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Punishments for failure to observe religious conventions in Anglo-Saxon England about the end of the seventh century were very severe;

  • A serf working on a Sunday by the order of his Lord would become free, should he work of his own will, he rendered his whole family liable to enslavement
  • Failure to baptise a child within thirty days of birth incurred a fine of thirty shillings. Should the child die before baptism, the father lost all his possessions.
  • Profane use of God�s name incurred whipping or even death, at the discretion of the local Lord.
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    Following the Norman conquest of England in 1066, it became customary for the illiterate feudal lord to employ his literal chaplain to administer his estate, the church being the only form of education available (thus the term 'cleric' and our modern word 'clerk'). In time, as education became more widespread, the clergy frequently continued to fill such administrative functions.

    Mass was said in Latin, a tongue alien to all but a few of the population and the chancel, belonging to the clergy, was separated from the nave (belonging to the congregation and serving as village hall as well as church) by the rood screen. Churches where brightly painted with scenes from the bible and the population at large recieved its religion not from the established church, but from the preaching in their native tongue by itinerant friars which was much scorned by the clergy.

    As in Saxon times, Medieval punishments for contravening religious conventionswere severe;

  • Blasphemy was punishable by branding with a "B".
  • Those causing disturbances in church were branded with and "F" for �fraymaker�.
  • Heresy was punishable by burning at the stake until 1602

    Two witnesses to the crime were sufficient to establish the guilt of the accused. To question the understanding of the world as pronounced by the clergy was to question God and therefore a heresy.

    In the Middle Ages the Church was largely independent of the State. Although in civil and, to a certain extent criminal, matters the clergy were subject to the law of the land, in ecclesiastical matters they were governed by canon law, administered by ecclesiastical courts and the Pope was supreme. Despite this, there were many clashes between the Church and the State.

    Stigand was deposed and Lanfranc of Pavia, the Abbot of Caen, was made Archbishop of Canterbury. The new archbishop was a statesman and lawyer rather than a great theologian and believed that the reform of the isolated Saxon church depended on the power of the Norman kings, working closely with both William I (the Conqueror, 1066-1087) and his successor William II (Rufus, 1087-1100).

    The church in England was brought much closer to Rome, the authority of Canterbury over York was recognised and national synods were regularly held for ecclesiatical legislation. Spiritual pleas were removed from the temporal courts, simony (the purchase of livings, named after Simon Magus, Acts VIII, 20) was strongly opposed, as was the marriage of clergy.

    Bishops sees were removed from small towns and village to larger centers (as with Dorchester in Oxfordshire which was removed to Lincoln).

    Despite the church's closer connection to Rome and the king's sanction of the payment of Peter's Pence, the Conqueror refused to take the oath of fealty to Pope Hildebrand (Gregory VII) as his feudal lord. The king's consent was declared necessary for the recognition of the Pope in England, meetings of the synods, receipt of papl bulls and the excommunication of the king's tenants-in-chief. While Lanfranc worked closely with the monachs of England, the settlement worked well but it left the relatonships between monarch and archbishop and that between bishops and lay and ecclesiastical courts undefined leading to disputes over these issues between Henry I (1100-35) and Anselm and later between Henry II (1154-1189) and Becket.

    14th CENTURY
    Because of the very different attitude to religion in medieval times, religion and the church played a far greater part in everyday life than in modern times. While institutions we would recognise as modern were being grafted onto lay medieval society (such as tenant farmers replacing feudal servitude) in the coutryside and the towns, the church, a rigid and conservative institution remained unchanged despite changing opinions and thought.

    If the church was venerated as an institution in what was seen as the natural and ordained order of the universe, the 'corruption' of the clergy was widely denounced, not only by the likes of Wycliffe and the Lollard heretics, but also by the orthodox such as Chaucer, Gower and Langland.

    While the medieval church was no more corrupt than most medieval institutions by modern standards, it remained unchanged with its privileges protected by ever-growing wealth.

    Originally, the Lollards were offered some protection, particularly at Oxford, by John of Gaunt. After his departure from England to press his claim to the throne of Castile, this protection evaporated and Lollardy became strongly resisted by both ecclesiastical and secular authorities.

    Criticism of the church was not, however, restricted to the laity - many a parish priest advocated reform or openly rebelled while the friars were scathing of the Bishops and the secular clergy.

