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Home arrow History arrow Officers and accountability in medieval England : 1170-1300


In November 1215 at the Lateran Palace, Pope Innocent III opened a general council of the Western Church, the fourth and at that time the largest ever held.[1] It famously legislated on many (arguably all) of the institutions later emblematic of the medieval church: private confession (cap. 21), the regulation of heresy (cap. 3), excommunication (caps. 47—9), crusading (cap. 71), the regulation of Jewish— Christian relations (caps. 67—70), the regulation of new religious orders, including mendicants (cap. 13),[2] preaching (cap. 10), and inquisition (cap. 8).[3] Inquisition here constituted neither an organization nor an interest in heresy. Canonical inquisition was simply a legal mechanism for identifying, investigating, and correcting the delicts of clerics, including prelates.[4] Since inquisitio was also used generically without implying the use of a canonical procedure, one needs to be careful when determining whether references to inquisitio do or do not imply that specific procedure. Canonical inquisitions integrated distinct Roman legal concepts[5] and had the following features:[6]

  • 1. The basis on which an inquisitio was ordered was the clamor and infamia attributing misconduct to an individual. No accuser was needed, and initiation was consequently much easier procedurally and politically. As God at Sodom, he judge would ‘descend and see’ the clamor for himself (Genesis 18: 21).
  • 2. Inquisitions were accordingly ex officio of the investigating magistrate. In the formal law of Roman accusation, an accuser was liable to a retaliatory punishment, a poena talionis, if the accusation failed; such considerations did not apply to inquisitions since the clamor acted as accuser.
  • 3. An inquisition investigated the truth of the allegation, depending on which charges then followed.
  • 4. Any punishment liable from an inquisition was caritative and medicinal not punitive, again in contrast to accusations.

What is novel is the combination of the ex officio investigation with the role of infamia. Inquisitorial procedure was explicitly intended to address clerical accountability. The innovation begins to emerge during Alexander Ills pontificate (1159—81).31 The legal form was taken further under Innocent III (1198— 1216).32 Under Innocent the mechanism was worked out through responses to cases (decretals), one of which was adapted as canon 8 of Lateran IV, and therefore injected throughout all Christendom’s bloodstream.33 Keeping these three components in mind (inquiring ex officio on the basis of infamia), the core of this

Procedures in the Medieval West (Aldershot, 2001) no. II; Linda Fowler-Magerl, Ordines iudiciarii and Libelli de ordine iudiciorum (from the middle of the twelfth to the end of the fifteenth century), TSMAO 63 (Turnhout, 1994), 49—55; James A. Brundage, Medieval Canon Law (Harlow, 1995), 91—6, 139—53. Older works include: A. Esmein, A History of Continental Criminal Procedure, with Special Reference to France, trans. J. Simpson (London, 1914); Paul Fournier, Les Officialites au Moyen Age: Etude sur Forganisation, la competence et la procedure des tribunaux ecclesiastiques ordinaires en France, de 1180 a 1328 (Paris, 1880), 270-8; and H. C. Lea, A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, 3 vols. (London, 1888), i. 14—16, on non-heretical inquisitions; Augustin Fliches comments in Augustin Fliche, Christine Thouzellier, and Yvonne Azais, Histoire de lEglise depuis les origines jusqua nos jours: 10. La Chretiente romaine (1198—1274) (Paris, 1950), 161—3, 209.

