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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Criminous clerks

Constitutions of Clarendon

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. In the anarchic conditions of Henry II's predecessor, Stephen, the church had extended its jurisdiction in the void. The Constitutions were claimed to restore the judicial customs observed during the reign of Henry I (1100–35), while in fact they were a part of Henry II's larger expansion of royal jurisdiction into the Church and civil law, which was the defining aspect of his reign.

The Constitutions' primary goal was to deal with the controversial issue of "criminous clerks," or clergy who had committed a serious crime but escaped justice via ecclesiastical courts by "benefit of Clergy". Unlike royal courts, ecclesiastical courts were more sympathetic to clergy. An ecclesiastical case of murder often ended with the defendant being defrocked (dismissed from the priesthood). In a royal court, murder was often punished with mutilation or death.

The Constitutions of Clarendon were Henry II's attempts to rein in the problem by claiming that once the ecclesiastical courts had tried and defrocked clergymen, the Church could no longer protect the individual, and convicted former clergy could be further punished under the jurisdiction of secular courts. Thomas Becket, then the Archbishop of Canterbury (1162–1170), resisted Henry II's Constitutions, especially the clause concerning "criminous clerks." Becket claimed no man should be placed in double jeopardy. As a result, Henry II exiled Becket and his family. Bishops were in agreement over the articles until the Pope disapproved and then Becket repudiated his arguments. A bitter quarrel resulted, leading to Becket being murdered on 29 December 1170. After this Henry felt compelled to revoke the two controversial clauses which went against canon law. However, the rest stayed in effect as law of the land.

Cathcon comments
Henry II used the controversy to extend his jurisdiction over the Church- the moderns would side with the Church over the use of the death penalty.
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