Thomas Becket
Overview
 
Thomas Becket was Archbishop of Canterbury
Archbishop of Canterbury
The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop and principal leader of the Church of England, the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury. In his role as head of the Anglican Communion, the archbishop leads the third largest group...

 from 1162 until his murder in 1170. He is venerated as a saint
Saint
A saint is a holy person. In various religions, saints are people who are believed to have exceptional holiness.In Christian usage, "saint" refers to any believer who is "in Christ", and in whom Christ dwells, whether in heaven or in earth...

 and martyr
Martyr
A martyr is somebody who suffers persecution and death for refusing to renounce, or accept, a belief or cause, usually religious.-Meaning:...

 by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion
Anglican Communion
The Anglican Communion is an international association of national and regional Anglican churches in full communion with the Church of England and specifically with its principal primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury...

. He engaged in conflict with Henry II of England
Henry II of England
Henry II ruled as King of England , Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Duke of Gascony, Count of Nantes, Lord of Ireland and, at various times, controlled parts of Wales, Scotland and western France. Henry, the great-grandson of William the Conqueror, was the...

 over the rights and privileges of the Church and was assassinated by followers of the king in Canterbury Cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, Kent, is one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England and forms part of a World Heritage Site....

. Soon after the death of Thomas Becket, Pope Alexander III
Pope Alexander III
Pope Alexander III , born Rolando of Siena, was Pope from 1159 to 1181. He is noted in history for laying the foundation stone for the Notre Dame de Paris.-Church career:...

 canonized him.
The main sources for the life of Becket are a number of biographies that were written by contemporaries.
Encyclopedia
Thomas Becket was Archbishop of Canterbury
Archbishop of Canterbury
The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop and principal leader of the Church of England, the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury. In his role as head of the Anglican Communion, the archbishop leads the third largest group...

 from 1162 until his murder in 1170. He is venerated as a saint
Saint
A saint is a holy person. In various religions, saints are people who are believed to have exceptional holiness.In Christian usage, "saint" refers to any believer who is "in Christ", and in whom Christ dwells, whether in heaven or in earth...

 and martyr
Martyr
A martyr is somebody who suffers persecution and death for refusing to renounce, or accept, a belief or cause, usually religious.-Meaning:...

 by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion
Anglican Communion
The Anglican Communion is an international association of national and regional Anglican churches in full communion with the Church of England and specifically with its principal primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury...

. He engaged in conflict with Henry II of England
Henry II of England
Henry II ruled as King of England , Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Duke of Gascony, Count of Nantes, Lord of Ireland and, at various times, controlled parts of Wales, Scotland and western France. Henry, the great-grandson of William the Conqueror, was the...

 over the rights and privileges of the Church and was assassinated by followers of the king in Canterbury Cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, Kent, is one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England and forms part of a World Heritage Site....

. Soon after the death of Thomas Becket, Pope Alexander III
Pope Alexander III
Pope Alexander III , born Rolando of Siena, was Pope from 1159 to 1181. He is noted in history for laying the foundation stone for the Notre Dame de Paris.-Church career:...

 canonized him.

Sources

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
John of Salisbury
John of Salisbury , who described himself as Johannes Parvus , was an English author, educationalist, diplomat and bishop of Chartres, and was born at Salisbury.-Early life and education:...

, Edward Grim
Edward Grim
Edward Grim was a clerk from Cambridge who was visiting Canterbury Cathedral on Tuesday 29 December 1170 when Thomas Becket was murdered. He subsequently researched and published a book, Vita S. Thomae , published in about 1180, which is today known chiefly for a short section in which he gives an...

, Benedict of Peterborough, William of Canterbury, William fitz Stephen
William Fitzstephen
William Fitzstephen , died c. 1191, was a cleric and administrator in the service of Thomas Becket, becoming a Subdeacon in his chapel, with responsibility for perusing letters and petitions. He witnessed Becket's murder, and wrote his biography - the Vita Sancti Thomae William Fitzstephen (also...

, Guernes of Pont-Sainte-Maxence
Guernes de Pont-Sainte-Maxence
Guernes de Pont-Sainte-Maxence, also known as Garnier, was a 12th-century French scribe and one of the ten biographers of Saint Thomas Becket of Canterbury.- Life :...

