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History of the Christian Church, Volume V: The Middle Ages. A.D. 1049-1294.
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§ 128. Church and Clergy in England.


Literature: I. The works of William of Malmesbury, William of Newburgh, Henry of Huntingdon, Roger of Wendover, M. Paris, Richard of Hoveden, John of Salisbury, Walter Map, Giraldus Cambrensis, Ordericus Vitalis, Peter of Blois, Grosseteste, etc.

II. Phillimore: The Eccles. Law of Engl., 2 vols. Lond., 1873, Supplem., 1870.—Stubbs: Select Charters of Engl. Const. Hist., 8th ed., Oxf., 1896; Constit. Hist. of Engl., 6th ed., 1897, 3 vols.—Gee and Hardy: Documents Illustr. of Engl. Ch. Hist., Lond., 1896.—F. W. Maitland: Rom. Canon Law in the Ch. of Engl., Lond., 1898.—Jessopp: The Coming of the Friars.—H. D. Traill: Social England, a Record of the Progress of the People, etc., 2 vols. Lond., 2d ed., 1894.—W. R. W. Stephens: A Hist. of the Engl. Church, 1066–1272, Lond., 1901. Freeman: The Norman Conquest and William Rufus.—Histt. of England and the Ch. of England, etc.—Dict. of Nat. Biogr.


With the Norman Conquest the Roman curia began to manifest anxious concern for the English Church and to reach out for her revenues. Reverent as the Saxon kings had been towards the pope, as was shown in their visits to Rome and the payment of Peter’s Pence, the wild condition of the country during the invasions of the Danes offered little attraction to the Church rulers of the South. Henry Of Huntingdon called the England of his day—the twelfth century—"Merrie England"19681968    Anglia plena jocis. William Fitzstephen (quoted by Traill, I. 377 sq.) dwells upon the Englishman’s love of sports that day,—football, boating, archery, etc. with even more freedom in giving, having abundance for themselves and something to spare for their neighbors across the sea. The Romans were quick to find this out and treated the English Church as a rich mine to be worked. It is probable that in no other part of Christendom were such constant and unblushing demands made upon church patronage and goods.19691969    Haller, Papsttum, p. 27.d crown.

Among the first distinct papal encroachments upon the liberties of the English Church were the appointment of legates and the demand that the archbishop go to Rome to receive the pallium. The first legates to England seem to have been sent at the invitation of William the Conqueror, 1070, to take up the case of Stigand, the Saxon archbishop of Canterbury, who had espoused the cause of the antipope. It was not long before the appointment of foreign legates was resisted and the pope, after the refusal to receive several of his representatives, was forced to yield and made it a rule to associate the legatine authority with the archbishops of Canterbury and York,—a rule, however, which had many exceptions. The legates of English birth were called legati nati in distinction from the foreign appointees, called le nati a latere.

The pope’s right to interfere in the appointment of bishops and to fill benefices was asserted soon after the Conqueror’s death. In such matters, the king showed an almost equally strong hand. Again and again the pope quashed the elections of chapters either upon his own motion or at the king’s appeal. Eugenius III. set aside William, canonically chosen archbishop of York. Stephen Langton 1207, Edmund Rich 1234, the Franciscan Kilwardby 1273, Peckham 1279, and Reynolds 1313, all archbishops of Canterbury, were substituted for the candidates canonically elected. Bonaventura was substituted for William Langton, elected archbishop of York, 1264. Such cases were constantly recurring. Bishops, already consecrated, were set aside by the pope in virtue of his "fulness of power," as was the case when Richard de Bury, d. 1345, was substituted for Robert Graystanes in the see of Durham.

This violence, done to the rights of the chapters, led to a vast amount of litigation. Almost every bishop had to fight a battle at Rome before he obtained his see. Between 1215–1264 not fewer than thirty cases of contested episcopal elections were carried to Rome. It was a bad day when the pope or the king could not find a dissident minority in a chapter and, through appeals, secure a hearing at Rome and finally a reversal of the chapter’s decision. Of the four hundred and seventy decretals of Alexander III., accepted by Gregory IX., about one hundred and eighty were directed to England.19701970    Maitland, p. 123; Jessopp gives many cases of these appeals.

The regular appointment to benefices was also invalidated by the pernicious custom of papal reservations which threatened even in this period to include every high office in the English Church. A little later, in 1317, the supreme pontiff reserved for his own appointment the sees of Worcester, Hereford, Durham, and Rochester; in 1320 Lincoln and Winchester; in 1322, 1323 Lichfield and Winchester; 1325 Carlisle and Norwich; 1327 Worcester, Exeter, and Hereford.19711971    Stubbs, III. 322 sq.

