Originally, the privilege of exemption from trial by a secular court enjoyed by the clergy if arrested for felony. In time it came to comprehend not only the ordained clergy but also those who, being able to read and write, were capable of entering into their numbers.

The origins of this privilege lie on the Bible: "Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm" (1 Chronicles 16: 22), and it was abolished by George IV in 1827.

See also neck-verse.