Saturday, 29 June 2013

Salvo Ordine Meo - Saving My Order

Salvo ordine meo [saving my order], the central phrase in all the Becket Dispute upon which neither Becket and Henry II could agree. Henry thought is would deny him absolute control over the Church in England, and Becket required that clerics should be allowed their own personal conscience and dignity in their ecclesiastical roles when observing the so-called  customs of the kingdom. It is therefore of importance to understand what the phrase actually meant, and its legal and/or theological usage. 

Its literal meaning is essentially excepting the duty and honour owed to God and His Church, and the dignity of the office that the oath-taker holds within the Church. And by implication any previous oaths of fealty owed to the oath-taker's ecclesiastical liege lord, which, in Becket's case, was the Pope in Rome; that was for the oath which he took and the promises which he made when he received the pallium of office as Archbishop of Canterbury. It places God (and the Pope) way above in authority in first place, and the king only comes in a poor second place. In essence, the phrase was utterly distasteful to Henry, and denied him his goal of trying to achieve overall absolute personal power in his kingdom. It cut him down to size. It insulted him, and his station. From Henry's point of view the priests were being downright insolent, dare I use the word, turbulent. When Becket used the term Salvo ordine meo [saving my order] in respect of the Constitution of Clarendon he was literally saying that all should follow them except those belonging to his order, in other words clerics. There was no need for clerics to obey them as they should obey a higher authority.

To Henry it would seem treasonable that there was any higher authority in England above him, after all, was he not the fount of all honour and justice in the land? He was king; no such phrase had been included in his coronation oath.  After all, was he not the leading person in his kingdom? After all, did not the bishops do homage and swear fealty to him for their barony, before they were consecrated? Did he not he himself appoint the bishops, and gave them their lands? And now they were seemingly being ungrateful and ungracious.

The issue over criminous clerks was quite minor. Advowsons, although they might have been important financially, were not that important. These were only excuses. They allowed the king to open up the whole question of temporal versus ecclesiastical power. These were only a means of making the Church in England look small and petty, and unruly before his nobles.  Of overreaching and major importance to Henry was the question of whether he had absolute authority in his kingdom. 

But the fact is that salvo ordine meo was a phrase in very common by clerics when they made their oaths, in many things; for example, when archbishops swore fealty to the Pope in Rome, before they received their pallium, the phrase was defined and specified in the canon law. It was used in the oaths of fealty when as bishop-elects, as barons they received their temporalities from the king, just before they were consecrated and also in oath of fealty made the bishops at the coronation of a new king or prince; in this limited sense it is actually conceded in Clause XII of the Constitutions of Clarendon.

If he could not appoint his own Pope, like the German emperor had done, he could limit the Pope's power in England. Clause X of the Constitutions of Clarendon, the forbidding of appeals to Rome, and Clause IV disallowing the the archbishops, bishops, and priests of England to leave the kingdom without the king's permission, these were the central clauses of the Constitutions: these contained the very essence of the king's intent.

A close examination of the articles of the Constitutions of Clarendon will show that they contain as direct a contradiction to the decretalism of the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church as could be expressed in words. But Becket had already essentially sworn to uphold and defend the pope, the church and its canon law in exchange for the receipt of his pallium and conformation by the pope of his election and consecration as archbishop of Canterbury. The oaths that Bishop make prescribe that they must observe the apostolical commands [the canon law] of the pope with all their power, and they will aid and defend the Roman papacy from allcomers. Could he possibly serve two masters? There were in reality, two incompatible and competing feudal systems: Sacerdotium and Imperium, both of which competed for his homage and fealty. That is the central essence of the Becket Controversy concering the Constitutions of Clarendon.

Becket, however, was absolutely adamant in all his negotiations with the king, and all the way  to the end, that he would only accept and observe the Constitutions of Clarendon as customs of the kingdom salvo ordine suo - saving his order. It was through his stubbornness and determination, and ultimate martyrdom for this cause, that he was made Saint Thomas. He had struck a blow for personal conscience, and for the libertas [freedom from temporal control] of the Church, and was struck down dead for his belief.

It is an almost certainty that further legislation limiting ecclesiastical power in England in favour of royal power would have followed on from the Constitutions, had Becket accepted them without question, without the phrase salvo ordine meo.

It would not be for another 400 years before the king of England achieved full separation of the Church of England from the Pope and Church in Rome, and his appointment as its head in England. It is instructive to note that the phrase salvo ordine meo was also questioned at that time, and dropped from the oaths taken by bishops which they made to the king when taking up their appointments.

The phrases salvo ordine nostro and salvo ordine meo are used in the following letters from Becket to King Henry II.

