Edward I, who was a strong king, checked an attempt to magnify the spiritual authority by the writ Circumspecte agatis, which defined the sphere of the ecclesiastical courts, and put a restraint on religious endowments by the Statute of Mortmain, and desiring that every estate in the realm should have a share in public burdens and counsels, caused the beneficed clergy to be summoned to send proctors to parliament. The clergy preferred to make their grants in their own convocations, and so lost the position offered to them. For some years clerical taxation by the crown was carried on with the goodwill of the papacy; it was not oppressive for unbeneficed clergy and incomes below ten marks were exempt, and in theory the clergy were celibate. Papal demands, however, were additional burdens.
In 1296 Boniface VIII, by his bull Clericis laicos, forbade the clergy to grant money to lay princes, and Edward's request for a clerical subsidy was in 1297 refused by convocation led by Archbishop Winchelsea. The king thereupon outlawed the clergy. The northern province yielded, the southern held out longer; but finally the clergy made their peace severally, each paying his share, and the royal victory was complete. Winchelsea joined the baronial opposition which forced Edward to grant the Confirmation of the Charters. Edward procured his disgrace from Clement V, and in return allowed Clement to exact so much from the church that the doings of the papal agents provoked an indignant remonstrance from parliament in 1307.
With that exception the king's dealings with the church were statesmanlike. He employed clerical ministers and paid them by church preferments, but his nominations to bishoprics did not always receive papal confirmation which had become recognized as essential. His weak son. Edward II yielded readily to papal demands. The majority of the bishops of the reign, and specially those engaged in politics, were unworthy men; religion was at a low ebb; plurality and non-residence were common. By the constitution Execrabilis John XXII ordered that all cures held in plurality save one should be vacated, and, which was not so well, reserved all benefices so vacated for his own appointment. As the residence of the popes at Avignon from 1308 to 1377 brought them under French influence, Englishmen during the war with France were specially displeased that large sums should be, drawn from the kingdom for them and that they should exercise patronage there.
In the reign of Edward III the popes, though appointing to bishoprics by provision, did not give them to foreigners, but they appointed foreigners, enemies of England, to lesser preferments, deaneries and prebends. In 1351 the Statute of Provisors declared provisions unlawful. Capitular elections, however, remained mere forms; the king nominated, and the popes provided, and took advantage of their claim to appoint to sees vacant by translation. Papal interference in suits concerning temporalities was checked by a law of 1353 (the first statute of Praemunire), which made punishable by outlawry and forfeiture the carrying before a foreign tribunal of causes cognizable by English courts. This measure was extended in 1365, and in 1393 by the great statute of Praemunire. Indignant at the law of 1365, Urban V demanded payment of the tribute promised by John, which was then thirty-three years in arrear, but parliament repudiated the claim.
The Black Death disorganized the church by thinning the ranks of the clergy, who did their duty manfully during the plague. In the diocese of Norwich, for example, 800 parishes lost their incumbents in 349, 83 of them twice over (Jessopp). Large though insufficient numbers were instituted to benefices and unfit persons received holy orders. The value of livings decreased and many lay vacant. Some incumbents deserted their parishes to take stipendiary work in towns or secular employments, and unbeneficed clergy demanded higher stipends. Greediness infected the church in common with society at large. Yet Chaucer's ideal parish priest must have represented a familiar type, so that we may believe that much good work was here and there unobtrusively done by the clergy. Prominent among abuses were the sale of pardons, and the extortions of the ecclesiastical courts; their decrees were enforced by excommunication, and on a writ issued to the sheriff an excommunicated person would be imprisoned until he satisfied the demands of the church.
The state needed money and attacks were made in parliament on the wealth of the church. Already, in 1340, Edward III, who quarrelled with Archbishop Stratford on political grounds, had appointed lay ministers, and in 1371 William of Wykeham, bishop of Winchester, and other clerical ministers were turned out of office and succeeded by laymen. A political crisis in 1376 was followed by a struggle between the bishops and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the head of the anticlerical party, who allied himself with John Wycliffe. He was unpopular, and when the bishops cited Wycliffe before them in St Pauls, the duke's conduct provoked a riot and the proceedings ended abruptly.
Wycliffe held that the church was corrupted by wealth; that only those in grace had a right to God's gifts, and that temporal power belonged only to laymen and not to popes nor priests. Later he attacked the papacy itself, which in 1378 was distracted by the great schism; by 1380 he condenmed pilgrimages, secret confession and masses for the dead. While holding the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, he denied a change of substance in the elements, arguing that accidents or qualities, such as form and color, could not exist without substance. He taught that Holy Scripture was the only source of religious truth, to the exclusion of church authority and tradition, and he and his followers made the first complete English version of the Bible. His opinions were spread by the poor priests whom he sent out to preach and by his English tracts. That his teaching had any direct effect on the insurrection of 1381, though commonly believed, appears to be an unfounded idea; many priests were concerned in the rising, and specially the mendicant orders, Wycliffe's bitter enemies, but the motives of the insurrection were essentially secular (Oman, The Great Revolt of 1381).
The reaction which followed extended to religion, and Wycliffe's doctrines were condemned by a church council in 1382. Nevertheless he died in peace. He had many disciples, especially in Oxford and in industrial centres. The Lollards, as his followers were called, had supporters in parliament and among people of high rank in the court of Richard II, and the kings marriage to Anne of Bohemia brought about the importation of Wycliffe's writings into Bohemia, where they had a strong influence on the religious movement led by Hus. At first the bishops were not inclined to persecute, and the earlier Lollards mostly recanted under pressure, but their number increased.
This text forms part of the History of the Church of England originally part of the entry ENGLAND, CHURCH OF from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the content of which lies within the public domain.