Front Page Titles (by Subject) * [*61 CHAPTER V.: OF COURTS ECCLESIASTICAL, MILITARY, AND MARITIME. - Commentaries on the Laws of England in Four Books, vol. 2
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* [*61 CHAPTER V.: OF COURTS ECCLESIASTICAL, MILITARY, AND MARITIME. - Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England in Four Books, vol. 2 
Commentaries on the Laws of England in Four Books. Notes selected from the editions of Archibold, Christian, Coleridge, Chitty, Stewart, Kerr, and others, Barron Field’s Analysis, and Additional Notes, and a Life of the Author by George Sharswood. In Two Volumes. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1893).
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OF COURTS ECCLESIASTICAL, MILITARY, AND MARITIME.
Besides the several courts which were treated of in the preceding chapter, and in which all injuries are redressed that fall under the cognizance of the common law of England, or that spirit of equity which ought to be its constant attendant, there still remain some other courts of a jurisdiction equally public and general, which take cognizance of other species of injuries of an ecclesiastical, military, and maritime nature; and therefore are properly distinguished by the title of ecclesiastical courts, courts military, and maritime.
1. Before I descend to consider particular ecclesiastical courts, I must first of all in general premise that in the time of our Saxon ancestors there was no sort of distinction between the lay and the ecclesiastical jurisdiction: the county-court was as much a spiritual as a temporal tribunal: the rights of the church were ascertained and asserted at the same time, and by the same judges, as the rights of the laity. For this purpose the bishop of the diocese, and the alderman, or in his absence the sheriff of the county, used to sit together in the county-court, and had there the cognizance of all causes, as well ecclesiastical as civil: a superior deference being paid to the bishop’s opinion in spiritual matters, and to that of the lay judges in temporal.(a) This union of power was very advantageous to them both; the presence of the **62]bishop added weight and reverence to the sheriff’s proceedings; and the authority of the sheriff was equally useful to the bishop, by enforcing obedience to his decrees in such refractory offenders as would otherwise have despised the thunder of mere ecclesiastical censures.
But so moderate and rational a plan was wholly inconsistent with those views of ambition that were then forming by the court of Rome. It soon became an established maxim in the papal system of policy, that all ecclesiastical persons and all ecclesiastical causes should be solely and entirely subject to ecclesiastical jurisdiction only; which jurisdiction was supposed to be lodged in the first place and immediately in the pope, by divine indefeasible right and investiture from Christ himself, and derived from the pope to all inferior tribunals. Hence the canon law lays it down as a rule, that “sacerdotes a regibus honorandi sunt, non judicandi;”(b) and places an emphatic reliance on a fabulous tale which it tells of the emperor Constantine, that when some petitions were brought to him, imploring the aid of his authority against certain of his bishops accused of oppression and injustice, he caused (says the holy canon) the petitions to be burnt in their presence, dismissing them with this valediction, “ite et inter vos causas vestras discutite, quia dignum non est ut nos judicemus Deos.”(c)
It was not, however, till after the Norman conquest that this doctrine was received in England; when William I. (whose title was warmly espoused by the monasteries, which he liberally endowed, and by the foreign clergy, whom he brought over in shoals from France and Italy and planted in the best preferments of the English church) was at length prevailed upon to establish this fatal encroachment, and separate the ecclesiastical court from the civil: whether actuated by principles of bigotry, or by those of a more refined policy, in order to discountenance the laws of king Edward, abounding with the spirit of Saxon liberty, is not altogether **63]certain. But the latter, if not the cause, was undoubtedly the consequence, of this separation; for the Saxon laws were soon overborne by the Norman justiciaries, when the county-court fell into disregard by the bishop’s withdrawing his presence, in obedience to the charter of the Conqueror;(d) which prohibited any spiritual cause from being tried in the secular courts, and commanded the suitors to appear before the bishop only, whose decisions were directed to conform to the canon law.(e)
King Henry the First, at his accession, among other restorations of the laws of king Edward the Confessor, revived this of the union of the civil and eccle siastical courts.(f) Which was, according to Sir Edward Coke,(g) after the great heat of the conquest was past, only a restitution of the antient law of England. This, however, was ill relished by the popish clergy, who, under the guidance of that arrogant prelate, archbishop Anselm, very early disapproved of a measure that put them on a level with the profane laity, and subjected spiritual men and causes to the inspection of the secular magistrates: and therefore in their synod at Westminster, 3 Hen. I., they ordained that no bishop should attend the discussion of temporal causes;(h) which soon dissolved this newly-effected union. And when, upon the death of king Henry the First, *[*64the usurper Stephen was brought in and supported by the clergy, we find one article of the oath which they imposed upon him was, that ecclesiastical persons and ecclesiastical causes should be subject only to the bishop’s jurisdiction.(i) And as it was about that time that the contest and emulation began between the laws of England and those of Rome,(k) the temporal courts adhering to the former, and the spiritual adopting the latter as their rule of proceeding, this widened the breach between them, and made a coalition afterwards impracticable; which probably would else have been effected at the general reformation of the church.
