High Commission, Court of

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High Commission, Court of. Known as such from c.1570, it emanated from earlier ecclesiastical commissions (after 1547), was given statutory authority (1559), reconstructed (1583), and exercised the ecclesiastical appellate and original jurisdiction of the crown as supreme governor. Originally a visitatorial commission supervising clerical discipline, it became a full-blown court for various lay offences, often political. Extensively used by Whitgift, Bancroft, and Laud, its inquisitorial methods, swift and secret in action, demanding the oath ex officio rather than trial by indictment and jury, were more efficient than diocesan courts and likened by Burghley to the Romish inquisition. Savagely attacked by Coke and 17th-cent. common lawyers, its powers were enhanced (1611). Feared and detested universally, its abolition with Star Chamber (1641) was not revoked (1661), though James II revived it briefly in modified form (1686–8), when it suspended Bishop Compton of London and imposed a catholic president on Magdalen College, Oxford.

Revd Dr William M. Marshall