Civil Liberties

Magna Carta – Archbishop Stephen Langton settled more than 40 Barons


800 years ago to the day – on 15th June 1215 – when rebellion was endemic and conspiracy rife, King John was forced to sign Magna Carta at Runnymede, in order to avert political revolution and end civil strife. He did neither, of course. The Barons would have been perfectly prepared to instal another king had their demands not been met, doubtless with the blessing of Pope Innocent III, who had issued an Interdict upon England over the King’s refusal to install Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury. The matter of who appointed bishops was inextricable from the question of who governed England.

The King responded by seizing the entire property of the Church – the bishops’ land and palaces, the priests’ houses, and all the revenues of Canterbury Cathedral. Monks were driven into exile and clergy staff were arrested. And so the Pope of Rome duly excommunicated the King of England. The spirit of Protestantism brooded over England almost two centuries before the Morning Star of the Reformation was to arise; and three centuries before reaching its zenith in Martin Luther.

When it comes to Magna Carta, you hear an awful lot about certain discontented Barons, but rather less about the role played by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton. The Barons were empowered by the Church to rebel against their King, for to do so against those who are disloyal to God is no rebellion at all: the papal legate, Pandulf, had made it clear to the Barons in 1211 that their King was denying the authority of the Church, and so they were absolved of their oaths of allegiance. It’s an old medieval symphony: the Barons plotted to murder or depose the King for the good of Holy Mother Church; and the King responded by imprisoning them as traitors and having them executed for the peace and security of the Realm.

Cardinal Stephen Langton had been conspiring with King Philip II of France to invade England and instal his son, Prince Louis as King of England. You can understand why King John had been resisting his appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury: fomenting civil strife and war is not conducive to the administration of kingly justice. The King proclaimed as a public enemy anyone who felt inclined to recognise Stephen as Archbishop. According to Professor JC Holt, one of world’s experts on the reign of King John, this was not a tale of goody prelates and barons against a baddy King: “John’s conduct of affairs was not in the main unlawful or contrary to custom. He was making no bid to establish an autocracy.” And yet somehow, lost in the mists of time and the myths of national liberty, it has become a tale of the righteous independence of the Church and the rights of the freeborn Englishman.

Historians incline to the view that Magna Carta is the foundation of justice and liberty: lawyers tend to take the view that it is nothing of the sort; more a chronicle of the Crown’s dealings with a resentful aristocracy who had been denied certain favours of wealth, influence or position. Certainly, King John had been imposing punitive feudal dues and rather intense levels of taxation to finance his military exploits, but this was not peculiar to his reign. King Henry I had issued a previous charter, and Edward the Confessor had codified his laws. But they were wise enough not to shackle those who demured, or execute those who sought mercy, for therein lies the cause of rebellion.

By absolving the King of his defiance and disobedience – heresy, even – Archbishop Stephen Langton re-asserted the primacy of the Holy See, but he was a poor mediator between England and Rome. Pope Innocent III had to intervene directly; instructing the King to treat the Baron’s petition with sympathy, and exhorting the Barons to cease their conspiracies. But this ‘triple form of peace’ didn’t last long. Archbishop Stephen was dispatched by King John to see what more the Barons wanted, and their demands were made with threats of civil war, which seemed unavoidable.

But even as we speak of ‘the Barons’, we lose sight of the fact that this was not the entire baronage of England. By 1215, only about 40 of their number were up in arms (quite literally), while many remained loyal to the King, and many more were neutral. If any group propelled King John to seal Magna Carta, it was the neutralists, under the judicious guidance and with the supreme diplomacy of Archbishop Stephen Langton. It was he who, trusted by both sides, rode tirelessly back and forth between London and Windsor with draft charters in a concerted effort to harmonise the King’s traditional rights with what is referred to as “the restatement of English custom in light of new necessities”. According to the chronicler Ralph of Coggshill, “by the intervention of the Archbishop of Canterbury and some barons, a sort of peace was made”.