In briefly recounting the various species of ecclesiastical courts, or, as they are often styled, courts christian, (curiæ christianitatis,) I shall begin with the lowest, and so ascend gradually to the supreme court of appeal.(l)
1. The archdeacon’s court is the most inferior court in the whole eccleasiastical polity. It is held in the archdeacon’s absence before a judge appointed by himself, and called his official; and its jurisdiction is sometimes in concurrence with, sometimes in exclusion of, the bishop’s court of the diocese. From hence, however, by statute 24 Hen. VIII. c. 12, an appeal lies to that of the bishop.
2. The consistory court of every diocesan bishop is held in their several cathedrals, drals, for the trial of all ecclesiastical causes arising within their respective dioceses. The bishop’s chancellor, or his commissary, is the judge; and from his sentence an appeal lies, by virtue of the same statute, to the archbishop of each province respectively.
3. The court of arches is a court of appeal belonging to the archbishop of Canterbury; whereof the judge is called *[*65the dean of the arches, because he antiently held his court in the church of Saint Mary le bow, (sancta Maria de arcubus,) though all the principal spiritual courts are now holden at doctors’ commons. His proper jurisdiction is only over the thirteen peculiar parishes belonging to the archbishop in London; but the office of dean of the arches having been for a long time united with that of the archbishop’s principal official, he now, in right of the last-mentioned office, (as doth also the official principal of the archbishop of York,) receives and determines appeals from the sentences of all inferior ecclesiastical courts within the province. And from him an appeal lies to the king in chancery, (that is, to a court of delegates appointed under the king’s great seal,) by statute 25 Hen. VIII. c. 19, as supreme head of the English church, in the place of the bishop of Rome, who formerly exercised this jurisdiction; which circumstance alone will furnish the reason why the popish clergy were so anxious to separate the spiritual court from the temporal.
4. The court of peculiars is a branch of and annexed to the court of arches. It has a jurisdiction over all those parishes dispersed through the province of Canterbury in the midst of other dioceses, which are exempt from the ordinary’s jurisdiction and subject to the metropolitan only. All ecclesiastical causes arising within these peculiar or exempt jurisdictions are, originally, cognizable by this court; from which an appeal lay formerly to the pope, but now, by the statute 25 Hen. VIII. c. 19, to the king in chancery.
5. The prerogative court is established for the trial of all testamentary causes where the deceased hath left bona notabilia within two different dioceses. In which case the probate of wills belongs, as we have formerly seen,(m) to the archbishop of the province, by way of special prerogative. And all causes relating to the wills, administrations, or legacies of such persons are, originally, cognizable herein, before a judge appointed by the archbishop, called the judge *[*66of the prerogative court: from whom an appeal lies, by statute 25 Hen. VIII. c. 19, to the king in chancery, instead of the pope, as formerly.
I pass by such ecclesiastical courts as have only what is called a voluntary, and not a contentious, jurisdiction; which are merely concerned in doing or selling what no one opposes, and which keep an open office for that purpose, (as granting dispensations, licenses, faculties, and other remnants of the papal extortions,) but do not concern themselves with administering redress to any injury: and shall proceed to.
