were of similar age, and had known each other for about twenty years, since Innocent had studied in Paris before 1187. Like Langton, the pope admired Thomas Becket, whose shrine at Canterbury he visited. That experience may have made him aware how the community felt about the dead saint, with whom they had often disagreed while he was alive, and their defence of their rights in the choice of his successors. Certainly the long struggle between Christ Church and two later archbishops, Baldwin and Hubert Walter, over their plan to create a collegiate church, would have been very well known at Rome. It may be more than coincidence, then, that the pope sent for Langton not long after news of Hubert Walter's death on 13 July 1205, and the subsequent dispute, arrived in Rome.

Langton would have been able to observe closely the procession of embassies over the next months as the monks, the suffragan bishops of Canterbury, and the king all tried to make their cases. Ultimately, in December 1206, after the pope had rejected the royal and monastic nominees, and the claim of the suffragans to take part in the election, the monastic delegation elected Stephen Langton. Their choice was influenced by Innocent after the community had shown itself to be divided. To John, Langton was quite unacceptable: he was not someone he knew, had spent too much time in France, and had been chosen after a process that allowed no consideration of royal preferences. It is likely, too, that he wanted a more compliant person than Hubert Walter, with whom his relations had become very strained.

To John's objections Innocent replied by praising Langton's qualities as a ‘Doctor not only in the liberal arts but also in theological learning’ (Cheney and Semple, 86–90). When he added that ‘as a result he was judged worthy to hold a prebend of Paris’ and another at York, he struck notes, as has been observed, that would have jarred. Innocent's stance was based on the provision in canon law that, when an election took place in his presence, there was no formal need for royal approval, and he seems to have thought that John would concede, as he had done in earlier disputed elections. His warning in the same letter, that John would find it dangerous to ‘fight against God and the Church in this cause for which St Thomas, that glorious martyr and archbishop recently shed his blood’, was scarcely emollient. The two parties, king and pope, saw the problem from diametrically opposed points of view, and it was to be nearly six and a half years before they could come to terms.
The unacceptable archbishop
Matters stood still from the election until 17 June 1207 when Innocent consecrated Stephen Langton at Viterbo. Not long afterwards Langton wrote a long open letter to the English people which provides some hints as to why he accepted the position. The first is his feeling of deep pastoral concern for England, not surprising for one whose career had become increasingly devoted to preparing others to be priests. The second is a sense that he had only accepted because ordered to by the pope, de mandato superioris—again something that would spring out of his own teaching. Lastly, when he, like Innocent, claimed that the struggle involved Becket and the liberties he had established, he betrays a feeling of deep personal identification with his predecessor. Later his choice of seal was to reflect this: the reverse shows the martyrdom within an inscription which may be translated ‘May the picture of a death in the external world, be for you a life of love within’. The letter, in short, suggests that Langton accepted what he must have known to be an almost impossible task because he felt deeply committed to trying to put into practice what he had taught.

The letter went on to emphasize Frederick Barbarossa's fate: he had struggled against the church, and then drowned in a stream which even a child could have waded through, because God's justice had caught up with him. Langton also, perhaps more ominously, stated that if a rebel remained in schism the church could justly absolve his men of their fealty, since he had withdrawn his fealty from God. Such words can hardly have weakened John's resolve. When he heard of the consecration, he expelled the monks from Christ Church (11 July) and began the course that led to an interdict being laid on his kingdom on 24 March 1208 and his own excommunication in November 1209.

Meanwhile the king took his revenge on Langton's family, causing his father to flee to St Andrews, where he died. His other brother, Walter, may well have gone overseas about then, since in 1211 he was fighting in the Albigensian crusade. Stephen moved into northern France and spent most time at the Cistercian monastery at Pontigny, where Becket had also passed part of his exile. In 1222 he remembered Pontigny generously, granting it an annual pension of 50 marks from the church at Romney. Sometimes he is recorded elsewhere. In October 1209 he went to Melun where he consecrated Hugh of Wells as bishop of Lincoln, and next year settled a dispute between the bishop and city of Cambrai. A year later, in 1211, he presided at the funeral of William de Briouze at the abbey of St Victor in Paris. The winter of 1212–13 was spent in Rome, and at some time between 1210 and 1213 he undertook a preaching tour against usury in Flanders with his fellow Englishman and master of the Paris schools, Robert de Courson.

