Tuesday, 4 June 2019

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Introduction to and Chapter List for the Constitutions of Clarendon

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The Constitutions of Clarendon was a formal document, a set of laws which king Henry II of England had drawn up and set down in writing in January 1164. Henry tried to force Thomas Becket archbishop of Canterbury and the bishops of the English Church to give recognition to his legal programme and their consent to the items in the document by affixing their seals to the parchment on which the laws were written. 

The document contained a list of Henry's so-called 'Customs of the Kingdom', the royal and legal rights which he claimed over the Church in England, which he asserted as having been in force during and from his grandfather's time (Henry I). All Henry maintained what he was doing was setting these down in writing, as a kind of constitutional statute [per assisam regni], so that there would or could be no doubt as to exactly what they were. Many of the clauses, however, contradicted and conflicted with the Catholic Church's own Canon Law. As a consequence Becket refused to affix his seal to the parchment until after he had a chance which to consult with the Pope, and only reluctantly, after considerable pressure, gave his consent and endorsement to them verbally, which he later retracted, and for which later the Pope was to absolve him of his obligations to the Church regarding this. This made king Henry furious, and effectively had him declared as a traitor later on that same year.

The Consitutions of Clarendon did not take place in a political vacuum. The Roman Catholic Church for some time, at least a century before 1164 had adopted a principle of Libertas Ecclesiae [or Freedom of the Church] which meant that the Church demanded absolute autonomy and freedom from interference by and from the secular authorities in the questions of the appointment [investiture] of bishops, control of their own people [the clergy], their own courts and the supremacy of the Pope in spiritual matters. The Constitutions of Clarendon were a manifestation or example of the latest struggle in England between Church and State [sacerdotium v. imperium]. Earlier example of this kind had been the troubles of William Rufus and Henry I with Archbishop [St.] Anselm, and the Investiture Controversy. 

Some have seen the Constitutions of Clarendon as the most important document of its time as providing a foundation for the separation of church and state, as the most important legislative enactment by the most important king in English constitutional history. Herbert of Bosham, one of Becket's contemporary hagiographers/biographers, describes  them as the full cause of the dissension between King Henry II and Becket and the reason for Becket's exile and subsequent martyrdom. The Constitutions brought to the front deep questions about the evolving nature of judicial authority in England, Church [ecclesiastical] versus State [royal] power, and the formalization of the relationship between the two sovereignities. More specifically they were part of Henry II's intended reform of government in England following  the long anarchy of King Stephen's reign, and reflect his personal will to assume and reclaim  power for the throne.
An  examination of Henry I's motives for issuing the Constitutions of Clarendon which were part of his reform of legal system in England might include the following:

a) Centralisation of the justice system in England under his authority, namely the beginning of a programme to bring reform to the legal system in the country, bringing it more fully under his control. For there to be one single and uniform system of justice and judicial procedures and their administration in the land, one system of law common to all people throughout the kingdom. For there to be one last and final court of appeal in England, namely himself.

b) Reduction of the power of the barons by enforcing his authority over the justice system in England, and reducing their rights to hold courts and decide cases.

c) Increasing royal revenues by ensuring that the fines and income from the royal courts came to the royal exchequer.

d)  To establish his right to do this claiming that all he was doing was assuming his rights based on the customs of his grandfather's (Henry I's) time and by extension those of his predecessor kings of England, principally Edward the Confessor and King Cnut.

e) To establish his authority over the Church in England, and to reduce the authority and influence of the Pope in ecclesiastical affairs in England.  

The principal customs which Henry regarded as belonging to him, but which were contentious, were: his right to collect monies from the Church's vacant sees and abbacies, control over the right of appeal of churchmen to the Pope in Rome, control over the right of the Church to excommunicate the King's barons and other servants of the crown, and his right to have ecclesiastics who had committed felonies to be tried in his own royal courts.

Indeed Henry's whole reign might be seen as one of his wanting obsessively to assert his claims and rights as king of England or lands and rights in France. His mother, the Empress Matilda, had lost her right to rule England to her cousin Stephen of Blois [King Stephen], who had usurped the kingdom. When she eventually won the civil war that ensued, after defeating Stephen, it was Henry who was to inherit the kingdom instead of her. But she was always there in the background and probably in the early years of his reign had a strong influence on his policies, almost certainly to the extent of recognising he was the rightful successor of Henry I of England.  Perhaps it was her who was pushing him. She was an extremely strong-willed woman. Indeed one might see the Constitutions of Clarendon as part of Henry II's programme for renovatio regni [renewal of the kingdom] of Henry I of England,  after the Anarchy of the Reign of King Stephen to use part of Henry II's 
[973-1024] Holy Roman Emperor's motto. The latter sought Restoration of the Frankish Kingdom  Our Angevin Henry II king of England really did wish to seek restoration of Henry I's kingdom. his mother Matilda had been once empress of the Holy Roman Empire, and one of his names used to refer to him was Henry FitzEmpress.

