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The English Civil War - The Langton House Divided

By David Langton

19 February 2010


General Political Situation

King James I of England on becoming king of England in 1603, in addition to being king of Scotland wanted to unite the two counties into one. The English Parliament refused to go along with this because they quite rightly feared it would be the end of English law. James didn't like a lot of things. He didn't like Scottish Presbyterianism with elders running the church and insisting that people should not be sexually immoral, that would certainly have cramped his style. He didn't like the Bible (Geneva) or people reading it. He certainly didn't like parliaments and would have liked to abolish them. He even wrote a book called the Free Monarchy in which he said that kings should rule without parliament. His views essentially if implemented would have overthrown the type of consensual English government which had existed, albeit with some difficulties like King John, since at least from the time of Alfred the Great.


James didn't like smoking, it spoiled people's breath. He did like young Scottish males and surrounded himself with them. The English were reduced to bribing his favourites to get access to the king. James liked to sit above any pulpit and certainly didn't want to be lectured on the responsibilities of kingship as had happened in Scotland with those awful Presbyterians. Hating the Geneva Bible because of its references to tyranny, he ordered a revision of the discredited Bishop's Bible. He insisted that the Greek word 'ecclesia' must be translated 'church' and not 'congregation' as William Tyndale had translated it in 1526. The bishops took the opportunity to rid themselves of the old Bishops Bible and instead produced what has become known as the Authorised Version which derives about 90% from William tyndale's banned translation. It's one of the greater ironies that a monarch whose motivation was to suppress the bible has ended with his name attached to it, as it is sometimes termed the King James Bible (KJB).


James seemed to want a ceremonial church without the pope and chose a personal chaplain in Dr William Langton, the President of Magdalen College, Oxford who was just the man for the job. The gunpowder plot of 1605 probably dissuaded James from being too favourable to Roman Catholicism. Catholics were disappointed in him and so were radical Protestants. Many Protestants wanted the Church of England to be Presbyterian like the Scottish Church and still others particularly in the ports and the east of the county wanted each congregation to run their own church. Some of the later adopted Baptist views, arguing that the church should only be comprised of baptised believers and was not identical with the state. This was a very radical position since it undid the unity of Church and State. Baptist views on the separation of church and state potentially overturned something that had prevailed since the time of the Emperor Constantine.


Charles I

Unlike his father Charles came to the throne with his feet under the table. He began by telling parliament that they could only sit if he summoned them and proceeded to rule without a parliament for 11 years. In the end he was forced to call a parliament because the Scots had revolted after he tried to impose a different religion on them.

The country had something of a religious split along geographic lines. Some of the old aristocracy clung to the old Catholic religion in the more rural and remote parts of the country like the north of England. The most radical Protestants tended to be found in the ports and among the merchant classes.

When the civil war in England eventually broke out this social and religious split tended to prevail. The king was supported by the northern, western and rural areas, the landed classes who tended to favour bishops in the church of England. Small number of Roman Catholics in England would also have supported the king against Parliament. Parliament, which was strongly Presbyterian, favouring church rule by elders, was strong in London, the ports and the east of the country which had been influenced by the continental reformation. It is notable that those who were most remote from the king were most likely to support him whilst those who had had most to do with him, such as in London were against him.


The Civil war was fought therefore by the King and his conservative religious supporters against the Presbyterian Parliament outraged at the kings tyranny, duplicity illegal taxation and attempts at abolishing parliament. As the war progressed many in the army felt that Parliament didn't really press home it's military advantage over the untrustworthy king, and hesitated to land the knock out blow. As a consequence Cromwell recruited the New Model Army from East Anglia the most radical part of the country. Many of these soldiers were Congregationalists (Independents) and Baptist. As a consequence, once victorious the Presbyterian Parliament tried to impose a Presbyterian state religion on the country. The army were having none of this and said no, refusing to stand down. The soldiers in the army had fought for liberty of conscience not to replace one form of oppression with another. Parliament by its insensitivity and failure to pay the troops had lost control of its own army.

General Pryde then occupied Parliament ejecting the puritan Presbyterians in what became known as Pryde's Purge, leaving a small parliament known as the Rump comprising of the most radical and pro religious tolerance members. Its membership of the most radical independents favoured putting the king on trial as the only way to end the civil war. Charles was found guilty of treason and executed. The monarchy was abolished and was replaced by the Commonwealth under Cromwell eventually with no parliament but with religious toleration for all Christians excepting Catholics and tolerance for Jews.