6. The great court of appeal in all ecclesiastical causes, viz., the court of delegates, judices delegati, appointed by the king’s commission under his great seal, and issuing out of chancery, to represent his royal person, and hear all appeals to him made by virtue of the before-mentioned statute of Henry VIII. This commission is frequently filled with lords, spiritual and temporal, and always with judges of the courts at Westminster, and doctors of the civil law. Appeals to Rome were always looked upon by the English nation, even in the times of popery, with an evil eye, as being contrary to the liberty of the subject, the honour of the crown, and the independence of the whole realm; and were first introduced in very turbulent times in the sixteenth year of king Stephen, (ad 1151,) at the same period (Sir Henry Spelman observes) that the civil and canon laws were first imported into England.(n) But, in a few years after, to obviate this growing practice, the constitutions made at Clarendon, 11 Hen. II., on account of the disturbances raised by archbishop Becket and other zealots of the holy see, expressly declare,(o) that appeals in causes ecclesiastical ought to lie, from the archdeacon to the diocesan; from the diocesan to the archbishop of the province; and from the archbishop to the king; and are not to proceed any further without special license from the crown. But the unhappy advantage that was given, in the reigns of king John and his son Henry the Third, to the encroaching **67]power of the pope, who was ever vigilant to improve all opportunities of extending his jurisdiction hither, at length riveted the custom of appealing to Rome in causes ecclesiastical so strongly, that it never could be thoroughly broken off till the grand rupture happened in the reign of Henry the Eighth; when all the jurisdiction usurped by the pope in matters ecclesiastical was restored to the crown, to which it originally belonged: so that the statute 25 Hen. VIII. was but declaratory of the antient law of the realm.(p) But in case the king himself be party in any of these suits, the appeal does not then lie to him in chancery, which would be absurd; but, by the statute 24 Hen. VIII. c. 12, to all the bishops of the realm, assembled in the upper house of convocation.1
7. A commission of review is a commission sometimes granted, in extraordinary cases, to revise the sentence of the court of delegates, when it is apprehended they have been led into a material error. This commission the king may grant, although the statutes 24 & 25 Hen. VIII. before cited, declare the sentence of the delegates definitive: because the pope, as supreme head by the canon law, used to grant such commission of review; and such authority as the pope heretofore exerted is now annexed to the crown(q) by statutes 26 Hen. VIII. c. 1, and 1 Eliz. c. 1. But it is not matter of right, which the subject may demand ex debito justitiæ, but merely a matter of favour, and which therefore is often denied.
These are now the principal courts of ecclesiastical jurisdiction: none of which are allowed to be courts of record; no more than was another much more formidable jurisdiction, but now deservedly annihilated, viz., the court of the king’s high commission in causes ecclesiastical. This court was erected and united to the legal power(r) by virtue of the statute 1 Eliz. c. 1, instead of a larger jurisdiction which had before been exercised under the pope’s authority. It was intended *[*68to vindicate the dignity and peace of the church, by reforming, ordering, and correcting the ecclesiastical state and persons, and all manner of errors, heresies, schisms, abuses, offences, contempts, and enormities. Under the shelter of which very general words, means were found, in that and the two succeeding reigns, to vest in the high commissioners extraordinary and almost despotic powers of fining and imprisoning; which they exerted much beyond the degree of the offence itself, and frequently over offences by no means of spiritual cognizance. For these reasons this court was justly abolished by statute 16 Car. I. c. 11. And the weak and illegal attempt that was made to revive it, during the reign of king James the Second, served only to hasten that infatuated prince’s ruin.
II. Next, as to the courts military. The only court of this kind known to, and established by, the permanent laws of the land, is the court of chivalry, formerly held before the lord high constable and earl marshal of England jointly, but since the attainder of Stafford, duke of Buckingham, under Henry VIII., and the consequent extinguishment of the office of lord high constable, it hath usually, with respect to civil matters, been held before the earl marshal only.(s) This court, by statute 13 Ric. II. c. 2, hath cognizance of contracts and other matters touching deeds of arms and war, as well out of the realm as within it. And from its sentences an appeal lies immediately to the king in person.(t) This court was in great reputation in the times of pure chivalry, and afterwards during our connexions with the continent, by the territories which our princes held in France: but is now grown almost entirely out of use, on account of the feebleness of its jurisdiction, and want of power to enforce its judgments, as it can neither fine nor imprison, not being a court of record.(u)
III. The maritime courts, or such as have power and jurisdiction to determine all maritime injuries, arising upon the *[*69seas, or in parts out of the reach of the common law, are only the court of admiralty and its courts of appeal. The court of admiralty is held before the lord high admiral of England, or his deputy, who is called the judge of the court. According to Sir Henry Spelman,(w) and Lambard,(x) it was first of all erected by king Edward the Third. Its proceedings are according to the method of the civil law, like those of the ecclesiastical courts; upon which account it is usually held at the same place with the superior ecclesiastical courts, at doctors’ commons in London.2 It is no court of record, any more than the spiritual courts. From the sentences of the admiralty judge an appeal always lay, in ordinary course, to the king in chancery, as may be collected from statute 25 Hen. VIII. c. 19 which directs the appeal from the archbishop’s courts to be determined by per sons named in the king’s commission, “like as in case of appeal from the admiral court.” But this is also expressly declared by statute 8 Eliz. c. 5, which enacts, that upon appeal made to the chancery, the sentence definitive of the delegates appointed by commission shall be final.
