Articles XXXII to XXXIX: Miscellaneous
Of the Marriage of Priests
The Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Danish kingdoms that preceded a unified England certainly did not enforce clerical celibacy, and it seems that even some senior bishops, such as Stigand, Edward the Confessor's Archbishop of Canterbury were married men. Clerical celibacy was only enforced after the Norman conquest and remained the norm for the rest of the Middle Ages, though as much in the breech as in the observance. Clerical unchastity was common enough for it to be used to extract a laugh or two from the reader of Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales.' The Lollards opposed clerical celibacy during the 14th century, and it was an open secret that many senior clergy had irregular or illicit relationships with women, including William Wareham, and Thomas Wolsey. Ironically, Henry VIII was opposed to clerical marriage, which was a major inconvenience to Thomas Cranmer, who had been married since 1532, illegally so far as English Law was concerned, to a niece of Osiander in Nurnberg who he had met whilst serving as Henry's ambassador there.
Clerical celibacy, or rather the lack of it, was an open scandal in England in the early 16th century, and it was clear that something had to be done, which it duly was in 1548 when clerical marriage was legalized by Edward VI's first parliament. It seems that about a third of the English clergy took wives, or regularized their existing sleeping arrangements, between 1548 and 1553, and this one measure, it has been asserted, probably did more to popularize reform with the clergy than any other. Clerical celibacy returned under Mary I, but when the reformed Church returned under Elizabeth, clerical marriage was again legal, though the Queen herself seems to have been uncomfortable with married clergy. There was no married Archbishop of Canterbury between Matthew Parker (1559-1575) and the reign of William III (1688-1702), though most parish clergy were married by the 1580s