Lichfield, in pre-Conquest times was a great see covering most of Mercia, these days its very much smaller and well worth a visit with its beautiful gospels and carved angel.
The first of this post’s scandalous bishops to reside in Lichfield, according to Cannon, was minding his own business when he was accused, fairly promptly after the Norman Conquest, of being married and forced to resign. In fact, a quick glance at Bell’s entry for Lichfield suggests that not only did the Bishop Leofwin resign but that he also died in 1066 suggesting a convenient stratagem for removing the incumbent Saxon. The next bishop was William the Conqueror’s own chaplain, Peter, and it was during his tenure that the seat of the see was moved from Lichfield to Chester and from there to Coventry where there was an abbey until in 1189 Lichfield was restored to its role of cathedral although there appears to have been some pretty unpleasant vying for power between the inhabitants of Lichfield and Coventry for several centuries afterwards.
The second scandalous bishop rocked up in 1296. Rejoicing in the nickname of ‘the king’s right-eye,’ treasurer Walter Langton was given the bishopric as a reward by King Edward I and nominated as Edward’s executor. He got down to some serious building work in Lichfield which including building houses around the cathedral precincts for the vicars and canons.
Four years later Walter was up to his neck in trouble. He was accused of adultery with his step-mother, of murdering his father, witchcraft and corruption. These charges were without foundation but they reflect the way in which medieval political smear campaigns sometimes ran. In 1307 with a new king on the throne in the form of ditch digging Edward II (that really was one of his hobbies) Walter found himself under arrest and his income handed to royal favourite Piers Gaveston. Now whilst Langton may have been corrupt and greedy the other charges had rather more to do with the dislike of Edward II and the Archbishop of Canterbury for the former treasurer than anything else. Not that Walter appears terribly popular with anyone else either. When the Lords Ordainers, so called because of the ordinances or regulations that they (there were 21 of them) imposed on Edward II, took power in 1311 and booted Piers Gaveston out of his position as royal favourite Walter continued to languish in prison. He did ultimately regain his position as treasurer having cleared his name but no one appears to have trusted him very much.
It was Langton who constructed (presumably not personally) the West front and also the three spires. Lichfield is the only cathedral in England to have a triple spire arrangement. The grotesques adorning the cathedral are rather more Victorian in design. Unfortunately the cathedral had a rather unpleasant time during the English Civil War but more of that anon.
Cannon, Jon. (2007) Cathedral: The Great English Cathedrals And The World That Made Them London: Constable
Clifton A. (1900) Bell’s Cathedrals: The Cathedral Church of Lichfield A Description of Its Fabric and A Brief History of the Espicopal See. Edinburgh: White and Co
I once met up with Micheal Foot just after his stay as Prime Minister. He was sat writing in the last pew at Lichfield.He asked my what side my family fought for in the Civil Wars. It was in fact the second time I had meet him by accident and always that same question. To his labouring mind it must have spoken words? I told him my full titled name and we fought for Charles King Of England in reply. He bowed his head back down to his writings as if i had not been there. So if i had lied and told him Cromwell no doubt that sad old man may have talked for ages to me. Strange fellow in dark place as Lichfield is some blooded stone cave.One can feel it as one walks within. Murder happened more often here than history seems to recount.
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Very interesting to me as on Geni Leofwine is shown as a direct ancestor through Leofric III and Lady Godiva and Walter Langton is assumed to be related due to Langton/Langston connections .As they say , you can pick your friends!!!!!