Appeals from the vice-admiralty courts in America, and our other plantations and settlements, may be brought before the courts of admiralty in England, as being a branch of the admiral’s jurisdiction, though they may also be brought before the king in council.3 But in case of prize vessels, taken in time of war, in any part of the world, and condemned in any courts of admiralty or vice-admiralty as lawful prize, the appeal lies to certain commissioners of appeals consisting chiefly of the privy council, and not to judges delegates. And this by virtue of divers treaties with foreign nations; by which particular courts are established in all the maritime countries of Europe for the decision of this question, whether lawful prize or not;4 for, this being a question between subjects of different states, it belongs entirely to the law of nations, and not to the municipal laws of either country, to determine it. The original court, to which this question is **70]permitted in England, is the court of admiralty;5 and the court of appeal is in effect the king’s privy council, the members of which are, in consequence of treaties, commissioned under the great seal for this purpose. In 1748, for the more speedy determination of appeals, the judges of the courts of Westminster hall, though not privy counsellors, were added to the commission then in being. But doubts being conceived concerning the validity of that commission on account of such addition, the same was confirmed by statute 22 Geo. II. c. 3, with a proviso that no sentence given under it should be valid unless a majority of the commissioners present were actually privy counsellors. But this did not, I apprehend, extend to any future commissions: and such an addition became indeed totally unnecessary in the course of the war which commenced in 1756; since during the whole of that war, the commission of appeals was regularly attended and all its decisions conducted by a judge whose masterly acquaintance with the law of nations was known and revered by every state in Europe.(y)6
[(a) ]Celeberrimo huic conventui episcopus et aldermannus inter sunto; quorum alter jura divina, alter humana populum edoceto. LL. Eadgar. c. 5.
[(b) ]Decret. part. 2, caus. 11. qu. 1, c. 41.
[(c) ] Ibid.
[(d) ] Hale, Hist. C. L. 102. Selden. in Eadm. p. 6, l. 24. 4 Inst. 259. Wilk. LL. Angl. Sax. 292.
[(e) ]Nullus episcopus vel archdeaconus de legibus episcopalibus amplius in hundret placita teneant, nec causam, quæ ad regimen animarum pertinet ad judicium secularium hominum adducant: sed quicunque secundum episcopales leges, de quacunque causa vel culpa interpellatus fuerit, ad locum, quem ad hoc episcopus elegerit et nominaverit, veniat; ibique de causa sua respondeat; et non secundum hundret, sed secundum canones et episcopales leges, rectum Deo et episcopo suo faciat.
[(f) ]Volo et præcipio, ut omnes de comitatu eant ad comitatus et hundreda, sicut fecerint tempore regis Edwardi. Cart. Hen. I. in Spelm. Cod. vet. legum, 305. And what is here obscurely hinted at is fully explained by his code of laws extant in the red book of the exchequer, though in general but of doubtful authority. Cap. 8. Generalia comitatuum placita certis locis et vicibus teneantur. Intersint autem episcopi, comites, &c.; et agantur primo debita veræ christianitatis jura, secunda regis placita, prostremo causæ sigulorum dignis satisfactionibus expleantur.
[(g) ] 2 Inst. 70.
[(h) ]Ne episcopi sæcularium placitorum officium suscipiant Spelm. Cod. 301.
[(i) ] Spelm. Cod. 301.
[(k) ] See book i. introd. 1.
[(l) ] For further particulars, see Burn’s Ecclesiastical Law, Wood’s Institute of the Common Law, and Oughton’s Ordo Judiciorum.
[(m) ] Book ii. ch. 32.
[(n) ]Cod. vet. leg. 315.
[(o) ] Ch. 8.
[(p) ] 4 Inst. 341.
[1 ] No such assembly can exist as all the bishops of the realm in any house of convocation. But the statute says that the appeal shall be to the bishops, abbots, and priors of the upper house of the convocation of the province in which the cause of the suit arises. Therefore, in the province of York, the appeal lies now to the archbishop and his three bishops; in the province of Canterbury, to the rest of the bench of bishops. See 1 Book, 280, n. 36. When the delegates are equally divided in opinion, so that no judgment can be pronounced, a commission of adjuncts may issue. See an instance referred to in 4 Burr. 2254. A commission of review was applied for in the court of chancery in Michaelmas Term, 1798, when the chancellor, upon hearing the arguments of civilians and barristers respecting the judgment of the delegates, determined to recommend to the king to grant a commission of review. See 4 Ves. Jr. 186.—Christian.