Another way by which the pope asserted his overlordship in the English Church was the translation of a bishop from one see to another. This, said Matthew Paris (V. 228), "became custom so that one church seemed to be the paramour of the other."

The English clergy and the barons looked upon these practices with disfavor, and, as at the Mad Parliament, 1258, demanded the freedom of capitular elections. The Constitutions of Clarendon, 1164, clearly expressed the national opposition, but the pope continued to go his own way.

The convents, for the most part, escaped papal interference in the election of their abbots. The reason is to be sought in the support which the orders gave to the pope in his struggle to reduce the episcopate to subjection. Nor did the crown venture to interfere, repelled, no doubt, by the compact organization of the monastic orders, the order rising to the defence of an attacked abbey.

The participation of the English bishops in the House of Lords was based originally upon the tax of scutage. From this followed their equal right to deliberate upon public affairs with the barons. At a time when this body contained less than forty lay peers, it included twenty bishops and twenty-six abbots. Most of the bishops and abbots, it would seem, had houses in London, which had taken the place of Winchester as the centre of national life.19721972    Fitzstephen, as quoted by Traill, I. 383.ux, d. 1097, was the brother of William the Conqueror. Two of Stephen’s nephews were made respectively bishop of Durham and archbishop of York. Ethelmar, brother of Henry III., received the see of Winchester, 1250,19731973    The king entered the chapter and forced the election. The pope yielded, but to prove "he had not sown on a barren coast without reaping benefit of harvest, at once made a demand of 5000 marks for a favorite." M. Paris, V. 179 sqq.as provided for Henry’s uncle, Boniface. Geoffrey, son of Henry II., was made bishop of Lincoln when a lad, and afterwards transferred to York. Among the men of humble birth who rose to highest ecclesiastical rank were Edmund Rich and Robert Kilwardby.

The honors of canonization were reached by Hugh of Lincoln, Rich of Canterbury, and Richard of Wyche, bishop of Chichester, not to speak of Anselm and Thomas à Becket. The cases of proud and warring prelates were numerous, and the custom whereby bishops held the chief offices at the court was not adapted to develope the religious virtues. Richard Flambard, bishop of Durham under William Rufus, Hugh, bishop of Lichfield, 1188–1195, and Peter des Roches of Winchester, 1205–1238, supporter of John, are among the more flagrant examples of prelates who brought no virtues to their office and learned none. William Longchamp, bishop of Ely and favorite of Richard I., was followed by a retinue of 1000 men.19741974    Hurter, III. 331 sqq., speaks of the English bishops in the time of Innocent III. as most corrupt. Stubbs, III. 327 sq., finds it to the credit of the bishops that there were so few instances of "removal from their sees for any penal reason."egate, Otho, reminded the bishops of their duty to "sow the word of life in the field of the Lord." And, lest they should forget their responsibilities, they were to listen twice a year to the reading of their oath of consecration.

The English chapters were divided almost equally between the two classes of clergy, monks and seculars. To the former class belonged Canterbury, Winchester, Durham, Norwich, Coventry, Rochester, Worcester, Ely, and Bath. The chapters of York, London, Exeter, Lichfield, Wells, Hereford, Lincoln, Salisbury, Llandaff, St. Asaph, St. David’s, and Chichester were made up of secular clergy. As the chapters asserted the rights of distinct corporations, their estates were treated as distinct from those of the bishop. It not infrequently happened that the bishop lost all influence in his chapter. The dean, in case the canons were seculars, and the prior, in case they were monks, actually supplanted the bishop in the control of the cathedral when the bishop and canons were hostile to each other. The Fourth Lateran, however, recognized the superior right of the bishop to enter the church and conduct the service. The Third Lateran ordered questions in the chapter settled by a majority vote, no matter what the traditional customs had been.

