By Helen Steele
Introduction: In 1164, King Henry II, now ten years into his reign, published the Constitutions of Clarendon. Henry was attempting to clarify the laws of England that had been left so uncertain after Stephen’s reign and the civil wars that accompanied it The Constitutions included clauses . that made the relationships between laity and clergy the remit of King; he banned the church from excommunicating his vassals without his consent; he assumed control of the appointment of senior church officials and forbade clerics from traveling overseas without his permission.
It was the third article that proved most controversial. Traditionally, those in holy orders had been tried in ecclesiastic courts and exempt from civil action, but according to William of Newburgh, clerks “such as are guilty of heinous crimes,” existed in the Church in England “like the chaff innumerable amid the few grains of corn.”
In the ten year’s of Henry’s reign, “more than a hundred murders had been committed by the clergy in England alone.” Henry intended, with the Constitutions, to make clerics accountable to him and to the civil courts. Article three stated, “Clerks charged and accused of any matter […] shall come into his court to answer there to whatever it shall seem to the king’s court should be answered there […] if the clerk be convicted or confess, the church ought not to protect him further.”