But the jurisdiction of the court of delegates has, by statutes 2 & 3 W. IV. c. 92 and 3 & 4 W. IV. c. 41, been transferred to the judicial committee of the privy council, which is now the great court of appeal in all ecclesiastical causes. This court is composed of the president of the council, the lord chancellor, the chief justice of the court of King’s Bench, the master of the rolls, the lord-justices of the court of appeal in chancery, vice-chancellors, (if privy councillors,) the chief justice of the Common Pleas, the lord chief baron, the judge of the prerogative court, the judge of the high court of admiralty, the members of the privy council who shall have held any of these offices, and two other privy councillors, who may be appointed by sign manual; and two privy councillors who shall have held the office of judge in the East Indies or any of the king’s dominions beyond seas shall attend the sittings of the judicial committee. By stat. 6 & 7 Vict. c. 38, appeals may be heard by not less than three of its members, under a special order of the queen. This court is a court of record, and has full power to punish contempts and enforce its decrees, to award costs and have them taxed.—Stewart.
[(q) ] Ibid.
[(r) ] 4 Inst. 324.
[(s) ] 1 Lev. 230. Show. Parl. Cas. 60.
[(t) ] 4 Inst. 125.
[(u) ] 7 Mod. 127.
[(w) ] Gloss 13.
[(x) ]Archeion 41.
[2 ] The practice of the court of admiralty has been improved and its jurisdiction extended by statute 3 & 4 Vict. c. 65.—Stewart.
[3 ] But now, by stat. 3 & 4 W. IV. c. 41, s. 2, all appeals are to be made to the queen in council from the court of admiralty or vice-admiralty, or any other court in America and other her majesty’s dominions abroad; and, by s. 3, all appeals may be referred to the judicial committee.—Stewart.
[4 ] And, in order to give effect to this, the prize acts passed at the commencement of a war usually provide that ships and goods taken from the enemy, whether by the royal navy or by privateers, must first be condemned in some court of admiralty as lawful prize before any right in point of solid enjoyment can accrue to the captors; and specific directions are prescribed for duly proceeding to such sentence. See the 19 Geo. III. c. 67. 1 Wils. 229. 4 Rob. 55.—Chitty.
[5 ] This seems incorrect; for questions of this nature are tried in the prize court, which is quite distinct from the admiralty court, otherwise called the instance court. The whole system of litigation and jurisprudence in the prize court is peculiar to itself. See Doug. 594. The judge of the admiralty court, though also the judge of the prize court, is appointed by a commission under the great seal, which enumerates particularly, as well as generally, every object of his jurisdiction, but not a word of prize. See Doug. 614. The judge of the prize court is appointed, and the court authorized, by a commission under the great seal directed to him, to will and require the court of admiralty, and the lieutenant and judge of the same court, his surrogate or surrogates, and they are thereby authorized and required to proceed upon all and all manner of captures, seizures, prize, and reprisals, of all ships and goods that are or shall be taken, and to hear and determine according to the course of the admiralty and the law of nations. See id.; and see further, as to the jurisdiction and proceedings in the prize court, post.—Chitty.
[(y) ] See the sentiments of the president Montesquieu and M. Vattel (a subject of the king of Prussia) on the answer transmitted by the English court to his Prussian majesty’s Exposition des Motifs, &c. ad 1753. Montesquieu’s Letters, 5 Mar. 1753. Vattel’s droit de gens, l. 2, c. 7, 84.
[6 ] Lord Mansfield is here alluded to. The answer to the Exposition des Motifs, &c. is signed by Sir G. Lee, judge of the prerogative court, Dr. Paul, advocate-general, Sir D. Ryder attorney, and Sir W. Murray, solicitor-general; but lord Mansfield frequently declared to his friends that it was entirely his own composition. Holliday’s Life of Lord M. p. 424. Montesquieu calls it une réponse sans replique.—Coleridge.
And now, by stat. 3 & 4 W. IV. c. 41, 2, all appeals or applications in prize suits shall be made to the king in council, and, by stat. 6 & 7 Vict. c. 38, may be referred to the judicial committee of the privy council, which is now the great court of appeal as well in all maritime as ecclesiastical matters.—Stewart.
Prior to the Revolution, courts of admiralty existed in most of the colonies which afterwards became the United States. By the Articles of Confederation, Congress was authorized to appoint courts for the trial of piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and to establish courts for receiving and determining finally appeals in all cases of captures. By the constitution of the United States, art. 3, it is provided that the judicial power of the United States shall extend to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction. The cognizance of all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, including cases of captures made within the waters of the United States or within a marine league of the coasts or shores thereof, is now vested in the district courts of the United States. From these courts an appeal lies to the circuit courts, and from thence to the Supreme Court of the United States. Act of Congress 24 Sept. 1789, s. 9. 1 Story’s Laws U. S. 56.—Sharswood.