Clarendon Constitutions

Clarendon Constitutions 1164. A struggle between the crown and the hierarchy in England began with the elevation of Thomas à Becket to the archiepiscopal chair (June, 1162). The pomp-loving courtier, brave warrior, and powerful statesman, the favorite and confidant of Henry II, had become a severe ascetic, a zealous hierarch, and the opponent of the king. At the council held by Alexander III in May, 1163, at Tours, Becket, with other English prelates, appeared, and was received with distinction by the pope. As soon as he returned, he attempted to execute the resolutions of the council in his province. He claimed certain possessions, which, as he asserted, had been long alienated from the see of Canterbury, and protested against the levy of a universal tax on real estate which the king demanded for state purposes. This already had occasioned a contest with the king, and a breach was almost effected at the Imperial Diet in Westminster, called by the king to reform the abuses of the ecclesiastical courts, which were made inaccessible to the arm of justice. Cases of this kind had often occurred within a few years, and the archbishop now again opposed the demands of the king and the barons, while almost all the bishops answered in the affirmative to the question of the king if they would further support the "old customs of the kingdom," but with the addition of the dangerous clause, salvo ordine suo etjure ecclesie. At the prayers of the bishops and others high in office, perhaps also under admonitions from the pope, Becket also yielded at length.

To ratify the concessions made by the bishops with due solemnity, and in general to settle the points at issue between Church and crown, the king, in January, 1164, summoned an assembly of prelates and barons at Clarendon, a royal summer residence near Salisbury. The attendance was large. Becket appeared, but only to revoke the concessions he had made, and to declare them treason to the inalienable rights of the Church. But at last, overwhelmed by prayers and threats, Beeket once more pledged his priestly word to support faithfully the ancient customs. The conferences were soon ended. Their results were the Clarendon Constitutions, or, as they were called, consuetudines recognitae, in sixteen chapters, the contents of which are substantially the following (with the judgment of the pope upon them appended in italics): —

1. Disputes concerning the right of patronage between laymen, or between clergymen and laymen, or between clergymen only, shall be discussed end settled at the court of the king. (Condemned by the pope.)

2. Churches belonging to the king's fief cannot be given permanently away without his consent. (Tolerated.)

3. Clergymen accused of any crime must, upon a summons from a royal judge, appear at the king's court, where it will be decided whether the matter is to be handed over to a civil or ecclesiastical court; in the latter case, a delegate appointed by the king's judge is to be present at the trial. If the accused is found guilty, or confesses, the Church shall not further protect him. (Condemned.)

4. Archbishops, bishops, or high officials of the kingdom shall not leave the kingdom without the king's permission; and, even in case of permission, must give security that on their journey they will undertake nothing to the disadvantage of the king or the kingdom. (Condemned.)

5. Excommunicated persons need not give bonds to remain where they are, nor to promise by oath to do so, but only to give bonds or a pledge to abide by the decision of the Church, that they may be absolved. (Condemned.)

6. Laymen can only be accused by trustworthy and legitimate witnesses in the presence of the bishop, yet so that the archdeacon does not lose his right. In cases where no one appears as the accuser, the sheriff, at the command of the bishop, is to assemble twelve respectable men from the neighborhood, who are to swear before the bishop to tell the truth according to their best understandings (Tolerated.)

7. Vassals of the crown, and the officers of their households, shall not be excommunicated, nor their lands laid under interdict, without previous notice to the king or his judges, that they may decide if the case is to be handed over to a civil or ecclesiastical tribunal. (Condemned.)

8. Appeals are to be made from the archdeacon to the bishop, from the bishop to the archbishop, and from him to the king, upon whose command the matter shall then be settled in the archiepiscopal court of justice. No further appeal allowed without the king's leave. (Condemned.)

9. In case of any dispute between a layman and clergyman concerning a tenement which the latter declares to be a lay fee, if it prove upon trial before twelve respectable men to be a lay fee, and not an ecclesiastical fee, the cause to be finally tried in the king's court, unless both claim tenure under the same bishop or baron, in which case the plea shall be in his court. (Condemned.)