Fruitless negotiations for Langton's acceptance in England took place each year from 1208 to 1211. Stephen used his brother Simon as his representative on the first two occasions, and in October 1209 had sufficient hope to cross himself to Dover. But such parleys all foundered on two issues: the king wished to have his own position in elections formally recognized by the pope, while the archbishop and his fellow exiles wanted to bind him to compensate them for their own losses. The trust necessary for settlement was lacking. Twice, in 1208 and 1211, Langton cavilled about the terms of safe conducts provided for him and refused to negotiate in England.

Ultimately, in the autumn of 1212, the political situation forced John to give way. Some of his nobles were plotting against him, the Welsh were causing problems, and so he sent a powerful group to Rome which early in 1213 accepted terms offered in 1211. Langton and other English bishops were probably in Rome to witness this collapse. The king was to promise to obey the pope, to provide safe conducts for the archbishop, the other exiled prelates, and the monks of Christ Church, to hand over the Canterbury estates to Langton, after he had taken an oath of fealty from him, and to compensate the exiles for their losses. Innocent gave John until the beginning of June to agree. This he did on 13 May before Pandulf, the papal nuncio, and Langton entered England on 9 July. On 20 July he absolved the king from his excommunication at Winchester and celebrated mass in his presence. The struggle for Canterbury seemed to be over, but a wider struggle had already begun.
Archbishop in action
The next two years were full of activity, as Langton tried to deal with the problems left by the interdict, and then to mediate between John and his restless barons. On his return Langton was about sixty years old, lacking close knowledge of either king or nobles because he had been out of England for forty years, apart from a short period in York, and a mere visit to Dover. It must have taken time for him to establish himself and to try to win the king's confidence. The task must have been almost impossible if John knew that Simon Langton had been in the pay of Prince Louis. Stephen's role was further complicated by the king's surrender of his kingdoms into the hands of Pandulf, just three weeks before his own return. Holding England and Ireland as fiefs from the pope, in return for an annual tribute of 1000 marks, like his later taking the cross (March 1215), may have protected the king against the discontented, but growing papal intervention in England was now inevitable. That was critically affected by the distance between England and Italy. A fast messenger took at least thirty days to traverse it, so by the time the pope's reaction to news of English events arrived back, at least two months had passed: again and again Innocent's orders did not fit the new situation. He got news, too, from king and papal representatives who might well paint Langton's interventions in a poor light. Innocent's primary desire was for peace, and for the crusade: he had little understanding or sympathy with anyone who wanted to disturb the balance of things. The pope was also concerned with the great council to which he had sent out summonses on 13 April 1213, although it was not to gather until November 1215. Langton, on the other hand, clearly acquired sympathy with some of the barons' aims, as he tried to mediate between them and the king, because he suspected John's good faith. Thus, in the end, he was trusted by neither king nor pope, and suspended from office.

Innocent's instructions to Langton of 15 July 1213 told him to ‘do all that you believe helpful to the salvation and peace of the king and kingdom, not forgetting the honour and advantage of the Apostolic See and the English church …’ (Cheney and Semple, 155). Langton's priorities were rather different, as he became involved in two issues: the settlement of compensation for the exiles and the filling of vacant positions in the church, both being issues which brought him into conflict with king and pope. John obviously wanted to be committed to pay as little as possible; Stephen and the other exiles wanted to bind the king firmly, and had only the threat of refusing to lift the interdict to persuade him to come to terms. The situation clearly puzzled ordinary people, since Langton was forced to devote a large part of his sermon delivered at St Paul's on 25 August 1213 to it. The newly arrived papal legate, Nicolò of Tusculum, was annoyed that the bishops would not compromise, while Peter des Roches, bishop of Winchester, worked skilfully to reduce John's contribution. When finally John accepted a solution, on 17 June 1214, it satisfied no one, and entirely ignored the losses of churchmen who had stayed in England.

