Reformed Churchmen

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Monday, December 29, 2014

29 December 1170 A.D. Thomas a Becket Murdered—40th of 105 Archbishops of Canterbury

29 December 1170 A.D.  Thomas a Becket Murdered—40th of 105 Archbishops of Canterbury

No author. “Thomas a Becket (1120-1170).”  BBC.  N.d.  Accessed 16 May 2014.

Becket was a 12th century chancellor and archbishop of Canterbury whose murder resulted in his canonisation.

Thomas Becket was born in around 1120, the son of a prosperous London merchant. He was well educated and quickly became an agent to Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, who sent him on several missions to Rome. Becket's talents were noticed by Henry II, who made him his chancellor and the two became close friends. When Theobald died in 1161, Henry made Becket archbishop. Becket transformed himself from a pleasure-loving courtier into a serious, simply-dressed cleric.

The king and his archbishop's friendship was put under strain when it became clear that Becket would now stand up for the church in its disagreements with the king. In 1164, realising the extent of Henry's displeasure, Becket fled into exile in France, and remained in exile for several years. He returned in 1170.

On the 29 December 1170, four knights, believing the king wanted Becket out of the way, confronted and murdered Becket in Canterbury Cathedral.

Becket was made a saint in 1173 and his shrine in Canterbury Cathedral became an important focus for pilgrimage.

29 December 1170 A.D.  Thomas a Becket Murdered—40th of 105 Archbishops of Canterbury

Thurston, Herbert. "St. Thomas Becket." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912.  Accessed 16 May 2014.

Martyr, Archbishop of Canterbury, born at London, 21 December, 1118 (?); died at Canterbury, 29 December, 1170. St. Thomas was born of parents who, coming from Normandy, had settled in England some years previously. No reliance can be placed upon the legend that his mother was a Saracen. In after life his humble birth was made the subject of spiteful comment, though his parents were not peasants, but people of some mark, and from his earliest years their son had been well taught and had associated with gentlefolk. He learned to read at Merton Abbey and then studied in Paris. On leaving school he employed himself in secretarial work, first with Sir Richer de l'Aigle and then with his kinsman, Osbert Huitdeniers, who was "Justiciar" of London. Somewhere about the year 1141, under circumstances that are variously related, he entered the service of Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, and in that household he won his master's favour and eventually became the most trusted of all his clerks. A description embodied in the Icelandic Saga and derived probably from Robert of Cricklade gives a vivid portrait of him at this period.

To look upon he was slim of growth and pale of hue, with dark hair, a long nose, and a straightly featured face. Blithe of countenance was he, winning and loveable in his conversation, frank of speech in his discourses, but slightly stuttering in his talk, so keen of discernment and understanding that he could always make difficult questions plain after a wise manner.

Theobald recognized his capacity, made use of him in many delicate negotiations, and, after allowing him to go for a year to study civil and canon law at Bologna and Auxerre, ordained him deacon in 1154, after bestowing upon him several preferments, the most important of which was the Archdeaconry of Canterbury (see Radford, "Thomas of London", p. 53).

It was just at this period that King Stephen died and the young monarch Henry II became unquestioned master of the kingdom. He took "Thomas of London", as Becket was then most commonly called, for his chancellor, and in that office Thomas at the age of thirty-six became, with the possible exception of the justiciar, the most powerful subject in Henry's wide dominions. The chroniclers speak with wonder of the relations which existed between the chancellor and the sovereign, who was twelve years his junior. People declared that "they had but one heart and one mind". Often the king and his minister behaved like two schoolboys at play. But although they hunted or rode at the head of an army together it was no mere comradeship in pastime which united them. Both were hard workers, and both, we may believe, had the prosperity of the kingdom deeply at heart. Whether the chancellor, who was after all the elder man, was the true originator of the administrative reforms which Henry introduced cannot now be clearly determined. In many matters they saw eye to eye. The king's imperial views and love of splendour were quite to the taste of his minister. When Thomas went to France in 1158 to negotiate a marriage treaty, he travelled with such pomp that the people said: "If this be only the chancellor what must be the glory of the king himself?"

