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Reason, conscience and equity: bishops as the king's judges in later Medieval England

Dodd, Gwilym

Authors

Gwilym Dodd gwilym.dodd@nottingham.ac.uk



Abstract

It has long been recognized that many late medieval bishops were heavily involved in secular government. Scholars have tended to characterize these activities in fairly general terms, labelling those who chose to serve the crown as ‘administrators’, ‘bureaucrats’ or ‘civil servants’. In fact, they are better described as king’s judges, for a large part of what bishops did in government was dispensing justice in the king’s name. The first part of this article explores the contexts of this judicial activity, showing that bishops were especially active in institutions such as parliament, chancery and the council which offered justice to the king’s subjects on a discretionary basis. Discretionary justice was closely informed by the precepts of natural law, which in turn derived authority from the abstract notion of the divine will. The second half of the article suggests that the strong theological underpinning of discretionary justice meant that bishops’ involvement in secular government did not stand in opposition to their spiritual vocation or their role as leaders of the church. I argue that the sweeping and rather disparaging contemporary and modern characterizations of ‘civil-servant’ bishops as self-serving careerists ought to be replaced by a more nuanced understanding of the rationale and motivation of those senior clergymen who involved themselves in secular governance.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Apr 14, 2014
Journal History
Print ISSN 0018-2648
Electronic ISSN 0018-2648
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 99
Issue 335
APA6 Citation Dodd, G. (2014). Reason, conscience and equity: bishops as the king's judges in later Medieval England. History, 99(335), doi:10.1111/1468-229X.12052
DOI https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-229X.12052
Publisher URL http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1468-229X.12052/abstract;jsessionid=8DAA71F10933B2E036AA80996FD7D6E9.f04t02
Copyright Statement Copyright information regarding this work can be found at the following address: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0

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Copyright Statement
Copyright information regarding this work can be found at the following address: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0





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