The task of filling vacant sees and abbeys was equally contentious. At first John attempted to proceed as though things could continue exactly as before, summoning groups of canons or monks to conduct elections in the royal chapel—a process to which Langton and the bishops objected. They hoped for a freer form of election, although they must have realized that John was unlikely to agree. The pope had put elections firmly under Cardinal Nicolò on 31 October 1213, urging him to ensure that those elected ‘on your recommendation’ should be ‘suitable clerks who should be men not only distinguished by their life and learning, but also loyal to the king, useful to the state, and capable of giving counsel and help—the king's assent having been requested’ (Cheney and Semple, 166). When John left for Poitou in February 1214 he arranged that elections were to be supervised by a committee of five: two great lay curialists, William Brewer and William (I) de Cantilupe, with the abbots of Beaulieu, Selby, and St Mary's, York. Langton was outmanoeuvred; the result was that most new bishops were king's men, and Langton had no chance to see whether reformers might be treated as he had thought they would be when he was a teacher.
Langton and Magna Carta
Much the most difficult part of Langton's job was to try to work for ‘the peace of the king and the kingdom’, as Innocent put it, since John was planning to take a great expedition to Poitou in 1214 against the king of France, a repeat of the project of 1212–13 which had been prevented by baronial opposition. Very soon after the reconciliation with the king Langton intervened to persuade him not to punish those barons who had refused service, and from then on he was almost continually involved in negotiations. Nowadays the picturesque stories told by Roger of Wendover, of Langton's making John promise at the time of his absolution to restore the good laws of Edward the Confessor and producing a charter of Henry I at St Paul's on 25 August to the assembled barons, are discounted. There is, however, general agreement that without Langton the course of events would have been very different.

Langton's was probably the mind responsible for the attempt to set down in writing what the barons wanted, and to frame it in a way which would bind the king. His concern that a king should act according to law and after proper judgment had been themes of his teaching. At first he seems to have hoped that persuading the king to swear to repeat his coronation oath, or something like it, at the time of his absolution would be enough, but by November 1213 he seems to have realized that more was necessary. When the political balance tipped against the king following the battle of Bouvines (27 July 1214) the problems became ever more difficult. Langton lost the pope's trust. Innocent came to connect the growth of discontent in England with the archbishop's arrival, and was ready to aid the king by instructing the archbishop to denounce conspirators against him. The role given to Langton, and to other bishops, in the articles of the barons to clear up various still unsettled matters reflects the barons' confidence. The first clause in Magna Carta granting freedom to the English church, including freedom of elections, may be one achievement of the archbishop, though he and the bishops may well have been troubled by the security clause that denied royal rights which they supported.

Both the articles and Magna Carta were forced out of John by the short civil war of May 1215, but the peace they symbolized quickly broke down, despite Langton's continuous efforts to prevent this. He and the bishops, for example, tried to bring the parties together at Oxford on 16 August and at Staines on the 28th. Soon afterwards, when Innocent's letter of 7 July, which had been written in ignorance both of the charter and of renewed hostilities, arrived, it excommunicated all ‘disturbers of the king and kingdom’ (Cheney and Semple, 208), and laid their lands under interdict, ordering the archbishop and his suffragans to publish these sentences, or be suspended. By that time Langton had completely lost royal favour when he refused to surrender Rochester Castle (a cause of tension ever since the reconciliation of July 1213), almost certainly because by then he did not trust the king. In some senses his refusal to excommunicate the rebels, presumably on the ground that the pope lacked full knowledge of the facts, brought to an end an intolerable situation. The bishop of Winchester, the first addressee of the letter, suspended him, about the middle of September as he was leaving for Rome to attend the council. If Langton's career had ended here, his archiepiscopate might have seemed a disaster.
Last years
Langton made his way south to Rome, where on 4 November 1215 Innocent confirmed his suspension. A few days later the great council opened at the Lateran, at which, perhaps unsurprisingly, Langton seems to have taken little part. Indeed, almost nothing is known about his movements until he returned to England in May 1218, having been permitted to do so by Honorius III. By then he found a very different political situation from that of 1215. The throne was occupied by a boy, but power was exercised on the young Henry III's behalf by a triumvirate: William (I) Marshal, the regent, Peter des Roches, bishop of Winchester, and Pandulf, since 1218 papal legate. In 1219 Langton took charge of the investigation into the miracles of Hugh of Lincoln, and next year presided at two great celebrations: Henry's second coronation at Westminster (17 May 1220), and two months later the translation of Becket's relics to a new shrine at Canterbury. There he emphasized Becket's essential Englishness, a nice note for a prelate who was so unused to England, and whose brother Simon was still not allowed back into the country because of his support for Prince Louis's attempt to seize the throne. That autumn he travelled to Rome to ask for the recall of Pandulf, taking with him a Becket relic as a gift for the pope. He was back by July 1221 with the order for Pandulf's return, and from then until his death he played a significant role in public affairs.