, Robert of Cricklade, Alan of Tewkesbury
Alan of Tewkesbury
Alan, Abbot of Tewkesbury is said by Gervase of Canterbury to be of English descent. He probably spent some time at Benevento . Became a monk at Canterbury, rising to prior in 1179. In the struggle between Thomas of Canterbury and Henry II, he was a strong supporter of Thomas...

, Benet of St Albans, and Herbert of Bosham
Herbert of Bosham
Herbert of Bosham was a twelfth century English biographer of Thomas Becket, dates of birth and death unknown.-Early life:He was probably born in Bosham, Sussex, from which he took his name.He studied theology in Paris as a pupil of Peter Lombard...

. 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 Thomas 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
Robert of Torigni
Robert of Torigni was a Norman monk and chronicler. He was born at Torigni-sur-Vire in central Normandy, at an unknown date. He entered the monastery of Le Bec in 1128 and became prior there about 1149. He was elected abbot of Mont-Saint-Michel in 1154, and served there until his death.Robert was...

's work, Roger of Howden's Gesta Regis Henrici Secundi and Chronica, Ralph Diceto's works, William of Newburgh
William of Newburgh
William of Newburgh or Newbury , also known as William Parvus, was a 12th-century English historian and Augustinian canon from Bridlington, Yorkshire.-Biography:...

's Historia Rerum, and Gervase of Canterbury
Gervase of Canterbury
Gervase of Canterbury was an English chronicler.- Life :...

's works.

Early life

Becket was born about 1118, or in 1120 according to later tradition. He was born in Cheapside
Cheapside
Cheapside is a street in the City of London that links Newgate Street with the junction of Queen Victoria Street and Mansion House Street. To the east is Mansion House, the Bank of England, and the major road junction above Bank tube station. To the west is St. Paul's Cathedral, St...

, 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. Gilbert's father was from Thierville
Thierville
Thierville is a commune in the Eure department in Haute-Normandie in northern France.Thierville is remarkable as the only village in all of France with no men lost from World War I, nor any memorials constructed in the subsequent period. Amazingly, Thierville also suffered no losses in the...

 in the lordship of Brionne in Normandy, and was either a small landowner or a petty knight. Matilda was also of Norman ancestry, and her family may have originated near Caen
Caen
Caen is a commune in northwestern France. It is the prefecture of the Calvados department and the capital of the Basse-Normandie region. It is located inland from the English Channel....

. Gilbert was perhaps related to Theobald of Bec
Theobald of Bec
Theobald was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1139 to 1161. He was a Norman; his exact birth date is unknown. Some time in the late 11th or early 12th century Theobald became a monk at the Abbey of Bec, rising to the position of abbot in 1137. King Stephen of England chose him to be Archbishop of...

, 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. They were buried in Old St. Paul's Cathedral.

One of Becket's father's rich friends, Richer de L'Aigle
L'Aigle
L'Aigle is a commune in the Orne department in Basse-Normandie in north-western France.This commune used to be known as Laigle. According to Orderic Vitalis, the nest of an eagle was discovered during the construction of the castle....

, often invited Thomas to his estates in Sussex
Sussex
Sussex , from the Old English Sūþsēaxe , is an historic county in South East England corresponding roughly in area to the ancient Kingdom of Sussex. It is bounded on the north by Surrey, east by Kent, south by the English Channel, and west by Hampshire, and is divided for local government into West...

 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
Constitutions of Clarendon
The Constitutions of Clarendon were a set of legislative procedures passed by Henry II of England in 1164. The Constitutions were composed of 16 articles and represent an attempt to restrict ecclesiastical privileges and curb the power of the Church courts and the extent of Papal authority in England...

 against Thomas.

Beginning when he was 10, Becket was sent as a student to Merton Priory
Merton Priory
Merton Priory was founded in 1114 by Gilbert Norman, Sheriff of Surrey under Henry I. It was located in Merton, Surrey, England at the point where the Roman Stane Street crossed the River Wandle....

