Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Langham, Simon
LANGHAM, SIMON (d. 1376), archbishop of Canterbury, chancellor of England, and cardinal; was born at Langham in Rutland. To judge from the wealth which he seems to have possessed, he was probably a man of good birth. He became a monk at St. Peter's, Westminster, possibly about 1335, but is not mentioned until 1346, when he represented his house in the triennial chapter of the Benedictines held at Northampton. In April 1349 he was made prior of Westminster, and on the death of Abbot Byrcheston on 15 May following succeeded him as abbot. He paid his first visit to Avignon when he went to obtain the papal confirmation of his election. He refused the customary presents to a new abbot from the monks and discharged out of his own means the debts which his predecessors had incurred. In conjunction with Nicholas Littlington [q. v.], his successor as prior and afterwards as abbot, he carried out various important works in the abbey, the chief of which was the completion of the cloisters. The skill which Langham displayed in the rule of his abbey led to his appointment as treasurer of England on 21 Nov. 1360. At the end of June 1361 the bishopric of Ely fell vacant, and Langham was elected to it; but before the appointment was completed London likewise fell vacant, and he was elected to this see also. Langham, however, refused to change, and was appointed to Ely by a papal bull on 10 Jan. 1362. He was consecrated accordingly on 20 March at St. Paul's Cathedral by William Edendon, bishop of Winchester. Although active in his diocese, Langham did not abandon his position in the royal service, and in 1365 was promoted to be chancellor. He attested the treaty with Castile on 1 Feb., but did not take the oath or receive the seal till the 19th (Fœdera, iii. 687, 689). As chancellor he opened the parliaments of 1363, 1363, and 1367; his speeches on the two former occasions were the first of their kind delivered in English (Rot. Parl. ii. 276, 283). Langham's period of office was marked by stricter legislation against the papal jurisdiction, in the shape of the new act of præmunire in 1365, and by the repudiation of the papal tribute in the following year. On 24 July 1366 Langham was chosen archbishop of Canterbury, and on 4 Nov. received the pall at St. Stephen's, Westminster. He was enthroned at Canterbury on 26 March 1367. He had resigned the seals shortly after his nomination as archbishop and before 16 Sept. 1366.
As primate Langham exerted himself in correcting the abuses of pluralities. Other constitutions ascribed to him are also preserved; in one he settled a dispute between the London clergy and their parishioners as to the payment of tithe (Wilkins, Concilia, iii. 62). He also found occasion to censure the teaching of the notorious John Ball (ib. p. 65). He condemned certain propositions of theology which had been maintained at Oxford, and prohibited friars from officiating unless by special licenses of the pope or archbishop (ib. pp. 75, 64). One incident of his primacy which has gained considerable prominence was his removal of John Wiclif from the headship of Canterbury Hall, which his predecessor, Simon Islip, had founded at Oxford. Dr. Shirley (Fasciculi Zizaniorum, pp. 518-28) and others have argued that this was not the famous reformer, but his namesake, John Wycliffe of Mayfield; the contrary opinion is, however, now generally accepted, but the evidence does not seem absolutely conclusive (Lechler, Life of Wiclif, i. 160–81, 191–2; see also under Wiclif, John). On 27 Sept. 1368 Pope Urban V created Langham cardinal-priest by the title of St. Sixtus. Edward III was offended at Langham's acceptance of the preferment without the royal permission, and, arguing that the see of Canterbury was consequently void, took the revenues into his own hands. Langham formally resigned his archbishopric on 27 Nov., and after some trouble obtained permission to leave the country, which he did on 28 Feb. 1369. He went to the papal court at Avignon, where he was styled the cardinal of Canterbury. Langham soon recovered whatever royal favour he had lost, and was allowed to hold a variety of preferments in England. He became treasurer of Wells in 1368, was archdeacon of Wells from 21 Feb. 1369 to 1374, and afterwards archdeacon of Taunton. He also received the prebends of Wistow at York, 11 Feb. 1370, and Brampton at Lincoln, 19 Aug. 1372; and was archdeacon of the West Riding from 1374 to 1376. In 1372 he was appointed by Gregory XI, together with the cardinal of Beauvais, to mediate between France and England, and with this purpose visited both courts. The mission did not achieve its immediate object, but Langham arranged a peace between the English king and the Count of Flanders (Fœdera, iii. 953). In July 1373 he was made cardinal-bishop of Praeneste. Next year, on the death of Whittlesey, the chapter of Canterbury chose Langham for archbishop, but the court desired the post for Simon Sudbury, and the pope refused to confirm the election by the chapter on the ground that Langham could not be spared from Avignon; Langham thereon agreed to waive his rights (Eulog. Hist. iii. 339). When in 1376 the return of the papal court to Rome was proposed, Langham obtained permission to go back to England, but died before effecting his purpose on 22 July. His body was at first interred in the church of the Carthusians at Avignon; three years later it was transferred to St. Benet's Chapel in Westminster Abbey. His tomb is the oldest and most remarkable ecclesiastical monument in the abbey. Widmore quotes a poetical epitaph from John Flete's manuscript history of the abbey.
Langham was plainly a man of remarkable ability, and a skilful administrator. But his rule was so stern, that he inspired little affection. An epigram on his translation to Canterbury runs:
Exultent cœli, quia Simon transit ab Ely,
Cujus in adventum flent in Kent millia centum.
Nevertheless, the Monk of Ely praises him with some warmth as a discreet and prudent pastor (Anglia Sacra, i. 663). To Westminster Abbey he was a most munificent benefactor, and has been called, not unjustly, its second founder. In addition to considerable presents in his lifetime, he bequeathed to the abbey his residuary estate; altogether, his benefactions amounted to 10,800l., or nearly 200,000l. in modern reckoning. Out of this money Littlington rebuilt the abbot's house (now the deanery), together with the southern and western cloisters and other parts of the conventual buildings which have now perished. His will, dated 28 June 1375, is printed by Widmore (Appendix, pp. 184–91). It contains a number of bequests to friends and servants, and to various churches with which he had been connected, including those of Langham and Ely.
[Walsingham's Hist. Angl. and Murimuth's Chron. in Rolls Ser.; Wharton's Anglia Sacra, i. 46–8; Le Neve's Fasti Eccl. Angl. ed. Hardy; Dugdale's Monasticon, i. 274; Widmore's Hist. of the Church of St. Peter, pp. 91–101; Stanley's Memorials of Westminster, p. 354; Foss's Judges of England, iii. 453–6; Hook's Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury, iv. 163–220; authorities quoted.]