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Medieval Sourcebook:
The Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges, 1438

In 1438 the King of France, Charles VII, called a Synod which met in the city of Bourges. Among the decrees of that synod was the "Pragmatic Sanction," which placed significant restrictions on the powers of the pope.

The king declares that, according to the oath taken at their coronation, kings are bound to defend and protect the holy church, its ministers and its sacred offices, and zealously to guard in their kingdoms the decrees of the holy fathers. The general council assembled at Basel to continue the work begun by the councils of Constance and Siena, and to labor for the reform of the Church, in both its head and members, having had presented to it numerous decrees and regulations, with the request that it accept them and cause them to be observed in the kingdom, the king has convened an assembly composed of prelates and other ecclesiastics representing the clergy of France and of the Dauphiné. He has presided in person over its deliberations, surrounded by his son, the princes of the blood, and the principal lords of the realm. He has listened to the ambassadors of the Pope and the council. From the examination of prelates and the most renowned doctors,(1) and from the thoroughgoing discussions of the assembly, it appears that, from the falling into decay of the early discipline, the churches of the kingdom have been made to suffer from all sorts of insatiable greed; that the riserve and the grace expectative (2) have given rise to grievous abuses and unbearable burdens; that the most notable and best endowed benefices(3) have fallen into the hands of unknown men, who do not conform at all to the requirement of residence(4) and who do not understand the speech of the people committed to their care, and consequently are neglectful of the needs of their souls, like mercenaries who dream of nothing whatever but temporal gain; that thus the worship of Christ is declining, piety is enfeebled, the laws of the Church are violated, and buildings for religious uses are falling in ruin. The clergy abandon their theological studies, because there is no hope of advancement. Conflicts without number rage over the possession of benefices, plurality of which is coveted by an execrable ambition.(5) Simony is everywhere glaring;(6) the prelates and other collators are pillaged of their rights and their ministry; the rights of patrons are impaired; and the wealth of the kingdom goes into the hands of foreigners, to the detriment of the clergy.

Since, in the judgment of the prelates and other ecclesiastics, the decrees of the holy council of Basel seemed to afford a suitable remedy for all these evils, after mature deliberation, we have decided to accept them-some without change, others with certain modifications-without wishing to cast doubt upon the power and authority of the council, but at the same time taking account of the necessities of the occasion and of the customs of the nation.

1.General councils shall be held every ten years, in places to be designated by the pope.

2.The authority of the general council is superior to that of the pope in all that pertains to the faith, the extirpation of schism, and the reform of the Church in both head and members.

3.Election is reestablished for ecclesiastical offices, but the king, or the princes of his kingdom, without violating the canonical rules, may make recommendations when elections are to occur in the chapters or the monasteries.

4. The popes shall not have the right to reserve the collation of benefices, or to bestow any benefice before it becomes vacant.

5. All grants of benefices made by the pope in virtue of the droit d'expectative are hereby declared null. Those who shall have received such benefices shall be punished by the secular power. The popes shall not have the right to interfere by the creation of canonships.

6. Appeals to Rome are prohibited until every other grade of jurisdiction shall have been exhausted.

7. Annates are prohibited (7).*


(1) "Doctors" means here professors of theology.

(2) "Réserve" was the practice of the raising money from offices over which the pope had no jurisdiction; "droit d'expectative" was raising money from offices which were not yet vacant.

(3) A "benefice" was an endowment set aside for the maintenance of clergy.

(4) "Residence" meant that the holder of a benefice had to actually do the work associated with that benefice.

(5) "Plurality" was when a cleric held more than one benefice.

(6) "Simony" is the buying and selling of Church offices.

(7) "Annates" were the first years revenues from an office. These were to be sent to the pope.


From: Milton Viorst, ed., The Great Documents of Western Civilization (New York; date?) pp. 77-78 .

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

© Paul Halsall, July 1998
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