That peace had indeed come, and the rebellion was at an end. Archbishop Stephen of Canterbury had renegotiated the limits of the Royal prerogative and the rights and liberties of all freemen throughout the Realm. “No free man is to be arrested, or imprisoned, or disseised, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any other way ruined, nor will we go against him or send against him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land”; “..the English Church is to be free, and to have its full rights and its liberties intact”. It was Archbishop Stephen who abolished all ‘evil customs’ and secured the liberties of the Church in England and the people of England – liberties which were to be reiterated in the 1689 Bill of Rights and the American Declaration of Independence.

Sadly, despite his efforts for peace and reconciliation, Archbishop Stephen eventually fell foul of the Holy See, trying to walk the impossibly complex via media between papal and kingly authorities. Ultimately, he failed both his Pope and his King. But he was a patriot who worked tirelessly for peace and the political independence of England. He was not the first to discover that a man may not serve two masters. Nor was he the last.

  • Graham Wood

    “To no man will we deny justice” . That was (is) one of the fundamental clauses of the MC. Likewise, “no freeman is to be arrested….. except by the lawful judgment of his peers…….” So runs the great demands of social and judicial equity based as they were on some understanding of biblical thinking.
    Our Common Law rights expressed in the MC have been trampled on by a supine and treacherous succession of British governments the policies of which fly directly in the face of the spirit and letter of the Magna Carta. No doubt Mr Cameron who will be present at the MC commemoration event will hypocritically mouth platitudes about freedom and “British values” etc, but at the same time supports enthusiastically the EU, a hostile organisation which deliberately and systematically is bent on destroying those very freedoms.
    To show any regard for the essence of justice set out in the MC, one of the first demands (yes, demand – not request) must be the abolition of the vindictive and unjust European Arrest Warrant which continues to deny justice to British and other European people.
    Now that would be a REAL test of his sincerity and for a real “reform” of the EU he claims he wants. How can that be reconciled with his declared intention of wishing the UK to remain chained to this backward and illiberal remnant of 1950s politics?

    • Dominic Stockford

      The PC version of life, as espoused yesterday by Sharmishta Chakrabarti on the TV, is that getting rid of the Human Rights Act is disastrous because the Magna Carta has no force, power of relevance to us today. Cameron is caught betwixt and between – he probably wants the human rights act (getting it out is simply a sop to some of his party), and believes what she says – which leaves him unable to do anything other than mouth platitudes.

      Those who govern us today despise us (apart from the monarch, of course).

  • bluedog

    Extraordinary, Your Grace, that in a recent survey just 6% of the French sampled had any knowledge of the Magna Carta. Is it any wonder that a political entity designed to shackle Germany and ensure French supremacy in Europe is so profoundly illiberal and undemocratic? On the other hand, 18% of the Chinese sample knew of the MC. One can possibly conclude that if the Chinese Communist Party took over the French Ministry of Education the world would be a better place.

    • Johnny Rottenborough

      @ bluedog—It’s even worse than we think. The survey also found that just six per cent of the French had heard of Tony Hancock…

  • Malcolm Smith

    I also heard that Stephen Langton was the one mainly responsible for dividing the Bible into chapters.

    • Dominic Stockford

      It does seem to have been him – another task of benefit to us, but not achieved as well as it could have been.

      • Anton

        Yes, there are some obvious wrong divisions. Job 39 should start 3 verses earlier, where God stops talking about the cosmos and the Earth and starts talking about the animal world. Genesis should recognise the “generations” statements (Hebrew: toledoth) more, and that they close rather than open sections (as shown decisively by the aptly named PJ Wiseman). Any others?

  • Dominic Stockford

    hang on a sec… Early in your piece you point out that Langton was conspiring with a foreign power to overthrow the rightful king and replace him – in what way is that making an effort for peace and reconciliation?

