Thursday, 27 September 2012

Central Issue behind the Constitutions of Clarendon

The central issue consequent upon the Constitutions of Clarendon was Libertas Ecclesiae, the Freedom and Honour of the Church from state or temporal interference. This was what Becket claimed he was fighting for.

The Church claimed the right to the salvation of the souls of everyone in Christendom, which meant controlling their behaviour and thoughts. The state claimed authority over all temporal matters. Becket believed he was protecting the Church from the tyranny of Henry II. Henry declared Becket to be a traitor in respect of his feudal rights as king to be the supreme authority in his kingdom.

The historian, Lyttelton, a strong believer in the rights of Parliament, took a contrary view to Becket's efforts in this direction.
Extract from

Nor had the cause he maintained the least connexion with their liberty we suppose that their liberty consisted in the church and all churchmen independent on state according to the principles of Gregory the Seventh. This most evidently appears from  the account I have given of the whole process of long dispute with the crown on the authority of his letters and those of his friends and the companions of his exile. But as some persons think any opposition to a king a struggle for liberty so others wish to recommend this prelate in that light to the esteem and favor of those who would not respect him as a martyr for popery in its most extravagant claims. A late writer more ingenious than accurate or impartial speaks of him as a guardian of rights of the subject and standing in the breach against an arbitrary power which would have ever turned them. One should imagine from these words that the Constitutions of Clarendon had been ordinances imposed not by the whole legislature but by the arbitrary power of King Henry the Second. Whereas they not only were enacted by the advice and authority of parliament but after a strict enquiry into what was the law and custom of the land before that time which these statutes did no more than revive and confirm. The preamble to them says 

in præscentia ejusdem regis facta est ista recordatio vel recognitio ejusdam partis consuetudinum et libertatum et dignitatum antecessorum suorum videlicet, regis Henrici avi sui et aliorum qua observari et teneri debent in regno. 

What Becket opposed even after this act of parliament to which he had consented is here declared by the voice of the whole legislature to be a recognition of customs and liberties and dignities of the king's ancestors namely of King Henry the First and others which ought to be observed and maintained in the realm. It was therefore the authority of the law and of the legislature of England not the lawless will or the arbitrary power of the king against which Becket directed that opposition for which he has been sainted. The great Charter [Magna Carta] does indeed begin with a confirmation of the rights and liberties of the church 

Imprimis concessimus Deo et hac præsenti carta nostra confirmavimus pro nobis et hæredibus nostris in perpetuum li quod Anglicana ecclesia libera fit et habeat omnia jura sua integra et libertates suas illæsas. 

But it must be supposed that these rights and liberties of the church were defined and limited by the laws and customs of the realm and by that right which is inherent in the supreme magistrate of every civil society to administer justice impartially to all his people. That under the notion of ecclesiastical liberty the clergy meant dominion appears undeniably from numberless facts in those times and is plainly declared by a clergyman contemporary with Becket who speaking of the agreement between King Stephen and Henry Plantagenet which as it was made by the mediation of the bishop of Winchester he supposed would confirm the pretensions of the church in their whole extent cries out with a kind of rapture Clerus mine demum dominabitur. But Henry in concurrence with the whole legislature at the council of Clarendon opposed the accomplishment of this prediction and as far as it could be done without an entire reformation from popery resisted that dominion.

On what foundation the abovementioned writer affirms that the whole nation at the accession of King Henry the Second was in the utmost consternation lest he should avail himself of the title of Conquest and set aside the rights of the people in imitation of the founder of the Norman line I am at a loss to discover. Not one of the many contemporary writers says any thing like it but all their histories are full of the national joy on that event. His treaty with Stephen was an unsurmountable bar to any title by conquest if he had ever thought of setting up so wild a claim which it was impossible he could do as he had not even a victory on which to ground it. While he was in arms against Stephen he had been chiefly supported by the English themselves and after the death of that king the whole nation unanimously submitted to his government without a blow being struck against his right of succession.

