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

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LANGTON, SIMON (d. 1248), archdeacon of Canterbury, was son of Henry de Langton, and brother, probably younger brother, of Stephen Langton [q. v.], archbishop of Canterbury. He first appears, with the title of 'master,' during the struggle between King John and Innocent III, when he shared his brother's exile, and was actively employed in negotiation in his behalf. On 12 March 1208 he had an interview with John for this purpose at Winchester, and in March 1209 he received a safe-conduct for three weeks, that he might go to England to confer on the same business with John's ministers. With his brother he returned from exile in 1218. Early next year he was at Rome, defending the archbishop against the accusations of Pandulf; by November he was home again, ready to be installed in the prebend of Strensall in Yorkshire; and in June 1215 his fellow-canons at York chose him for their primate, counting upon his 'learning and wisdom' to secure his confirmation at Rome as champion of their independence against the king and his nominee, Walter de Grey [q. v.], brother of the John de Grey whom Innocent had once set aside to make Simon's brother Stephen archbishop of Canterbury. Now, however, Stephen was in political disgrace at Rome, and Simon's election was therefore quashed by Innocent at the request of John. Thereupon Simon flung himself actively into the party of the barons against king and pope alike. He accepted the office of chancellor to Louis of France when that prince came to claim the English crown in 1216. His preaching encouraged the barons and the citizens of London to disregard the pope's excommunication of Louis's partisans; and Gualo, in consequence, specially mentioned him by name when publishing the excommunication on 29 May. As he refused to submit, he was excepted from the general absolution granted in 1217, and was again driven into exile. He seems to have been absolved next year, but the pope forbade him to return to England. In December 1224 his brother made peace for him with Henry III; at the close of 1225 he was of sufficient importance to be invoked by Henry's envoys as an intercessor at the French court in the negotiations about Falkes de Breauté; in May 1227 the pope, at Henry's request, gave him leave to go home. He was made archdeacon of Canterbury, and soon rose into high favour with both king and pope—favour which Matthew Paris seems to have regarded as bought by a desertion of the cause of which Simon had once been an extreme partisan. When Ralph Neville, bishop of Chichester, was elected to the see of Canterbury, in 1231, Gregory IX consulted the archdeacon as to the character of the primate-elect, and quashed the election in consequence of Simon's reply, in which, according to Matthew Paris, the crowning charge against Ralph was a desire to carry out Stephen Langton's supposed design of freeing England from her tribute to Rome. Another election to Canterbury was set aside by Gregory on Simon's advice in 1233. In January 1235 Simon was in Gaul on the king's business, endeavouring to negotiate a truce with France and La Marche. For the 'fidelity and prudence' which he had already shown in this matter he received Henry's special thanks, which were repeated in April, with a request that he would continue his good offices, 'as it is to be feared that the work which you have begun will fall to the ground if you leave it.' In 1238, when a dispute arose between the chapter of Canterbury and their new archbishop, Edmund [q. v.], Simon warmly espoused the archbishop's side. He accompanied him to Rome, denounced the monks as guilty of fraud and forgery, and published the sentences of suspension and excommunication issued against them next year. After Edmund's death (November 1240) they accused the archdeacon of usurping functions which, during a vacancy of the see, belonged of right to the prior. Simon, according to their account, retorted with 'contumelious words and blasphemies,' tried to associate the clergy of the diocese in a conspiracy against them, and carried through his usurpation by force. Next year, when they were on the point of being absolved by the pope, Simon appealed against their absolution; but a threat of the royal wrath, and a sense of being 'too old to cross the Alps again,' deterred him from prosecuting his appeal. He died in 1248. Gervase of Canterbury denounces his memory as 'accursed,' while Matthew Paris declares 'it is no wonder if he was a persecutor and disturber of his own church of Canterbury, seeing that he was a stirrer-up of strife throughout the whole realms of England and France.' But the sole witnesses against him are Gervase and Matthew themselves, and their evidence is plainly coloured by party feeling.

Of the writings which Bale attributes to Simon Langton, the only one now known is a treatise on the Book of Canticles (Bodl. MS. 706).

[Roger of Wendover, vols. iii. iv.; Matt. Paris, Chronica Majora, vols. iii–v., and Hist. Anglorum, vols. ii. iii.; Gervase of Canterbury, vol. ii.; Annals of Dunstaple, in Annales Monastici, vol. iii.; Royal Letters, vol. i., all in Rolls Series; Rot. Litt. Pat. vol. i. and Rot. Litt. Claus. vol. i. Record Commission.]

K. N.