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Lanfranc served as archbishop of Canterbury under William the Conquerer. He reformed the English church, established strong church-state relations, and introduced components of Roman and Canon Law to England. Under William's reign, he laid the foundation for what succeeding theorists would build into England's secular common-law court system. Early U.S. law derived some elements from this system.
Lanfranc was born in about 1005 in Pavia, Italy. He studied law in Pavia and became a respected scholar, principally because of his studies in Roman Law, which was a subject of growing interest in Italy at the time.
Lanfranc established a school at Avranches, Normandy, and taught for three years, until about 1042. After being attacked and almost killed by a highway robber, he went into seclusion at Saint Stephens Abbey at Bec, a newly established monastery. After three years of total seclusion, he returned to teaching, this time at the monastery. He taught there for eighteen years, earning high respect throughout Europe as an instructor of theology. The school became one of the most famous in Europe under his leadership. The future pope Alexander II was among his students.
When William the Conquerer decided to marry Matilda of Flanders, Lanfranc declared that the union would be a violation of canon law. Because of Lanfranc's strong opposition, William threatened to exile him. Lanfranc eventually gave up his stand against the marriage. In about 1051 William married Matilda, despite a papal ban on the union. Lanfranc sought support from the pope and engineered an eventual reconciliation of the papacy with the king. Six years after the wedding, William received the pope's approval to marry Matilda. In 1063 the grateful king appointed Lanfranc the first abbot of Saint Stephens.
Lanfranc also successfully lobbied for papal support for William's subsequent invasion of England. Because of these efforts, Lanfranc became William's closest and most trusted adviser by the time of the invasion in 1066, which resulted in the Norman Conquest.
In 1070 William appointed Lanfranc archbishop of Canterbury and chief justiciar. In the latter capacity, Lanfranc worked as a viceroy, or representative of the king, alongside William and when William was away from court. To reinforce William's dominance as ruler of England, Lanfranc replaced many English bishops with Normans. He also defeated an effort by the archbishop-elect of York to declare independence from Canterbury. He supported absolute Veto power for the king and helped lay the precedent for trying bishops before secular courts.
"You can offer God no greater or more pleasing gift than your desire to govern divine and human affairs by the appropriate laws."
Lanfranc supported papal sovereignty and protected the church from secular influences. He also helped William establish independence for the English church. In 1076 he wrote an important ordinance that separated secular courts from ecclesiastical courts. In addition, he reformed guidelines for the marriage of priests, established ecclesiastical courts, and strengthened monasteries. He died May 24, 1089. Lanfranc brought to England an understanding of canon and Roman law, which had been more widely embraced in continental Europe. Although he did not replace England's court system with Roman law, he introduced components of that system to England's court system.
Lanfranc's efforts laid the foundation for important writings on English Law in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In the twelfth century, the first major text on the Common Law was written, reputedly by Ranulf Glanvill (his authorship is now disputed). In the thirteenth century, writings by Henry de Bracton built further on the common law with principles from both Roman (or civil) law and canon law. These works were important elements in the establishment of England's eventual common-law system. The scholar frederic w. maitland said that Lanfranc's influence was responsible for "the early precipitation of English law in so coherent a form." The United States borrowed concepts from the English court system that began to develop during the years following the Norman Conquest.
Butler, Denis. 1966. 1066: The Story of a Year. New York: Putnam.
Lloyd, Alan. 1966. The Making of the King, 1066. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
Macdonald, Allan J. 1926. Lanfranc: A Study of His Life, Work, and Writing. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.