The Story of England: The King and the Archbishop

In the twelfth-century conflict between Church and State, Henry II found his most determined opponent in his formerly devoted servant, Thomas Becket, as Arthur Bryant continues his Story of England series.

Yet at Canossa the papacy had tasted blood. Throughout the twelfth century the initiative lay with the canon lawyers who, seeking to organize the Church as a completely self-governing institution, tried to free it from all secular control. Even in England, where during Stephen’s reign it was able to bargain with rival claimants to the throne, it established the right of clerical appeal to Rome and the freedom of papal legates to exercise independent powers within the realm. And its courts, with their superior procedure and unique advantage of a written code, extended their jurisdiction, not only over churchmen and church property, but over a wide range of matters affecting laymen, including marriage, divorce, adultery, defamation of character, testamentary disposition and, in certain cases, breaches of contract. For these, it was contended, involved the moral, and therefore ecclesiastical, offence of perjury.

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