    Whilst previously many popes had sought to reform the church, the fourteenth century popes fostered the very abuses (the sale of indulgences, simony, plurality and non-residence) which angered the critics but enriched the Papal court in Rome. The Pope appointed foreign favourite to many of the choice positions in the church with the collusion of the English kings and despite parliamentary laws forbidding such practice. To maintain the system, the appointment of bishops was left in the hands of the Crown.

    The bishops, while highly respected, able and hard-working, made little effort to reform the church and right abuses being too preoccupied with secular matters, many acting as servants of the Crown while in the pay of the Church and holding high secular offices which sometimes included acting as ambassadors abroad. Some had risen to recieve bishoprics for secular service to to the king or his sons (the Bishop of Salisbury had been Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for John of Gaunt while the Bishop of Bath and Wells had been Chancellor of Gascony for the Black Prince) and it had become customary for the chancellor of the kingdom to be a bishop (eg: Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury and William of Wykeham).

    Of twenty-five bishops in England and Wales between 1376 and 1386, no less than thirteen held high secular office under the Crown while several of the other twelve were prominent in politics. While such a situation may have been desirable during the reigns of the Norman kings when the bishops proved a body of learned and able administrators, by the fourteenth century there were many among the laity, highly trained as lawyers, able to replace the clerics and indeed envious of their monopoly on administration.

    The one part of their duties which the bishops never failed to neglect was to defend the privileges of the Church and its endowments and the persecution of heretics (Wycliffe's denial of transubstantiation in 1380 and the emergence of the Lollards being the first serious heresy to occur in England).

    15th CENTURY
    Lollardy was vigorously repressed as a heresy during the late fourteenth century by both ecclesiastical and secular authorities and the movement was extinguished during the early fifteenth century (as by the burning of John Badby in 1410 for his denial of transubstantiation).

    Although the clamour for ecclesiatical change subsided considerably during the fifteenth century with the suppression of the Lollards, the immutability of the church as an institution under the Plantagenet kings led to the religious revolution during the time of the Tudors.

    see also:   Medieval England

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    Ecclesiastical Courts

    The ecclesiastical courts administered the cannon law, all business connected with marriages and wills and sins which were not dealt with by the civil law, particularly those of a sexual nature. Clerics, regardless of their offence, were also tried in the ecclesiastical courts.

    As became the case with feudal dues, the ecclesiastical courts acquired the habit of commuting penance for monetary payment and the practice begame general. The practice of accepting money payments in the "Bishops' Courts" soon turned into the blackmailing of alleged sinners, particularly by the "Summoners" who were responsible for presenting the offenders before the courts and were the most despised on account of their corruption.

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    The Reformation

    These powers of the Sovereign are exercised on the advice of Ministers and include the right to appoint Archbishops, bishops and certain other dignitaries of the Church, and to convoke, prorogue, or dissolve the two Houses of Convocation.

    The Reformation revolutionised the relationship between Church and State, establishing the doctrine of absolute sovereignty of the State. In England, the seal was set upon this doctrine by the Act of Supremacy of 1558, whereby the Sovereign became the Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England.

    The Act of Supremancy (entitled "An Act concerning the King's Highness to be supreme head of the Church of England and to have authority to reform and redress all errors heresies and abuses in the same") was passed by the Parliament on November 3rd, 1534 (26 Henry VIII c.1), and conferred on the King the title of supreme head of the Church of England, nullifying the authority of the Pope in England and giving the King the right to reform the church and to judge heresies;-

    Be it enacted by authority of this present Parliament that the King our sovereign lord, his heirs and successors kings of this realm, shall be taken, accepted and reputed the only supreme head in earth of the Church of England called Anglicana Ecclesia, and shall have and enjoy annexed and united to the imperial crown of this realm as well the title and style thereof, as all honours, dignities, preeminences, jurisdictions, privileges, authorities, immunities, profits and commodities, to the said dignity of supreme head of the same Church belonging and appertaining. . .

    . . . Henry VIII formally adopted the new style as head of the Anglican Church in the presence of the leading officers of state on January 15th, 1535.

    An similar Act of Supremacy was passed by the Irish Parliament between October 13th and December 20th, 1536 making the monarch supreme head of the Church of Ireland.

    To deny the Sovereign's supremacy, to refuse to assent to the Thirty-nine Articles or Book of Common Prayer is a ground for depriving a clergyman of his benefice.

