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The Secular Clergy in England, 1066–1216$
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Hugh M. Thomas

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780198702566

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198702566.001.0001

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Violence, Clerical Status, and the Issue of Criminous Clerks

Violence, Clerical Status, and the Issue of Criminous Clerks

(p.209) 9 Violence, Clerical Status, and the Issue of Criminous Clerks
The Secular Clergy in England, 1066–1216

Hugh M. Thomas

Oxford University Press

The high religious status accorded to clerics, especially priests, and the related demand for ritual purity from them, prompted medieval society to ban clerics from shedding blood but also to protect their bodies from violent harm, even within the judicial system. The resulting debate over how to treat criminal clerics was one of the major causes for the dispute between Henry II and Thomas Becket. Becket and his followers treated Henry’s zeal to fight crime as laudable but argued that clerical privilege had to trump the king’s concerns. A study of charges against alleged criminals in the early plea rolls suggests that clerics were as likely to be accused of crimes as adolescent and adult laymen. The percentage of clerics was small enough that clerics were only a small factor in crime, but clerical crime was frequent enough that one can see why criminous clerks produced such controversy.

Keywords:   secular clergy, crime, justice, violence, criminous clerks, Becket controversy, ritual purity

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