 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
Quadrivium
The quadrivium comprised the four subjects, or arts, taught in medieval universities, after teaching the trivium. The word is Latin, meaning "the four ways" , and its use for the 4 subjects has been attributed to Boethius or Cassiodorus in the 6th century...

 at these schools. Later, he spent about a year in Paris
Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 around age 20. He did not, however, study canon or civil law at this time and his Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 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
Archbishop of Canterbury
The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop and principal leader of the Church of England, the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury. In his role as head of the Anglican Communion, the archbishop leads the third largest group...

.

Theobald entrusted him with several important missions to Rome and also sent him to Bologna
Bologna
Bologna is the capital city of Emilia-Romagna, in the Po Valley of Northern Italy. The city lies between the Po River and the Apennine Mountains, more specifically, between the Reno River and the Savena River. Bologna is a lively and cosmopolitan Italian college city, with spectacular history,...

 and Auxerre
Auxerre
Auxerre is a commune in the Bourgogne region in north-central France, between Paris and Dijon. It is the capital of the Yonne department.Auxerre's population today is about 45,000...

 to study canon law. Theobald in 1154 named Becket Archdeacon of Canterbury, and other ecclesiastical offices included a number of benefice
Benefice
A benefice is a reward received in exchange for services rendered and as a retainer for future services. The term is now almost obsolete.-Church of England:...

s, prebends
Prebendary
A prebendary is a post connected to an Anglican or Catholic cathedral or collegiate church and is a type of canon. Prebendaries have a role in the administration of the cathedral...

 at Lincoln Cathedral
Lincoln Cathedral
Lincoln Cathedral is a historic Anglican cathedral in Lincoln in England and seat of the Bishop of Lincoln in the Church of England. It was reputedly the tallest building in the world for 249 years . The central spire collapsed in 1549 and was not rebuilt...

 and St Paul's Cathedral, and the office of Provost
Provost (religion)
A provost is a senior official in a number of Christian churches.-Historical Development:The word praepositus was originally applied to any ecclesiastical ruler or dignitary...

 of Beverley
Beverley
Beverley is a market town, civil parish and the county town of the East Riding of Yorkshire, England, located between the River Hull and the Westwood. The town is noted for Beverley Minster and architecturally-significant religious buildings along New Walk and other areas, as well as the Beverley...

. His efficiency in those posts led to Theobald recommending him to King Henry II
Henry II of England
Henry II ruled as King of England , Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Duke of Gascony, Count of Nantes, Lord of Ireland and, at various times, controlled parts of Wales, Scotland and western France. Henry, the great-grandson of William the Conqueror, was the...

 for the vacant post of Lord Chancellor
Lord Chancellor
The Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, or Lord Chancellor, is a senior and important functionary in the government of the United Kingdom. He is the second highest ranking of the Great Officers of State, ranking only after the Lord High Steward. The Lord Chancellor is appointed by the Sovereign...

, to which Becket was appointed in January 1155.

As Chancellor, Becket enforced the king’s traditional sources of revenue that were exacted from all landowners, including churches and bishoprics. King Henry even sent his son Henry
Henry the Young King
Henry, known as the Young King was the second of five sons of King Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine but the first to survive infancy. He was officially King of England; Duke of Normandy, Count of Anjou and Maine.-Early life:Little is known of the young prince Henry before the events...

 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.

Primacy

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. 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.



Becket was ordained a priest on 2 June 1162 at Canterbury, and on 3 June 1162 was consecrated as archbishop by Henry of Blois
Henry of Blois
Henry of Blois , often known as Henry of Winchester, was Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey from 1126, and Bishop of Winchester from 1129 to his death.-Early life and education:...

, the Bishop of Winchester
Bishop of Winchester
The Bishop of Winchester is the head of the Church of England diocese of Winchester, with his cathedra at Winchester Cathedral in Hampshire.The bishop is one of five Church of England bishops to be among the Lords Spiritual regardless of their length of service. His diocese is one of the oldest and...

 and the other suffragan bishops of Canterbury.

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
Westminster Abbey
The Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster, popularly known as Westminster Abbey, is a large, mainly Gothic church, in the City of Westminster, London, United Kingdom, located just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English,...

 in October 1163, where the King sought approval of the traditional rights of the royal government in regard to the church. 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

King Henry II presided over the assemblies at Clarendon Palace
Clarendon Palace
Clarendon Palace is a medieval ruin near Salisbury in Wiltshire, England.The palace was a royal residence during the Middle Ages, and was the location of the Assize of Clarendon which developed the Constitutions of Clarendon.-Roman Times:...

 on 30 January 1164 of most of the higher English clergy. 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
Constitutions of Clarendon
The Constitutions of Clarendon were a set of legislative procedures passed by Henry II of England in 1164. The Constitutions were composed of 16 articles and represent an attempt to restrict ecclesiastical privileges and curb the power of the Church courts and the extent of Papal authority in England...

