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The Murder of Thomas Becket, 1170
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Posted on 12/22/2001 4:36:31 AM PST by Orual

A sword's crushing blow extinguished the life of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, on a cold December evening as he struggled on the steps of his altar. The brutal event sent a tremor through Medieval Europe. Public opinion of the time and subsequent history have laid the blame for the murder at the feet of Becket's former close personal friend, King Henry.

Becket was born in 1118, in Normandy the son of an English merchant. His family was well off, his father a former Sheriff of London. Becket benefited from his family's status first by being sent to Paris for his education and from there to England where he joined the household of Theobold, the then Archbishop of Canterbury. Becket's administrative skills, his charm, intelligence and diplomacy propelled him forward. The archbishop sent him to Paris to study law and upon his return to England made him Archdeacon of Canterbury.

Becket's big break came in 1154, when Theobold introduced him to the newly crowned King, Henry II. The two hit it off immediately, their similar personal chemistries forming a strong bond between them. Henry named Becket his Chancellor. Archbishop Theobold died in 1161, and Henry immediately saw the opportunity to increase his influence over the Church by naming his loyal advisor to the highest ecclesiastical post in the land. Henry petitioned the Pope who agreed. There was only one slight hindrance. Becket, busy at court, had never been ordained. No problem, Becket was first invested as a priest. The next day he was ordained a Bishop, and that afternoon, June 2, 1162, made Archbishop of Canterbury.

If King Henry believed that by having "his man" in the top post of the Church, he could easily impose his will upon this powerful religious institution, he was sadly mistaken. Becket's allegiance shifted from the court to the Church inspiring him to take a stand against his king. In those days, the Church reserved the right to try felonious clerics in their own religious courts of justice and not those of the crown. Henry was determined to increase control of his realm by eliminating this custom. In 1163, a Canon accused of murder was acquitted by a church court. The public outcry demanded justice and the Canon was brought before a court of the king. Becket's protest halted this attempt but the action spurred King Henry to change the laws to extend his courts' jurisdiction over the clergy. Becket vacillated in his support of the king, finally refusing to agree to changes in the law. His stand prompted a royal summons to Henry's court at Northampton and the king's demand to know what Becket had done with the large sums of money that had passed through his hands as Chancellor.

Seeing the writing on the wall, Becket fled to France where he remained in exile for six years. The two former friends appeared to resolve their dispute in 1170 when King Henry and Becket met in Normandy. On November 30, Becket crossed the Channel returning to his post at Canterbury. Earlier, while in France, Becket had excomunicated the Bishops of London and Salisbury for their support of the king. Now, Becket remained steadfast in his refusal to absolve the bishops. This news threw King Henry (still in France) into a rage in which he was purported to shout: "What sluggards, what cowards have I brought up in my court, who care nothing for their allegiance to their lord. Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest."

The king's exact words have been lost to history but his outrage inspired four knights to sail to England to rid the realm of this annoying prelate. They arrived at Canterbury during the afternoon of December 29 and immediately searched for the Archbishop. Becket fled to the Cathedral where a service was in progress. The knights found him at the altar, drew their swords and began hacking at their victim finally splitting his skull.

The death of Becket unnerved the king. The knights who did the deed to curry the king's favor, fell into disgrace. Several miracles were said to occur at the tomb of the martyr and he was soon canonized. Hordes of pilgrims transformed Canterbury Cathedral into a shrine. Four years later, in an act of penance, the king donned a sack-cloth walking barefoot through the streets of Canterbury while eighty monks flogged him with branches. Henry capped his atonement by spending the night in the martyr's crypt. St. Thomas continued as a popular cultist figure for the remainder of the Middle Ages.

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Miscellaneous
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1 posted on 12/22/2001 4:36:31 AM PST by Orual
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To: dighton
T. S. Eliot's Book.
2 posted on 12/22/2001 4:37:11 AM PST by Orual
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To: Orual
it is interesting that in the play "Becket", while King Henry was condemned for his role in the murder, Becket is shown as stubborn and intrusive.
3 posted on 12/22/2001 5:17:58 AM PST by catonsville
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To: Orual
I kept waiting for some "Arkansas" connection.
4 posted on 12/22/2001 5:28:45 AM PST by billorites
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To: billorites; BeAChooser
"I kept waiting for some "Arkansas" connection."

Hold on, BAC can find a way to blame X42 for damned near anything. I'm sure that the guys who did Ron Brown in had something to do with this too.

BAC, Beckett had a suspicious, sword-shaped wound in his head...coincidence? I think not!

5 posted on 12/22/2001 5:40:30 AM PST by Luis Gonzalez
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To: billorites
Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest." The king's exact words have been lost to history but his outrage inspired four knights to sail to England to rid the realm of this annoying prelate.

I believe THIS is what you were looking for.

6 posted on 12/22/2001 5:51:39 AM PST by Ann Archy
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To: catonsville
It is also interesting to contrast another play about a different St. Thomas (More) and Robert Bolt's interpretation of a very similar situtation. Saw the play and the movie was surprisingly good, but with a cast like this, it shouldn't have been surprising. They did misspell his name, though.
7 posted on 12/22/2001 5:53:43 AM PST by Orual
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To: catonsville
Yes, that is true. King Henry II was just as subborn. There are questions of course as to if King Henry II (my 26th great grandfather) actually had Beckett Killed. It is a great story of history though.
8 posted on 12/22/2001 6:32:18 AM PST by
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To: Orual
The tragedy was fatal to the King. The murder of one of the foremost of God's servants, like the breaking of a feudal oath, struck at the heart of the age. All England was filled with terror. They acclaimed the dead Archbishop as a martyr; and immediately it appeared that his relics healed incurable diseases, and robes that he had worn by their mere touch relieved minor ailments. Here indeed was a crime, vast and inexpiable. When Henry heard the appalling news he was prostrated with grief and fear. All the elaborate process of law which he had sought to set on foot against this rival power was brushed aside by a brutal, bloody act; and though he had never dreamed that such a deed would be done there were his own hot words, spoken before so many witnesses, to fasten on him, for that age at least, the guilt of murder, and, still worse, sacrilege.

