Before the Norman Conquest the church had relapsed into deadness: English bishops were political partisans, the clergy were married, and discipline and asceticism, then the recognized condition of holiness, were extinct. The Conqueror's relations with Rome ensured a reform; for the papacy was instinct with the Cluniac spirit. In 1070 papal legates were received and held a council by which Stigand was deposed. Lanfranc, abbot of Bec, was appointed archbishop of Canterbury and worked harmoniously with the king in bringing the English Church up to the level of the church in Normandy. Many native bishops and abbots were deposed, and the Norman prelates who succeeded them were generally of good character, strict disciplinarians, and men of grander ideas.
A council of 1075 decreed the removal of bishops sees from villages to towns, as on the continent; the see of Sherborne, for example, was removed to Old Sarum, and that of Selsey to Chichester, and many churches statelier than of old were built in the Norman style which the Confessor had already adopted for his church at Westminster. In another council priests and deacons were thenceforward forbidden to marry. William and Lanfranc also worked on Hildebrandine lines in separating ecclesiastical from civil administration. Ecclesiastical affairs were regulated in church councils held at the same time as the king's councils. Bishops and archdeacons were no longer to exercise their spiritual jurisdiction in secular courts, as had been the custom, but in ecclesiastical courts and according to canon law.
The king, however, ruled church as well as state; Gregory granted him control over episcopal elections, he invested bishops with the crozier and they held their temporalities of him, and he allowed no councils to meet and no business to be done without his licence. Gregory claimed homage from him; but while the king promised the payment of Peter's pence and such obedience as his English predecessors had rendered, he refused homage; he allowed no papal letters to enter the kingdom without his leave, and when an anti-pope was set up, he and Lanfranc treated the question as to which pope should be acknowledged in England as one to be decided by the crown.
The Conquest brought the church into closer connection with Rome and gave it a share in the religious and intellectual life of the continent; it stimulated and purified English monasticism, and it led to the organization of the church as a body with legislative and administrative powers distinct from those of the state. The relations established by the Conqueror between the crown, the church and the pope, its head and supreme judge, worked well as long as the king and the primate were agreed, but were so complex that trouble necessarily arose when they disagreed.
William Rufus tried to feudalize the church, to bring its officers and lands under feudal law; he kept bishoprics and abbacies vacant and confiscated their revenues. He quarrelled with Anselm who succeeded Lanfranc. Anselm while at Rome heard the investiture of prelates by laymen denounced, and he maintained the papal decree against Henry I. Bishops were vassals of the king, holding lands of him, aswell as officers of the church. How were they to be appointed? Who should invest them with the symbols of their office? To whom was their homage due? (see Investiture). These questions which agitated western Europe were settled as regards England by a compromise: Henry surrendered investiture and kept the right to homage. The substantial gain lay with the crown, for, while elections were theoretically free, the king retained his power over them. Though Henry in some degree checked the exercise of papal authority in England, appeals to Rome without his sanction were frequent towards the end of his reign. Stephen obtained the recognition of his title from Innocent II, and was upheld by the church until he violently attacked three bishops who had been Henry's ministers. The clergy then transferred their allegiance to Matilda. His later quarrel with the papacy, then under the influence of Saint Bernard, added to his embarrassments and strengthened the Angevin cause.
During Stephen's reign the church grew more powerful than was for the good either of the state or itself. Its courts encroached on the sphere of the lay courts, and further claimed exclusive criminal jurisdiction over all clerks whether in holy or minor orders, with the result that criminous clerks, though degraded by a spiritual court, escaped temporal punishment. Henry II, finding ecclesiastical privileges an obstacle to administrative reform, demanded that the bishops should agree to observe the ancient customs of the realm. These customs were, he asserted, expressed in certain constitutions to which he required their assent at a council at Clarendon in 1164. In spirit they generally maintained the rights of the crown as they existed under the Conqueror. One provided that clerks convicted of temporal crime in a spiritual court and degraded should be sentenced by a lay court and punished as laymen. Archbishop Becket (see Becket) agreed, repented and refused his assent. The king tried to ruin him by unjust demands; he appealed to Rome and fled to France. A long quarrel ensued, and in 1170 Henry was forced to be reconciled to Becket. The archbishops murder consequent on the king's hasty words shocked Christendom, and Henry did penance publicly. By agreement with the pope he renounced the Constitutions, but the encroachments of the church courts were slightly checked, and the king's decisive influence on episcopal elections and some other advantages were secured.
The church in Wales had become one with the English Church by the voluntary submission of its bishops to the see of Canterbury in 1192 and later. The Irish Church remained distinct, though the conquest of Ireland, which was sanctioned by the English pope Adrian IV (Nicholas Breakspear), brought it into the same relations with the crown as the English Church and into conformity with it. Under the guidance of ecciesiastics employed as royal ministers, the church supported the crown until, in 1206, Innocent III. refused to confirm the election of a bishop nominated by King John to Canterbury; and representatives of the monks of Christ Church, in whom lay the right of election, being at his court, the pope bade them elect Stephen Langton whom he consecrated as archbishop. John refused to receive Langton and seized the estates of Christ Church. Innocent laid England under an interdict in 1208; the king confiscated the property of the clergy, banished bishops and kept sees vacant. Papal envoys excommunicated him and declared him deposed in 1211. Surrounded by enemies, he made his peace with the pope in 1213, swore fealty to him before his envoy, scknowledged that he held his kingdom of the Roman see, and promised a yearly tribute for England and Ireland. Finally he surrendered his crown to a legate and received it back from him. The banished clergy returned and an agreement was made as to their losses. Langton guided the barons in their demands on the king which were expressed in Magna Carta.
The first clause provided, as charters of Henry I and Stephen had already provided, that the English Church should be free, adding that it should have freedom of election, which John had promised in 1214. As John's suzerain, Innocent annulled the charter, suspended Langton, and excommunicated the barons in arms against the king. On John's death, Gualo, legate of Honorius III, recognizing the pope as the divinely appointed source of all ecclesiastical jurisdiction, were driven to resist papal orders which they held to be contrary to apostolic precepts. Their remonstrances were seldom effectual, and the state of the national church was noted by the Provisions of Oxford in 1258 as part of the general misgovernment which the baronial opposition sought to remedy. The alliance between the crown and the papacy in this reign diminished the liberties of the church.
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.