, but he still refused to formally sign the documents. Henry summoned Becket to appear before a great council at Northampton Castle
Northampton Castle
Northampton Castle was built under the stewardship of Simon de Senlis, the first Earl of Northampton, in 1084. It took several years to complete, as there is no mention of it in the Domesday Book, a great survey of England completed in 1086....

 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
Continental Europe
Continental Europe, also referred to as mainland Europe or simply the Continent, is the continent of Europe, explicitly excluding European islands....

.

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
Louis VII of France
Louis VII was King of France, the son and successor of Louis VI . He ruled from 1137 until his death. He was a member of the House of Capet. His reign was dominated by feudal struggles , and saw the beginning of the long rivalry between France and England...

 offered Becket protection. He spent nearly two years in the Cistercian abbey of Pontigny
Pontigny Abbey
Pontigny Abbey, founded in 1114 as the second of the four great daughter houses of Cîteaux Abbey, was a Cistercian monastery situated in the commune of Pontigny, on the River Serein, in the present diocese of Sens and department of Yonne, in Burgundy, France.-History:Hildebert , a canon of...

, until Henry's threats against the order obliged him to return to Sens. Becket fought back by threatening excommunication
Excommunication
Excommunication is a religious censure used to deprive, suspend or limit membership in a religious community. The word means putting [someone] out of communion. In some religions, excommunication includes spiritual condemnation of the member or group...

 and interdict
Interdict (Roman Catholic Church)
In Roman Catholic canon law, an interdict is an ecclesiastical censure that excludes from certain rites of the Church individuals or groups, who nonetheless do not cease to be members of the Church.-Distinctions in canon law:...

 against the king and bishops and the kingdom, but Pope Alexander III
Pope Alexander III
Pope Alexander III , born Rolando of Siena, was Pope from 1159 to 1181. He is noted in history for laying the foundation stone for the Notre Dame de Paris.-Church career:...

, though sympathising with him in theory, favoured a more diplomatic approach. Papal legates were sent in 1167 with authority to act as arbitrators.

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.

Assassination

In June 1170, Roger de Pont L'Évêque
Roger de Pont L'Evêque
Roger de Pont L'Évêque was a contemporary of Thomas Becket and later Archbishop of York. Born in Normandy, he preceded Becket as Archdeacon of Canterbury, and together with Becket served Theobald of Bec while Theobald was Archbishop of Canterbury...

, the archbishop of York, along with Gilbert Foliot
Gilbert Foliot
Gilbert Foliot was a medieval English monk and prelate, successively Abbot of Gloucester, Bishop of Hereford and Bishop of London. Born to an ecclesiastical family, he became a monk at Cluny Abbey in France at about the age of twenty...

, the bishop of London, and Josceline de Bohon
Josceline de Bohon
Josceline de Bohon was an English religious leader.-Life:...

, the bishop of Salisbury, crowned 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, Becket continued to excommunicate his opponents in the church, the news of which also reached Henry.

Upon hearing reports of Becket's actions, Henry is said to have uttered words that were interpreted by his men as wishing Becket killed. The king's exact words are in doubt and several versions have been reported. The most commonly quoted, as handed down by "oral tradition", is "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?", but according to historian Simon Schama
Simon Schama
Simon Michael Schama, CBE is a British historian and art historian. He is a University Professor of History and Art History at Columbia University. He is best known for writing and hosting the 15-part BBC documentary series A History of Britain...

 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?" Many variations have found their way into popular culture.

Whatever Henry said, it was interpreted as a royal command, and four knights, Reginald FitzUrse
Reginald Fitzurse
Sir Reginald FitzUrse was one of the four knights who murdered Thomas Becket in 1170.His name is derived from Fitz which is a contracted form of the Norman-French fils de, meaning "son of" and Urse from the Latin ursus, meaning a bear, probable nom de guerre of his ancestor...