In 1153 Thomas acted as justice itinerant in three counties. In 1159 he seems to have been the chief organizer of Henry's expedition to Toulouse, upon which he accompanied him, and though it seems to be untrue that the impost of "scutage" was called into existence for that Occasion (Round, "Feudal England", 268-73), still Thomas undoubtedly pressed on the exaction of this money contribution in lieu of military service and enforced it against ecclesiastics in such a way that bitter complaints were made of the disproportionately heavy burden this imposed upon the Church. In the military operations Thomas took a leading part, and Garnier, a French chronicler, who lived to write of the virtues of St. Thomas and his martyrdom, declares that in these encounters he saw him unhorse many French knights. Deacon though he was, he lead the most daring attacks in person, and Edward Grim also gives us to understand that in laying waste the enemy's country with fire and sword the chancellor's principles did not materially differ from those of the other commanders of his time. But although, as men then reported, "he put off the archdeacon", in this and other ways, he was very far from assuming the licentious manners of those around him. No word was ever breathed against his personal purity. Foul conduct or foul speech, lying or unchastity were hateful to him, and on occasion he punished them severely. He seems at all times to have had clear principles with regard to the claims of the Church, and even during this period of his chancellorship he more than once risked Henry's grievous displeasure. For example, he opposed the dispensation which Henry for political reasons extorted from the pope, and strove to prevent the marriage of Mary, Abbess of Romsey, to Matthew of Boulogne. But to the very limits of what his conscience permitted, Thomas identified himself with his master's interests, and Tennyson is true to history when he makes the archbishop say:

I served our Theobald well when I was with him:
I served
King Henry well as Chancellor:
I am his no more, and I must serve the

Archbishop Theobald died in 1161, and in the course of the next year Henry seems to have decided that it would be good policy to prepare the way for further schemes of reform by securing the advancement of his chancellor to the primacy. Our authorities are agreed that from the first Thomas drew back in alarm. "I know your plans for the Church," he said, "you will assert claims which I, if I were archbishop, must needs oppose." But Henry would not be gainsaid, and Thomas at the instance of Cardinal Henry of Pisa, who urged it upon him as a service to religion, yielded in spite of his misgivings. He was ordained priest on Saturday in Whitweek and consecrated bishop the next day, Sunday, 3 June, 1162. It seems to have been St. Thomas who obtained for England the privilege of keeping the feast of the Blessed Trinity on that Sunday, the anniversary of his consecration, and more than a century afterwards this custom was adopted by the papal Court, itself and eventually imposed on the whole world.

A great change took place in the saint's way of life after his consecration as archbishop. Even as chancellor he had practised secret austerities, but now in view of the struggle he clearly saw before him he gave himself to fastings and disciplines, hair shirts, protracted vigils, and constant prayers. Before the end of the year 1162 he stripped himself of all signs of the lavish display which he had previously affected. On 10 Aug. he went barefoot to receive the envoy who brought him the pallium from Rome. Contrary to the king's wish he resigned the chancellorship. Whereupon Henry seems to have required him to surrender certain ecclesiastical preferments which he still retained, notably the archdeaconry, and when this was not done at once showed bitter displeasure. Other misunderstandings soon followed. The archbishop, having, as he believed, the king's express permission, set about to reclaim alienated estates belonging to his see, a procedure which again gave offence. Still more serious was the open resistance which he made to the king's proposal that a voluntary offering to the sheriffs should be paid into the royal treasury. As the first recorded instance of any determined opposition to the king's arbitrary will in a matter of taxation, the incident is of much constitutional importance. The saint's protest seems to have been successful, but the relations with the king only grew more strained.

Soon after this the great matter of dispute was reached in the resistance made by Thomas to the king's officials when they attempted to assert jurisdiction over criminous clerks. The question has been dealt with in some detail in the article ENGLAND. That the saint himself had no wish to be lenient with criminous clerks has been well shown by Norgate (Angevin Kings, ii, 22). It was with him simply a question of principle. St. Thomas seems all along to have suspected Henry of a design to strike at the independence of what the king regarded as a too powerful Church. With this view Henry summoned the bishops at Westminster (1 October, 1163) to sanction certain as yet unspecified articles which he called his grandfather's customs (avitæ consuetudines), one of the known objects of which was to bring clerics guilty of crimes under the jurisdiction of the secular courts. The other bishops, as the demand was still in the vague, showed a willingness to submit, though with the condition "saving our order", upon which St. Thomas inflexibly insisted. The king's resentment was thereupon manifested by requiring the archbishop to surrender certain castles he had hitherto retained, and by other acts of unfriendliness. In deference to what he believed to be the pope's wish, the archbishop in December consented to make some concessions by giving a personal and private undertaking to the king to obey his customs "loyally and in good faith". But when Henry shortly afterwards at Clarendon (13 January, 1164) sought to draw the saint on to a formal and public acceptance of the "Constitutions of Clarendon", under which name the sixteen articles, the avitæ consuetudines as finally drafted, have been commonly known, St. Thomas, though at first yielding somewhat to the solicitations of the other bishops, in the end took up an attitude of uncompromising resistance.