Others, Hume in particular, have argued that Henry had made a very poor choice in selecting Becket for Archbishop of Canterbury. He should have realised, that Becket, who had been an excellent Chancellor, the best possible from the King's point of view, would use his new position as head of the Church in England, that is his ambition would drive him to want to increase the power of the church, the moment he became its leader.

Some have seen the Constitutions of Clarendon as one among a series of steps in an undisclosed plan or programme of Henry II's to unite Church and State in England, in which his very first step was to appoint his favourite, his chancellor, Thomas Becket, as archbishop of Canterbury. Henry perhaps wanted to make Becket a junior partner in the management of his kingdom, where Henry was to manage the temporal and Becket the ecclesiastical. Should Becket have been grateful for this great honour? Or was his ingratitude treacherous? This was a programme which Henry ultimately failed to bring about. Or did he? Did perhaps Becket know or understand Henry's real intentions beforehand, and decided to resist them once he became archbishop. Or did Becket stand his ground because the king's so-called customs were an attempt to take away more rights from the Church than either Henry I or any previous king of England had hitherto claimed as theirs. Becket feared that acceptance of these Constitutions might eventually come to mean that England would end up having a totally secular clergy appointed by the King or a Church wholly under the King's control. Did Becket really protect the Liberty of the Church or did his intransigence ultimately destroy it?

This blog is the story of the Becket Controversy and the events which led to the Council of Clarendon in January 1164, at which the Constitutions were announced. It is about Becket's subsequent trial as a traitor at Northampton in October 1164, and his ensuing escape into exile to France, after which there followed many years of negotiation between Henry and Becket, involving the Pope and the king of France among others, before he was able to return to England. It is the story of Becket's return and his ensuing murder (martyrdom) in his own cathedral at Canterbury in December 1170. This story has all the dramatic features of a classical Greek tragedy: the politics, the interacting dialogue between a protagonist and an antagonist, the chorus of bishops, and the Pope as deus ex machina. It is the story of Becket's murder (martyrdom) and his subsequent elevation to sainthood. It is about the Cult of Becket that followed, and the pilgrimages to Canterbury made famous by Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Becket was perhaps the most famous personage of his time and about whom a huge number of Lives (hagiographies) and biographies have been written.

The Becket Dispute also involved his relationship with his fellow bishops in England, and the issue concerning the primacy of Canterbury in the kingdom, or whether the archepiscopacy of York was independent from that of Canterbury.

It is one in the many stories of the power struggles between Church and State which took place during the 11th, 12th and subsequent centuries. It is about the rise in the power of the Pope. It is set in the context of the large empires under powerful monarchs who ruled over vast tracts of Western Europe. The period also marks the beginning of centuries of struggle between the kingdoms of France and England. It coincides with the emergence of the formulation of the Common Law in England. Indeed many of the clauses of the Constitions of Clarendon deal with the limits of the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts relative to the king's own courts.  It takes place at a time between, but largely unaffected by either of, the second and third crusades, except perhaps the requirement conceived at the Reconciliation of Avranches in 1172, that Henry was told to provide 200 knights for a year [of the monetary equivalent] for the defence of Jerusalem as purgation for his part in the murder of Becket.

Indeed, St. Thomas Becket is still honoured today by the Catholic Church, as the example par excellence of the necessity of every member of the church to show obedience to Rome, to the Pope and the principles of the Catholic Church, its fathers and the canon laws, and its very being, its organisation, its methods, rights to control the faith centrally, its hierarchy and authority, and so forth. Becket honoured the central authority that the Catholic Church asserted it had, and still has, and the Church, in turn, honoured him with the title of Saint following his murder in his cathedral. Becket gave his life for the principles laid down in the Reform of the Church as instigated by Pope Gregory VII. Once he had decided that he would do that it became clear that he could not serve two masters. In the end this decision cost him his life and quite possibly changed the course of English history.


Austin Lane Poole (1993). Oxford History of England Vol 2 : From Domesday Book to Magna Carta, 1087-1216. Chapter VII: Church and State - Becket: Oxford University Press. pp. 197–231. ISBN 978-0-19-285287-8.

Richards, R. J. (2013). Primer on the Origins and Implications of the Thomas Becket Affair, A.Lincoln Mem'l UL Rev.1, 145.

The Constitutions of Clarendon Blog List of Posts

a) In Latin

b) In English

Constitutions of Clarendon in English : Joseph Berington (1790)
Albert Beebe White translation
Constitutions of Clarendon from the Medieval Sourcebook
The Constitutions: Hutton's Translation and Commentary
Roger of Wendover's version of the Constitutions: ...
James Tyrrell's Translation of the Constitutions 1700.
The Avalon Project : Constitutions of Clarendon. 1164.

