Of Kings and Popes and Law

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Of Kings and Popes and Law: An Examination of the Church and State Relationship in England During the High Middle Ages and the Influence of that Relationship on the Structure and Processes of English Law

By Jan Katherine Clark

Master of Law Thesis, University of Victoria, 2012

Abstract: During the latter half of the 11th century through to the end of the 13th century, Europe was experiencing what is considered by some historians as “the” medieval renaissance, otherwise referred to as the European Renaissance of the Twelfth Century. The time appears to have been ripe for an explosion of cultural and intellectual advancement and change. Two fields that experienced significant development during that period were law and governance, both secular and ecclesiastical.

In England, the period which most legal historians consider to be the key formative years of the common law was the reign of King Henry II. Indeed, Sir William Holdsworth credits Henry II for “substituting one common law for that confused mass of local customs of which the law of England had formerly consisted”. But as R.H. Helmholz said, “legal history, like any other, is a history of winners, and the history of the losing side is often overlooked. That we only hint of the history of the canon law by reference to the common law is a fact of life and not to be lamented”. However, he admonishes us not to ignore the intrinsic importance of the jurisdiction once exercised by the courts of the Church in the development of the law of England.




I take up Helmholz’ challenge in this thesis and examine the relationship that developed between the English royal authorities and the Latin (Western) Christian Church from the beginning of the reign of Edward the Confessor to the end of the reign of King John. Through a review of cases reported by the Selden Society from the royal courts of Henry II, Richard I and John, I then focus my research on the 62 year period between the beginning of the reign of Henry II and the death of John, and consider the influence of the Church and State relationship on the structure and processes of the developing English royal law and its scope.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of Victoria

Sharan Newman