-- Winston Churchill, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples.

9 posted on 12/22/2001 6:33:50 AM PST by dighton
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To: Orual
Bartlett's renders the quotation as "turbulent" not "meddlesome" priest.
10 posted on 12/22/2001 6:56:25 AM PST by StanFran
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To: dighton
Beautifully written. Here is an eye-witness account of the murder.

"Then, with another blow received on the head, he remained firm. But with the third the stricken martyr bent his knees and elbows, offering himself as a living sacrifice, 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 grave wound on the fallen one; with this blow he shattered the sword on the stone and his crown, which was large, separated from his head so that the blood turned white from the brain yet no less did the brain turn red from the blood; it purpled the appearance of the church with the colors of the lily and the rose, the colors of the Virgin and Mother and the life and death of the confessor and martyr.

The fourth knight drove away those who were gathering so that the others could finish the murder more freely and boldly. The fifth - not a knight but a cleric who entered with the knights - so that a fifth blow might not be spared him who had imitated Christ in other things, placed his foot on the neck of the holy priest and precious martyr and (it is horrible to say) scattered the brains with the blood across the floor, exclaiming to the rest, "We can leave this place, knights, he will not get up again."

11 posted on 12/22/2001 7:00:45 AM PST by Orual
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To: StanFran
Thank you, but I think you meant that to be directed to Ann Archy - #6.
12 posted on 12/22/2001 7:01:59 AM PST by Orual
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To: Orual
13 posted on 12/22/2001 7:02:28 AM PST by IM2Phat4U
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"Becket's big break came in 1154"

I love the frankness of History.

14 posted on 12/22/2001 7:07:22 AM PST by Jakarta ex-pat
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To: Orual
Boy ! Getting hacked at with a not-too-sharp sword : that's gotta smart !!!
15 posted on 12/22/2001 7:09:54 AM PST by genefromjersey
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To: Orual
A bit early for his Feast Day, but I'm glad to read it regardless. I hope to attend a reading of Eliot's book this December 29.
16 posted on 12/22/2001 9:11:44 AM PST by Dumb_Ox
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To: Orual
My English History prof in college said that, in the 18th & 19th centuries, several people claimed to have seen the ghost of St. T'B standing at the altar, but on inquiry the "ghost" was shown to be far too short to be St.T'B... Then, during a rennovation in the early 20th century, it was discovered that an earlier repair job had raised the floor arounf the altar 18", making the "ghost" just the right height.

Just though I'd pass that tale along.

17 posted on 12/22/2001 9:24:48 AM PST by Pilsner
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To: Dumb_Ox
A bit early for his Feast Day...

It is his feast day today according to the liturgical calendar of the traditional Catholic Church. I know that changes have been made and that some Saints' Days were shifted, and many Saints were dropped altogether from the calendar.

18 posted on 12/22/2001 9:27:26 AM PST by Orual
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To: Pilsner
Thank you. I read a slightly different version. Before he was Archbishop of Canterbury, he was Constable of the Tower. The article I read said that there had been many sightings of ghosts previously in the Cathedral, but his was the earliest recorded one. He appeared when alterations were being made to the Tower which obviously did not please him. The ghost was reported to have struck at a wall of the Tower with a cross, and the wall immediately collapsed. The author said, "Outspoken in life he was obviously attempting to make his views known in death."
19 posted on 12/22/2001 9:40:23 AM PST by Orual
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To: Luis Gonzalez
Hold on, BAC can find a way to blame X42 for damned near anything.

Are you suggesting that you don't blame X42 for ANYTHING? Afterall, you seem to espouse the "move-on" philosophy as far as ANY Clinton administration scandal is concerned. You say you don't believe that Brown was murdered (yet can't seem to come up with any reason other than to say you BELIEVE the Air Force's report which doesn't even MENTION the opinions of its expert pathologists, photographer or the x-rays that seem to support the contention that Brown may have had a bullet wound in his head). Where do you stand on Chinagate, Filegate, Emailgate, the death of Foster and the Riady non-refund. Let's just see if you are as conservative as you CLAIM to be.

Why are you so afraid of a simple exhumation and autopsy of Ron Brown's body? Why won't you discuss what the pathologists say, and what the photos and x-rays show? Those items ALONE should be enough to warrant an exhumation and autopsy. Then we could settle this once and for all. And if the result was no exit wound, no spent round and no metal fragments in the skull, I would be the FIRST to say YOU were right. But until then, all you are doing is SPINNING. Which is something the democRATS are very good at ... along with suggesting that Clinton is innocent of ANY crime.

You suggest that the Ron Brown case is nothing but circumstantial evidence, hearsay and fabrication, when you WON'T address the EXPERT pathologist opinions and what the photos and x-rays suggest. That is nothing short of DISHONEST ... as is trying to associate the Brown case with other conspiracies that you think the public will consider ridiculous. Why didn't you just come out and do what the mainstream media tried to do ... associate those who believe Brown might have been shot with UFOologists? New marching orders?

By the way, are you still claiming that "there was NO exit wound"? That's an example of the type of disinformation you tried to spread and that you didn't retract when called to task on it. I will say it again ... the photographer and ALL of the pathologists at the examination stated that they didn't even look for an exit wound in the locations where it probably would have been. Now why would you CLAIM they did ... unless you are the democRAT your debating tactics suggest?

20 posted on 12/22/2001 8:55:22 PM PST by BeAChooser
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