10. If any one belonging to a royal court or demesne is summoned by an archdeacon or a bishop on account of some misdemeanor for which he is amenable to them, and he appear not, he may be put under an interdict, but under the ban only after a previous notification of the royal official of the place, and after the latter has vainly attempted to induce the accused to give the Church satisfaction. (Condemned.)

11. Archbishops, bishops, and vassals of the crown must, as holders of royal fiefs, appear before the judges and officers of the king, and preserve all the privileges and customs of the crown-fief, and be present also, like the other barons, at the proceedings of the royal court of justice, except at capital trials. (Tolerated.)

12. In case of a vacancy of an archbishopric, bishopric, an abbey, or a priorate, the revenues shall accrue to the king. At the reappointment, the king shall assemble the ecclesiastical dignitaries; the election shall take place in the royal chapel, with the king's consent, and the advice of the grandees of the kingdom assembled by him. In the same place the elect shall, while preserving his ecclesiastical state, take the oath of fealty to the king, his feudal lord, before he is consecrated. (Condemned.)

13. If any baron or tenant in capite should encroach upon the rights or property of a prelate, the king shall see justice done, and if any one encroach upon the possessions of the king, the prelates shall treat with that person that he may give satisfaction. (Tolerated.)

14. Forfeited possessions the Church dare not refuse to make over to the king, as such belong to him, whether they be inside or outside of the Church. (Tolerated.)

15. Pleas of debt are to be made in the king's court, whether due upon contract or not. (Condemned.)

16. Sons of peasants cannot be ordained without the consent of their feudal lords. (Tolerated.)

The high importance of these decrees of the Diet, for those times, is very obvious. On the one hand, the king intended by them to make the dignitaries of the Church as dependent upon the crown as the barons, and not only to put a limit to their jurisdiction, but also to secure the election and investiture of the prelates, and, by limitations of the appeals to the pope, to preserve his own paramount rights. On the other hand, his aim was to put the exercise of justice upon a sure footing, by subjecting the whole clergy to the common law of the country. The Constitutions contain the germs of the highly important institution of the wandering assizes, founded by him twelve years later at the Diet in Northampton. The barons willingly gave their consent to this improvement of the administration of justice, and still more to the limitation of the powers of the Church, but Becket did everything in his power to destroy the effect of the Constitutions. Above all, the sixteenth article was directed against the lower clergy, who were his principal support. When the Constitutions were submitted to him that he might put his seal to them, as all the other prelates did in token of their consent, he refused. Afterwards, when one of the three copies made of the document was handed to him for his seal and signature, he seems to have yielded, after some resistance, to the command of the king; but he had scarcely left Clarendon when he showed the bitterest repentance. He suspended himself from all his clerical functions for forty days, until he had received from the pope absolution for his oath; and the condemnation of the Constitutions. After twice vainly attempting to fly across the sea, he was accused of the violation of the Constitutions at the Diet in Northampton, in October of the same year, and was commanded to give an account of the expenditure of considerable sums he had been entrusted with during his administration as lord chancellor. The crucifix in his hand, he declared that he would not listen to the sentence, and left the chamber, followed by calumnies, but received outside with enthusiasm by the people. A few days later he had fled to Flanders. After an exile of six years, he returned to England on the 1st of December, 1170, as, apparently at least, a reconciliation had been effected between him and the king. But only four weeks later he was assassinated in his cathedral. The consequences of this murder are well known. In October, 1172, at Avranches, the king had to take an oath of purification before the papal legate, and revoke all which displeased the pope in the Clarendon Constitutions. — Herzog, Real-Encyklopadie, Sapplement, 1:327 (from which this article is translated); Wilkins, Concilia Magnce Britanniae, 1:435; Landon, Manual of Councils, p. 132; Mosheim, Church History, cent. 12, bk. 3. pt. 2, ch. 2, § 12; Hume, Hist. of England (Harpers' ed.), 1, 303-306.

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