Power was still not in Henry's control, but exercised by the justiciar, Hubert de Burgh, and des Roches, along with the archbishop, who took over something of the moderating role that the Marshal had filled. Langton was involved in many critical episodes, as the justiciar and des Roches jockeyed for influence, and the body of loyal royal administrators tried to maintain peace and order. One means, the reissuing of the great charter of 1215, certainly owed something to Langton's belief in it as powerful reassurance of royal good intentions. In January 1223 he persuaded the king to confirm it verbally, and two years later was behind its reissue in what was to be its definitive form. The gesture did not placate all those being forced to disgorge castles and offices that they had long controlled, and next year occurred the one serious breakdown of internal peace since the end of the French invasion. William de Bréauté then held Bedford, on his brother's behalf, against the justiciar for eight weeks from June to August 1224. Langton was at the siege and its bloody end when the garrison was hanged. There he was acting out his earlier view that removing custody of a castle from a noble was proper if a judgment of the royal court preceded action. To Honorius the archbishop's conduct seemed extraordinary, because he believed that troops should have been fighting against the king's enemies in Poitou, but he, like Innocent earlier, suffered from having no real knowledge of what was happening in England.

Closer to his concern for reform, Langton made time to hold a provincial council for his province at Oxford in 1222. The significance of its sixty canons is reflected in their survival in sixty manuscripts. Nine of its provisions cite those of the Fourth Lateran Council, while another sixteen reflect it. Others repeat statutes issued by a synod for the diocese of Canterbury which Langton had managed to hold in 1213–14. Very quickly other bishops included the Oxford canons in their own diocesan legislation, and so Langton's work endured as the basis of the church's law. As examples of provisions affected by the Fourth Lateran Council may be cited prohibitions against clergy taking part in judgments involving the loss of blood, or celebrating mass more than twice a day save at Christmas or Easter, and attempts to insist that every vicar should receive an income of at least 5 marks a year, and that no person should occupy more than one benefice involving cure of souls (clauses 13, 11, 21, 44). Altogether a wide range of issues involving both regular and secular clergy were covered, so that the life of the later medieval church was deeply influenced by Langton's work.

In 1227, when he was in his seventies, perhaps nearly eighty, Langton retired from court, but it is striking how king and justiciar continued to maintain contact with him. On 7 July 1228 Langton took part in the celebration of the feast of the Translation of Becket in Canterbury, having seen Henry and Hubert the day before when they came to ratify the terms of a truce with France. By then he was very weak and was taken by litter to his manor at Slindon, Sussex, where he died, probably on 9 July (the sources disagree), to be buried, a few days later, at Canterbury, where his monument, as a result of a rebuilding in the 1430s, now lies protruding through the east wall of St Michael's Chapel, at the south-west end of the nave.
Changing estimates of Langton
Understanding of Langton's life has changed considerably since the late nineteenth century, when interest centred primarily on the political side of his archiepiscopate, as told in chronicle sources, and particularly on his part in the negotiations that led to Magna Carta. Now a better appreciation of the complex politics of John's reign lends a different aspect to Langton's contribution, and his achievement as one of the most important theologians of the turn of the twelfth century has emerged. The change can be seen beginning in F. M. Powicke's Ford lectures of 1928 (which still set the main chronology). They were much influenced by the work of one of his pupils, Beryl Smalley, then beginning to hew out from the manuscripts an entirely new Langton. She has been followed in this task by many, but very few of his works are yet edited, or their chronology established.

Undoubtedly Stephen Langton was one of the great churchmen of the middle ages, moving at the heart of public affairs for much of his archiepiscopate. As ecclesiastical statesman he helped to make the tensions of John's reign less bloody than they might have been, to create the climate in which Magna Carta could be produced, and to see that later it was brought within the regular means of maintaining trust between king and people. As primate and diocesan he left behind relatively few acta compared with Baldwin or Hubert Walter, but he provided the church with a standard for reform in his legislation. At Canterbury itself he finished the great archiepiscopal hall begun by Hubert Walter. On the world of learning his mark was as great as any of his predecessors, Anselm excepted, and he enriched the resources of prayer with one great sequence, Veni, sancte spiritus (‘Come, Holy Ghost’). A great scholar, an indefatigable negotiator, a wise elder statesman, he deserves to be remembered, even though he might have judged his own achievements severely against the standards he had taught in the schools.