  • Anton

    Your Grace, how can Stephen Langton be both “a patriot who worked tirelessly for… the political independence of England” and a man who “had been conspiring with King Philip II of France to invade England and instal his son, Prince Louis as King of England”?

    I recommend the exhibition associated with Magna Carta’s 800th birthday at the British Library, which runs to the beginning of September. The BL is showing its two copies (one of which is generally on free display in the Treasures Gallery and one of which is fire-damaged); four copies survive and nobody knows which was the ‘original’ as all are countersigned by both parties, although very recent research suggests that the Lincoln and Salisbury copies were written locally:

    The BL’s exhibition includes many other documents inspired by Magna Carta: the 1689 Bill of rights which parliament required William of Orange to sign as a condition of being welcome as king, the US Declaration of Independence and a draft of its Bill of Rights on loan from Washington (obviously we’ll be lending them one of the Magna Cartas soon), and the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Anybody planning to see these at a busy time should prebook online.

    I congratulate Your Grace on his selection of the day’s most important story. Perhaps tomorrow he will cover this tale of a CoE vicar – the first to undergo a State-recognised same-sex marriage ceremony – taking his bishop to an employment tribunal for discrimination:

    Was this a freedom petitioned for 800 years ago?

  • William Lewis

    “Pandulf, had made it clear to the Barons in 2011 that their King was denying the authority of the Church”

    Should that be 1211 ?

    • Quite. Corrected. Bless you. To His Grace’s knowledge, Pandulf never met Professor Emmett Lathrop Brown.

      • William Lewis

        Unlikely I would say. Indeed one wonders if the good professor would have even been able to propel his DeLorean down the medieval “roads” at sufficient speed.

  • Dreadnaught

    Cranmer baits the hook with reference to John ‘signing’ the Magna Carta (obviously he must be a big fan of QI) and expecting a calculated response from the history anoraks.
    Churches owning property?: says it all for me. Without the men of violence,religions would fail to have registered on the historical reality scale.
    Monarchy, Chivalry, Aristocracy, Church hegemony, is/was ‘legitimised’ through sanctioned Thuggery; not even as valid as the Mafioso Honour Code which at least was honest enough in its closeted motives, without the additional threat of torment in an imaginary afterlife for non compliance with the rules.

    • His Grace later says ‘seal’, which (let’s be frank) was the de jure Royal signature. At least the accompanying illustration doesn’t show a quill.

      • Dreadnaught

        A gracious and accomplished body swerve YG.

  • Shadrach Fire

    An amazing number of Pedants on this Blog Your Grace?
    As for me, Keep it simple stupid, (the Kiss principle) and most of us know what you meen. Off to the House of Lords this afternoon for the celebration of Magna Carta with Wilberforce Publications and Baroness Cox. Should be good.

    • sarky

      “Keep it simple stupid and think it through” 🙂

    • Dreadnaught

      Call me a pedant but, that’s not how to spell ‘mean’.

  • preacher

    It would seem that the struggle for control, wealth & power between Church & State were at the centre of the squabble, as usual with One crying ‘Treason’ & the other replying ‘Heresy’.
    There will be a lot for both parties to answer for when the King of Kings & Lord of Lords returns as he combines both Faith & Law in himself – perfectly.
    Possibly the religious element will fare worse as they were charged as God’s ambassadors, heralds & representatives, whereas Monarchs were virtually expected to engage in Warfare & conquest to gain what they could & keep greedy Barons from stealing it off them.
    For the Church though, It’s a long way from the book of Acts.

  • Inspector General

    One point, about the excommunication. It was the entire country that was excommunicated, not just John, one has read. The sacraments were denied to all.

    • Anton

      Suddenly, with a wave of Pope Innocent’s wand (sorry, hand), the bread and the wine ceased to turn into the body and the blood.

      • No …. only baptism and the last rites were permitted. The celebration of the Mass was prohibited.

