July John met them at Porchester, fell at the archbishop's feet with a 'Welcome, father!' and kissed him. Langton's eagerness to forgive overleapt the bounds of the pope's instructions and the usual forms of ecclesiastical procedure, and without more ado he performed his first episcopal acts in England on Sunday 20 July, by absolving his sovereign in the chapter-house of Winchester Cathedral, and afterwards celebrating mass in his presence and giving him the kiss of peace.
Stranger to his native land as he had been for so many years, intimate friend of a foreign and hostile sovereign as John charged him with being, faithful and submissive servant of a foreign pontiff as he undoubtedly was, Stephen nevertheless fell at once, as if by the mere course of nature, into the old constitutional position of the primate of all England, as keeper of the king's conscience and guardian of the nation's safety, temporal as well as spiritual. On 4 Aug. 1213 he was present at a council at St. Albans, where the promises of amendment with which John purchased absolution were renewed by the justiciar in the king's name, and in a more definite form; the standard of good government now set up being 'the laws of Henry I,' in other words, the liberties which Henry had guaranteed by his charter. On 25 Aug. Stephen opened a council of churchmen at Westminster with a sermon on the text, 'My heart hath trusted in God, and I am helped; therefore my flesh hath rejoiced.' 'Thou liest,' cried one of the crowd; 'thy heart never trusted in God, and thy flesh never rejoiced.' The man was seized by those who stood around him and beaten till he was rescued by the officers of justice, when the archbishop resumed his discourse. He had, it seems, specially invited certain lay barons to be present at the council; at its close he brought forth and read out to them the text of Henry's charter, and exchanged with them a solemn promise of mutual support for the vindication of its principles, whenever a fitting time should come. The time was close at hand. John, having exasperated his already sorely aggrieved barons by demanding their services for an expedition to Poitou, was at that very moment on his way to punish by force of arms the refusal of the northern nobles. Stephen hurried after him, overtook him at Northampton, and remonstrated strongly, but in vain; he then followed him to Nottingham, and there, by threatening to excommunicate every man in the royal host save the king himself, compelled him to give up his lawless vengeance and promise the barons a day for the trial of their claims. The dispute, however, was no nearer settlement when the legate Nicolas of Tusculum came to raise the interdict and receive a repetition of John's homage to the pope. Stephen's attitude in this last matter is not quite clear. Matthew Paris represents him as strongly opposed to the whole transaction, stating that when Pandulf [q. v.], on his return to France in the spring of 1213, trod under foot the money which had been given him as earnest of the tribute, the archbishop 'sorrowfully remonstrated' (Chron. Maj. ii. 546), and that he not only 'protested with deep sighing, both secretly and openly,' against John's homage to Nicolas, but even appealed against it publicly in St. Paul's (ib. iii. 208). But the writers of the day mention nothing of the kind, and Matthew's story probably represents rather his own view, coloured by the experiences of a later time, of what the archbishop's feelings and actions ought to have been than what they actually were. By the opening of next year, however, Stephen and the legate differed upon another ground. Nicolas was using his legatine authority to support the king in filling up vacant abbacies according to his royal pleasure, without regard either to the general interests of the English church or to the diocesan and metropolitical rights of the bishops and their primate. They discussed the matter in a council at Dunstable in January 1214, and thence Stephen despatched to the legate a notice of appeal against his conduct. Nicolas, with the king's concurrence, sent Pandulf to oppose the appeal at Rome; there the case was hotly argued between Pandulf and Stephen's brother Simon [see Langton, Simon]; and though for the moment Stephen's opponents seemed to have gained the pope's ear, his expostulations were probably not altogether useless, for in October Nicolas was recalled.
At Epiphany 1215 the aggrieved barons went in a body to John and demanded the fulfilment of Henry's charter. Again Stephen took up the position of mediator; he was one of three sureties for the redemption of the king's promises before the close of Easter. When at the end of that time the barons rose in arms he remained at the king's side, not as his partisan, but as the advocate of his subjects; together with William Marshal, earl of Pembroke [q. v.], he carried overtures of reconciliation from John to the barons at Brackley (April), and it was he who brought back and read out to the king the articles which were at last formally embodied in the Great Charter (15 June). The Tower of London was then entrusted to him till a dispute about its rightful custody should be settled, and Rochester Castle, which was also in dispute between the see of Canterbury and