Langham, Simon De

, archbishop of Canterbury, and cardinal, was probably born at Langham in Rutlandshire, whence he took his name, but the date is nowhere specified. He became a monk of St. Peter, Westminster, in 1335, and soon attained a considerable degree of eminence among his brethren. In 1346 he officiated at the triennial chapter of the Benedictines, held at Northampton, by whom in 1349 he was elected prior, and two months after abbot. The revenues of this monastery having been much wasted in his predecessor’s time, the new abbot directed his attention to a system of ceconomy, and partly by his own example, and partly by earnest persuasion, was soon enabled to pay off their debts. When he began this reformation of the abuses which had crept into the cloister, he (knowing the disposition of his fraternity) thought that those which respected the articles of provision were of the first importance. He therefore took care that their mistricordia, or better than ordinary dishes, and those dinners which were somewhat similar to what in our universities have obtained the names of Exceeding and Gaudy-days, should be common to the whole society; and not, as had formerly been the practice, confined to a few, to the extreme mortification of the rest. To effect this purpose, he relinquished the presents which it had been usual for preceding abbots, at certain times, to accept.

When he had by these means gained the love and esteem of the major part of the brotherhood, he carried the work | of reformation to matters of greater importance. He formed a code of laws upon more liberal principles than those by which the monastic orders were in general go*­verned; and although, like all legislators, he met with considerable difficulty and opposition in their promulgation, yet he ultimately triumphed. He repressed the insolent, reduced the refractory, punished the wicked, and in a short time not only established order in a place which had been formerly the scene of confusion, but had so entirely gained the good opinion of the society, that, as Flete observes, his character was, “even by the old monks who had been his enemies, thought equal to that of the founder, Edward the confessor.

The king, Edward 111. perceiving his talents and sagacity, promoted him in 1360 to the place of lord treasurer, and in 1361 he was chosen bishop of London; but the see of Ely becoming vacant at the same time, he chose the latter, and was consecrated March 20, 1361-2, and employed its revenues to the encouragement of learning, and to the relief of the poor. As his character in this high office began more fully to appear, the king became partial to Langham, and in Feb. 1364 removed him from the post of lord treasurer to that of chancellor, and in July 1366, he was, by papal provision, but at the express desire of the king, promoted to the see of Canterbury. The most remarkable event which occurred during his administration was, his undertaking to execute the bull promulgated by the pope Urban the Fifth, “for the correction of the abuse of the privilege of pluralities. 77 Archbishop Langham was indefatigable in his inquiry through his diocese; and the result of it was,” the reformation of a great many ecclesiastics who held an enormous number of livings, some of them twenty or thirty, with the cure of souls."

His conduct hitherto had been becoming his station, but we have now to record one action of his which, as Anthony Wood says, it is impossible to defend. This was the removal of the celebrated John Wickliff from his situation as head of a hall at Oxford, called Canterbury-hall, founded by his predecessor Simon Islip. Whether his holding tenets which might then be deemed heretical was the archbishop’s true reason for ejecting him, does not appear. That which he avowed was, that having a desire that the hall should be a college for the education of monks, he thought a secular priest (between whom and the monastic | order it is well known a considerable jealousy subsisted) would be an improper person for their governor. But although this might have been the opinion of the prelate, it does not appear to have been that of the society; the fellows of which convened a meeting, in whichfthey drew up a spirited remonstrance against the tyranny of their superior. This was so ill receded by him, and their subsequent conduct considered as so contumacious, that he sequestered a large portion of their revenue. War was now declared on both sides. The society appealed to the pope, the archbishop sent an agent to Rome to answer for him; and he had interest enough to induce his holiness to confirm the decree by which Wickliff and some other refractory members of the fraternity were removed, and their places filled with those who were more steady adherents to nonachism, and consequently more devoted to the will of the archbishop.