    See: 'Subscriptions' by Clerics

    It is not only the relationship between Church and State which was transformed, but also that of doctrine and practice. In 1571, an Act of Parliament adopted the Articles of Religion (otherwise known as the Thirty-nine Articles) which had been framed much earlier but achieved that form adopted in 1562. The Form of church Services (or the Book of Common Prayer) adopted during the reign of Edward VI, became more Puritan during the Civil War and the ensuing Commonwealth but recieved its present for after the Restoration of Charles II in 1562.

    Since the reign of Elizabeth I, the Church of England has been know as the " Church of England as by law established ", and the relations between Church and State in their totality have become known as the "Establishment ".

    Failure to conform to the doctrines of the Established Church once entailed many civil disabilities but these have now been removed byt the State which, although closely linked with the Church, no longer sees religious tolerance as a threat, recognizes the right to freedom of conscience and now protects other forms of worship and other religious bodies.

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    This time-line has been generated for this page from our general time-line
    which you can view by clicking here or on the dates in the left-hand column.

    To view links to related pages, click here

    597St Augustine lands in Kent
    604St Augustine meets the British Bishops in Cricklade (Wilts.)
    705King Ine established Sherborne as the bishopric of Wessex and appointed his kinsman Aldhelm as its first bishop
    1074Pope Gregory VII excommunicated married priests.
    He sent legates to France to reform the Church there
    1076.Jan.24The Council of Worms: Held by Henry IV in repsonse to a letter threatening his excommunication by Pope Gregory VII. The German bishops renounce their allegiance to the Pope
    1154.Dec.04Nicholas Breakspear begins his reign as the only English Catholic Pope Adrian IV
    1170.Dec.29Murder of Archbishop Thomas a Becket in Canterbury Cathedral
    1207Stephen Langton appointed archbishop of Canterbury
    King John refused to acknowledge Langton as archbishop for six years although the country was placed under interdict
    1215.Jun.19The Magna Carta sealed at Runnymede by King John to stave off civil war with the barons
    1232Robert Thweng seizes the money collected by the Papal agents and gives it to the poor
    Hubert de Burgh took no action against Thweng
    1375The Oxford scholar John Wycliffe begins his English translation of the Latin Bible
    One of the basic tenets church is that only a trained priest can interpret the Bible
    1391Second Statute of Mortmain orders that upon the appropriation of a benefice a proportion of its fruits should be reserved for distribution among the poor of the parish
    BAAAGBWS paris
    1401The Archbishop of Canterbury persuaded King Henry IV to outlaw the Lollards (a religious sect taught by John Wycliffe) as heretics, under the Act De Heretico Comburendo
    After travelling to London, William Sawtre was executed by burning for preaching his Lollard beliefs
    1410John Badby burnt at the stake at Smithfield to becomming the first lay Englishman to be executed for heresy
    Badby held Lollard views and was executed for his denial of transubstantiation
    1518.MayWolsey named legatus a latere by the Pope
    1525Tyndal\'s Bible
    1534.Nov.03Act of Supremacy; Henry VIII splits from Rome, Parliament establishes the Church of England declares the English monarch its head and protector
    Subjets are required to swear an oath of loyalty and reject Papal authority (churchmen who refuse the oath such as Sir Thomas Moore are executed)
    1535Thomas Cromwell created Vicar-General, effectively a dictator in matters ecclesiastical
    1535First printed Bible in English is dedicated to Henry VIII but printed abroad
    1535.Jan.15Henry VIII formally accepts the style as head of the Anglican Church
    1536Coverdale\'s Bible
    1536.Oct.06William Tyndale condemned for heresy at Vilvorde Castle near Brussels and strangled
    1536.Oct.09Start of the Pilgrimage of Grace; a Northern rising caused by religious grievances
    1537Mathew\'s Bible
    1539Cranmer\'s Bible, The Great Bible, ordered to be read in churches
    1539Statute of Six Articles; burning for denying Transubstantiation; communion in one kind; celibacy of the clergy; obligation of monastic vows; masses for the dea and auricular confession
    1541Henry VIII assumes title of King of Ireland, and Head of the Church in Ireland
    1546.Feb.18Death of Martin Luther at Eisleben (where he was born), aged 63
    1547.Jan.28Death of King Henry VIII, aged 55; Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset becomes Lord Protector in the name of the 9-year-old King Edward VI
