chapter  13
14 Pages

Fighting Clergy, Church Councils and the Contexts of Law: The Cutting Edge of Orthodoxy or the Ambiguous Limits of Legitimacy?

The history of the English Church in the Middle Ages is intimately bound up with that of warfare. It provided money, troops and moral authority to the generations of kings and knights who literally followed its banners into battle. Fortresses in the hands of its bishops held key strategic points. Its leaders participated in and put down rebellions, orchestrated and resisted invasions. Some churchmen were promoted by the monarch to high secular or spiritual office, or rewarded with riches for their military adventures, while others were cast into prison for challenging the king’s power. Even today, there is a close relationship between the armed forces and the established Church, and parish churches across England still display the flags of local regiments. The origins of this involvement are well known: the Church’s vast landholdings came with military responsibilities. Clerics of all ranks went on crusade. Senior clergy – usually drawn from the aristocracy, and sometimes even the royal family – were men of power and wealth with their own political agendas. Some held important positions as sheriffs, vicegerents, earls and chancellors – positions which necessarily entailed military responsibilities. It was even possible to regard the defence of the flock against human enemies as an extension of pastoral care.