, Hugh de Morville
Hugh de Morville, Lord of Westmorland
Sir Hugh de Morville was an Anglo-Norman knight who served King Henry II of England in the late 12th century. He is chiefly famous as one of the assassins of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury in 1170...

, William de Tracy
William de Tracy
Sir William de Tracy, Knt., was Lord of the Manor of Toddington, Gloucestershire, feudal Baron of Bradninch, near Exeter, and Lord of Moretonhampstead, Devon...

, and Richard le Breton
Richard le Breton
Sir Richard le Breton was one of the four knights who murdered Saint Thomas Becket.He was the son of Simon le Bret or Simon Brito of Sampford Brett in Somerset and a near neighbour of the FitzUrses of Williton...

, 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
Mail (armour)
Mail is a type of armour consisting of small metal rings linked together in a pattern to form a mesh.-History:Mail was a highly successful type of armour and was used by nearly every metalworking culture....

 under cloaks before entering to challenge Becket. The knights informed Becket he was to go to Winchester
Winchester
Winchester is a historic cathedral city and former capital city of England. It is the county town of Hampshire, in South East England. The city lies at the heart of the wider City of Winchester, a local government district, and is located at the western end of the South Downs, along the course of...

 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. Becket, meanwhile, proceeded to the main hall for vespers
Vespers
Vespers is the evening prayer service in the Western Catholic, Eastern Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran liturgies of the canonical hours...

. 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
Quire (architecture)
Architecturally, the choir is the area of a church or cathedral, usually in the western part of the chancel between the nave and the sanctuary . The choir is occasionally located in the eastern part of the nave...

 of the cathedral, where the monks were chanting vespers.

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:

Aftermath

Following Becket's death, the monks prepared his body for burial. According to some accounts, it was discovered that Becket had worn a hairshirt
Cilice
A cilice was originally a garment or undergarment made of coarse cloth or animal hair used in some religious traditions to induce some degree of discomfort or pain as a sign of repentance and atonement...

 under his archbishop's garments—a sign of penance. Soon after, the faithful throughout Europe began venerating Becket as a martyr
Martyr
A martyr is somebody who suffers persecution and death for refusing to renounce, or accept, a belief or cause, usually religious.-Meaning:...

, 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
Segni
Segni is an Italian town and comune located in Lazio. The city is situated on a hilltop in the Lepini Mountains, and overlooks the valley of the Sacco River.-Early history:...

. On 12 July 1174, in the midst of the Revolt of 1173–1174, Henry humbled himself with public penance
Penance
Penance is repentance of sins as well as the proper name of the Roman Catholic, Orthodox Christian, and Anglican Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation/Confession. It also plays a part in non-sacramental confession among Lutherans and other Protestants...

 at Becket's tomb as well as at the church of St. Dunstan's
St. Dunstan's, Canterbury
St. Dunstan's is a church dedicated to St. Dunstan in Canterbury, Kent, slightly out of the city centre. The parish has been held in plurality with others nearby at different times, in a way that is confusing and difficult to document. In 2010 the parish was joined with the parishes of the City...

, which became one of the most popular pilgrimage
Pilgrimage
A pilgrimage is a journey or search of great moral or spiritual significance. Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person's beliefs and faith...

 sites in England.

Becket's assassins fled north to Knaresborough Castle
Knaresborough Castle
Knaresborough Castle is a ruined fortress overlooking the River Nidd in the town of Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, England.-History:The castle was first built by a Norman baron in c.1100 on a cliff above the River Nidd. There is documentary evidence dating from 1130 referring to works carried out...

, which was held by Hugh de Morville, where they remained for about a year. De Morville held property in Cumbria
Cumbria
Cumbria , is a non-metropolitan county in North West England. The county and Cumbria County Council, its local authority, came into existence in 1974 after the passage of the Local Government Act 1972. Cumbria's largest settlement and county town is Carlisle. It consists of six districts, and in...

 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.

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. A stone cover was placed over the burial place with two holes where pilgrims could insert their heads and kiss the tomb; 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 grew rapidly.

