LANGTON, Sir John (c.1387-1459), of Mowthorpe and Farnley, Yorks.
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Family and Education
Commr. of array, Yorks. (W. Riding) Mar. 1419; to escort Scottish hostages Feb. 1426, June 1429; make arrests Dec. 1428.
Sheriff, Yorks. by 16 June 1424-15 Jan. 1426.2
For most of the 14th century the Langton family played a leading part in the government of York, where they dominated the civic hierarchy. Between them, Nicholas Langton and John, his son, occupied the mayoralty for no less than 28 years, although their monopoly of office created tensions within the community. In 1371, for example, John Langton and his supporters among the patrician class (or viri hereditarii) were successfully challenged by a group of parvenu merchants. Such a threat may well have led John to concentrate even further on consolidating his territorial interests outside the city, although for decades already the Langtons had derived their great wealth from property rather than trade. By the time of his son’s marriage to Joan, the daughter of Sir Robert Neville of Hornby, Langton was the owner of extensive estates in Naburn, Swinefleet, Over Dinsdale, Reedness, Huddleston, Heworth, West Lutton, Mowthorpe and Huntington, as well as a number of shops and tenements in York itself. His good fortune in forging such a close connexion with one of the most powerful members of the northern gentry may, in part, have been due to the Nevilles’ accute indebtedness at the time (Sir Robert had himself married into an even wealthier mercantile family, the de la Poles, from whom his father had proceeded to borrow large sums of money), although it none the less reflects clearly enough on the growing influence and prestige of the Langtons. Having thus established themselves among the ranks of the local landowning classes, they now lived as successful rentiers, more or less abandoning their interest in civic affairs. In common with many other disaffected Yorkshiremen, John Langton the younger appears to have thrown in his lot with Archbishop Scrope of York in his rebellion against Henry IV. Certainly, in June 1405, just a few days after Scrope’s execution at York, he was pardoned all ‘treasons, insurrections and rebellions’; and, duly chastened, he henceforth lived quietly on his estates. His father-in-law, Sir Robert Neville, who was actually related by marriage to the King and was held in great favour at Court, may well have stepped in to protect him. At all events, by 1410 he had been sufficiently rehabilitated to secure employment by the Crown as a local tax collector, although his early death at some point over the next three years brought an end to any prospects of an extended career in local government.3
Langton’s son and heir, another John, the subject of this biography, first comes to notice early in 1408 when he and his wife obtained a papal indult to make use of a portable altar. According to the evidence of inquisitions post mortem on Thomas Beaufort, duke of Exeter (the husband of his cousin, Margaret Neville), he was born in about 1395, but it is most unlikely that such a licence would have been granted to a minor. He was indisputably of age by 1413, however, as Henry V then gave him permission to make an endowment upon the fraternity of St. Christopher in York in memory of his late father. Not long afterwards he became embroiled in a dispute with the hospital of St. Leonard there, perhaps as a result of rival claims to the Langton estate. By July 1416, matters had reached such a pitch that orders went out for his arrest, although arrangements were soon made in Chancery for the quarrel to go to arbitration. In the following November John was bound over in securities of 500 marks either to appear before the chancellor in person or else to produce a certificate attested by the bishop of Durham or the earl of Westmorland as proof that a private settlement had been reached. The earl did indeed provide evidence of such an award, and John’s recognizances were cancelled. Notwithstanding his initial brush with the authorities, he was appointed in March 1419 to a royal commission of array, so that by the time of his election to Parliament, late In 1420, he had gained some experience of administrative affairs. He had, moreover, been recently knighted, although the first reference to his more elevated status as a King’s knight does not occur until the reign of Henry VI. Royal patronage began coming his way in February 1423, when, possibly through the influence of his kinsman by marriage, the duke of Exeter, he and Sir John Asshe were given joint custody of the Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Essex and Kent estates declared forfeit after the death of Margery, dowager Lady Scrope, mother of the traitor, Henry, Lord Scrope of Masham. Sir John also stood well with the influential cleric, Robert Wycliffe, chancellor and receiver-general to the bishop of Durham and sometime constable of Durham castle. On his death in 1423, Wycliffe left him a covered goblet, while his son, Robert (who evidently died young), was promised a bed with red worsted draperies bearing the arms of Wycliffe.4
By late June 1424 Sir John had assumed office as sheriff of Yorkshire, in which capacity he was responsible for the custody of a group of 15 Scottish hostages. Besides having to offer personal securities of £1,000 that they would not escape, he sustained heavy expenses while keeping them safe in York castle. The allowance of £83 made to him by the Crown proved totally inadequate, and in November 1427 (by which time his prisoners had been transferred to the Tower of London) he claimed a further £160 to cover his outlay. By this date, however, Sir John’s financial prospects had improved dramatically. The death without issue first of his cousin, Margaret Neville, and then of her husband, the duke of Exeter, left him and his aunt, Margaret Haryngton, coheirs to the rich and widespread estates of Sir Robert Neville of Hornby. Exeter died in December 1426, and although five years elapsed before a mutually acceptable division of property could be achieved, Sir John eventually found himself in possession of the manor of Appleby in Lincolnshire, rents in the Lancashire villages of Aintree and Melling, and all his late grandfather’s extensive holdings in Yorkshire. These comprised the manor of Farnley near Leeds, and at least 13 other manors with appurtenances spread throughout the West Riding and beyond. Sir William Haryngton, Margaret’s husband, may not have been content with the castle and lordship of Hornby in Lancashire, which constituted his share of the inheritance, for he was obliged to enter bonds worth £1,000 as a guarantee of Sir John’s undisputed title.5
Meanwhile, in 1429, Sir John acted as a parliamentary proxy for John Wells, the bishop of Llandaff. So far as we know, he did not himself sit in more than one Parliament, nor did he devote much time from this date onwards to official responsibilities of any kind, choosing rather to concentrate on the management of his estates. From 1441 onwards, his eldest surviving son, John (who took over the running of the family property at Farnley), assumed a leading role in Yorkshire society, although his failure to find adequate securities meant that he never actually occupied the post of bailiff of Pickering offered to him by the Crown. His brother, Henry, did, however, prosper in the employment of Henry VI, serving first as clerk and crier of the Marshalsea, and then becoming an esquire of the royal household. Sir John never forgot his family’s early connexion with the city of York, and towards the end of his life he endowed the new guild of St. Martin with property for the support of a perpetual chantry. He chose, even so, to be buried in the church of St. Peter, Leeds, where John Langton the younger later erected a large and impressive family tomb.6
Sir John Langton died on 17 Mar. 1459, leaving four sons and two daughters. His widow, Euphemia, lived on until 1463, and was buried beside him at St. Peter’s. In her will she bequeathed large quantities of expensive plate and jewels to various friends, relatives and religious houses. To the parish church of Sherburn-in-Elmet, for example, went an alabaster image of the Virgin with a collar of gold and silver and a lavish display of ornaments. Her younger son, Henry, inherited a missal called ‘Bishop Scrope boke’, which suggests that memories of the 1405 rebellion still remained strong among the Langtons.7
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. CP, v. 203-4; Test. Ebor. i. 404-5; ii. 258-60, 277-9; VCH Yorks. (N. Riding), ii. 204; VCH City of York, 70-71; CPL, vi. 145; CPR, 1413-16, p. 55.