Papal judge-delegate

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A papal judge delegate was a type of judicial appointment created during the 12th century by the medieval papacy where the pope would designate a local judge, often an ecclesiastic, to decide a case that had been appealed to the papal court. [1]


The system began during the pontificate of Pope Pascal II (1099–1118), when the first records appear of the papacy delegating some of its judicial authority to others for the resolution of cases. At first, it was used in order to expedite the discovery of local knowledge of cases, rather than to reduce the papal court's workload. Examples of this early stage include a case from Wales, during the pontificate of Pope Innocent II. This was a dispute between Bernard, the Bishop of St Davids, and Urban, the Bishop of Llandaff, and was apparently delegated to acquire local knowledge of the dispute. It is only later, during the pontificate of Pope Alexander III that the papal courts appears to have recognized that the delegation system could also reduce the volume of cases that had to be decided at Rome. [2] [3]

Pope Paschal II pope

Pope Paschal II, born Ranierius, was head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 13 August 1099 to his death in 1118.

Pope Innocent II 12th-century Catholic pope

Pope Innocent II, born Gregorio Papareschi, was head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 14 February 1130 to his death in 1143. His election was controversial and the first eight years of his reign were marked by a struggle for recognition against the supporters of Antipope Anacletus II. He reached an understanding with Lothair II, Holy Roman Emperor who supported him against Anacletus and whom he crowned King of the Romans. Innocent went on to preside over the Second Lateran council.

Bishop of St Davids Welsh bishop

The Bishop of St Davids is the ordinary of the Church in Wales Diocese of St Davids.

An important factor in the growth of the papal judges-delegate system was the corresponding growth of the papal judicial system during the 12th century. [4] Often, cases referred to a judge-delegate were those that were particularly complex, and where the local knowledge of the appointee would be helpful. The appointment ended with the resolution of the case he had been appointed to decide. [1]

The numbers of judges-delegate increased greatly during the 1160s and 1170s. English records for this time are particularly abundant, with a number of English bishops – including Gilbert Foliot, Bartholomew Iscanus, Roger of Worcester – serving over 60 times as judge-delegate for the papacy. [1] Conflicts often arose between papal legates and judges-delegate, and Pope Celestine III ruled that a papal legate could not change the decision of a judge-delegate but was allowed to confirm or implement the decision. Celestine did indicate that the legate was higher in rank than the judge, although he was sovereign in matters relating to his appointed case. [1] Alexander III's decrees on the judicial delegation system form the basis for the description of the system in Pope Gregory IX's Decretales which were published in 1234. Of the 43 items dealing with papal judges-delegate in the Decretales, 18 are Alexander's and a further 15 are from Pope Innocent III. [3]

Gilbert Foliot 12th-century English monk and bishop

Gilbert Foliot was a medieval English monk and prelate, successively Abbot of Gloucester, Bishop of Hereford and Bishop of London. Born to an ecclesiastical family, he became a monk at Cluny Abbey in France at about the age of twenty. After holding two posts as prior in the Cluniac order he was appointed Abbot of Gloucester Abbey in 1139, a promotion influenced by his kinsman Miles of Gloucester. During his tenure as abbot he acquired additional land for the abbey, and may have helped to fabricate some charters—legal deeds attesting property ownership—to gain advantage in a dispute with the Archbishops of York. Although Foliot recognised Stephen as the King of England, he may have also sympathised with the Empress Matilda's claim to the throne. He joined Matilda's supporters after her forces captured Stephen, and continued to write letters in support of Matilda even after Stephen's release.

Bartholomew Iscanus 12th-century Bishop of Exeter

Bartholomew Iscanus was a medieval Bishop of Exeter. He came from Normandy and after being a clerk of the Archbishop of Canterbury, was made Archdeacon of Exeter in 1155. He became bishop of Exeter in 1161. He was known as having excellence in canon law and theology and during his time as bishop visited all the parishes in the diocese to investigate how well-managed they were.

Roger of Worcester was Bishop of Worcester from 1163 to 1179. He had a major role in the controversy between Henry II of England, who was Roger's cousin, and Archbishop Thomas Becket.

Papal documents referred to the delegates as iudices delegati. [1] A further development was the grant of exemptions from appointment as judge-delegate, with such exemptions first appearing around 1140. By the end of the 12th century, such exemptions were sought after by local ecclesiastics. [3]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Robinson Papacy pp. 175–176
  2. Sayers Papal Judges Delegate p. 9
  3. 1 2 3 Robinson Papacy pp. 192–194
  4. Harper-Bill "Anglo-Norman Church" Companion to the Anglo-Norman World p. 181

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