Then followed a period of unworthy and vindictive persecution. When opposing a claim made against him by John the Marshal, Thomas upon a frivolous pretext was found guilty of contempt of court. For this he was sentenced to pay £500; other demands for large sums of money followed, and finally, though a complete release of all claims against him as chancellor had been given on his becoming archbishop, he was required to render an account of nearly all the moneys which had passed through his hands in his discharge of the office. Eventually a sum of nearly £30,000 was demanded of him. His fellow bishops summoned by Henry to a council at Northampton, implored him to throw himself unreservedly upon the king's mercy, but St. Thomas, instead of yielding, solemnly warned them and threatened them. Then, after celebrating Mass, he took his archiepiscopal cross into his own hand and presented himself thus in the royal council chamber. The king demanded that sentence should be passed upon him, but in the confusion and discussion which ensued the saint with uplifted cross made his way through the mob of angry courtiers. He fled away secretly that night (13 October, 1164), sailed in disguise from Sandwich (2 November), and after being cordially welcomed by Louis VII of France, he threw himself at the feet of Pope Alexander III, then at Sens, on 23 Nov. The pope, who had given a cold reception to certain episcopal envoys sent by Henry, welcomed the saint very kindly, and refused to accept his resignation of his see. On 30 November, Thomas went to take up his residence at the Cistercian Abbey of Pontigny in Burgundy, though he was compelled to leave this refuge a year later, as Henry, after confiscating the archbishop's property and banishing all the Becket kinsfolk, threatened to wreak his vengeance on the whole Cistercian Order if they continued to harbour him.

The negotiations between Henry, the pope, and the archbishop dragged on for the next four years without the position being sensibly changed. Although the saint remained firm in his resistance to the principle of the Constitutions of Clarendon, he was willing to make any concessions that could be reasonably asked of him, and on 6 January, 1169, when the kings of England and France were in conference at Montmirail, he threw himself at Henry's feet, but as he still refused to accept the obnoxious customs Henry repulsed him. At last in 1170 some sort of reconciliation was patched up. The question of the customs was not mentioned and Henry professed himself willing to be guided by the archbishop's council as to amends due to the See of Canterbury for the recent violation of its rights in the crowning of Henry's son by the Archbishop of York. On 1 December, 1170, St. Thomas again landed in England, and was received with every demonstration of popular enthusiasm. But trouble almost immediately occurred in connection with the absolution of two of the bishops, whose sentence of excommunication St. Thomas had brought with him, as well as over the restoration by the de Broc family of the archbishop's castle at Saltwood. How far Henry was directly responsible for the tragedy which soon after occurred on 20 December is not quite clear. Four knights who came from France demanded the absolution of the bishops. St. Thomas would not comply. They left for a space, but came back at Vesper time with a band of armed men. To their angry question, "Where is the traitor?" the saint boldly replied, "Here I am, no traitor, but archbishop and priest of God." They tried to drag him from the church, but were unable, and in the end they slew him where he stood, scattering his brains on the pavement. His faithful companion, Edward Grim, who bore his cross, was wounded in the struggle.

A tremendous reaction of feeling followed this deed of blood. In an extraordinary brief space of time devotion to the martyred archbishop had spread all through Europe. The pope promulgated the bull of canonization, little more than two years after the martyrdom, 21 February, 1173. On 12 July, 1174, Henry II did public penance, and was scourged at the archbishop's tomb. An immense number of miracles were worked, and for the rest of the Middle Ages the shrine of St. Thomas of Canterbury was one of the wealthiest and most famous in Europe. The martyr's holy remains are believed to have been destroyed in September, 1538, when nearly all the other shrines in England were dismantled; but the matter is by no means clear, and, although the weight of learned opinion is adverse, there are still those who believe that a skeleton found in the crypt in January, 1888, is the body of St. Thomas. The story that Henry VIII in 1538 summoned the archbishop to stand his trial for high treason, and that when, in June, 1538, the trial had been held and the accused pronounced contumacious, the body was ordered to be disinterred and burnt, is probably apocryphal.


