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neglected in England, as well as in other catholic countries; and affairs at last seemed to have come to a dangerous crisis: a sovereign of the greatest abilities was now on the throne: a prelate of the most inflexible and intrepid character was possessed of the primacy: the contending powers appeared to be armed with their full force, and it was natural to expect some extraordinary event to result from their conflict.
Among their other inventions to obtain money, the clergy had inculcated the necessity of penance as an atonement for sin; and having again introduced the practice of paying them large sums as a commutation, or species of atonement for the remission of those penances, the sins of the people, by these means, had become a revenue to the priests; and the king computed, that by this invention alone they levied more money upon his subjects than flowed, by all the funds and taxes, into the royal exchequer1. That he might ease the people of so heavy and arbitrary an imposition, Henry required that a civil officer of his appointment should be present in all ecclesiastical courts, and should, for the future, give his consent to every composition which was made with sinners for their spiritual offences.
The ecclesiastics in that age had renounced all immediate subordination to the magistrate: they openly pretended to an exemption, in criminal accusations, from a trial before courts of justice; and were gradually introducing a like exemption in civil causes: spiritual penalties alone could be inflicted on their offences: and as the clergy had extremely multiplied in England, and many of them were consequently of very low characters, crimes of the deepest dye, murders, robberies, adulteries, rapes, were daily committed with impunity by the ecclesiastics. It had been found, for instance, on inquiry, that no less than a hundred murders had, since the king's accession, been perpetrated by men of that profession, who had never been called to account for these offences"; and holy orders were become a full protection for all 1 Fitz-Steph. p. 32. m Gul. Neubr. p. 394.
enormities. A clerk in Worcestershire having debauched a gentleman's daughter, had, at this time, proceeded to murder the father; and the general indignation against this crime moved the king to attempt the remedy of an abuse which was become so palpable, and to require that the clerk should be delivered up, and receive condign punishment from the magistrate". Becket insisted on the privileges of the church; confined the criminal in the bishop's prison, lest he should be seized by the king's officers; maintained that no greater punishment could be inflicted on him than degradation: and when the king demanded that, immediately after he was degraded, he should be tried by the civil power, the primate asserted that it was iniquitous to try a man twice upon the same accusation, and for the same offence°.
Henry, laying hold of so plausible a pretence, resolved to push the clergy with regard to all their privileges, which they had raised to an enormous height, and to determine at once those controversies which daily multiplied between the civil and the ecclesiastical jurisdictions. He summoned an assembly of all the prelates in England; and he put to them this concise and decisive question, whether or not they were willing to submit to the ancient laws and customs of the kingdom? The bishops unanimously replied, that they were willing, 'saving their own order: a device by which they thought to elude the present urgency of the king's demand, yet reserve to themselves, on a favourable opportunity, the power of resuming all their pretensions. The king was sensible of the artifice, and was provoked to the highest indignation. He left the assembly with visible marks of his displeasure: he required the primate instantly to surrender the honours and castles of Eye and Berkham: the bishops were terrified, and expected still farther effects of his resentment. Becket alone was inflexible; and nothing but the interposition of the pope's legate and n Fitz-Steph. p. 33. Hist. Quad. p. 32. • Fitz-Steph. p. 29. Hist. Quad. p. 33. 45. Hoveden, p. 492. M. Paris, p. 72. Diceto, p. 536, 537. Brompton, p. 1058. Gervase, p. 1384. Epist. St. Thom. p. 208, 209. P FitzSteph. p. 31. Hist. Quad. p. 34. Hoveden, p. 492.
almoner, Philip, who dreaded a breach with so powerful a prince at so unseasonable a juncture, could have prevailed on him to retract the saving clause, and give a general and absolute promise of observing the ancient customs?.
But Henry was not content with a declaration in these general terms: he resolved, ere it was too late, to define expressly those customs with which he required compliance, and to put a stop to clerical usurpations, before they were fully consolidated, and could plead antiquity, as they already did a sacred authority, in their favour. The claims of the church were open and visible. After a gradual and insensible progress during many centuries, the mask had at last been taken off, and several ecclesiastical councils, by their canons, which were pretended to be irrevocable and infallible, had positively defined those privileges and immunities which gave such general offence, and appeared so dangerous to the civil magistrate. Henry, therefore, deemed it necessary to define with the same precision the limits of the civil power; to oppose his legal customs to their divine ordinances; to determine the exact boundaries of the rival jurisdictions; and for this purpose he summoned a general council of the nobility and prelates at Clarendon, to whom he submitted this great and important question.
