A Catholic saint and martyr has been nominated as one of the nastiest villains in British history.
St. Thomas Becket, a 12th-century archbishop of Canterbury, was among 10 "worst Britons" of the last millennium, selected by a group of British historians. The saint, whose feast is celebrated Dec. 29, was chosen by John Hudson, a professor at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, because he divided England in a way that was "unnecessary and self-indulgent."
"He was a founder of gesture politics with the most acute of eyes for what would now be called the photo opportunity," said Hudson, a specialist in early medieval English and French history.
"He was also greedy," he said in BBC History magazine Dec. 27. "Those who share my prejudice against Becket may consider his assassination in Canterbury Cathedral Dec. 29, 1170, a fittingly grisly end."
BBC History magazine compiled the list after asking 10 historians to name their pick for "worst Briton."
St. Thomas was hacked to death by four knights who allegedly heard King Henry II of England ask, "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?"
His death ended a protracted dispute with the monarchy over the limits of civil law in the life of the church. The king, for example, wanted to stop bishops from leaving England without his permission, to stop them from appealing to Rome without his consent and to punish criminal clerics under the civil law even if they had been dealt with by church courts. St. Thomas spent six years in exile but was murdered within a month of returning to England. He was canonized two years later.
Father Nicholas Schofield, the archivist of the Archdiocese of Westminster and a history graduate from Oxford University, said he was surprised that St. Thomas was included on the list.
"It's always misrepresentative to see history simply in terms of goodies and baddies," he told Catholic News Service Dec. 29. "Like all of us, Thomas Becket had his weaknesses. He could be proud and bad-tempered and, especially in his early years, he lived a life of great luxury.
"But on becoming archbishop of Canterbury he changed his way of life, showed exemplary piety and gave his life for the defense and liberty of the church. Because of this he became the patron of English clergy," the priest said. "In an age of such bloodshed and low esteem for human life, I would have thought there were many more convincing candidates for Britain's worst 12th-century villain."
David Musgrove, editor of the magazine, told BBC News Dec. 27 that deciding on the worst Britons was "not an easy choice."
"We left the criteria up to the 10 historians we spoke to, and it's their definitions of wickedness that give us such a diverse selection of figures on our list of evilness," he said.
The list of villains, which is made up of one from each century, included another Catholic archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop Thomas Arundel, who in the 15th century persecuted Catholic heretics.
It also included Titus Oates, a former Anglican minister who made up a story about a Jesuit-led plot to kill King Charles II, which, from 1678 to 1680, led to the deaths of 26 innocent Catholics.
Oates was nominated by John Adamson, a fellow of Peterhouse College, Cambridge University, because he "was in a league of his own, in the depths of his vileness and the scale of his evil."
The list also included Richard Rich, an ambitious lawyer who in the 16th century gave evidence against St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, which led to their convictions and executions for treason.
It includes Jack the Ripper, the serial killer who preyed on prostitutes in London; King John, who is remembered from the 13th century as " clearly one of the worst kings in English history"; and the Duke of Cumberland, the younger brother of King George II who became known as "the Butcher" after putting down the Catholic Jacobite rebellion of in the 18th century with the massacre at Culloden Moor, Scotland.
Oswald Mosley was named the worst Briton of the 20th century. He was the founder of the British Union of Fascists. Eadric Streona, who betrayed King Aethelred to the Danes, was named as the worst Briton of the 11th century.
The worst of the 14th century was named as Hugh Despenser, who grew rich by grabbing land in South Wales and ruthlessly slaughtering his enemies.
This list doesn't include Cromwell and Henry VIII, two of British history's great murderers?? I wouldn't pay much heed to it.
Thanks for the ping! A saint is a bad guy? Cromwell must be a good guy....