Was Stephen Langton the Father of Elias of Dereham?

Elias of Dereham famous as the distributor of Magna Carta and architect of Salisbury Cathedral derived his name from West Dereham in Norfolk. He was steward to Archbishop Hubert Walter who died in 1207. Professor Vincent gives the earliest firm date for his presence with Hubert Walter as 1201 noting that in one text Elias is referred to as the Archbishop’s steward. (1) As Elias died in 1245 this would give a recorded public career of at least forty four years. For much of this time Elias was involved in the building of Salisbury Cathedral.

Dereham is not a modern surname, but the forms Durham and Derham do exist, although neither name is common. In records Elias’s name is sometimes recorded as Durham. The geographic distribution of the surname is not related to the City of Durham within County Durham where the name rarely occurs. Both forms of the name Durham and Derham are also rare in Norfolk, so West Dereham is unlikely to be the source of the few occurrences of the name in East Anglia.

Durham is the 1,788th most common surname in GB representing 93 people per million. Derham is even less common at 5,438th used by just 24 people per million. Durham occurs most around London, Gloucestershire, Warwickshire and Oxfordshire. Derham’s highest concentrations are in Wiltshire and Somerset. It is only in Wiltshire, Somerset and Dorset that the Derham form is dominant over the Durham variant. This is the very area where Elias held churches. Within Wiltshire the county with the highest concentration of Derhams the highest totals occur in Calne and Devizes. Elias held the prebend at Potterne two miles south of Devizes.

The name Derham tends to drift to the more recognisable Durham, this is particularly true in the USA. In other words Derhams emigrating to USA end up as Durhams. If we look at genetic testing of Durhams in the USA, for no Derham anywhere has tested, the largest group is from the rare grouping J2a4d M319. Rare groups tend to be late arrivals in Britain having less time than native groups to multiply. The likely entry of this group into Britain is the last great invasion in 1066 AD. This would suggest Elias was from an Anglo-Norman family. If we look at which surname out of the thousands in England is the closest match to this Durham J2a4d M319 Y-DNA the answer is surprising, the surname is Langton. Langton is not a common name the 1989th in Britain at the rate of 84 per million. The deduction to be drawn from this is that Elias of Dereham was either Stephen Langton’s son or a close male line relative such as a cousin.

An objection to this is that Elias could have belonged to another Durham group which cannot be entirely excluded. Time does not permit me to examine each of the alternatives. If he did derive from another group, that would mean that as well as Elias being Langton’s steward there is also another Durham with an ultra rare DNA match with another Langton, perhaps 10,000-1 odds, but such things do occasionally happen. It might also be objected that as clerics, neither, Elias or Stephen would have had children. It looks very much as if Stephen also had a son called Stephen in Essex, whilst at his church at Litton, Somerset, Elias was succeeded by John of Dyham, either his son or another relative with his DNA. John was later a prebendary in Lincolnshire diocese.

I have already accounted for the geographic origin of other ancient Langton lines: .The only unplaced Langton line is the one that matches with the most common Durham tested line, J2a4d. The geographic vacancy for this Dereham/Langton DNA is Langton by Horncastle in Lincolnshire. For the Langton/Durham DNA match see subgroup 2a halfway down the page: FTDNA Langton/Durham DNA

If Elias of Dereham was indeed a relative of Stephen Langton it helps to clarify a number of things.

  1. If Elias grew up with Stephen in Paris watching Notre Dame being built, it explains how he became the architect of Salisbury Cathedral and possessed a whole range of skills in construction, glasswork and tombs including those necessary for Thomas Becket’s shrine.
  2. Rather than being a native of West Dereham it is likely Elias was a Lincolnshire man born at Woodhall near Langton by Horncastle less than twenty miles away from where Elias received his first prebend at Lafford, (Sleaford) Lincs.
  3. It suggests that the canon originating from Dereham who took the barons demands to King John was indeed Elias of Dereham.
  4. If Stephen Langton was J2a4d it suggests he was from an anglo norman baronial family.
  5. Given Langtons recent continental origin it perhaps explains both why he went to study in Paris and the import of ideas from further east. His genetic group was not English but Middle Eastern.
  6. It explains why Stephen seems to have left his personal breviary, that is his prayer book, to Elias at Salisbury.
  7. It explains why Elias was trusted to represent Stephen, the other trusted person being his brother Simon.
  8. If Elias was Stephen’s son and so involved with the barons demands it places doubt on Stephen Langtons supposed role as arbitrator and perhaps suggests he was always an opponent of John’s dynasty. Originating from Lincolnshire this would hardly be surprising.


(1) Nicholas Vincent Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004 article 37391

Copyright David Langton All rights reserved 18th May 2015

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