By far the best English life is MORRIS, The Life of St. Thomas Becket (2nd ed., London, 1885); there is a somewhat fuller work of L'HUILLIER, Saint Thomas de Cantorbery (2 vols., Paris, 1891); the volume by DEMIMUID, St. Thomas Becket (Paris, 1909), in the series Les Saints is not abreast of modern research. There are several excellent lives by Anglicans, of which HUTTON, Thomas Becket (London, 1900), and the account by NORGATE in Dict. Nat. Biog., s.v. Thomas, known as Thomas a Becket, are probably the best. The biography by ROBERTSON, Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury (London, 1859), is not sympathetic. Nearly all the sources of the Life, as well as the books of miracles worked at the shrine, have been edited in the Rolls Series by ROBERTSON under the title Materials for the History of Thomas Becket (7 vols., London, 1875-1883). The valuable Norse saga is edited in the same series by MAGNUSSON, Thomas Saga Erkibyskups (2 vols., London, 1884). The chronicle of GARNIER DE PONT S. MAXENCE, Vie de St. Thomas Martyr, has been edited by HIPPEAU (Paris, 1859). The miracles have been specially studied from an agnostic standpoint by ABBOT, Thomas of Canterbury, his death and miracles (2 vols., London, 1898). Some valuable material has been collected by RADFORD, Thomas of London before his Consecration (Cambridge, 1894). On the relics see MORRIS, Relics of St. Thomas (London, 1888); THORNTON, Becket's Bones (Canterbury, 1900); WARD, The Canterbury Pilgrimages (London, 1904); WARNER in Eng. Hist. Rev., VI (1891), 754-56.

29 December 1170 A.D.  Thomas a Becket Murdered—40th of 105 Archbishops of Canterbury

Thomas Becket (also known as Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas of London,[1] and later Thomas à Becket;[note 1] 21 December c. 1118 (or 1120) – 29 December 1170) was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until his murder in 1170. He is venerated as a saint and martyr by both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. He engaged in conflict with Henry II of England over the rights and privileges of the Church and was murdered by followers of the king in Canterbury Cathedral. Soon after his death, he was canonised by Pope Alexander III.



The main sources for the life of Becket are a number of biographies that were written by contemporaries. A few of these documents are by unknown writers, although traditional historiography has given them names. The known biographers are John of Salisbury, Edward Grim, Benedict of Peterborough, William of Canterbury, William fitz Stephen, Guernes of Pont-Sainte-Maxence, Robert of Cricklade, Alan of Tewkesbury, Benet of St Albans, and Herbert of Bosham. The other biographers, who remain anonymous, are generally given the pseudonyms of Anonymous I, Anonymous II (or Anonymous of Lambeth), and Anonymous III (or Lansdowne Anonymous). Besides these accounts, there are also two other accounts that are likely contemporary that appear in the Quadrilogus II and the Thómas saga Erkibyskups. Besides these biographies, there is also the mention of the events of Becket's life in the chroniclers of the time. These include Robert of Torigni's work, Roger of Howden's Gesta Regis Henrici Secundi and Chronica, Ralph Diceto's works, William of Newburgh's Historia Rerum, and Gervase of Canterbury's works.[3]

Early life glass window of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral.

Becket was born about 1118,[4] or in 1120 according to later tradition.[1] He was born in Cheapside, London, on 21 December, which was the feast day of St Thomas the Apostle. He was the son of Gilbert Beket and Gilbert's wife Matilda.[note 2] Gilbert's father was from Thierville in the lordship of Brionne in Normandy, and was either a small landowner or a petty knight.[1] Matilda was also of Norman ancestry,[2] and her family may have originated near Caen. Gilbert was perhaps related to Theobald of Bec, whose family also was from Thierville. Gilbert began his life as a merchant, perhaps as a textile merchant, but by the 1120s he was living in London and was a property-owner, living on the rental income from his properties. He also served as the sheriff of the city at some point.[1] They were buried in Old St Paul's Cathedral.

One of Becket's father's rich friends, Richer de L'Aigle, often invited Thomas to his estates in Sussex where Becket was exposed to hunting and hawking. According to Grim, Becket learned much from Richer. Richer was later a signatory at the Constitutions of Clarendon against Thomas.[1]

Beginning when he was 10, Becket was sent as a student to Merton Priory in England and later attended a grammar school in London, perhaps the one at St Paul's Cathedral. He did not study any subjects beyond the trivium and quadrivium at these schools. Later, he spent about a year in Paris around age 20. He did not, however, study canon or civil law at this time and his Latin skill always remained somewhat rudimentary. Sometime after Becket began his schooling, Gilbert Beket suffered financial reverses, and the younger Becket was forced to earn a living as a clerk. Gilbert first secured a place for his son in the business of a relative Osbert Huitdeniers, and then later Becket acquired a position in the household of Theobald of Bec, by now the Archbishop of Canterbury.[1]

