Monday, 5 August 2013

The Powers of The Medieval Kings of England With Respect to the Church

1. Restrictions on Appeals to the Papal Curia

The medieval kings of England saw themselves as the supreme justices in their land. There were to be no appeals to Rome and the Papal Curia without the consent of the king. The Norman kings allowed no appeals whatsoever to foreign authorities if the matter at issue fell within the remit of the royal courts. To test admissibility royal licence had to be procured first.

Under William I it was a recognized rule that the pope could only send legates to England at the king's request, and they could not land in the country without his consent. Papal legates had the right call church councils in England [legatine councils] and had powers equal to or exceeding those of the archbishops of Canterbury or York. 

William de Corbeil as archbishop of Canterbury, throughout his archepiscopacy, he was in dispute with Thurstan, the Archbishop of York, over the primacy of Canterbury. As a temporary solution, the pope appointed William as papal legate for England, giving him powers superior to those of York. In a sense this also got around the restriction of having to obtain the king's licence for a papal legate to land in England.

As legate he presided over three legatine councils, during which  the purchase of benefices or priesthoods (simony) was condemned, and the clergy were admonished to live in celibacy.

Henry of Blois, bishop of Winchester was papal legate 1139-1143.

Archbishop Theobald travelled to Rome in December 1143 in order to gain appointment as Papal Legate to England from pope Celestine. He arrived just before Celestine's death. He was granted this but  Celestine also forbade Theobald "to allow any change to be made in the position of the English crown" then held by Stephen. This was papal policy. Theobald was forbidden from crowning any successor to Stephen whilst he was still alive. Theobald remained papal legate, combining this role with the archbishopacy till his own death in 1161.

Thomas Becket was never papal legate.

Legatine council - Wikipedia

3. Restrictions on the Introduction of Papal Bulls

William the Conqueror ordered that no one in England was to receive a letter from the pope, unless it was shown to him first. William Rufus commanded no one should receive communications from Rome or send them there without his consent. The same ruling was exercised by Henry I.

4. Restrictions on Ecclesiastic Officials as to leaving the Realm

Under the Norman Kings bishops wishing to go abroad especially to Rome or ecclesiastical councils held outside England must first seek the king's licence, which was only granted after giving a solemn vow not to do anything abroad which might be injurious to the state.

5. Rights of Appointment to the High Offices of the Church

Like the Anglo-Saxon kings had done so before them the early Norman kings of England continued to exercise their privilege of appointing bishops to their episcopacies, especially for the more important sees, including the choice of the archbishops of Canterbury and York, and many others. Indeed King William I, who, after the conquest, dispensed with the services of nearly all the Anglo-Saxon bishops, and proceeded to fill their places with clerics from Normandy, his own nominations.

The popes were content to leave the early Norman kings of England with this privilege. Archbishop Lanfranc helped William the Conqueror to maintain the relative independence of the English church despite pressures from pope Gregory VII. England was far enough away from the centre of the Roman church,  remote enough from the principle concerns of the popes in Rome, who were busy with the Italian and the Holy Roman Empire matters.

In 1107, after considerable pressure from and opposition to this policy by archbishop Anselm, Henry I gave up  the right to invest bishops with their rings and crosiers. Nonetheless the necessity to obtain royal consent survived, and permission to hold an election for a new bishop had to be given by the king, who retained considerable influence in this process, as whoever was to be selected had to be fully acceptable to the king. In addition the king, of course retained the right fully to invest the bishops-to-be with their baronies and landed properties, prior to their consecration. For these the candidate bishops had to do homage and swear oaths of fealty to the king, "saving their order". Archbishop Anselm tried unsuccessfully to break these feudal bonds which the bishops in England had to contend with. The prelates, however, had to continue to fulfill their feudal duties.

At his coronation King Henry II promised to uphold the laws and customs the prevailed in his grandfather's (Henry I's) time. Becket, when he was appointed archbishop of Canterbury by the king, the procedures followed were very much those which  had been settled and agreed with Anselm in 1107.


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Samuel E. Thorne (1 July 1984). Essays in English Legal History. Continuum. pp. 54–. ISBN 978-0-8264-4305-2

Sir Frederick Pollock, The History of English Law before the Time of Edward I, 2 vols. [1898]

Margaret T. Gibson (1978). Lanfranc of Bec. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-822462-4.

Council of Lillebonne 1080 by Odericus Vitalis

William Stubbs (8 December 2011). The Constitutional History of England, in Its Origin and Development. Volume I. Cambridge University Press. pp. 134–5. ISBN 978-1-108-03629-0.

Sally N. Vaughn (1987). Anselm of Bec and Robert of Meulan: The Innocence of the Dove and the Wisdom of the Serpent. University of California Press. pp. 157–. ISBN 978-0-520-05674-9


Sally N. Vaughn (1987). Anselm of Bec and Robert of Meulan: The Innocence of the Dove and the Wisdom of the Serpent. University of California Press. pp. 290–. ISBN 978-0-520-05674-9


Sally N. Vaughn (1987). Anselm of Bec and Robert of Meulan: The Innocence of the Dove and the Wisdom of the Serpent. University of California Press. pp. 308–. ISBN 978-0-520-05674-9

St Anselm and the English investiture controversy reconsidered
Sally N. Vaughn 
Journal of Medieval History 
Vol. 6, Iss. 1, 1980

Lanfranc - Wikipedia

Anselm of Canterbury - Wikipedia

Charles O'Conor (1810). Columbanus Ad Hibernos: Or, A Letter from Columban to His Friend in Ireland, on the Present Mode of Appointing Catholic Bishops in His Native Country. J. Seeley. pp. 160. Retrieved 7 August 2013. 

 "Oaths of allegiance to Princes were prohibited by Popes Gregory VII, Urban II and by a Roman Synod of 1099."

C. N. L. Brooke (1999). Churches and Churchmen in Medieval Europe. Continuum. pp. 107–. ISBN 978-1-85285-183-5.

Christopher Robert Cheney (30 December 1976). Church and Government in the Middle Ages: Essays Presented to C. R. Cheney on His 70th Birthday and Edited by C. N. L. Brooke, D. E. Luscombe, G. H. Martin and Dorothy Owen. Raymonde Foreville: Synod of Rouen: Cambridge University Press. pp. 19–. ISBN 978-0-521-21172-7.

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