In the January of 1163 Henry once more landed in England. His absence off our and a half years had given time for dangers and alarms to spring up in the half-settled realm. Mysterious prophecies passed from mouth to mouth that the king would never be seen in the island again, and even Theobald, before his death in 1161, had sent urgent entreaties for his return. The king had, in fact, during the first eight years of his rule been mainly occupied in building up his empire, and providing for its defence against external dangers. He had only twice visited the kingdom, each time for little more than a year. He was now, however, prepared to take the work of administration seriously in hand. In the next eighteen years, from 1163 to 1180, he landed on its shores seven times, and spent altogether eight years in the country. Once he was busied with the conquest of Ireland; one visit of a month was spent in crushing a dangerous rebellion; but with these two exceptions every coming of the king was marked by the carrying out of some great administrative reform. In his half-compacted empire order was still only maintained by his actual presence and the sheer force of his personal authority, as he hurried from country to country to quell a rising in Gascony or a revolt in Galloway, to wage war in Wales, to finish the conquest of Britanny or of Ireland, to order the administration of Poitou or Normandy. But in the swift and terrible progresses of a king who visited the shires to north and south and west in the intervals of foreign war, a long series of experiments as to the best forms of internal government was ceaselessly carried out, and the new administration securely established.

Henry, however, was at once met by a difficulty unknown to earlier days. The system which the Conqueror had established of separate courts for secular and ecclesiastical business had utterly broken down for purposes of justice. Until the reign of Stephen much of the business of the bishops was done in the courts of the hundred and the shire. The Church courts also had at first been guided by the customary law and traditions of the early English Church, which had grown up along with the secular laws and had a distinctly national character. So long, indeed, as the canon law remained somewhat vague, and the Church courts incomplete, they could work peaceably side by side with the lay courts; but with the development of ecclesiastical law in the middle of the twelfth century, it was inevitable that difficulties should spring up. The boundaries of civil and ecclesiastical law were wholly uncertain, the scientific study of law had hardly begun, and there was much debatable ground which might be won by the most arrogant or the most skilful of the combatants. Every brawl of a few noisy lads in the Oxford streets or at the gates of some cathedral or monastic school was enough to kindle the strife as to the jurisdiction of Church or State which shook medieval society to its foundation.

The Church courts not only had jurisdiction over the whole clerical order, but exercised wide powers even over the laity. To them alone belonged the right to enforce spiritual penalties, to deal with cases of oaths, promises, anything in which a man's faith was pledged; to decide as to the property of intestates, to pronounce in every case of inheritance whether the heir was legitimate, to declare the law as to wills and marriage. Administering as they did an enlightened system of law, they profited by the new prosperity of the country, and the judicial and pecuniary disputes which came to them had never been so abundant as now. Henry was keenly alive to the fact that the archdeacons' courts now levied every year by their fines more money than the whole revenue of the crown. Young archdeacons were sent abroad to be taught the Roman law, and returned to preside over the newly-established archdeacons' courts; clergy who sought high office were bound to study before all things, even before theology, the civil and canon law. The new rules, however, were as yet incomplete and imperfectly understood in England; the Church courts were without the power to put them in force; the procedure was hurried and irregular; the judges were often ill-trained, and unfit to deal with the mass of legal business which was suddenly thrown on them; the ecclesiastical authorities themselves shrank from defiling the priesthood by contact with all this legal and secular business, and kept the archdeacons in deacons' orders; the more religious clergy questioned whether for an archdeacon salvation were possible. In the eight years of Henry's rule one hundred murders had been committed by clerks who had escaped all punishment save the light sentences of fine and imprisonment inflicted by their own courts, and Henry bitterly complained that a reader or an acolyte might slay a man, however illustrious, and suffer nothing save the loss of his orders.

Since the beginning of Henry's reign, too, there had been an enormous increase of appeals to Rome. Questions quite apart from faith or morals, and that mostly concerned property, were referred for decision to a foreign court. The great monasteries were exempted from episcopal control and placed directly under the Pope; they adopted the customs and laws which found favour at Rome; they upheld the system of appeals, in which their wealth and influence gave them formidable advantages. The English Church was no longer as in earlier times distinct from the rest of Christendom, but was brought directly under Roman influence. The clergy were more and more separated from their lay fellow citizens; their rights and duties were determined on different principles; they were governed by their own officers and judged by their own laws, and tried in their own courts; they looked for their supreme tribunal of appeal not to the King's Court, but to Rome; they became, in fact, practically freed from the common law.