Theobald entrusted him with several important missions to Rome and also sent him to Bologna and Auxerre to study canon law. Theobald in 1154 named Becket Archdeacon of Canterbury, and other ecclesiastical offices included a number of benefices, prebends at Lincoln Cathedral and St Paul's Cathedral, and the office of Provost of Beverley. His efficiency in those posts led to Theobald recommending him to King Henry II for the vacant post of Lord Chancellor,[1] to which Becket was appointed in January 1155.[7]

As Chancellor, Becket enforced the king's traditional sources of revenue that were exacted from all landowners, including churches and bishoprics.[1] King Henry even sent his son Henry to live in Becket's household, it being the custom then for noble children to be fostered out to other noble houses. The younger Henry was reported to have said Becket showed him more fatherly love in a day than his father did for his entire life. An emotional attachment to Becket as a foster-father may have been one of the reasons the younger Henry would turn against his father.


Becket was nominated as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162, several months after the death of Theobald. His election was confirmed on 23 May 1162 by a royal council of bishops and noblemen.[1] Henry may have hoped that Becket would continue to put the royal government first, rather than that of the church. The famous transformation of Becket into an ascetic occurred at this time.


  • StThomasEnthroned.jpg
  • StThomasReturn.jpg
  • StThomasSens.jpg

Becket was ordained a priest on 2 June 1162 at Canterbury, and on 3 June 1162 was consecrated as archbishop by Henry of Blois, the Bishop of Winchester and the other suffragan bishops of Canterbury.[1]

A rift grew between Henry and Becket as the new archbishop resigned his chancellorship and sought to recover and extend the rights of the archbishopric. This led to a series of conflicts with the king, including that over the jurisdiction of secular courts over English clergymen, which accelerated antipathy between Becket and the king. Attempts by King Henry to influence the other bishops against Becket began in Westminster in October 1163, where the King sought approval of the traditional rights of the royal government in regard to the church.[1] This led to Clarendon, where Becket was officially asked to sign off on the King's rights or face political repercussions.

The Constitutions of Clarendon

Main article: Becket controversy

For more details on this topic, see Constitutions of Clarendon.

Manuscript illustration. The central man is wearing robes and a mitre and is facing the seated figure on the left. The seated man is wearing a crown and robes and is gesturing at the mitred man. Behind the mitred figure are a number of standing men wearing armor and carrying weapons.14th-century depiction of Becket with King Henry II

King Henry II presided over the assemblies of most of the higher English clergy at Clarendon Palace on 30 January 1164. In sixteen constitutions, he sought less clerical independence and a weaker connection with Rome. He employed all his skills to induce their consent and was apparently successful with all but Becket. Finally, even Becket expressed his willingness to agree to the substance of the Constitutions of Clarendon, but he still refused to formally sign the documents. Henry summoned Becket to appear before a great council at Northampton Castle on 8 October 1164, to answer allegations of contempt of royal authority and malfeasance in the Chancellor's office. Convicted on the charges, Becket stormed out of the trial and fled to the Continent.[1]

Henry pursued the fugitive archbishop with a series of edicts, aimed at all his friends and supporters as well as Becket himself; but King Louis VII of France offered Becket protection. He spent nearly two years in the Cistercian abbey of Pontigny, until Henry's threats against the order obliged him to return to Sens. Becket fought back by threatening excommunication and interdict against the king and bishops and the kingdom, but Pope Alexander III, though sympathising with him in theory, favoured a more diplomatic approach. Papal legates were sent in 1167 with authority to act as arbitrators.[1]

In 1170, Alexander sent delegates to impose a solution to the dispute. At that point, Henry offered a compromise that would allow Thomas to return to England from exile.[1]

Assassination's assassination and funeral, from a French enamelled chasse made about 1190–1200, one of about 45 surviving examples.

In June 1170, Roger de Pont L'Évêque, the archbishop of York, along with Gilbert Foliot, the bishop of London, and Josceline de Bohon, the bishop of Salisbury, crowned the heir apparent, Henry the Young King, at York. This was a breach of Canterbury's privilege of coronation, and in November 1170 Becket excommunicated all three. While the three clergymen fled to the king in Normandy,[8] Becket continued to excommunicate his opponents in the church, the news of which also reached Henry.