The pope and the English sovereign vied with one another in appropriating the revenues of the English Church, though it is probable the pope outdid the king. In William Rufus’ reign, a high ecclesiastic was no sooner dead than a royal clerk took inventory of his goods and rents, and appropriated them for the crown. The evil was so great in Stephen’s reign that the saying ran that "Christ and his saints slept." Sees were kept vacant that the crown might sequester their revenues. The principle of taxing ecclesiastical property cannot awaken just criticism. Levies for military equipment on the basis of scutage go back into the Saxon period. In the latter half of the twelfth century a new system came into vogue, and a sum of money was substituted. The first levy on the moveables of the clergy including tithes and offerings, called the spiritualia, seems to have been made in 1188 by Henry II. This was the famous Saladin tax intended for use against the Turks.19751975    Stubbs, II. 180.d books of the clergy were taxed. Under John the taxation was on an elaborate scale, but it became even more exacting under Henry III., 1216–1272. In 1294 Edward I. threatened to outlaw the clergy if they refused to grant him a half of their revenues for his war with France. The dean of St. Paul’s remonstrated with the king for this unheard-of demand, and fell dead from the shock which the exhibition of the king’s wrath made upon him. Unwilling as the clergy may have been to pay these levies, it is said they seldom refused a tenth when parliament voted its just share. The taxes for crusades were made directly by the popes, and also through the sovereign. As late as 1288, Nicolas IV. granted Edward I. a tenth for six years for a crusade.19761976    Upon the valuation of 1291, the clerical tax should have amounted to £20,000. Stubbs, III. 360.

The papal receipts from England came from three sources—Peter’s Pence, the tribute of John, and special taxations. Peter’s Pence, which seems to have started with Offa II., king of Mercia, in the eighth century and was the first monetary tribute of the English people to Rome, was originally a free gift but subsequently was treated as a debt.19771977    Jensen, D. englische Peterspfennig, Heidelb., 1903, and Liebermann, The Peter’s Pence and the Population of Engl. about 1164, in Engl. Hist. Rev., 1896. The Saxon designations of Peter’s Pence were romfeoh and heordpfennig. The Normans called it romascot, and the popes usually referred to it as denarius, census, or res beati Petri, and "gift," eleemosyna. reminded them that not one half of the "gift" had been paid to St. Peter. Innocent III. gave his legate sharp orders to collect it and complained that the bishops kept back part of the tax for their own use. The tax of a penny for each household was compounded for £201.7s.; but, in 1306, William de Testa, the papal legate, was commanded to ignore the change and to revert to the original levy. Beginning with the thirteenth century, the matter of collection was taken out of the hands of the bishops and placed in the hands of the papal legate. By the law of Gregory X. two subcollectors were assigned to each see with wages of 3 soldi a day, the wages being afterwards increased to 5 and 8 soldi. Peter’s Pence, with other tributes to Rome, was abolished by Henry VIII.’s law of 1534.

The tribute of one thousand marks, promised by John, was paid with great unwillingness by the nation or not paid at all. In 1275, as John XXI. reminded the English king, the payments were behind seven years. By 1301 the arrearage amounted to twelve thousand marks. It would seem as if the tax was discontinued after 1334 and, in 1366, parliament forbade its further payment and struck off all arrearages since 1334.19781978    Jensen, pp. 60-64, with elaborate list of authorities. part or in whole.

The special taxes levied by popes were for the crusades in the East and against Frederick II. and for the expenses of the papal household. Gregory IX., 1229, with the king’s sanction, levied a tax of a tenth for himself. The extraordinary demand, made by Innocent IV., 1246, of a third of all clerical revenues for three years and a half, was refused by a notable gathering of bishops and abbots at Reading and appeal was made to a general council.19791979    M. Paris, IV. 580.

The most fruitful method which Rome employed for draining the revenues of the English Church was by requisition upon her benefices and special taxation of bishops and other dignitaries for their offices. The rapacity of the Roman proconsuls seemed to be revived. The first formal demand was made by Honorius III., 1226, and required that two prebends in each cathedral and two positions in each monastery be placed at the pope’s disposal. Italians were already in possession of English livings.

In 1231, Gregory IX. forbade the English bishops conferring any more prebends until positions were provided for five Romans. In 1240, the same pontiff made the cool requisition upon the archbishop of Canterbury and the bishops of Lincoln and Salisbury of places for three hundred Italians.19801980    M. Paris, IV. 32. This chronicler says that Edmund, archbishop of Canterbury, was so harassed by these demands that in despair he exiled himself from the kingdom.omplaint that Italian succeeded Italian. And the bitter indignation was expressed in words such as Shakespeare used in his King John (Act III., Sc. 1):

"that no Italian priest

Shall tithe or toil in our dominions."


Innocent IV. was the most unblushing offender. He appointed boys to prebends, as at Salisbury, and Grosseteste spoke of some of his appointees as children, parvuli. A protest, directed to him, complained that "an endless number of Italians "held appointments in England and that they took out of the kingdom 60,000 marks yearly or more than half the amount realized by the king from the realm.19811981    M. Paris, IV. 285, 443.

