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Horncastle, Magna Carta and the Langton Family

In a previous article, ‘Where was Stephen Langton of Magna Carta Born?’, I presented evidence that the Langtons of Magna Carta originated from Langton by Horncastle in Lincolnshire. The origins of Stephen Langton are of crucial importance due to the development last century, of a view that Stephen Langton and the church had little to do with the formation of Magna Carta.

Such a reversal of the view of previous centuries has a significant credibility issue not least in that it overrides the apportioning of blame to the Langtons, by King John and Pope Innocent III.

If Stephen Langton was just a mediator why did John, who called him a notorious traitor, hate him so much? The origins of this church nil hypothesis rest on an idea that Langton was from a peasant background with no natural links to the barons; if true, such an extreme view might just be possible. If on the other hand Langton was from an established land owning family, such a thesis begins to look like a house of cards. Powicke in his 1928 book argued that Langton was from a ‘not distinguished,…. not of foreign stock family,…. from Langton by Wragby.’(1)

As evidence of Langton origins in Langton-by-Horncastle, I previously cited the grant of free warren made to Roger de Langeton in the demesne lands of Humbellot Langton; this refers to Langton by Thimbleby or Langton by Horncastle as it is known today. Stimblebi in Domesday Book 1086 AD becomes Timlebi in the Lindsey Survey 1117 AD, Humbellot in the 1246 AD charter and Thimbleby today. The original form may have been Stimlebi but this has been modified in two ways by the French language, firstly the initial –S seems to have been dropped perhaps due to the Norman difficulty in pronouncing an initial –S with a consonant. This parallels the Anglo-Saxon Snottingham becoming Nottingham, there are no French words beginning sn-.

Secondly, words such as bramble and humble, gain –b between the –m and –l. It is notable that the Lindsey Survey Timlebi lacks the intervening –b whilst the more French sounding Humbellot with its –ot ending emphasises the process of gaining the –b with –be. Finally an aspirating process then took place with a –h being absent in both the earlier forms but present in the later Humbellot and Thimbleby. The existence of a remaining recognisable English word - thimble, probably determined the final form of the name. The original Timlebi, now seems to me slightly strange to pronounce.

The charter to Roger draws comment from Charles Langton in his book 'The Langtons of Langton', ‘It has been argued that the fact of this grant supports a claim of immediate kinship with the Archbishop because of the influence at court necessary to have obtained it, there is unfortunately no evidence to assist in unveiling his antecedents.’ (2)

Powicke in his book, 'Stephen Langton' drew attention to the use of first names as a means of excluding identification of the Spilsby Langtons, ‘the lords of this place were Osbert and Gilbert not Henry or Walter.’ (3) This was a correct deduction but surprisingly that he went on to conclude that two Henry Langtons sharing the same name and dying about 1210 AD and 1235 AD belonged to different families.

In reality they were probably first or second cousins. To have a second cousin with exactly the same name is not particularly unusual as I myself can testify.

Roger is an unexpected name for a Langton with none recorded before Magna Carta. To find another Roger could be informative. It is quite possible that the Roger of the free Warren name may have passed down his name to a son, grandson or nephew. If we could find another early Roger his links might lead us to a particular Langton village in Lincolnshire. The enquiry is a long shot and we have to be ready for the trail to lead nowhere; no such Roger may exist.

The LostLangtons site has identified and listed over 25,000 Langtons, but has found only about thirty Rogers and only one of them is sufficiently early to interest us. Where will he lead us, if anywhere?

Our one and only Roger, like Stephen and Simon, was a cleric; a canon of Chichester Cathedral in the south of England and that, at a very early age. This rapid career advancement may have been influenced by the fact that he shared his surname with the Bishop of Chichester, John Langton - bishop 1305-1337 AD.

Roger’s father was a knight just like Stephen’s brother Walter; He was called John Langton - it looks suspiciously like the bishop may have been his father or at the very least a relative. Langton is an uncommon name on the south coast of England which suggests that Canon Roger’s family was not a local one. If Canon Roger was the bishop’s grandson or some other relative it would explain his early pre-eminence.

Bishop John Langton, much like Stephen was involved in politics as well as the church. He had been Chancellor of England, 1292-1302 AD and again 1307-1309 AD. In 1311 AD Bishop John Langton was elected to be one of the Lords Ordainers limiting the power of the king, Edward II. He even had a typical Langton track record with the papacy, having previously been deposed by Boniface VIII as Bishop of Ely in 1298 AD, thus becoming the third Langton to be deposed from bishoprics by popes. But aside from his political activity, did he have any actual connection to Stephen and Simon Langton?

One post he held in common with Simon Langton was the powerful role of Archdeacon of Canterbury but that is not all. He held a prebend of Lincoln Cathedral and the living of a church in the diocese. We are then heading back to Lincolnshire but to where exactly?

From 1295-1305 AD John Langton held the living of Horncastle. It may well be that he was born in Horncastle. Of all the places in England, of all the places in Lincolnshire, our journey just happens to finish where we started.

If the two Henry Langtons belonged to the same family then we can join the names of Stephen and Simons relatives together; We are looking for a co-occurrence of Henry, Roger, and William (the name of Henry of Woodhall’s brother). These are names we get in far-away Chichester, Sussex alongside Canon Roger and Bishop John. As already noted, the south coast is not an area where the name Langton usually occurs.

Consequently any thirteenth century Langtons are likely to be related. It looks as if Bishop John had two other illegitimate sons, grandsons or other relatives, their names were Henry and William. Henry had a church in Chichester diocese and had a papal dispensation for being illegitimate and another giving permission to hold a canon and prebend in a collegiate church dated 1329 AD. There are at least two William Langtons in Sussex, one born in 1328 AD, the other possibly his father seemingly a generation earlier. One held the living of St Pancras, Chichester.

It is noteworthy that there had been little real change in the family’s status. In 1300 AD the family were knights, canons and clerks just as they had been in 1200 AD. I suspect the same would have been true in 1100 AD but we lack evidence of such stability. In the same way there is no evidence of Powicke’s supposed ‘gradual accumulation of property’ by conquered natives in the short period between 1066 AD and Stephen’s birth about 1160 AD.

Whilst this link is not conclusive, it is evidential. Many matters in history are circumstantial. It is however a simple fact that the only matching identifiable Roger de Langeton to the man granted the free warren was a Canon to a Bishop of the same surname with a church link to Horncastle in Lincolnshire. This adds further weight to the argument that Stephen Langton was a native of Langton by Horncastle.

Copyright David Langton 22st January 2015 All rights reserved.