History GCSE: Henry II, Thomas Becket and the Church Courts

Lawyer Harry Potter investigates the role of the church courts and Henry II’s attempts to deal with the problem.

The church had its own legal system for the clergy called canon law. Punishments were lenient.

Clerics could claim benefit of clergy by reciting Psalm 51.

Royal justice was unable to prosecute the clergy.

Henry appointed Thomas Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury in an attempt the get the church to conform and submit to his authority.

Harry Potter then describes the murder of Becket and its consequences.

Benefit of clergy was only abolished in 1827.

This short film is from the BBC series, The Strange Case of the Law.

Teacher Notes

Students could identify key words while watching this short film.

Why did Henry II consider church courts such a problem?

How could ‘benefit of clergy’ be abused?

What motives might the church have in making Becket a martyr and saint?

Curriculum Notes

This short film will be relevant for teaching GCSE history and social studies. This topic appears in OCR, AQA, Edexcel, WJEC KS4/GCSE in England and Wales, CCEA GCSE in Northern Ireland and SQA National 4/5 in Scotland.

More from The Strange Case of the Law:

Habeas Corpus and Slavery
John Lilburne and Habeas Corpus
Saxon Law - Compensation
Saxon Law - Courts
Saxon Law - Punishments
Star Chamber and the Rack
The Bloody Code
The Conventicle Act of 1664 and the Independence of the Jury
The Founding of the Police Force
The Jury
The Petition of Right and Habeas Corpus
Saxon Law - Trial by Ordeal