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Benefit of Clergy

One sequel to Becket's* politically disastrous murder was Henry II's concession to all English tonsured clergy and nuns of trial for all criminal offenses, except forest offenses, in a church court instead of in a secular court with its heavier punishments (1176). Edward III (1327-77) included certain lay first offenders who could read-usually the “Neck verse” (Ps. 51:1). Many in later medieval England considered benefit of clergy was open to abuse, and the sixteenth- century English Reformation saw its systematic erosion. Major crimes were excepted: guilty clerics could be imprisoned (and under George I [1714-27] transported). In 1827 the privilege was abolished.

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