      • Darter Noster

        No it didn’t. Christ’s promise of salvation of the faithful through participation in the Mass holds good no matter who or where you are; that promise cannot be broken. Thus, you could have a parish priest who is a closet Satanist and it would make no difference to the validity of the Mass he celebrated and you received AS LONG AS you personally remained faithful. The Pope may have excommunicated the kingdom, but no truly faithful Catholic within the kingdom will have suffered as a consequence of it.

        • True, but the priest would be acting without the authority of the Church and so would those attending any Mass. They would be out of communion with the Church.

          The interdict was a fierce judgement by the Pope and only permitted priests to perform baptisms and absolution for the dying.

          • Inspector General

            The priest, of course, could appeal directly to the head of Christ’s church on this earth, Christ himself. A few moments of prayer will have his request answered, and his authority continued.

          • Spoken like a true schismatic, Inspector.

          • Inspector General

            You of course enjoy the fluidity of this man’s faith in Christ and his {Ahem} ‘understanding’ of mere mans attempt at worshipping God, and view enviously upon it…

          • There was a time Inspector when you acknowledged the beneficial nature of the Catholic Church clearly teaching Christian truth. As Jack recalls, you claimed it prevented one from the error of making it up for oneself.

            When did you acquire this more protestant attitude? You really should start to read the Catechism of the Church before dismissing the teachings of the Church you identify with.

          • Inspector General

            Don’t get this man wrong, Jack. He asserts the RCC is the finest vehicle going for the worship of God, but one does have this higher understanding, you see…

          • The cry of every heretic since Judas, Inspector.

          • Inspector General

            No one has paid out thirty pieces of silver. Anyway, if Frank excommunicated everyone in Scotland at midnight, would you consider yourself out of communion with Christ. Note, one did not say the church…

          • Of course not. And it would be an interdict forbidding certain Church liturgies and reception of the Sacraments. The real question is: would Jack receive the Sacraments illicitly?

          • Inspector General

            You are too much of this world, Jack…

          • Powerdaddy

            Up for standardisation yet? “……of course, (you) could appeal directly to the head of Christ’s church on this earth, Christ himself. A few moments of prayer will have (your) request answered,………..”
            Problem solved?

            p.s. I wonder if Jack has ripped the O.T. from his bible too….?

          • Powerdaddy


            Pray to Jesus.

            Good luck with that.

            Backwards batshit crazy buffoonery.

          • Inspector General

            Prayer doesn’t do much for this man. But it’s in the manual so give it a go…

          • Powerdaddy

            Has Mathew 21: 21 gone the same way as the O.T?
            Back up toilet paper?
            Bottom of the budgie’s cage?

            How many other parts of the bible or comments from Christ don’t you have faith in?

            Typical picky choosey Christian.

          • Inspector General

            One likes your style. Annoying.

          • Powerdaddy

            One likes your style. Noble.
            Far to noble for Christianity.
            They, the Christians, won’t stand for it.

          • Inspector General

            They certainly won’t. Interesting that in the early centuries, everything was up for grabs when defining Christianity. That door is well and truly bolted now, yet debate is healthy.

          • Darter Noster

            A fierce judgement indeed, and one with dire consequences for certain people, but the justice of God as promised to faithful people must always and in all circumstances hold good. The salvation of an individual Christian, vouchsafed by God through Christ his Son, cannot be affected by what their King does or does not do.

        • Anton

          I agree with your first sentence anyway! The rest was formalised as a result of the Donatist schism.

  • Darter Noster

    “The spirit of Protestantism brooded over England almost two centuries before the Morning Star of the Reformation was to arise.”

    No it didn’t. Arguments about the powers of the Papacy versus the powers of Kings were not new, and have nothing to do with Protestantism. Gallicanism, yes; Protestantism, no. Even Henry VIII was not a Protestant; his son Edward VI was the first Protestant King. When Mary came to power after him most English people welcomed the return of Catholicism. It’s not until Elizabeth that Protestantism becomes firmly entrenched amongst the English people.

