LANGTON, William, of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumb.
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Family and Education
Constable of the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Staple 14 Dec. 1401-2.2
Sheriff, Newcastle-upon-Tyne Mich. 1404-6; mayor 1408-10, 1411-12.3
Collector of pontage and pavage, Newcastle-upon-Tyne 4 Feb. 1406-11.
Commr. of inquiry, Newcastle-upon-Tyne Jan. 1412 (liability for taxation), Apr. 1412 (concealments).
One of the leading merchants in late medieval Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Langton was particularly involved in the export of wool and sheepskins, although he dealt in a wide range of other products as well, importing commodities as diverse as iron, wine, canvas, cloth, woad, soap and dyestuffs, largely from the Baltic. He was less interested in the rapidly expanding Tyneside coal trade than some of his parliamentary colleagues, but he occasionally shipped modest consignments south, along with the sacks of wool which constituted the bulk of his business. From 1386 to 1409, if not later, Langton’s name appears regularly in the customs accounts, where he is usually to be found acting alone rather than in one of the groups of less affluent local merchants, who shared the cost of commercial ventures between them.4 By about 1400, however, he had joined a consortium of the most prominent Newcastle woolmen, whose intention was to evade the rigid control over exports maintained by the merchants of the Calais Staple, and thus ship their wares directly to the Continent without having to compete at a disadvantage against the superior quality wool produced further south. In August of that year Langton and his associates (who included Roger Thornton* and William Middleton*) obtained a royal licence to export Coon sacks of wool straight to Flanders. Alarmed at this threat to their hard-won monopoly, the mayor and merchants of the Calais Staple immediately petitioned Parliament, requesting that all such concessions, and in particular the one given to their rivals in Newcastle, should be immediately revoked. Henry IV was in no position to antagonize such a powerful sector of the mercantile community, upon which he was already financially dependent, so he acceded to their wishes. Some six years later, however, Langton and his colleagues decided to try again, obtaining a less controversial permit for the shipment of 600 sarplers of wool to any friendly port of their choice. Encouraged by their success they went on, in July 1410, to secure another licence, this time allowing them to transport 2,000 sacks of northern wool to the Low Countries from Newcastle. The Calais Staplers had by now accepted the situation, and did not offer much in the way of serious opposition.5
Langton invested some of his profits in the land market, acquiring a number of holdings in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where he owned several houses, tenements and shops. Such was his position in the community that in January 1410 Bishop Langley of Durham accorded him a licence to keep a private oratory in his own home. He also had property across the river Tyne in Gateshead, and it may be that the bonds which he and two other merchants, Robert Hebburn* and John Wall*, offered to the bishop in 1409 on behalf of a local man were to do with his purchases there. It was certainly at about this date that he is first known to have been a landowner in Gateshead, which lay within the episcopal liberty of Durham.6
A man of Langton’s wealth and influence inevitably became involved in the business of local government, but although he represented Newcastle-upon-Tyne in Parliament at least once (and probably twice) during the reign of Richard II, it was not until 1401, with his election as a constable of the Staple, that he began to hold office there. From then on, however, he played a notable part in the affairs of the town, being made sheriff in 1404, attending Parliament again in 1407 (when he and his colleague, William Johnson, undoubtedly used their influence on behalf of the consortium of wool exporters to which they belonged), and serving three terms as mayor. During the last of these terms, in 1412, Langton was drawn into a longstanding and bitter dispute between the townsmen and Bishop Langley, who objected to the building of a tower on the south side of the Tyne bridge, and had taken the people of Newcastle to law in an attempt to re-assert his jurisdiction. On 25 Mar. Langton, as mayor, travelled to Durham at the head of a delegation of 11 prominent burgesses in order to negotiate with the bishop and his council. Their meeting at the chapter house proved abortive; and in the end the bishop carried the day. By now well advanced in years, Langton was near retirement. He took part in the elections held in Newcastle to the first Parliament of Henry V’s reign, in May 1413, but no more is heard of him after this date.7
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. W. Prynne, Brevia Parliamentaria Rediviva, iv. 1078 gives Richard Langton as Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne in this Parliament, but since no such person appears to have been active in the north-east during our period, it sems likely that the name should read William.
- 2. C26/7/37.
- 3. Surtees Soc. cxxxvii. 64-65, 158; clxiv. 111.
- 4. E122/106/7, 13, 15, 18, 22, 30, 32, 40, 42, 215/11, 138/21 (pt. 2).
- 5. E122/106/28; CPR, 1399-1401, p. 358; 1408-13, pp. 39, 216; RP, iii. 465.
- 6. Surtees Soc. cxxxvii. 158; clxiv. 111; Newcastle-upon-Tyne Rec. Ser. vii. 147; CCR, 1396-9, p. 22; Arch. Aeliana (ser. 3), v. 59; Newcastle-upon-Tyne RO, Soc. of Antiquaries mss, Blackgate deed B4/i/3 no. 56; DKR, xxxiii. 89, 96; Cal. Greenwell Deeds ed. Walton, no. 281.
- 7. C44/27/2; C219/11/1; Surtees Soc. cxxxvii. 64-65. It is most unlikely that he was the William Langton who died shortly before March 1421, leaving land in Ord, near Berwick-upon-Tweed, to a son named Thomas (DKR, xxxiii. 194; xlv. 231).