Saint Thomas (à Becket) (2000). "Letter 74: Becket to King Henry II Desiderio Desideravi. Late May to Early June 1166"The Correspondence of Thomas Becket: Archbishop of Canterbury, 1162-1170. Oxford University Press. pp. 292–. ISBN 978-0-19-820892-1.

Saint Thomas (à Becket) (2000). "Letter 186: Becket to King Henry II. Regia potest. After January 1169"The Correspondence of Thomas Becket: Archbishop of Canterbury, 1162-1170. Oxford University Press. pp. 826–. ISBN 978-0-19-820893-8.


AD 1170 Misgivings of the King
Nam sicut nostri majores formulas juris suspectissimas habebant in jure, sic rex semper in verbis archiepiscopi, conscientam habentis purissimam, quasdam clausulas causabatur, scilicet "salvo ordine meo," nunc "salvo honore Dei," nunc "salva fide Dei";
For just as our ancestors had questioned dangerous legal formulas, so, concerning the words used by the archbishop, who had the purest conscience, the king always disputed certain phrases which he used, which were,  salvo ordine meo [with due regard for my order], and also salvo honore Dei  [without prejudice to the honour of God], and salva fide Dei [without prejudice to the faith in God];

Ralph de Diceto

Ralph de Diceto (1965). Radulfi de Diceto decani Lundoniensis opera historica: Ymagines historiarum (cont.) Opuscula. Volume II p. 99. Longman & Company.

Oaths of Fealty taken by the bishops before King Richard I at St. Paul's London
October 8 1191
fidelitatem regis Ricardi juravit. Deinceps archiepiscopi duo, postmodum omnes episcopi : solus episcopus Lundoniensis addidit juramento, "Salvo ordine suo et justitia ecclesiastica."
swore fealty to King Richard. Then the two archbishops stepped forward, then all the bishops: the bishop of London alone added the oath, "Saving his order and the justice of the Church."


"salvo ordine suo" - saving his order
"salvo ordine nostro" - saving our order


Anglo-Norman French 

salf lur ordre

Saving their order
Without prejudice to their order
Except where it conflicts with the aims and priorities [canons, ecclesiastical law etc.] of their positions and roles within the Roman Catholic Church.

Guernes de Pont-Maxence (1838). Immanuel Bekker, ed. La vie St. Thomas le martir. pp. 67–.

Isaac Barrow; William Whewell (1859). The treatise of the pope's supremacy; the discourse on the unity of the church; and appendix. The University Press. pp. 35–.

William Stubbs. The Constitutional History of England, in Its Origin and Development. Cambridge University Press. pp. 577–. ISBN 978-1-108-03630-6.

Zachary N. Brooke; Zachary Nugent Brooke (1989). The English Church and the Papacy: From the Conquest to the Reign of John. Cambridge University Press. pp. 167–. ISBN 978-0-521-36687-8.

Charles Constantine Pise (1829). A History of the Church: From Its Establishment to the Present Century. P. Blenkinsop. pp. 278–.

Sharon Turner (1830). The History of England from the Earliest Period to the Death of Elizabeth: The history of England: middle ages. In five volumes. Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green. pp. 244–

Henry Charles Lea (1869). Studies in Church History: The Rise of the Temporal Power - Benefit of Clergy - Excommunnication. Henry C. Lea's son & Company. pp. 140–

Matthew Hale; George Wilson; Thomas Dogherty (1800). The History of the Pleas of the Crown: In Two Volumes. Payne. pp. 71–. 

Eiríkr Magnússon. Thómas Saga Erkibyskups: A Life of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Icelandic. Cambridge University Press. pp. 154–. ISBN 978-1-108-04921-4.

Joseph P. Canning; Otto Gerhard Oexle (1998). "In "The oath of fealty and the lawyers" by Magnus Ryan". Political Thought and the Realities of Power in the Middle Ages. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. pp. 215–. ISBN 978-3-525-35462-9.
Natalie Fryde; Pierre Monnet; Otto Gerhard Oexle (2002). "The Presence of Feudalism. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. pp. 51–. ISBN 978-3-525-35391-2.

Jonathan Michael Gray (2012). Oaths and the English Reformation. Cambridge University Press. pp. 217–. ISBN 978-1-107-01802-0.

Popular Law and Common Law in Medieval England
Frank I. Schechter
Columbia Law Review
Vol. 28, No. 3 (Mar., 1928), pp. 269-299
Published by: Columbia Law Review Association, Inc.
DOI: 10.2307/1113386

Karl Leyser (1 July 1994). Communications and Power in Medieval Europe: The Gregorian Revolution and Beyond. Example from Saxony "salvo ordine suo": A&C Black. pp. 63–. ISBN 978-0-8264-3028-1.

Charles Rembar (21 July 2015). The Law of the Land: The Evolution of Our Legal System. Open Road Media. pp. 114–. ISBN 978-1-5040-1566-0.

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