Thomas Becket and the Constitutions of Clarendon

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Romanesque Art: History, Characteristics & Style

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:05 Positions of Power in England
  • 1:08 Becket Becomes Bishop
  • 2:23 Constitutions of Clarendon
  • 3:39 Becket's Murder
  • 5:12 Lesson Summary
Add to Add to Add to

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Login or Sign up


Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explain the power struggle between Church and State in medieval England. It will focus on King Henry II, Thomas Becket, and the Constitutions of Clarendon.

Positions of Power in England

During the Middle Ages, the Church held extreme power. People were afraid of dying and going to hell, and it was preached that the Church alone held the keys to heaven. For this reason, the Pope held crazy power throughout medieval Europe. Along the same lines, the Archbishop of Canterbury stood right behind the Pope, holding the highest position within the Church of England. Also within England, the King had some real power. With all these power players, it's not hard to see why conflicts often arose.

With the powerful force of the Church and the King both vying for power in England, things could get really a bit hairy. Who was the ultimate authority, the Church or the King? On more than one occasion, this power struggle came to a head. Today we're going to explore one particular time in which this occurred. Its main players were King Henry II of England and Thomas Becket, good friends turned to opponents in the struggle for power.

Becket Becomes Bishop

In the year 1162, Thomas Becket was appointed to the powerful position of Archbishop of Canterbury. Now remember, this meant he was the highest Church official in all of England. He was also a very good friend of King Henry II, the very man who appointed him to his new rule. Like many kings before him, Henry liked having an ally in such a high church position. Making the setup even more fun, both Henry II and Becket loved hunting, socializing, and generally being rather secular. What could be better than having your friend, who just happened to be the Archbishop of Canterbury, in your royal corner? In essence, it was the perfect setup of 'you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours'! Or so Henry II thought.

Unfortunately for Henry II, history tells us Becket was serious about his new position - so serious that he gave up his lavish, fun-filled lifestyle. Even more surprising to the king was that, when push came to shove, Thomas Becket put the Church above his friend, the King. Nowhere was this more plainly seen than in the conflict of the Constitutions of Clarendon.

Constitutions of Clarendon

The Constitutions of Clarendon were an attempt by King Henry II to prove his law was more important than Church law. Seeing the power of the Church growing, Henry II wanted to make it clear that clergymen were still under the jurisdiction of the crown. In other words, law-breaking clergymen, known as criminous clerks, would be forced to answer not just to the church, but to the crown. Going a step further, Henry II's Constitutions of Clarendon also made it illegal for the clergy to appeal to the Pope without first getting express permission from the crown.

Now, at first the clergy of England said 'yes' to the Constitutions. Tradition tells us Becket was very uncomfortable with this decision, but, in deference to the king, he agreed. However, when the residing Pope Alexander said, 'Oh no, I don't think so' to the Constitutions, Thomas Becket reversed his position and also denied the validity of the king's Clarendon Constitutions. In other words, Becket no longer had the king's back. As you can imagine, this didn't sit so well with the king, and Becket, in fear for his life, actually fled from England.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 160 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create An Account