    1549First Act of Uniformity
    The Roman Catholic mass proclaimed illegal; Church interiors are whitewashed and religious images are removed from view; Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury, compiles the First Book of Common Prayer; church services are conducted in English instead of Latin for the first time
    1553.Jul.06Death of King Edward VI, aged only 15; Northumberland proclaims Lady Jane Grey as queen
    1553.Jul.19Mary I, the ardent Catholic daughter of Henry VIII by Katherine of Aragon proclaimed Queen of England in London, she undisputedly succeeds to the throne of England - Lady Jane Grey is deposed and imprisoned
    The proclamation made at Cheapside Cross and other accustomed places
    1554.Nov.30Roman Catholicism is restored in England, under Queen Mary
    Nearly 300 Protestant leaders were burned at the stake during Mary\\\'s reign
    1555.Oct.16Bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley burned at the stake outside Balliol College in Oxford by Queen Mary I
    1558Act of Supremacy (Elizabeth I)
    1558Act of Conformity (Elizabeth I)
    1558.Nov.17Death of Queen Mary I, her half-sister succeeded to the crown as Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII by Anne Boleyn
    Her reign is marked by the rise of England as a sea-power and a flourishing of the arts, particularly literature and drama
    1559.May.08Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity passed implementing the Elizabethan religious settlement
    1563The Thirty-Nine Articles were promulgated defining the Elizabethan Church settlement and the Anglican faith
    1563Publication of Acts and Monuments (better known as the Book of Martyrs) by John Foxe
    1564.May.27Death of John Calvin in Geneva
    1565.JulFirst Chelmsford witch trials; first trial for witchcraft in an English secular court
    Elizabeth Frances, Agnes Waterhouse and her daughter Joan were accused at Chelmsford in Essex
    1570.Feb.25Elizabeth I anathematised (excommunicated) by Papal Bull of Pope Pius V
    An outcast of the Catholic Church, it became the duty of all Catholics to bring down her reign thus making religious toleration impossible
    1572.Aug.24St Bartholomew\'s Day Massacre: King Charles IX orders the massacre of French Protestants by Catholics
    70,000 people are killed, leaving France virtually devoid of intellectual, educational and financial resources
    1582.Oct.15Gregorian calendar adopted by Catholic countries
    1602Heresy ceased to be punishable by burning at the stake
    1603.Mar.24Death of Queen Elizabeth I (1533-) of England and Ireland in the early hours
    - succeeded to the crown by James VI of Scotland as James I
    1604Act of Parliament inposes a fine of �10 ten and branding for the profane use of the name of God (replacing the mediaval punishments)
    16523rd session of the Council of Trent
    1655Publication of Treatise Concerning Enthusiasme by Causaubon discussing how natural elation was mistaken for either divine inspiration or diabolical possession
    1656James Nayler, a Quaker, is clamped in the stocks after being convicted of blasphemy, and has his tongue is bored through with a hot iron
    1673Test Act: English Catholics and Nonconformists prohobited and deprived civic or military office
    The Acts full title - An act for preventing dangers which may happen from popish recusants
    1684Last execution of a witch in England
    1687James II issues the Declaration of Indulgence for Catholics
    1688.Jun.30Seven Bishops objecting to the reading of James II\\\'s Declaration of Indulgence charged with sedititious libel before the Kings Bench
    1736Parliament repealed the law, already obsolete in practice, condemning a convicted witch to death. While being a witch was not illegal, pretenses to such arts and powers were made illegal
    The measure caused considerable indignation amongst the uneducated majority of the population.
    The Act was repealed in 1951
    1829Act of Toleration extends freedom of worship to include Roman Catholics
    Potestant Nonconformists were given freedom of worship in 1689
    1992.Nov.11CoE Synod votes to allow ordination of women as priests by only two votes
    2002.Aug.10Leaders of Roman Catholic religious orders meeting in Philadelphia, approve a plan to keep sexually abusive clergy away from children
    2003.Nov.02First gay bishop of the Anglican Church consecrated - Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire, US

    Year   Word/Phrase    
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      Parish Officers
      Parish Registers
       -'Woollen Registers'
       -Beating the Bounds
      'Burial in Woollen'

    Church Architecture




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    Constitutional History vol. 1
      by W Stubbs, 1897

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