    When it says “ut Ecclesia Anglicana libera sit” it means that the English Church (NOT the Church of England) should be free of the King, not the Pope. That is the inscription on the tomb of St. Thomas More – ironically in a Church of England church, which is the exact opposite.

    • Darter Noster

      Also, when HG talks of the ‘Morning Star’ of the Reformation, I assume he doesn’t mean Lucifer…? (E.g Isaiah 14.12)

    • You obviously haven;t read the piece. If you have, you have not understood. Nowhere is the Church of England mentioned.

      • Darter Noster

        I was not accusing YG of failing to make that distinction; I simply make it plain myself because of frequent mistranslations.

  • Athanasius

    Ok, I stopped reading at the insinuation that John was a proto-Protestant. Either Mr Cranmer is allowing the light of his hitherto concealed sense of humour out from under the bushel, or the chemist had mixed up his gout prescription again.

    • Well, John, like Henry I and Henry II, did want to assert State control over Church affairs by deciding who should be Archbishop of Canterbury. Wasn’t this was a significant feature of the English Protestant Reformation?

      • Athanasius

        I suppose so, assuming that’s how you define Protestantism. I define it as crypto-atheism, a kind of mysticism for people who don’t really believe in God.

        • Inspector General

          It is now, with feminist-lesbian types asserting control over it….

          • It’s been happening in the Catholic Church too for years, Inspector.

        • carl jacobs

          Well now. I wonder how Jack will reply to that little missive. I think I will camp right here and wait for it.

          • Good evening, Carl.

          • carl jacobs

            Hello there, Jack. You are missing a “not” above.

          • Already corrected ….

        • Jack wouldn’t define it that way at all and neither does the Catholic Church. All baptised Christians who seek Christ are in some way members of His Church. There are varying degrees of membership depending on one’s degree of faith, obedience to the Christ’s precepts and sanctity or union with God. So, not all Christians are Catholic – and not all Catholics are Christian.

          However, all that said, there is only one true and certain way to salvation – faithful membership of the Catholic Church and full participation in Her sacraments.

          And Jack should add, he has recently met many self-defined “Catholics” are who are “out there” with the worst of the crypto-atheists and mystics.

          • Athanasius

            Ouch, Jack, have I just felt the rap of the ruler across my knuckles? Turn that inverted frown back upside down. The difference between Catholic and Protestant is that we don’t say “here I stand, I can do no other”, mainly, because we CAN do other. And if we can, that’s called making a moral choice. Because all too often, when our estranged brethren tell us they can do no other, actually, they mean they can, they just don’t want to and they need something to justify them. No mysticism involved.

  • IanCad

    As we remember this foundational contribution to the liberties we have today, we should also thank the Americans for the Magna Carta Memorial, which they conceived, financed, and gave to this nation; one that, when all is said and done, is rather casual about honouring our history.

  • “The spirit of Protestantism brooded over England almost two centuries before the Morning Star of the Reformation was to arise; and three centuries before reaching its zenith in Martin Luther.”

    A significant backdrop to this was the dispute about who controlled spiritual and temporal matters and King John’s attempts to assert temporal authority over spiritual authority. Certainly, this arose during the Protestant Reformation – the power of Church and State and their separation.

    The tensions between King John and the English Church that laid the foundations for the Magna Carta, go back to Henry I and to the “Investiture Controversy” of the early 12th century.

    Prior to the Gregorian reforms of the late 11th century, investiture – the practice of endowing bishops with their titles, lands and authority – had been undertaken by Kings, with the approval of Church authority. This power of investiture endowed the secular rulers of Europe with great influence over Church as it meant that the monarch could choose who occupied the various bishoprics under their control. Under Pope Gregory VII, the Church asserted its authority and reclaimed the power over investiture, seeing secular investiture as an intrusion of royal power into Church matters. This established the Papacy and the Church as a separate entity outside of royal control.