Cult in the Middle Ages

In 1220, Becket's remains were relocated from this first tomb to a shrine
Shrine
A shrine is a holy or sacred place, which is dedicated to a specific deity, ancestor, hero, martyr, saint, daemon or similar figure of awe and respect, at which they are venerated or worshipped. Shrines often contain idols, relics, or other such objects associated with the figure being venerated....

, in the recently completed Trinity Chapel where it stood until it was destroyed in 1538, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries
Dissolution of the Monasteries
The Dissolution of the Monasteries, sometimes referred to as the Suppression of the Monasteries, was the set of administrative and legal processes between 1536 and 1541 by which Henry VIII disbanded monasteries, priories, convents and friaries in England, Wales and Ireland; appropriated their...

, on orders from King Henry VIII
Henry VIII of England
Henry VIII was King of England from 21 April 1509 until his death. He was Lord, and later King, of Ireland, as well as continuing the nominal claim by the English monarchs to the Kingdom of France...

. The king also destroyed Becket's bones and ordered that all mention of his name be obliterated. The pavement where the shrine stood is today marked by a lit candle.

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
Bridge House Estates
The Bridge House Estates are a charitable trust, established in 1282 by the City of London Corporation in the English city of London. It was originally established to maintain London Bridge and, subsequently, other bridges. Funded by bridge tolls and charitable donations, the trust acquired an...

 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
Hagiography
Hagiography is the study of saints.From the Greek and , it refers literally to writings on the subject of such holy people, and specifically to the biographies of saints and ecclesiastical leaders. The term hagiology, the study of hagiography, is also current in English, though less common...

, they also display Becket’s particular gruffness. "Becket's Well", in Otford
Otford
Otford is a village and civil parish in the Sevenoaks District of Kent known for its classically British countryside. The village is located on the River Darent, flowing north down its valley from its source on the North Downs...

, Kent
Kent
Kent is a county in southeast England, and is one of the home counties. It borders East Sussex, Surrey and Greater London and has a defined boundary with Essex in the middle of the Thames Estuary. The ceremonial county boundaries of Kent include the shire county of Kent and the unitary borough of...

, 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 nightingale
Nightingale
The Nightingale , also known as Rufous and Common Nightingale, is a small passerine bird that was formerly classed as a member of the thrush family Turdidae, but is now more generally considered to be an Old World flycatcher, Muscicapidae...

s 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
Strood
Strood is a town in the unitary authority of Medway in South East England. It is part of the ceremonial county of Kent. It lies on the north west bank of the River Medway at its lowest bridging point, and is part of the Rochester post town....

, 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
Normans
The Normans were the people who gave their name to Normandy, a region in northern France. They were descended from Norse Viking conquerors of the territory and the native population of Frankish and Gallo-Roman stock...

 world. The first holy image of Becket is thought to be a mosaic icon still visible in Monreale
Monreale
Monreale is a town and comune in the province of Palermo, in Sicily, Italy, on the slope of Monte Caputo, overlooking the very fertile valley called "La Conca d'oro" , famed for its orange, olive and almond trees, the produce of which is exported in large quantities...

 Cathedral, in Sicily
Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

, 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
Marsala
Marsala is a seaport city located in the Province of Trapani on the island of Sicily in Italy. The low coast on which it is situated is the westernmost point of the island...

 is dedicated to St. Thomas Becket. Over forty-five medieval chasse
Chasse (casket)
A chasse or box reliquary is a shape commonly used in medieval metalwork for reliquaries and other containers. To the modern eye the form resembles a house, though a tomb or church was more the intention, with an oblong base, straight sides and two sloping top faces meeting at a central ridge,...

 reliquaries decorated in champlevé enamel showing similar scenes from Becket's life survive, including the Becket Casket in London (V&A Museum).

Legacy

  • Geoffrey Chaucer
    Geoffrey Chaucer
    Geoffrey Chaucer , known as the Father of English literature, is widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages and was the first poet to have been buried in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey...

    's The Canterbury Tales
    The Canterbury Tales
    The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories written in Middle English by Geoffrey Chaucer at the end of the 14th century. The tales are told as part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel together on a journey from Southwark to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at...

    is set in a company of pilgrims on their way from Southwark
    Southwark
    Southwark is a district of south London, England, and the administrative headquarters of the London Borough of Southwark. Situated east of Charing Cross, it forms one of the oldest parts of London and fronts the River Thames to the north...

     to the shrine of St. Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral
    Canterbury Cathedral
    Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, Kent, is one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England and forms part of a World Heritage Site....