The Commonwealth state church accommodated a wide variety of views. In Exeter for example the cathedral was divided in two by a brick wall with the Presbyterians having one side and the Congregationalists the other. The Baptists who unlike the other two groups didn't want a state church or the cathedral were accommodated elsewhere in the city. When the monarchy was restored with Charles II in 1660 steps were soon taken against all non Episcopalians, bishops were back in control. In 1662 in what was known as the Great Ejection the Presbyterians and Congregationalists were slung out of the Church of England. Sometimes entire congregations went leaving the parish church empty. The Presbyterians many of whom were from prosperous families were amazed to find themselves outside the Church of England and persecuted as dissenters.


The Langtons

Langtons were on various sides in this struggle. The most stark situation is that with the Lancashire Langtons, where the Wigan Langtons had remained Roman Catholic. Thomas Langton an avowed if notorious Roman Catholic was MP in 1601 albeit only as a ruse, with the intention of using parliamentary privilege to avoid his creditors. Catholic Langtons from Wigan would undoubtedly have been on the king's side although of course it doesn't mean that every descendent of the Wigan Langtons had remained Catholic. The probability is that some had become Protestant and sided with Parliament. By contrast another branch of the same family the Broughton Tower Langtons of Preston and Liverpool seem to have been Presbyterians. One of them William Langton, Recorder for Liverpool was even recruited as an MP into the Long Parliament during the civil war. Most of the county of Lancashire and perhaps especially the ports were pro Parliament.

In Yorkshire the situation with the Langtons is very unclear but it was initially a royalist area. In Lincoln the sympathies of the Langtons are unclear but they had long developed links with Boston which was a parliamentarian area.

The Langtons of Oxford and Shrivenham Wilts were strongly linked with Magdalen College Oxford which had a very ritualistic Anglican tradition much to the liking of the king. Moreover with the late Dr William Langton's close connection with the royal family they were almost certainly enthusiastic royal supporters. It was to cost them very dear. Two Langton lecturers were thrown out of Magdalen once the war was lost, by parliamentary commissioners. Rev William Langton of Shrivenham was fined very heavily and his brother George, an ousted Magdalen lecturer less so for supporting the king at the battle of Newbury.

Rev Robert Langton of Highworth near Swindon, possibly but not necessarily related to his neighbouring Shrivenham Langtons is said to have been sequestrated in 1649 which suggest he was a royalist who lost his property. By contrast the Langtons of Calne the foremost family in the town were certainly dissident Presbyterians post 1662 and were presumably parliamentary Presbyterians before that date.

Bristol was initially royalist but one would have expected the Langton merchants of Bristol to be parliamentarian. As Parliament controlled the Navy after the fall of Portsmouth early in the war, it would have been difficult for royalist merchants be they in Bristol, Liverpool or London to trade is unclear what they were. The merchant classes were in any case generally pro parliament because they had been hit hard by Charles's theft of their money in illegal taxes.

Leicestershire was a parliamentarian area and Langtons there were probably on the side of Parliament. The Royalists did storm Leicester itself but subsequently suffered a crushing defeat at the battle of Nazeby.


From the Civil War to the Glorious Revolution

The aftermath of the civil war left a Republic with religious toleration, without parliament but with an army. With the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 Parliament was restored but busied itself in launching a severe persecution of radical Christians known as the Clarendon Code in 1662. From now on king and parliament were suspicious of the army and only maintained a very weak force until the time of Waterloo. They had learnt that a strong army could lurch towards radical democracy and overthrow vested interests. Parliament finally had enough of the Stuarts in 1688 and kicked them out for good in the Glorious Revolution which brought the Protestant William III to the throne. The founding of dissident religious groups Independent/Congregationalist, Presbyterian, Baptist and Quaker were the people along with the parliamentarian soldiers who established freedom of religion in England. It is likely that many of these dissidents left England to escape persecution and form a freer society in the American states. The downside of these groups from a Langton point of view is that their records were not as good as the parish records and were more likely to be lost. If you are descended from dissident Langtons you will need to search diligently. Some membership lists and indeed church record books do end up in the archives and are there to be found.