    In England, a crisis arose when Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, refused to consecrate those bishops who had been appointed by Henry I during the Archbishop’s exile. Settlement came in the Concordat of London, confirmed in 1107 which made a sharp distinction between the sacerdotium, relating to the spiritual realm of the Church, and the regnum, relating to the temporal realm of the King. Investiture, it was agreed, was a matter of spiritual and not temporal authority.

    The king retained control of the distribution of his temporal possessions, meaning that any bishop would still have to pay homage to the king in return for his temporal privileges – his estates and endowments, etc. but the right to invest individuals with the status and spiritual authority of a Bishop or Archbishop was to reside with the Church.

    Despite the Concordat of London, tensions between Church and State continued during the 12th century. These came to a head in 1170, with the assassination of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, during the reign of King Henry II. Becket, previously a close friend of the King, had been a fierce critic of royal interference in Church affairs ever since he first ascended to the Archbishopric from his previous role as Chancellor. Particular disagreements had arisen over Henry II’s attempts to secure the power to try priests in the royal courts – a power subsequently accorded in the Constitutions of Clarendon – and Becket fled into exile. The Archbishop, deprived of his estates but still retaining his spiritual authority, spent six years in exile on the Continent, from where he excommunicated many of those priests and bishops who supported the King, before returning to Canterbury in June of 1170. In December of that year he was murdered, by knights who felt that they were acting on the instructions of the King.

    Becket’s death was a crucial moment in English history. The assassination was widely regarded as martyrdom. Alienated throughout Europe for the murder of a saint, and facing the rebellion of his sons at home, King Henry II was forced to engage in an act of public penance at Becket’s tomb: submitting himself, topless and on all fours, to flogging from Church prelates and the monks of Canterbury Cathedral.

    1205, six years after John had ascended to the English throne, the Archbishop of Canterbury died. John sought to fill the vacant Archbishopric with the Bishop of Norwich, John de Gray. The monks of Canterbury Cathedral secretly elected one of their number – the sub-prior Reginald – and dispatched him to Rome for consecration. Pope Innocent III rejected both claims, and ensured the election the English Cardinal and Parisian theologian, Stephen Langton. Pope Innocent’s refusal to consecrate John de Gray did not sit well with King John, who refused to consent to Langton’s appointment. The Concordat of London, however, was clear about the division of roles between pope and monarch, and Langton was consecrated, regardless of John’s views, at Viterbo in 1207.

    John responded in kind, refusing to admit Langton to England and driving the Canterbury monks, whom he blamed for the whole affair, into exile. Once again, an English monarch demanded the right to control Church affairs. Innocent’s response to John’s behaviour was severe. In 1208, England was placed under a papal interdict, and in 1209 King John himself was excommunicated.

    • Anton

      That is not an unbiased view of the situation. If the church wished to refrain from politics then it would be perfectly reasonable for it to refuse crown interference. But if it wishes to play the world’s game, ie politics, then it has no right to complain when politicians (kings) seek to influence it. Let it be remembered that politics is about law yet the gospel is about grace. What Becket was demanding was that priests be tried in ecclesiastical rather than the crown’s courts for any offence, including ones unrelated to priestly office – rape, murder, theft or whatever. That is a disgrace, is it not?

      Moreover it is not accurate to say that the king appointed the bishops in his realm and the papacy was seeking to reclaim this privilege. (REclaim??) As you say. the king proposed bishops in his realm and his choices had to be acceptable also to Rome. So the investiture controversy was not about either Rome or King appointing bishops; it was about whether the Pope could appoint bishops against the king’s will and so parachute his own men into positions of great political influence over an entire continent. What sort of man wanted this degree of control? The 27 assertions of Dictatus Papae lodged in the papal register for 1075 during Hildebrand (Gregory VII)’s papacy include these:

      * it may be permitted to him to depose emperors

      * that of the Pope alone all princes shall kiss his feet

      * he may absolve subjects from their fealty to wicked men [such as monarchs who oppose the Pope]

      * he himself may be judged by no one

      * the Roman pontiff… is… made a saint by the merits of St. Peter [regardless of his personal demerits]

      * his name alone shall be spoken in the
      churches [what about Christ?]

