– Est. –

The King and the Pope: A Sabbatical in England

King Henry II

The English Courts and Law – The King and the Pope

First, some history to give perspective. We owe much of our Anglo-American legal system traditions to two important people: King Henry II of England and Pope Innocent III.

Henry II reigned from 1154 to 1189. These were turbulent times in England, and Henry worked to consolidate government. Previously, England had many local courts with varied legal traditions, which led to inconsistent legal results. In 1176, Henry dispatched a group of royal justices to visit all the counties of England to establish a common law of the land, and to consolidate the administration of justice. Thus, Henry II is regarded as the founder of the Common Law, which the English colonists brought to America.

Pope Innocent III reigned from 1198 to 1216, and is indirectly responsible for giving us the jury trial. The purpose of a trial is to determine the truth.  Prior to Innocent III, English courts used the clergy to determine the truth. After all, they worked closely with God, and God could reveal the truth. The accused was handed over to the clergy who put them through an ordeal of fire or water to determine the truth. That all changed in 1215 when Innocent III declared that clergy would no longer participate in civil trials. Without the benefit of clergy, the English courts decided that the neighbors of the accused should be able to determine the truth. After all, they would know the accused and the witnesses. So, they impaneled those neighbors into the first juries.

Thus, the English traditions of the Common Law and the jury trial have been passed from England to America. But, as with most traditions, over time, they change in ways unique to each culture. And, those changes are what I am in England to explore.