Criminal-Inquisitorial Trials in English Church Courts
From the Middle Ages to the Reformation
Imprint: Catholic University of America Press
After inquisitorial procedure was introduced at the Fourth Lateran Council in Rome in 1215 (the same year as England’s first Magna Carta), virtually all court trials initiated by bishops and their subordinates were inquisitions. That meant that accusers were no longer needed. Rather, the judges themselves leveled charges against persons when they were publicly suspected of specific offenses—like fornication, or witchcraft, or simony. Secret crimes were off limits, including sins of thought (like holding a heretical belief). Defendants were allowed full defenses if they denied charges. These canonical rules were systematically violated by heresy inquisitors in France and elsewhere, especially by forcing self-incrimination. But in England, due process was generally honored and the rights of defendants preserved, though with notable exceptions.
In this book, Henry Ansgar Kelly, a noted forensic historian, describes the reception and application of inquisition in England from the thirteenth century onwards and analyzes all levels of trial proceedings, both minor and major, from accusations of sexual offenses and cheating on tithes to matters of religious dissent. He covers the trials of the Knights Templar early in the fourteenth century and the prosecutions of followers of John Wyclif at the end of the century. He details how the alleged crimes of "criminous clerics" were handled, and demonstrates that the judicial actions concerning Henry VIII’s marriages were inquisitions in which the king himself and his queens were defendants. Trials of Alice Kyteler, Margery Kempe, Eleanor Cobham, and Anne Askew are explained, as are the unjust trials condemning Bishop Reginald Pecock of error and heresy (1457-59) and Richard Hunne for defending English Bibles (1514). He deals with the trials of Lutheran dissidents at the time of Thomas More’s chancellorship, and trials of bishops under Edward VI and Queen Mary, including those against Stephen Gardiner and Thomas Cranmer. Under Queen Elizabeth, Kelly shows, there was a return to the letter of papal canon law (which was not true of the papal curia). In his conclusion he responds to the strictures of Sir John Baker against inquisitorial procedure, and argues that it compares favorably to the common-law trial by jury.
"The sheer breadth of coverage is intriguing, the technicalities of canonistic procedure are worthy of serious attention, and the evidence employed is extensive. I know of no recent study which would compete, especially with its depth of coverage. This is a significant contribution."~Thomas Izbicki, Librarian emeritus, Rutgers University
"A masterly survey of English inquisitorial procedure in church courts from the late twelfth to the sixteenth century by one of the world’s leading experts. Will be essential reading for scholars working on church-state relations and the criminal law in the anglophone tradition for at least a generation."~John Guy, University of Cambridge
"’Inquisition’ ignites the imagination with images of deviations from due process, torture, and the burning of heretics. Henry Ansgar Kelly’s body of scholarship has been instrumental at both contextualizing and countering the historical record. His Criminal-Inquisitorial Trials in English Church Courts rewrites the narrative, providing a much-needed change to often-repeated assumptions about the influence of French heresy inquisitors, and the operating of inquisitorial procedure and trials in England from the Fourth Lateran Council in the thirteenth century through Queen Elizabeth I’s accession to the throne in the sixteenth century. After tracing the origins of inquisitorial procedure and safeguards to the rights of defendants, Kelly argues masterfully through a variety of case studies that inquisitorial due process was upheld in England. While most inquisitorial trials involved sexual misconduct and criminous clerks—as opposed to heresy—even the cases of religious dissidents did not commonly suffer from the procedural deviations found in the heresy trials on mainland Europe, such as self-incrimination and anonymous witnesses. Criminal-Inquisitorial Trials in English Church Courts balances the scales of justice, setting forth what the inquisitorial system in England was and what it was not."~Melodie H. Eichbauer, Florida Gulf Coast University
"This excellent and lucid book is a major contribution to the CUA Press’s ongoing publications on medieval canon law. Kelly’s account of the development and spread of inquisitorial criminal legal procedure from the early thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries clearly locates England within a continental tradition while at the same time making clear the distinctive character of the English case. This is the first exhaustive study of an important dimension of English legal and paralegal history between 1200 and 1600."~Damian Smith, Saint Louis University