A Seal of the Abbot of Arbroath, showing the murder of Becket. Arbroath Abbey was founded 8 years after the death of St Thomas and dedicated to him; it became the wealthiest abbey in Scotland.

Upon hearing reports of Becket's actions, Henry is said to have uttered words that were interpreted by his men as wishing Becket killed.[9] The king's exact words are in doubt and several versions have been reported.[10] The most commonly quoted, as handed down by oral tradition, is "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?",[11] but according to historian Simon Schama this is incorrect: he accepts the account of the contemporary biographer Edward Grim, writing in Latin, who gives us "What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?"[12] Many variations have found their way into popular culture. painting of Thomas Becket's martyrdom painted in the 1330s in the parish church of St Peter ad Vincula, South Newington, Oxfordshire

Whatever Henry said, it was interpreted as a royal command, and four knights,[9] Reginald fitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy, and Richard le Breton,[1] set out to confront the Archbishop of Canterbury.

On 29 December 1170 they arrived at Canterbury. According to accounts left by the monk Gervase of Canterbury and eyewitness Edward Grim, they placed their weapons under a tree outside the cathedral and hid their mail armour under cloaks before entering to challenge Becket. The knights informed Becket he was to go to Winchester to give an account of his actions, but Becket refused. It was not until Becket refused their demands to submit to the king's will that they retrieved their weapons and rushed back inside for the killing.[13] Becket, meanwhile, proceeded to the main hall for vespers. The four knights, wielding drawn swords, caught up with him in a spot near a door to the monastic cloister, the stairs into the crypt, and the stairs leading up into the quire of the cathedral, where the monks were chanting vespers.[1] marking the spot of Thomas Becket's martyrdom,Canterbury Cathedral. Installed in 1986, the dramatic new sculpture of the sword's point – with its representation of four swords for the four knights (two metal swords with reddened tips and their two shadows). The design is the work of Giles Blomfield of Truro

Several contemporary accounts of what happened next exist; of particular note is that of Edward Grim, who was himself wounded in the attack. This is part of the account from Edward Grim:

...The wicked knight leapt suddenly upon him, cutting off the top of the crown which the unction of sacred chrism had dedicated to God. Next he received a second blow on the head, but still he stood firm and immovable. At the third blow he fell on his knees and elbows, offering himself a living sacrifice, and saying in a low voice, 'For the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death.' But the third knight inflicted a terrible wound as he lay prostrate. By this stroke, the crown of his head was separated from the head in such a way that the blood white with the brain, and the brain no less red from the blood, dyed the floor of the cathedral. The same clerk who had entered with the knights placed his foot on the neck of the holy priest and precious martyr, and, horrible to relate, scattered the brains and blood about the pavements, crying to the others, 'Let us away, knights; this fellow will arise no more.[14]


St Thomas Becket consagrations, death and burial, at wall paintings in Santa Maria de Terrassa (Terrassa, Catalonia, Spain), romanesque frescoes, ca. 1200

Following Becket's death, the monks prepared his body for burial.[1] According to some accounts, it was discovered that Becket had worn a hairshirt under his archbishop's garments—a sign of penance.[15] Soon after, the faithful throughout Europe began venerating Becket as a martyr, and on 21 February 1173 — little more than two years after his death — he was canonised by Pope Alexander III in St Peter's Church in Segni.[1] On 12 July 1174, in the midst of the Revolt of 1173–1174, Henry humbled himself with public penance at Becket's tomb as well as at the church of St. Dunstan's, which became one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in England.

In 1173, Becket's sister Mary was appointed as abbess of Barking Abbey as reparation for the murder of her brother.[16]

Becket's assassins fled north to Knaresborough Castle, which was held by Hugh de Morville, where they remained for about a year. De Morville held property in Cumbria and this may also have provided a convenient bolt-hole, as the men prepared for a longer stay in the separate kingdom of Scotland. They were not arrested and neither did Henry confiscate their lands, but he failed to help them when they sought his advice in August 1171. Pope Alexander excommunicated all four. Seeking forgiveness, the assassins travelled to Rome and were ordered by the Pope to serve as knights in the Holy Lands for a period of fourteen years.[17]

This last also inspired Knights of Saint Thomas, incorporated in 1191 at Acre, and which was to be modelled on the Teutonic Knights. It is the only military order native to England (with chapters in not only Acre, but London, Kilkenny, and Nicosia), like the Gilbertine Order being the only monastic order native to England as well. Nevertheless, Henry VIII dissolved both of these English institutions upon passing the Reformation, rather than merging foreign orders with them and nationalising them as elements of the Protestant Church of England.

