[in-ves-ti-cher, -choor]
investiture, in feudalism, ceremony by which an overlord transferred a fief to a vassal or by which, in ecclesiastical law, an elected cleric received the pastoral ring and staff (the symbols of spiritual office) signifying the transfer of the office. After the oath of fealty, the lord "invested" the vassal with the fief, usually by giving him some symbol of the land or office transferred.

The dispute over clerical investiture was one of the great struggles between church and state in the Middle Ages. The problem stemmed from the dual position of the important bishops and abbots, who were temporal as well as spiritual lords. Thus from early times both king and pope were concerned with clerical election and installation.

History of the Investiture Dispute

When the struggle concerning investiture broke out (late 11th cent.), there was no general agreement as to the powers of the pope and the Holy Roman emperor in installing German bishops; it was only generally recognized that both had rights in the matter. Although investiture meant the ecclesiastical ceremony itself, it also more widely applied to the whole matter of election and installation. Lay investiture was the term used for investiture of clerics by the king or emperor, a layman. The right of a temporal prince to give spiritual power was claimed only by the extremists of the imperial party, but there was wide debate over canonical election, royal assent, and papal assent.

Pope Gregory VII and Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV began the open struggle. The clerical reform movement generated the crisis; it was essential that the church have the power of selecting bishops if church reforms—abolition of simony, clerical marriage, and political and economic abuse—were to be carried out. Holy Roman Emperor Henry III (d. 1056) had cooperated with the reform party, but in the minority of Henry IV, abuses were rife.

The reform party came to feel that complete abolition of lay investiture was the necessary prerequisite for its goals. In 1075, Gregory forbade lay investiture, and the bitter struggle began in earnest. The encouragement of rebellious nobles in Germany and the excommunication of Henry IV were followed by steady warfare. Although only one phase of the contest, investiture was a crucial issue. Especially in such difficult times, the emperor needed power over the bishop-princes. The papacy also maintained its ground.

After the death (1085) of Gregory VII, the argument took a new turn, and after the death (1106) of Henry IV the strain was lessened. However, Pope Paschal II, continuing the policy of his predecessors Gregory VII and Urban II, condemned lay investiture, although he entered negotiations for settlement. Holy Roman Emperor Henry V maintained the claims of his father and extended them ruthlessly. He made a vague settlement before his coronation, but at the last moment refused to surrender lay investiture; he seized the pope and forced him to surrender the church claims. Paschal later disavowed this forced agreement. The emperor and the antipopes he had set up effectively staved off settlement.

Under Pope Gelasius II some progress was made, but it was not until 1122 that churchmen succeeded in bringing about an agreement in the Concordat of Worms (see Worms, Concordat of) between Henry V and Pope Calixtus II. The compromise was a victory, although far from complete, for the church. The same problem recurred in struggles between the pope and other rulers. In France trouble between church and state centered in general on other issues (see Innocent III; Philip IV; Gallicanism).

In England, William I (William the Conqueror) came into conflict with the church, and William II embarked on a struggle over investiture. His abuse of power, particularly in keeping sees vacant, intensified the struggle that reached a climax in the long battle between King Henry I and Anselm. In 1107 a compromise provided that bishops and abbots should be invested by the church but should render homage to the king. Later trouble between church and state in England arose from other issues.


See R. W. Carlyle and A. J. Carlyle, A History of Medieval Political Theory in the West (6 vol., 1903-36, repr. 1962); G. Tellenbach, Church, State, and Christian Society at the Time of the Investiture Contest (tr. 1940, repr. 1970); K. F. Morrison, The Investiture Controversy (1971). See also bibliography under Holy Roman Empire; Middle Ages.

Investiture, from the Latin (preposition in and verb vestire, 'dress' from vestis 'robe') is a rather general term for the formal installation of an incumbent (heir, elect of nominee) in public office, especially by taking possession of its insignia. The term is normally reserved for formal offices of state, aristocracy and church.

In the feudal system, investiture was the ceremonial transfer of a fief by an overlord to a vassal. The lord invested the vassal with a fiefdom, by giving a symbol of the land or office conveyed in return for an oath of fealty. From feudal times up to the present, the term has been used in ecclesiastical law to refer to a cleric receiving the symbols of spiritual office, such as the pastoral ring, mitre and staff, signifying transfer of the office.

As the insignia can include the formal dress and adornment (robes of state, headdress etcetera) the etymology refers to, but also other regalia in the widest sense, such as a throne or other seat of office, the word is a convenient generic term, also for such more specific cases as coronation (see that article and regalia for more on such ceremonies) and enthronement, though these are also used (rather imprecisely, by analogy) in such extended sense.

Secular usage

The term is used to describe the installation of individuals in institutions that usually have been extant from feudal times. For example, the installation of heads of state and various other state functions with ceremonial roles are invested with office. Usually the investiture involves ceremonial transfer of the symbols of the particular office

Judges in many countries, including justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, are invested with their office. American justices typically take two oaths: one to uphold the Constitution of the United States, and the other to apply the principle of Equal Protection to the rich and the poor (source: ). Likewise, university presidents, rectors and chancellors are invested with office.

In the United Kingdom, around 2,600 people are invested personally by The Queen or a member of the Royal Family. A list of those to be honoured is published twice a year, in either the New Year's Honours List or The Queen's Birthday Honours List. Approximately 22 Investitures are held annually in Buckingham Palace, one or two at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh and one in Cardiff.

Ecclesiastical usage

Lay investiture was the appointment of bishops, abbots, and other church officials by feudal lords and vassals. The secular ruler usually invested the elect/appointee with the insignia of his ecclesiastic office, while the Pope crowned the Holy Roman Emperor (elected by the German Electoral Princes).

The question who should invest (or more to the point, appoint) whom was the subject of an epic conflict between the Catholic church (mainly papacy) and state (mainly the Holy Roman Empire) in the Middle Ages during the so-called Investiture Controversy.

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