      * that this is the only name in the world.

      • And your counter is unbiased? Jack wouldn’t disagree that both the Church and the King were jealous of their rights and at the heart of the issue is the conflict between the jurisdiction of the church and the King – the Divine and the secular.

        The point is the “Concordat of London”, in 1107, made a sharp distinction between the sacerdotium, relating to the spiritual realm of the Church, and the regnum, relating to the temporal realm of the King. Investiture, it was agreed, was a matter of spiritual and not temporal authority.

        The Constitutions of Clarendon, a set of legislative procedures passed by Henry II of England in 1164, consisted of 16 articles restricting ecclesiastical privileges and curbing the power of the Church courts and the extent of Papal authority in England. One clause placed into the King’s hands the custody of vacant sees and abbeys and made election to them dependent on his license and assent. The second and seventh provided that the King’s justices should, in every suit to which an ecclesiastic was a party, determine whether the cause was spiritual or secular; if the former, that a royal officer should be present in the bishop’s court where it was tried; and that on conviction the defendant, in a criminal action, should be handed over to the secular arm for punishment. By the third no King’s officer was to be excommunicated, or his lands interdicted, without application to the Crown.
        The fourth required royal leave before any Church dignitary might pass beyond sea, i.e. to Rome. The fifth allowed no appeals to the Pope except the King suffered them. All causes, however spiritual, were to be terminated in England. Of these enactments, the first violated Henry I’s Charter, King Stephen’s confirmation of the Church’s liberties, and Henry II’s own previous statutes. That one which relates to “criminous clerks” has been variously interpreted, but its meaning is not doubtful. Henry II was aiming at a systematic encroachment on the popular and religious jurisdiction.

        You have focussed only on two of the clauses and Jack wouldn’t defend the Churches objections to these. However, these were brutish times and ecclesiastical courts were strictly limited in the punishments to which a convicted felon could be subjected – the spilling of blood was prohibited. It was an attempt by the Church to shield Bishops, Archbishops, chaplains and parish priests, together with monks and canons and also the ‘secular clergy’ of scribes, secretaries and teachers, as well as widows and orphans, from the more hideous punishments of the times. The Kings Courts could lopp off your hands, testicles, or your head for any number of offences. The trouble was that the Church was incapable of dealing with the punishment of criminous clerks properly and this frequently resulted in considerable injustice. An ecclesiastical case of murder often ended with the defendant being dismissed from the priesthood. In a royal court, murder was punished with mutilation or death.

        The Constitutions of Clarendon was Henry II’s attempt to deal with this and also establish his authority as King by asserting that once the ecclesiastical courts had tried and defrocked clergymen, the Church could no longer protect the individual and convicted former clergy could be punished under the jurisdiction of secular courts. Not unreasonable, in Jack’s view. However, Beckett would have known of the corrupt nature of the Royal Courts and also the cruel nature of sentencing.

        In Saxon times the Archdeacon sat in the same court with lay judges. William the Conqueror forbade this and established separate “Courts Christian” which didn’t their authority from the civil power nor went by its rules. They dealt with all cases involving clerics. They could not pronounce a sentence of blood and their penalties were “for the salvation of souls”. The most severe sentence for an ecclesiastic was to be degraded from his order and excommunicated. Naturally, perhaps, abuses followed this milder jurisdiction. It should also be said, the Church courts were considered to be superior to the royal in matters of learning, procedure, and justice.

        The King’s contention was that flogging, fines, degradation, and excommunication, beyond which the spiritual courts could not go, were insufficient punishment. The Archbishop’s position was that to degrade a man first and to hang him afterwards was to punish him twice for the same offence.