In Sept. 1368, the pope promoted Langham to the dignity of cardinal, as it is said, without solicitation, and merely because he thought a man of his talents would be an ornament to the sacred college. The king, however, was not pleased with this promotion, probably because he had uot been consulted, and ordered the temporalities of the archbishopric to be seized, as if the see were vacant, which, on promotion to the dignity of cardinal, was a natural consequence, unless the party had conditioned to hold his preferments. Langham, as far as can be discovered, made no opposition to the king’s pleasure, but merely attended at court to ask leave to retire to Otford; which being granted, he reduced his establishment, repaired to his rural mansion, and continued for some months to live very privately.

He remained in this situation till, his affairs calling him to the papal court, he set out for Montafiacone, where he was honoured with the title of St. Sixtus, and a short time after provided with ecclesiastical dignities in this kingdom, to the amount of more than 1000 pounds per annum, an immense sum in that age. They consisted of the deanery of Lincoln, the archdeaconry and treasurership of Wells, the archdeaconry of York, and the prebendary of Wistowe in that cathedral.

The death of pope Urban happened at a period, as it was thought, critical to the affairs of the cardinal, as well as to those of the two kingdoms of England and France, as he | had just appointed him to mediate a peace between them. But Gregory the Eleventh, who succeeded Urban, as sensible of his merit as his predecessor, confirmed his appointment, and even enlarged his powers. This treaty Tailing, as nad been foreseen by the cardinal, he proceeded from Melun, the place where he had met cardinal de Beauvois, to England with the sense of the French court upon the negotiation. Although unsuccessful in this business, he had, whilst abroad, an opportunity of displaying his diplomatic talents, wnich had a more fortunate issue. Through his (oediation a peace was made betwixt the king and the earl of Flanders, who had been at variance upon the account of the earl’s breaking his engagement to marry his daughter to Edmund earl of Cambridge, and betrothing her to Philip, the brother of Charles the Fifth, king of France. In the beginning of 1372, cardinal Langham left England in order to return to the pope; and when he arrived at Avignon, he found that his conduct had, during the course of his mission, been misrepresented to the pope, but he so amply satisfied his holiness on that point, that, in the same year, he elevated him to the dignity of cardinal bishop of Praeneste. On the death of Wittelsey, who succeeded him as archbishop of Canterbury, the monks endeavoured to persuade the king to allow Langham to return; but the king was enraged at their insolence, and in this was seconded by the pope, who preferred employing the cardinal at Avignon, where the affairs of the holy see rendered his presence necessary. From this situation, however, Langham had a strong desire to remove, and visit his native country, where he had projected some architectural plans, and meant to devote a large sum of money to the rebuilding of the abbey at Westminster. With this view he procured some friends at court to solicit leave to return, and their applications were successful; but before he could know the issue, he died suddenly of a paralytic stroke, July 22, 1376. His body was, according to ’the direction of his will, first deposited in a new-built church of the Carthusians, near the place of his decease, where it remained for three years. It was then with great state and solemnity removed to Saint Benet’s chapel, in Westminster abbey, where his tomb with his effigy upon it, and the arms of England, the monastery of Saint Peter, and | the sees of Canterbury and Ely, engraved in tablets around it, still remains.

By his will he bequeathed a large donation to the support of the fabric of the Abbey at Westminster. The whole of his benefactions to this place, including the sums he paid tq discharge the debts of his predecessors, and what he gave in his life-time for the celebration of his anniversary, to found chantries, and to the fabric, amounted to the enormous sum of 10,Soo/. as we learn from the subsequent verses:

"Res JEs de Langham tua Simon sunt data quondam,

Octingentena librarum millia dena."

The character of this prelate, as given by Flete, the historian of the abbey, is, “that he was a man of great capacity, very wise, and very eloquent:” a character which, even allowing for the prejudice of monachism toward so eminent a benefactqr to the church, will not be disputed, if we consider also that he filled some of the highest departments of the state, under a monarch who is, by all historians, allowed to have been as eminent for his wisdom and discernment as he was for his courage and military glory. 1

1 Wharton’s Anglia Sacra. Tanner. Life by Mr. Moser, in Kurop. Mag. 11