    .
  • The story of Becket's life became a popular theme for the medieval Nottingham Alabaster
    Nottingham Alabaster
    Nottingham alabaster is a term used to refer to the English sculpture industry, mostly of relatively small religious carvings, which flourished from the fourteenth century until the early sixteenth century...

     carvers. One set of Becket panels is displayed in the Victoria and Albert Museum
    Victoria and Albert Museum
    The Victoria and Albert Museum , set in the Brompton district of The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, London, England, is the world's largest museum of decorative arts and design, housing a permanent collection of over 4.5 million objects...

    .
  • Modern works based on the story of Thomas Becket include T. S. Eliot
    T. S. Eliot
    Thomas Stearns "T. S." Eliot OM was a playwright, literary critic, and arguably the most important English-language poet of the 20th century. Although he was born an American he moved to the United Kingdom in 1914 and was naturalised as a British subject in 1927 at age 39.The poem that made his...

    's play Murder in the Cathedral
    Murder in the Cathedral
    Murder in the Cathedral is a verse drama by T. S. Eliot that portrays the assassination of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, first performed in 1935...

    , Jean Anouilh
    Jean Anouilh
    Jean Marie Lucien Pierre Anouilh was a French dramatist whose career spanned five decades. Though his work ranged from high drama to absurdist farce, Anouilh is best known for his 1943 play Antigone, an adaptation of Sophocles' Classical drama, that was seen as an attack on Marshal Pétain's...

    's play Becket, which was made into a movie with the same title, and Paul Webb's play Four Nights in Knaresborough
    Four Nights in Knaresborough
    Four Nights in Knaresborough is a play written by Paul Corcoran and first performed at the Tricycle Theatre, London in 1999. It recounts the aftermath of the murder of Thomas Becket by four knights making "the worst career choice in history"...

    . Webb has adapted his play for the screen and sold the rights to Harvey and Bob Weinstein
    The Weinstein Company
    The Weinstein Company is an American film studio founded by Bob and Harvey Weinstein in 2005 after the brothers left the then-Disney-owned Miramax Films, which they had co-founded in 1979...

    .
  • The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
    The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
    The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC that describes itself as "a non-profit, public interest law firm defending the freedom of religion of people of all faiths." The Becket Fund operates in three arenas: in the courts of law , in the court of...

    , a nonprofit, nonpartisan, interfaith, legal and educational institute dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions, took its inspiration and namesake from Thomas Becket.
  • In 2006, in a poll carried out by the BBC, Becket was lined up alongside lesser-known historical figures such as Hugh Despenser, Eadric Streona
    Eadric Streona
    Eadric Streona was an ealdorman of the English Mercians. His name a loose translation of the Anglo-Saxon "the Grasper." Streona is historically regarded as the greatest traitor of the Anglo-Saxon period in English history....

     and Thomas Arundel
    Thomas Arundel
    Thomas Arundel was Archbishop of Canterbury in 1397 and from 1399 until his death, an outspoken opponent of the Lollards.-Family background:...

    , and was then voted as the second "worst" Briton in history behind only Jack the Ripper
    Jack the Ripper
    "Jack the Ripper" is the best-known name given to an unidentified serial killer who was active in the largely impoverished areas in and around the Whitechapel district of London in 1888. The name originated in a letter, written by someone claiming to be the murderer, that was disseminated in the...

    .

Further reading

Biographies
  • Duggan, Anne (2005), Thomas Becket, London: Hodder Arnold.
  • Knowles, David (1970), Thomas Becket, London: Adam & Charles Black.


Historiography
  • 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

  • Edward Grim’s account of the murder of Thomas Becket at the Internet History Sourcebooks Project
    Internet History Sourcebooks Project
    The Internet History Sourcebooks Project is located at the Fordham University History Department and Center for Medieval Studies. It is a web site with modern, medieval and ancient primary source documents, maps, secondary sources, bibliographies, images and music. Paul Halsall is the editor, with...

  • Beckets Bits, photographs and locations of twenty of the surviving medieval Limoges enamel chasses for relics of Becket
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