The barons were all gained to the king's party, either tions of by the reasons which he urged, or by his superior authority: the bishops were overawed by the general combination against them: and the following laws, commonly called the Constitutions of Clarendon,' were voted without opposition by this assembly'. It was enacted, that all suits concerning the advowson and presentation of churches should be determined in the civil courts: that the churches, belonging to the king's fee, should not be granted in perpetuity without his consent: that clerks, accused of any crime, should be tried in the civil courts: that no person, particularly no clergyman of any rank, should depart the kingdom without the king's license:
1164. 15th Jan.
a Hist. Quad. p. 37. Hoveden, p. 493. Gervase, p. 1385. Steph. p. 33.
that excommunicated persons should not be bound to give security for continuing in their present place of abode: that laics should not be accused in spiritual courts, except by legal and reputable promoters and witnesses: that no chief tenant of the crown should be excommunicated, nor his lands be put under an interdict, except with the king's consent: that all appeals in spiritual causes should be carried from the archdeacon to the bishop, from the bishop to the primate, from him to the king; and should be carried no farther without the king's consent: that if any lawsuit arose between a layman and a clergyman concerning a tenant, and it be disputed whether the land be a lay or an ecclesiastical fee, it should first be determined by the verdict of twelve lawful men to what class it belonged; and if it be found to be a lay fee, the cause should finally be determined in the civil courts: that no inhabitant in demesne should be excommunicated for non-appearance in a spiritual court, till the chief officer of the place where he resides, be consulted, that he may compel him by the civil authority to give satisfaction to the church: that the archbishops, bishops, and other spiritual dignitaries should be regarded as barons of the realm; should possess the privileges and be subjected to the burthens belonging to that rank; and should be bound to attend the king in his great councils, and assist at all trials, till the sentence, either of death or loss of members, be given against the criminal: that the revenue of vacant sees should belong to the king; the chapter, or such of them as he pleases to summon, should sit in the king's chapel till they made the new election with his consent, and that the bishop elect should do homage to the crown: that if any baron or tenant' in capite' should refuse to submit to the spiritual courts, the king should employ his authority in obliging him to make such submissions; if any of them throw off his allegiance to the king, the prelates should assist the king with their censures in reducing him: that goods forfeited to the king should not be protected in churches or churchyards: that the clergy should no longer pretend to the right of enforcing payment of debts contracted by
oath or promise; but should leave these lawsuits, equally with others, to the determination of the civil courts: and that the sons of villains should not be ordained clerks, without the consent of their lord ".
These articles, to the number of sixteen, were calculated to prevent the chief abuses which had prevailed in ecclesiastical affairs, and to put an effectual stop to the usurpations of the church, which, gradually stealing on, had threatened the total destruction of the civil power. Henry, therefore, by reducing those ancient customs of the realm to writing, and by collecting them in a body, endeavoured to prevent all future dispute with regard to them; and by passing so many ecclesiastical ordinances in a national and civil assembly, he fully established the superiority of the legislature above all papal decrees or spiritual canons, and gained a signal victory over the ecclesiastics. But as he knew that the bishops, though overawed by the present combination of the crown and the barons, would take the first favourable opportunity of denying the authority which had enacted these constitutions; he resolved that they should all set their seal to them, and give a promise to observe them. None of the prelates dared to oppose his will, except Becket, who, though urged by the earls of Cornwall and Leicester, the barons of principal authority in the kingdom, obstinately withheld his assent. At last, Richard de Hastings, grand prior of the templars in England, threw himself on his knees before him; and with many tears entreated him, if he paid any regard either to his own safety or that of the church, not to provoke, by a fruitless opposition, the indignation of a great monarch, who was resolutely bent on his purpose, and who was determined to take full revenge on every one that should dare to oppose him. Becket, finding himself deserted by all the world, even by his own brethren, was at last obliged to comply; and he promised, 'legally, with good faith, and without fraud or reserve",'
Hist. Quad. p. 163. M. Paris, p. 70, 71.
Spel. Concil. vol. ii. p. 63.