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Unformatted text preview: ple of so heavy and arbitrary an imposition, Henry required, that a civil officer of his appointment should be present in all ecclesiastical courts, and should, for the future, give his consent to every composition which was made with sinners for their spiritual offences. The ecclesiastics, in that age, had renounced all immediate subordination to the magistrate: They openly pretended to an exemption, in criminal accusations, from a trial before courts of justice; and were gradually introducing a like exemption in civil causes: Spiritual penalties alone could be inflicted on their offences: And as the clergy had extremely multiplied in England, and many of them were consequently of very low characters, crimes of the deepest dye, murders, robberies, adulteries, rapes, were daily committed with impunity by the ecclesiastics. It had been found, for instance, on enquiry, that no less than a hundred murders had, since the king’s accession, been perpetrated by men of that profession, who had never been called to account for these offences;h and holy orders were become a full protection for all enormities. A clerk in Worcestershire, having debauched a gentleman’s daughter, had, at this time, proceeded to murder the father; and the general indignation against this crime moved the king to attempt the remedy of an abuse which was become so palpable, and to require that the clerk should be delivered up, and receive condign punishment from the magistrate.i Becket insisted on the privileges of the church; confined the criminal in the bishop’s prison, lest he should be seized by the king’s officers; maintained that no greater punishment could be inflicted on him than degradation: And when the king demanded, that, immediately after he was degraded, he should be tried by the civil power, the primate asserted, that it was iniquitous to try a man twice upon the same accusation, and for the same offence.k Henry, laying hold of so plausible a pretence, resolved to push the clergy with regard to all their privileges, which they had raised to an enormous height, and to determine at once those controversies, which daily multiplied, between the civil and the ecclesiastical jurisdictions. He summoned an assembly of all the prelates of England; and he put to them this concise and decisive question. Whether or not they were willing to submit to the ancient laws and customs of the kingdom? The bishops unanimously replied, that they were willing, saving their own order:l A device, by which they thought to elude the present urgency of the king’s demand, yet reserve to PLL v5 (generated January 22, 2010) 217 http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/695 Online Library of Liberty: The History of England, vol. 1 themselves, on a favourable opportunity, the power of resuming all their pretensions. The king was sensible of the artifice, and was provoked to the highest indignation. He left the assembly, with visible marks of his displeasure: He required the primate instantly to surrender the honours and castles of Eye and Berkham: The b...
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- Spring '08