  • 31 ‘Cum in ecclesia’ (PL 200, #811, cols. 743—4; Jaffe, #11930) (October 1170—October 1172) regarding the Bishop of Amiens’ ex officio investigations into simoniacal presentations in Tournai on the basis ofjama. Also e.g. ‘Nos inter alios’ (X 5.34.6; 1 Comp. 5.29.7; Jaffe, #13970) on the reliance of publica fama for forcing a parishioner to purge himself.
  • 32 On Innocent and inquisitions, see Markus Hirte, Papst Innozenz III., das IV. Lateranum und die Strafverfahren gegen Kleriker: Eine registergestutzte Untersuchung zur Entwicklung der Verfahrensarten zwischen 1198 und 1216, Rothenburger Gesprache zur Strafrechtsgeschichte 5 (Tubingen, 2005). For the period 1198—1342 Julien Thery’s habilitation, based on 243 inquisitorial cases, is of great importance: ‘Justice et gouvernement dans la Chretiente latine: recherches autour du modele ecclesial (v. 1150—v. 1330). «Exces» et «affaires d’enquete»: Les Proces criminels de la papaute contre les prelats, XIIIe-mi-XIVe siecle’, 2 vols. (Universite Paul-Valery—Montpellier III, Dossier pour l’habilitation a diriger des recherches en histoire medievale, 2010). I am extremely grateful to Professeur Thery for a copy which I was able to access in this study’s late stages.
  • 33 Helene Tillmann, Innocent III, trans. Walter Sax (Amsterdam, 1980), 201-11; Trusen, ‘Inquisitionsprozeff (esp. 187-215); Kery, ‘'Inquisitiodenunciatio—exception and Hirte, Papst Innozenz III, are now the starting points for consideration of the Innocentine legislation, notably: Inter sollicitudines nostras, 7 May 1199 (X 5.34.10; 3 Comp. 5.17.1; Reg. Inn. III, ii. #60 (63); Potthast #693); Licet Heli summus, 2 December 1199 (X 5.3.31; 3 Comp. 5.2.3; Reg. Inn. III, ii. #250 (260); Potthast #888); Per tuas nobis, 29 January 1204 (X 5.3.32; 3 Comp. 5.2.4; Reg. Inn. III, vi. #243 (244), Potthast #2134); Super his de, February 11 1203 (X 5.1.16; 3 Comp. 5.1.3; Reg. Inn. III, v. #152 (153), Potthast #1824); and the ‘original’ 29 January 1206 version of Qualiter et

chapter examines two bishops and the investigations of episcopal misconduct into them. The first, early, case allows an exploration of proto-inquisitorial procedure before the Fourth Lateran Council, in a country where the influence of canon law has been disputed, a country moreover, where some, at least, of the untheorized elements of inquisitorial procedure concurrently existed in vernacular forms. The second very late thirteenth-century case allows us to explore how inquisitions developed, in their wider context, during the intervening period.

  • [1] Colin Morris, The Papal Monarchy: The Western Church from 1050 to 1250 (Oxford, 1989),447—51; Stephen Kuttner and Antonio Garcia y Garcia, A New Eyewitness Account of the FourthLateran Council’, Traditio 20 (1964), 115—78; Jakob Werner, ‘Die Teilnehmerliste des Laterankonzilsvom Jahre 1215’, Neues Archiv der Gesellschaft fur dltere deutsche Geschichtskunde 31 (1906), 575—93,with attendees at 584—92.
  • [2] 26 Dominic was told at the Council to base his order’s rule on an existing one; no Franciscan ‘rule’was formally ratified at Lateran IV, but Innocent III had verbally endorsed the group in 1209—10.
  • [3] For the Council see the introduction to Constitutiones Concilii quarti Lateranensis una cumCommentaries glossatorum, ed. Antonio Garcia y Garcia, Monumenta iuris canonici, Ser. A: Corpusglossatorum 2 (Vatican City, 1981), 6—11 arguing that the council’s acta were decided between itssummoning on 19 April 1213, and its November 1215 opening (excluding caps. 1—3 and 71 on religious belief and the crusade). See also J. A. Watt, ‘The Papacy’ in David Abulafia (ed.), New CambridgeMedieval History, v. c.1198—c.1300 (Cambridge, 1999), 107—63 at 119—26; John W Baldwin, ‘Pariset Rome en 1215: Les Reformes du IV e Concile de Latran’, Journal des Savants 1 (1997), 99—124.
  • [4] 28 On this distinction and the gradual institutionalization of heretical inquisitions, RichardKieckhefer, ‘The Office of Inquisition and Medieval Heresy: The Transition from Personal toInstitutional Jurisdiction’, JEH 46 (1995); Kenneth Pennington, ‘Law, Criminal Procedure’,Dictionary of the Middle Ages: Supplement 1 (New York, 2004), 309—20; and Edward Peters, Inquisition(New York, 1988).
  • [5] See p. 153, n. 96.
  • [6] On non-heretical inquisitorial procedure see esp. Lotte Kery, ‘'Inquisitio—denunciatio—exceptio:Moglichkeiten der Verfahrenseinleitung im Dekretalenrecht’, ZRG Kan. Abt. 87 (2001), 226—68,and Winfried Trusen, ‘Der Inquisitionsprozeft, seine historischen Grundlagen und fruhen Formen’,ZRG Kan. Abt. 74 (1988), 168—230; Henry Ansgar Kelly, ‘Inquisitorial Due Process and the Status ofSecret Crimes’, in Proceedings of the Eighth International Congress of Medieval Canon Law, Proceedingsof the Eighth International Congress of Medieval Canon Law, ed. Stanley Chodorow, Monumenta iuriscanonici, Ser. C: Subsidia 9 (Vatican City, 1992), 407—27, repr. in his Inquisitions and Other Trial
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