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Henry Langley

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Henry Langley

1610 − 1679

Biography

(see long history)

Henry Langley was born in 1610, the son of an Abingdon shoemaker. He attended Abingdon School, and matriculated at Pembroke College in 1629. Pembroke, then newly founded, had close connections with the school. Langley took his BA degree in 1632, and remained in Oxford as a preacher and college tutor. But, as a fervent Puritan, he was opposed to the religiously conservative views prevalent in the university.

The Civil War broke out in 1642, and Oxford became the Royalist headquarters. Langley moved to London, where he took over a parish whose minister had been expelled for his Royalist views. In 1647, after the Parliamentarian victory, he returned to Oxford. About this time the Master of Pembroke College died, and the college fellows moved fast to elect as his successor Henry Wightwicke, a kinsman of one of the founders. But it was Langley who had influential friends and the support of the new authorities. A letter of recommendation said to be from ‘the inhabitants of Abingdon’ was read out in the House of Lords. We are not sure who brought it in, but it must have been intended to influence the Earl of Pembroke, chancellor of the university, after whose family the college was named. Langley was imposed on the college, which he turned into a strongly Puritan institution. But in 1660, with the restoration of the monarchy, he was unceremoniously expelled and Wightwicke was restored.

Persisting in his Presbyterian principles, he fell foul of the new religious legislation and especially of the Five-Mile Act, which forbade former preachers from residing within five miles of any town.  He made his home in Tubney and opened a school there for the sons of religiously dissenting families. Langley died in 1679, and, in spite of his religious deviance, was buried in St Helen's.

 

See Glossary for explanations of technical terms.

© AAAHS and contributors 2013

(see short history)

Henry Langley was born in 1610, the son of an Abingdon shoemaker. He was sent to Roysse's school, and matriculated at the newly-founded, or refounded, Pembroke College in 1629 although somewhat above the usual age. He took his BA degree in 1632, and remained in Oxford as a preacher and college tutor.

He seems to have found favour in high places, because during the Civil War, when Oxford was the Royalist capital, a resolution of parliament gave him the London living of St Mary Newington, where the previous incumbent had been driven out for his political views. But his chance to return to Oxford came in April 1647. He was one of a group of seven 'godly preachers' sent by parliament to expose students and staff to what would now be the only acceptable ideology.[1]

In July, Dr Thomas Clayton, the Master of Pembroke College, died. The fellows resolved to pre-empt whatever changes were in store by a rapid election, and within three days had chosen Henry Whitewicke, a kinsman of the co-founder. Langley alerted his contacts. On 18 August someone – we don’t know who –placed before the House of Lords the following missive 'from the inhabitants of Abingdon':

The election to the place of master of Pembroke College is of great importance to them, as above twenty fellows and scholars are supplied to the college from Abingdon freeschool; the fellows intend suddenly to elect a new Master now that Dr Clayton is dead, whose virtues may not, perhaps be answerable to that place. The petitioners therefore pray that Mr Henry Langley, M.A., born in Abingdon and indulgent tutor to many gentlemen's sons, an ancient member of the College, pious in his religion, excellent in learning and judgement, and of honest and blameless conversation, may be appointed master.[2]

The intention was no doubt to influence the fourth Earl of Pembroke, whose late brother was commemorated in the college’s name, and who was now chancellor of the university. It seems to have succeeded, and Langley was imposed on the college in spite of the wishes of the fellows.[3]

Langley’s further academic career was a successful one. He took his advanced degrees, and added to his emoluments by becoming a canon of Christ Church. Under his rule, Pembroke became as godly as anyone could wish, and even the undergraduates are recorded as spending their spare time in religious exercises. In the wider world, with his friends Henry Cornish and Tobias Garbrand, he was a member of the intellectual circle of Samuel Hartlib, much concerned with social and educational reform.[4] In Abingdon, he and Cornish were ‘lecturers’ – occasional preachers at St Helen’s, paid by the Corporation. But his position was always precarious. When in 1660 the political pendulum swung back, he was unceremoniously expelled from Pembroke and Wightwicke was restored. At the same time, the Abingdon Corporation scathingly described him and Cornish as ‘pretended lecturers’ and dismissed them.[5]

A staunch Presbyterian, Langley fell foul of the laws the Cavalier Parliament introduced against non-conformism, and especially of the Five-Mile Act, which forbade former preachers from residing within five miles of any town.  He made his home in Tubney and opened a school there for the sons of dissenting families.[6] His career as a schoolmaster will no doubt have taken off in 1671 when Dr Jennings, the head of Roysse's, was obliged to expel his dissenting pupils.[7]

Langley died in 1679 and, in spite of his religious deviance, was buried in St Helen's. An amusing, if scurrilous, personal description survives from a down-market Royalist newspaper of 1647:

He hath a bowsing nose, standing somewhat awry, with a wert at the end of it, and little peeping eies: an infallible note of an envious and malitious person. He walks with his shoulders as other men do with their legges, one before another. He loves a whore as well as his country-man Martin [Henry Marten of Longworth, currently MP for Berkshire]. His belly is his God; he is a second Marriot [William (or John) Marriot, ‘the great eater of Gray’s Inn’, about whom extravagant tales were told]: where he is, there is always famine, and a plague. From which curses good Lord deliver Pembroke Colledge.[8]

 

See Glossary for explanations of technical terms.

© AAAHS and contributors 2013

 

 

 

[1] Stephen Wright, ‘Langley, Henry (1610/11–1679)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2011 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/16024, accessed 13 July 2013].

[2] Historical Manuscripts Commission, 6th Report, House of Lords Manuscripts (1877), p. 192; Journal of the House of Lords  Vol. ix p. 497

[3] Douglas Macleane, Pembroke College (1900), p. 224.

[4] Stephen Wright, ‘Langley, Henry’ in DNB.

[5] Manfred Brod, Abingdon in Context:Small-town politics in early-modern England (Peterborough, 2010),  p, 124.

[6] A E Preston, St Nicholas Abingdon and other papers (Oxford, 1929), p. 133

[7] Preston, St Nicholas, pp. 127, 345.

[8] (George Wharton), Mercurius Elencticus (5-12 November 1647), pp. 14-15.

 

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