Christopher Holdsworth
Sources F. M. Powicke, Stephen Langton (1928) · B. Smalley, The study of the Bible in the middle ages (1952) · J. W. Baldwin, Masters, princes and merchants: the social views of Peter the Chanter and his circle, 2 vols. (1970) · P. B. Roberts, Stephanus de Lingua-Tonante: studies in the sermons of Stephen Langton, Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies: Texts and Studies, 16 (1968) · J. C. Holt, Magna Carta (1965) · C. R. Cheney, Innocent III and England, Päpste und Papsttum, 9 (1976) · N. Vincent, Peter des Roches: an alien in English politics, 1205–38, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought, 4th ser., 31 (1996) · D. A. Carpenter, The minority of Henry III (1990) · K. Major, ed., Acta Stephani Langton, CYS, 50 (1950) · G. Lacombe and B. Smalley, ‘Studies on the commentaries of Cardinal Stephen Langton’, Archives d'Histoire Doctrinale et Littéraire du Moyen Âge, 5 (1930), 5–266 · L. Antl, ‘An introduction to the Questiones theologicae of Stephen Langton’, Franciscan Studies, new ser., 13 (1952), 151–75 · N. Vincent, ‘Master Simon Langton, King John and the court of France’, Speculum [forthcoming] · Selected letters of Pope Innocent III concerning England, 1198–1216, ed. C. R. Cheney and W. H. Semple (1953) · F. A. Cazel, ‘The last years of Stephen Langton’, EngHR, 79 (1964), 673–97 · B. Smalley, ‘Stephen Langton and the four senses of scripture’, Speculum, 6 (1931), 60–76 · C. R. Cheney, Medieval texts and studies (1973), 111–37, 138–57, 185–202 · G. Dahan, ‘Exégèse et polémique dans les commentaires de la “Génèse” d'Étienne Langton’, Les juifs au regard d'histoire: mélanges en l’honneur de Bernard Blumenkrantz, ed. G. Dahan (Paris, 1985), 129–48 · A. d'Esneval, ‘Le perfectionnement d'un instrument de travail au début de XIIe siècle: les trois glossaires bibliques d'Étienne Langton’, Culture et travail dans l'Occident médieval, ed. G. Hasenohr and J. Longère (1981), 163–75 · A. Saltman, ed., Stephen Langton: commentary on the Book of Chronicles (1978) · P. B. Roberts, ‘Archbishop Stephen Langton and his preaching on Thomas Becket’, De ore Domini: preacher and word in the middle ages, ed. T. L. Amos, E. Green, and B. M. Kienzle (1989), 75–92 · I. W. Rowlands, ‘King John, Stephen Langton and Rochester Castle, 1213–15’, Studies in medieval history presented to R. Allen Brown, ed. C. Harper-Bill, C. J. Holdsworth, and J. L. Nelson (1989), 267–80 · F. Stegmüller, ed., Repertorium biblicum medii aevi, 11 vols. (Madrid, 1950–1980) · J. B. Schneyer, Repertorium der lateinischen Sermones des Mittelalters: für die Zeit von 1150–1350, 5 (Münster, 1974), 466–507 · R. Quinto, ‘Doctor nominatissimus’: Stefano Langton (†1228) e la tradizione delle sue opere (Münster, 1994) · S. Ebbesen, ‘The semantics of the Trinity according to Stephen Langton and Andrew Sunesen’, Gilbert de Poitiers et ses contemporains, ed. J. Jolivet (1987), 401–35 · P. Collinson and others, eds., A history of Canterbury Cathedral, 598–1982 (1995), 455
Archives Bodl. Oxf., commentary on Isaiah · LPL, commentaries on Pentateuch and Joshua
Likenesses manuscript drawing, CCC Cam., MS 16, fol. 56r [see illus.] · obverse seal, repro. in F. Barlow, Thomas Becket (1986) · seal, repro. in Powicke, Stephen Langton, frontispiece
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Christopher Holdsworth, ‘Langton, Stephen (c.1150–1228)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 20 Aug 2008]

Stephen Langton (c.1150–1228): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/16044


The Pook said...

Wow. That's equivalent in length to about a year's worth of your normal posts! How am I ever going to get time to read all that? It does look interesting though.

Em said...

I'll say.

(That is a response to the first line. I didn't read the rest.)

Lincolnshire Lass said...

Brill to find you - all I wanted to know, at this point, was whether Stephen = Etienne (as I am chasing up conflicting footnotes on who first divided the biblical books into chapters) Appreciated getting a whole lot more detail on a local hero.