Libertas Ecclesiae or Freedom of the Church

A very important issue in and one of the central themes which spanned across the whole of the Medieval period was the concept of Libertas Ecclesiae or Freedom of the Church which spread across the whole of Western Christendom. In England this importance finds itself expressed in various coronation charters of its kings and very explicitly in Magna Carta (1215) in clause 1 (and clause 63, and implied in other clauses) of that charter

Henry I Coronation Charter or Charter of Liberties

In this Charter in Clause 1 Henry I promises
Know that by the mercy of God and the common counsel of the barons of the whole kingdom of England I have been crowned king of this said kingdom; and because the kingdom has been oppressed by unjust exactions, I, through fear of God and the love which I have toward you all, in the first place make the holy church of God free, so that I will neither sell nor let out to farm, nor on the death of archbishop or bishop or abbot will I take anything from the church’s demesne or from its men until the successor shall enter it.

And I take away all the evil customs by which the kingdom of England was unjustly oppressed; which evil customs I here set down in part:
Magna Carta Clause 1

1. In the first place we have granted to God, and by this our present charter confirmed for us and our heirs forever, that the English church shall be free, and shall have its rights entire, and its liberties inviolate; and we will that it be thus observed; which is apparent from this that the freedom of elections, which is reckoned to be of the greatest necessity and importance to the English church, we, of our pure and unconstrained will, did grant, and did by our charter confirm and did obtain the ratification of the same from the lord Pope Innocent III, before the quarrel arose between us and our barons: and this we will observe, and our will is that it be observed in good faith by our heirs forever. We have also granted to all the free men of our realm, for us and our heirs for ever, all the liberties written below, to have and to hold to them and their heirs, of us and our heirs.

Origin of Libertas Ecclesiae

From whence does this Liberty arise? What precedents does it have? Why is it possible? Throughout the Medieval period the issue of the Freedom of the Church arose repeatedly. And kings' promises were broken again and again.

In Christian cosmography there are two kingdoms The Kingdoms of Heaven and Earth. God rules directly in Heaven, and He has delegated the Kingdom on Earth to be ruled by Men.

The Kingdom on Earth under the Gelasian Theory of the Two Swords is itself divided into two realms or swords: Sacerdotium (the Spiritual realm) and Imperium (the Secular or Worldly  realm).Of the two realms the senior or more important of the two is the Spiritual one over and above the Secular realm. God has made the ruler of the Spiritual realm on Earth  and placed the Pope. The Secular realm is further divided into Empires (grouping of minor kingdoms, principalities and duchies), and independent Kingdoms.The two realms are meant to work in partnership: the stronger realm [imperium] is meant to protect the weaker [sacerdotium]; that is its prime duty. It is allowed to bear arms in executing this duty. The weaker realm [sacerdotium] is meant to pray for the souls of the Emperors and Kings, and give moral guidance, and to strive for peace on Earth. The priesthood do not bear arms.

Implicit in the authority and rulership of the Sacerdotium above the Imperium is the fact that the priesthood, Popes or Archbishops anoint Emperors and Kings. The very legal authority to rule is granted by the Church to the King or Emperor during the coronation ceremony. The classical precedence for this is Zadok the Priest crowning Solomon in the biblical account of the anointing of Solomon: 1 Kings 1:38-40]

Popes and Emperora/Kings each have followers or subordinates over whom they rule, and expect complete allegiance and obedience from. The subornates owe a duty of service to their overseers.

Amidst the Kingdom on Earth there is a hugely evil force, led by Satan and the Fallen Angels who will try to tempt Man into commiting sin, causing his to go astray. The Church is there to provide Man with moral guidance how to avoid this temptation and to seek salvation of his soul before he dies, and his damnation becomes irrevocable..All of Mankind priesthood or princes are subject to the temptations of the Devil.