The monks were afraid that Becket's body might be stolen. To prevent this Becket's remains were placed beneath the floor of the eastern crypt of the cathedral.[17] A stone cover was placed over the burial place with two holes where pilgrims could insert their heads and kiss the tomb;[1] this arrangement is illustrated in the 'Miracle Windows' of the Trinity Chapel. A guard chamber (now called the Wax Chamber) had a clear view of the grave. In 1220, Becket's bones were moved to a new gold-plated and bejewelled shrine behind the high altar in the Trinity Chapel. The shrine was supported by three pairs of pillars, placed on a raised platform with three steps. This is also illustrated in one of the miracle windows. Canterbury, because of its religious history, had always seen a large number of pilgrims. However, after the death of Thomas Becket, the number of pilgrims visiting the city rose rapidly.

Cult in the Middle Ages marking the former spot of the shrine of Thomas Becket, at Canterbury Cathedral

In 1220, Becket's remains were relocated from this first tomb to a shrine,[1] in the recently completed Trinity Chapel where it stood until it was destroyed in 1538, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, on orders from King Henry VIII.[1][18] The king also destroyed Becket's bones and ordered that all mention of his name be obliterated.[19] The pavement where the shrine stood is today marked by a lit candle.[20]

As the scion of the leading mercantile dynasty of later centuries, Mercers, Becket was very much regarded as a Londoner by the citizens and was adopted as the London's co-patron saint with St Paul: both their images appeared on the seals of the city and of the Lord Mayor. The Bridge House Estates seal used only the image of Becket, while the reverse featured a depiction of his martyrdom.

Local legends regarding Becket arose after his canonisation. Though they are typical hagiographical stories, they also display Becket's particular gruffness. "Becket's Well", in Otford, Kent, is said to have been created after Becket had become displeased with the taste of the local water. Two springs of clear water are said to have bubbled up after he struck the ground with his crozier. The absence of nightingales in Otford is also ascribed to Becket, who is said to have been so disturbed in his devotions by the song of a nightingale that he commanded that none should sing in the town ever again. In the town of Strood, also in Kent, Becket is said to have caused the inhabitants of the town and their descendants to be born with tails. The men of Strood had sided with the king in his struggles against the archbishop, and to demonstrate their support, had cut off the tail of Becket's horse as he passed through the town.

The saint's fame quickly spread throughout the Norman world. The first holy image of Becket is thought to be a mosaic icon still visible in Monreale Cathedral, in Sicily, created shortly after his death. Becket's cousins obtained refuge at the Sicilian court during his exile, and King William II of Sicily wed a daughter of Henry II. The principal church of the Sicilian city of Marsala is dedicated to St Thomas Becket. Over forty-five medieval chasse reliquaries decorated in champlevé enamel showing similar scenes from Becket's life survive, including the Becket Casket in London (V&A Museum).



1.       Jump up ^ The name "Thomas à Becket" is not contemporary, and appears to be a post-Reformation creation, possibly in imitation of Thomas à Kempis.[2]

2.       Jump up ^ There is a story that Thomas's mother was a Saracen princess who met and fell in love with his English father while he was on Crusade or pilgrimage in the Holy Land, followed him home, was baptised and married him. This story has no truth to it, being a fabrication from three centuries after the saint's martyrdom and inserted as a forgery into Edward Grim's contemporary (12th century) Life of St Thomas.[5][6] Matilda occasionally is known as Rohise.[1]


1.       ^ Jump up to: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Barlow "Becket, Thomas (1120?–1170)" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

2.       ^ Jump up to: a b Barlow Thomas Becket pp. 11–12

3.       Jump up ^ Barlow Thomas Becket pp. 3–9

4.       Jump up ^ Butler and Walsh Butler's Lives of the Saints p. 430

5.       Jump up ^ Staunton Lives of Thomas Becket p. 29

6.       Jump up ^ Hutton Thomas Becket – Archbishop of Canterbury p. 4

7.       Jump up ^ Fryde, et al. Handbook of British Chronology p. 84

8.       Jump up ^ Warren Henry II pp. 500–508

9.       ^ Jump up to: a b Huscroft Ruling England p. 194

10.    Jump up ^ Warren Henry II p. 508

11.    Jump up ^ Knowles Oxford Dictionary of Quotations p. 370

12.    Jump up ^ Schama History of Britain p. 142

13.    Jump up ^ Stanley Historical Memorials of Canterbury p. 53-55

14.    Jump up ^ Lee This Sceptred Isle p. 71

15.    Jump up ^ Grim, Benedict of Peterborough and William fitzStephen are quoted in Douglas, et al. English Historical Documents 1042–1182 Volume 2 p. 821

16.    Jump up ^ William Page & J. Horace Round, ed. (1907). 'Houses of Benedictine nuns: Abbey of Barking', A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2. pp. 115–122. 