Notes and Miscellaneous
Central Issue behind the Constitutions of Clarendon
The Constitutions documented as a compromise

Lyttleton's Comments: Constitutions Clause 1
Lyttleton's Comments: Constitutions Clause 4
Lyttleton's Comments: Constitutions Clause 5
Lyttleton's Comments: Constitutions Clause 7
Lyttleton's Comments: Constitutions Clause 8
Lyttleton's Comments: Constitutions Clause 11
Lyttleton's Comments: Constitutions Clause 12
Lyttleton's Comments: Constitutions Clause 15
Lyttleton's Comments: Constitutions Clause 16

Historical notes on Clause 2: Advowsons of the King's Fee 

Clause 3 and The Law Against Double Jeopardy

Historical Notes on Clause 4: Restrictions on Travel Abroad for Clerics

Historical Notes on Clause 5. Excommunicated Persons and Bail

Historical Notes on Clause 6: Procedure in the Ecclesiatical Court

Historical Notes on Clause 7: Excommunication and Interdict without king's consent

Historical Notes on Clause 8: Appeals to the Pope

Historical Notes on Clause 9: Juries and the Assize Utrum.

Historical Notes on Clause 10: Persons cited for Excommunication

Historical Notes on Clause 11: On the Estate of the Clergy

Historical Notes on Clause 14: The Goods and Chattels of Felons on Church Lands

Historical Notes of Clause 15: Breach of Faith -King's Justice or Church Court

Historical Notes on Clause 16: Requirement of Rustics to have their Lord's Consent

Clauses of the Constitutions of Clarendon Allowed/Tolerated or Condemned by the Pope.

Concordat of London 1107 and Clause 12 of the Constitutions

Rustics and Clause 16

Clause X of the Assizes of King Roger II (1130-54)..

Garnier: Content of the Constitutions of Clarendon in Norman French.

Comparing the Preamble to Magna Carta

Imperium in imperio

Henry II's Decrees against the Pope and Becket, 1169

The British Magazine (1833-4): Froude's Articles on Henry II's Plan to Unite Church and State


On the origins of the Doctrine of Papal Supremacy
Conflict of Investitures
Canonical Decretals which empower the Pope
Dictatus Papae, A.D. 1075
Papal Supremacy
Papal Authority
Libertas Ecclesiae
Canon Law and The Canonical System
Decretum Gratiani

Donation of Constantine
Priveligium Fori - "Privilege of the forum"
The Disputed Papal Election of 1159


Canterbury - York Controversy

From Bocland to Feodum, and the Great Semicolon in...
Ordinance Establishing Spiritual Courts in England.
Written versus Unwritten Law
Ecclesiastical Courts




Anselm of Canterbury
Richard de Lucy
John of Oxford
John of Canterbury
Richard of Ilchester
Arnulf of Lisieux
Philippe, abbé de l'Aumône
Gilbert Foliot, bishop of London
Henry of Blois, bishop of Winchester
Hilary, bishop of Chichester
Peter of Blois
Reginald Fitz Jocelin
Pope Alexander III
Pope Alexander III (b)
Louis VII of France [Louis le Jeune]
Catalogue of the Learned Men in the Court of the Archbishop
Becket's Spy Ring
The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church
Roger, bishop of Worcester (d. 1179)
Pont l'Évêque, Roger de (c.1115–1181),
The Four Enemies of the Martyr
William, Archbishop of Sens
John Cumin
Prior Odo of Christ Church Canterbury
Eleanor of Aquitaine

Becket as Chancellor

Disputes up till Council of Westminster

The Council of Clarendon, January 1164

The State Trial of Becket at Northampton, October 1164

Becket Return and Murder

Becket's Return to England, 1st Dec 1170

Becket's Last Month December 1170

Mission of Richard, prior of Dover to the Young King, Dec 1170

Winchester Palace, Southwark, ca 13th Dec 1170

The Manor at Harrow

Who will rid me of this Turbulent Priest?

Bur-le-Roi, Near Bayeaux

Order to Arrest Becket, December 1170

Letter of Complaint about Becket, King Henry II to Pope Alexander, December 1170

The Incident of the Horse's Tail, December 1170

Garnier: Christmastide 1170

Some References to Becket's Murder and the Murderers

John of Salisbury on Murder of Becket

John of Salisbury's Letter 300 to Peter, abbot of Celle, December 1170

Edward Grim- Eye-Witness to the Martyrdom of Becket

Aftermath and Sainthood

Immediate Aftermath to Becket's Murder

Constitutions of Clarendon: The Letter of William, archbishop of Sens, to pope Alexander, on the death of the blessed Thomas.

Henry II's Reconciliation with the Church at Avranches, 1172

Gaudendum est universitati

Henry II's Penance at the Tomb of St. Thomas Becket at Canterbury, 12th July 1174

Henry II's Concessions to the Church, 1176

Pope Alexander III's "At Si Clerici" (ca 1178)

Magna Carta (1215 and 1225) - Chapters 1 (and 63): The Freedom of the English Church

Translation of the Relics of St.Thomas Becket 7th July 1220

Reformation in 16th Century

Henry VIII's Proclamation, 1538: The Unsainting of Thomas Becket ..

Guernes Pont de St. Maxence

Garnier Life of St. Thomas Becket Chapter List