        Whilst Jack would agree Henry II was correct in wanting to administer justice to all his subjects, the Constitutions of Clarendon was a mistake – seeking too much clarity in turbulent times. It also went too far and breeched previous agreements with both Henry II and his predecessors. The young King Henry was too keen on written statements of his rights in an age when Church and State were still contesting power. And after his outburst – “”Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?” – and murder of Beckett, the controversial clauses were dropped.

        Anyway, whatever the merits of Beckett’s or Henry’s positions, the fact is King John was seeking to renege on an agreement between the Church and the State and attempting to impose his choice of Archbishop on the Church. The choice of Bishops and Archbishops clearly belongs in the spiritual realm and is not a matter for temporal authorities – and this had been agreed.

        • Anton

          I agree with much of that – although I believe that the death penalty should be enacted for murder (Genesis 9:6), and the “no shedding of blood” rule simply caused the Inquisition to devise the rack, strappado and waterboarding which were no better. But the key point is this: that the church was into politics, violating the example set by its founder who declined to lead or start an insurrection movement against the Romans; St Paul then explained that the gospel is about grace contrasted with law (and politics sets the law). A church that messes in politics has no right to cry Foul when it is on the receiving end, politically speaking. Why should the Pope be able to parachute his own men against a king’s will into positions in which they then played politics?

          You correctly say that these were brutish times yet everybody in the country was Catholic you have also praised the feudal system. What conclusion is to be reached from that combination of observations?

        • DanJ0

          If you’re going to simply reword great tracts of Wikipedia then why not just reference the Wikipedia articles instead rather than claim the words are your own?

          • Ha …. Jack used several articles (it’s called “research”) and relied most on one from “Theos”. What’s with you and the constant carping?

          • DanJ0

            It’s plagiarism, not research. For example:

            “The Constitutions of Clarendon, a set of legislative procedures passed by Henry II of England in 1164, consisted of 16 articles restricting ecclesiastical privileges and curbing the power of the Church courts and the extent of Papal authority in England.”


            “The Constitutions of Clarendon were a set of legislative procedures passed by Henry II of England in 1164. The Constitutions were composed of 16 articles and represent an attempt to restrict ecclesiastical privileges and curb the power of the Church courts and the extent of Papal authority in England.”

            Hardly constant carping either. It doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things other than that it suggests dishonesty in portraying yourself as more knowledgeable than you are. I’m intrigued why you do it, mostly.

          • Nah, you’re just looking to find fault.

  • len

    Whilst the signing of the Magna Carta might be of interest(to some) to the greater part of the population this was a milestone which once having passed is fading into the mists of time…
    The greater part of this event was the move(for whatever reason) to escape the dictatorial power of the Church of Rome.The Church of Rome has a long history of trying to suppress then supplant the True Church that Jesus Christ initiated and is the True Head.
    Of course Catholics deny this basic truth about their church but the evidence is there for all to see…..

    • Merchantman

      Wasn’t it about this time the Waldensians started the challenge to the Roman Church’s claim to sole interpretation of Scripture and proscription of the Bible in French?

      • Anton

        In a word, Yes, but there has been a lot of romanticised writing about them since the Reformation which repeats anti-Catholic legends. (The truth about their persecution is bad enough.) You need recent historians who use only contemporary sources to get reliable information about them; read The Waldensian Dissent by Gabriel Audisio and Waldenses by Euan Cameron.

  • preacher

    Popes, Politicians & Protestantism, Nothing really changes, same old squabbles over who’s right & who’s wrong !.
    I think we should remember gentlemen, that Jesus was Jewish, as were all His first followers.

    • len

      Perhaps the reason that so many died trying to put the bible into the hands of the common man was that Satan was doing all he could to stop people being able to know God`s Truth?.
      We can KNOW the Truth from God`s Word interpreted by the author the Holy Spirit.!.