As early as 1256, the pope claimed the first-fruits of bishoprics, the claim to be in force for five years. Later they were made a fixed rule.19821982    Stubbs, III. 348.pal legates could not be expected to fall behind their unscrupulous or complaisant masters. When Martin arrived in 1244, he asked for 30,000 marks and seized benefices worth more than 3000 marks a year. These officials were freely denominated indefatigable extortioners, bloodsuckers, and "wolves, whose bloody jaws were consuming the English clergy."19831983    M. Paris, II. 229, IV. 60, 100, 136, 160, 284, 626, etc.19841984    M. Paris, II. 210, IV. 610, says of Geoffrey, bishop of Bethlehem, legate to Scotland, that it was hoped that as "adamant attracts iron, so he would draw to himself the much coveted monies of Scotland." work of a harlot, vulgar and shameless, venally offering herself to all, and bent upon staining the purity of the English Church. The people, he says, were estranged in body, though not in heart, from the pope who acted in the spirit of a stepfather and from the Roman Church who treated England like a stepmother.19851985    V. 233. shrift by the barons to get out of the kingdom. When he applied to the king for safe conduct, the king replied, "The devil give you safe conduct to hell and all the way through it."

The Norman Conquest exerted a wholesome, influence upon the Church in England, and introduced a new era of church building and the erection of monasteries and the regular and canonical observance of the church’s ritual. The thirteenth century was a notable period of church extension. The system of endowed vicarages was developed.

Hugh de Wells created several hundred vicarages and Grosseteste continued the policy and provided for their maintenance out of the revenues of the older churches. Chantries were endowed where mass was said for the repose of the souls of the dead, and in time these were often united to constitute independent vicarages or parishes. The synod of Westminster, 1102, provided for a more just treatment of the ill-paid vicars. The Constitutions of Otho forbade the tearing down of old historic buildings and the erection of new ones without the consent of the bishop.

The Normans also introduced a new era of clerical education. Before their arrival, so William of Malmesbury says,19861986    III. 245. the words of the sacraments. A satisfactory idea of the extent and dispersion of learning among the clergy it is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain. A high authority, Dr. Stubbs,19871987    III. 283. orders must have been able to read and write. It happened, however, that bishops were rejected for failing in their examinations and others were admitted to their sees though they were unable to read.19881988    M. Paris, III. 170. See Stubbs, III. 383, note.l priest in the Middle Ages was probably a rare thing. There were at all times some men of literary ability among the English clergy as is attested by the chronicles that have come down to us, by such writers as John of Salisbury, Walter Map, and Peter of Blois (who was imported from France), and by the Schoolmen who filled the chairs at Oxford in its early history.

In spite of the measures of Anselm and other prelates, clerical marriage and concubinage continued in England. Writing to Anselm, Pascal II. spoke of the majority of the English priests as married. Laws were enacted forbidding the people to attend mass said by an offending priest; and women who did not quit priestly houses were to be treated as adulteresses and denied burial in sacred ground. An English priest in the time of Adrian IV. named his daughter Hadriana, a reminder to the pope that he himself was the son of a priest.19891989    John of Salisbury, Ep. 27, Migne, 199. 18. adopted in the single English cathedral of Carlisle and in a few Scotch cathedrals. The records of the courts leave no doubt of the coarse vice which prevailed in clerical groups. Even after the twelfth century, many of the bishops were married or had semi-legitimated families. According to Matthew Paris, Grosseteste was on the point of resigning his see on account of the low morals of his clergy.

The attempt to introduce the law of Gratian into England was never wholly successful. Archbishop Arundel might declare that "in all cases the canons and laws were authoritative which proceeded from the porter of eternal life and death, who sits in the seat of God Himself, and to whom God has committed the laws of the divine realm."19901990    See Maitland, p. 18.liament of Merton, 1236, resisted the foreign claim. William the Conqueror provided for ecclesiastical courts, under the charge of bishops and archdeacons, which took the place of the hundred court.

Suits, however, touching the temporalities of the clergy were tried in the secular courts,19911991    Stubbs, I. 306 sq., III. 353 sqq.vitable, however, that there should be a clash of jurisdiction, and, in fact, endless disputes arose in the settlement of matters pertaining to advowsons, tithes, and other such cases. The relative leniency of the penalties meted out to clerics led many to enter at least the lower orders, and enroll themselves as clerks who never had any idea of performing clerical functions.

The more important acts pertaining to the Church in England in this period were, in addition to William’s mandates for dividing the civil and church courts, the canons of the council of London, 1108, the Clarendon Constitutions, 1164, John’s brief surrendering his kingdom, 1213, the Constitutions of Otho, 1237, and the Mortmain Act of 1279. The Mortmain Act, which was one of the most important English parliamentary acts of the Middle Ages, forbade the alienation of lands to the Church so as to exempt them from the payment of taxation to the state.



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