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Author(s): Peter Johnstone
During the fourth century Roman emperor Constantine created laws exempting clergymen who committed a felony from having to answer for their actions before a secular court. This set about 1500 years of use and abuse of what became known as Benefit of Clergy. The unusual legal excuse traveled to England where by the middle of the thirteenth century men who were no more than church doormen or bishop’s messengers could avoid the executioner’s gallows and walk free after a brief appearance before the Christian court.