17.    ^ Jump up to: a b Barlow Thomas Becket pp. 257–258

18.    Jump up ^ "Canterbury Cathedral – History". Dean and Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral. Retrieved 10 November 2011. 

20.    Jump up ^ "History". Canterbury Cathedral. Dean and Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral. 2011. Retrieved 17 April 2011. 

21.    Jump up ^ Malvern, Jack (10 June 2006). "Hollywood shines a light on geezers who killed à Becket". The Times (London). Retrieved 21 June 2010. 

22.    Jump up ^ "Becket Fund". Becket Fund. Retrieved 17 January 2010. 

23.    ^ Jump up to: a b c d Coughlan, Sean (31 January 2006). "UK | Saint or sinner?". BBC News. Retrieved 17 January 2010. 

24.    Jump up ^ Weaver, Matthew (31 January 2006). "Asking silly questions". The Guardian (London). News Blog. Retrieved 2 May 2008. 

25.    Jump up ^ Welcome to Monmouth, St Thomas Church Monmouth. Accessed 13 December 2011

26.    Jump up ^ "South West England". Heritage at Risk. English Heritage. p. 243. 

27.    Jump up ^ "Church of St Thomas a Becket". Heritage Gateway. English Heritage. Retrieved 13 December 2011. 

29.    Jump up ^ "St Thomas the Martyr, Oxford". A Church Near You. Retrieved 13 December 2011. 

30.    Jump up ^ "Saint-Thomas de Cantorbéry". Retrieved 18 June 2012. 

31.    Jump up ^ "Saint-Thomas Becket (Bénodet)". 18 March 2008. Retrieved 18 June 2012. 


  • Barlow, Frank (1986). Thomas Becket. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-07175-1. 
  • Barlow, Frank (2004). "Becket, Thomas (1120?–1170)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/27201. Retrieved 17 April 2011.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  • Butler, Alban (1991). Walsh, Michael, ed. Butler's Lives of the Saints. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. 
  • Douglas, David C.; Greenway, George W. (1953). English Historical Documents 1042–1189 2 (Second, 1981 ed.). London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-14367-5. 
  • Fryde, E. B.; Greenway, D. E.; Porter, S.; Roy, I. (1996). Handbook of British Chronology (Third revised ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-56350-X. 
  • Hutton, William Holden (1910). Thomas Becket – Archbishop of Canterbury. London: Pitman and Sons Ltd. ISBN 1-4097-8808-3. 
  • Knowles, Elizabeth M. (1999). Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (Fifth ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-860173-9. 
  • Lee, Christopher M. (1997). This Sceptred Isle. London: BBC Books. ISBN 0-563-38384-4. 
  • Robertson, James Craigie (1876). Materials for the History of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury ii. London: Longman. 
  • Schama, Simon (2002). A History of Britain: At the Edge of the World? : 3000 BC-AD 1603. London: BBC Books. ISBN 0-563-38497-2. 
  • Stanley, Arthur Penrhyn (1855). Historical Memorials of Canterbury. London: John Murray. 
  • Staunton, Michael (2006). Thomas Becket and His Biographers. Woodbridge, UK: The Boydell Press. ISBN 1-84383-271-2. 
  • Warren, W. L. (1973). Henry II. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-03494-5. 

Further reading


  • Duggan, Anne (2005), Thomas Becket, London: Hodder Arnold.
  • Guy, John. Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel (Random House; 2012) 424 pages
  • Knowles, David (1970), Thomas Becket, London: Adam & Charles Black.


  • Duggan, Anne (1980), Thomas Becket: A Textual History of his Letters, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Duggan, Anne (Hrsg.) (2000), The Correspondence of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury (1162–1170). 2 Bände, lat./engl., Oxford: Clarendon Press.

External links
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Political offices
Preceded by
Robert of Ghent
Lord Chancellor
Succeeded by
Geoffrey Ridel
Preceded by
Theobald of Bec
Succeeded by
Roger de Bailleul

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