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The Common Law Character of English Charters: Spontaneous Order in the Constitutions of Clarendon (1164)


  • Robert Mulligan



The Constitutions of Clarendon are presented as an illustration of the common-law character of English charters. Although formally renounced and abrogated shortly after ratification, the Constitutions remain a fundamental basis for the separation of church and state. Analysis of the historical literature reveals that spontaneous order subsumes many kinds of positive law and designed order. The emergence of spontaneous order in common law is described, defined, and contrasted with positive legislation. Spontaneous order allowed secular society to grow and flourish. It is acknowledged that charters played a secondary role in making positive law, and were precursors to modern positive legislation. The implications of positive versus spontaneously evolved law for economic efficiency are discussed. The historical context and aftermath of the Constitutions is presented, and their content is discussed and analyzed from an economic perspective. The key legal problem the Constitutions addressed was the relationship between competing secular and canon-law jurisdictions, which suffered from inherent conflicts-of-interest. This provided economic decision makers perverse incentives. Prior to the Constitutions, the Church was able to act as plaintiff and judge in civil disputes and intimidate litigants by exercising criminal jurisdiction. Finally, the Constitutions are discussed and presented as an example of spontaneously evolved law, which promoted greater entrepreneurial freedom and economic efficiency. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2005

Suggested Citation

  • Robert Mulligan, 2005. "The Common Law Character of English Charters: Spontaneous Order in the Constitutions of Clarendon (1164)," Constitutional Political Economy, Springer, vol. 16(3), pages 285-311, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:copoec:v:16:y:2005:i:3:p:285-311
    DOI: 10.1007/s10602-005-2835-0

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