The Church [sacerdotium] is Free from interference in its internal affairs from the Secular [imperium] authority because it is the senior partner. The junior partner may not enslave or rule over, or oversee the senior partner. that's the Theory of Libertas Ecclesiae.

Kings however may include representatives of the Church to come to their Councils to discuss matters concerning the running of their kingdoms, to seek their moral guidance and listen to their advice. Kings may even recommend who is appointed to the senoir positions in the church hierarchy in their lands. But ultimately it is the Church who elects who is appointed to these posts. Kings may grant land and money, and endow monasteries for the good their souls to sustain the priesthood in its role. But ultimately the Church is Free from interference by Kings.

In support of the latter thesis John of Salisbury describes in Policratus Book V Chapter 2 a classical reference which would have strongly confirmed his point of view this had he not falsely invented the classical reference.

Johannes (Sarisberiensis) (1990). Cary Nederman, tr and ed. John of Salisbury: Policraticus. Book V Chapter 1 ->: Cambridge University Press. pp. 65. ISBN 978-0-521-36701-1.

In which he claims and ascribes Plutarch has written a letter to the Emperor Trajan explaining what a Republic [or State] is and describing that it is ruled by rational and moral forces, and that there exists a State religion whose vicars or prefects have a moral authority and guidance over the whole Body of State, and that Emperors should heed this. Although a false reference to the classics this does not overule the fact that the Roman Cathoici Church believed itself to be superior to the Secular authorities in the varous kingdoms of Europe..

John of Salisbury was a strong advocate for Freedom of the Church, and supported Thomas Becket throughout his career and cause.

If Thomas Becket fought and was martyred for anything it was for Libertas Ecclesiae.

References B

A Companion To John Of Salisbury Chapter 8
Cary J.Nederman: John of Salisbury's Political Theory

John of Salisbury and Pseudo-Plutarch
H. Liebeschütz
Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes
Vol. 6 (1943), pp. 33-39
Published by: The Warburg Institute
DOI: 10.2307/750420
Stable URL:

Kate Langdon Forhan; Cary Joseph Nederman (23 July 2013). Medieval Political Theory: A Reader: The Quest for the Body Politic 1100-1400. Routledge. pp. 41. ISBN 978-1-136-12356-6.

The importance of the organism in the political theory of John of Salisbury
Tilman Struve

Cary J. Nederman
History of Political Thought
Vol. 8, No. 2 (Summer 1987), pp. 211-223
Published by: Imprint Academic Ltd.
Stable URL:

References from Blog Constitutions of Clarendon

Gelasian Theory or the Theory of the Two Swords -

Libertas Ecclesiae -

Henry I's Charter of Liberties -

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

Central Issue behind the Constitutions of Clarendon -

Table of Contents to Blog -

References A

Constitutions of Clarendon: Libertas Ecclesiae

W. L. Warren (1977). Henry II. University of California Press. pp. 242–. ISBN 978-0-520-03494-5. 

Christopher Harper-Bill; Nicholas Vincent (2007). Henry II: New Interpretations. Boydell Press. pp. 7–. ISBN 978-1-84383-340-6.  

Why Religious Liberty (and Thomas Becket) Really Matters - Online Library of Law & Liberty 

Andrew Lythall (2009). How Did the Murder of St. Thomas Becket Affect the Relationship Between Church and State in England 1170-1215?. GRIN Verlag. ISBN 978-3-640-45817-2.

William Stubbs (1867). Gesta regis Henrici Secundi Benedicti abbatis: the chronicle of the reigns of Henry II. and Richard I. A.D. 1169-1192; known commonly under the name of Benedict of Peterborough. Was Henry II a Tyrant?: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer. pp. 22–.

R. Jason Richards, A Primer on the Origins and Implications of The Thomas Becket Affair, 1 LINCOLN MEM’L U. L. REV. 145 (2014). 
A Primer on the Origins and Implications of The Thomas Becket Affair  


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