Skip to comments.The Murder of Thomas Becket, 1170-Today in History
Posted on 12/29/2008 9:10:21 AM PST by managusta
At one time, Englands King Henry II and Thomas Becket were the closest of friends. Their ties were so strong that Henry named his friend to the powerful position of Archbishop of Canterbury.
The relationship soon soured as the two strong-willed men challenged one another over the relative supremacy of the Church versus the State. At one point King Henry supposedly became so exasperated that he cried out in desperation to his courtiers Who shall rid me of this meddlesome priest!
Taking this as a cue to act, four of Henrys knights rushed to Canterbury Cathedral on the evening of December 29, 1170 to carry out the Kings will.
Edward Grim, a monk, observed the attack from the safety of a hiding place near the altar. He wrote his account some time after the event.
Acceptance of his description must be qualified by the influence that Becket's sainthood had on Grim's perspective. However, the fundamentals of his narrative are no doubt true. We pick up the story after the knights have stormed into the cathedral.
"The murderers followed him; 'Absolve', they cried, 'and restore to communion those whom you have excommunicated, and restore their powers to those whom you have suspended.'
"He answered, 'There has been no satisfaction, and I will not absolve them.'
'Then you shall die,' they cried, 'and receive what you deserve.'
'I am ready,' he replied, 'to die for my Lord, that in my blood the Church may obtain liberty and peace. But in the name of Almighty God, I forbid you to hurt my people whether clerk or lay.'
"Then they lay sacrilegious hands on him, pulling and dragging him that they may kill him outside the church, or carry him away a prisoner, as they afterwards confessed.
But when he could not be forced away from the pillar, one of them pressed on him and clung to him more closely. Him he pushed off calling him 'pander', and saying, 'Touch me not, Reginald; you owe me fealty and subjection; you and your accomplices act like madmen.'
"The knight, fired with a terrible rage at this severe repulse, waved his sword over the sacred head. 'No faith', he cried, 'nor subjection do I owe you against my fealty to my lord the King.'
"Then the unconquered martyr seeing the hour at hand which should put an end to this miserable life and give him straightway the crown of immortality promised by the Lord, inclined his neck as one who prays and joining his hands he lifted them up, and commended his cause and that of the Church to God, to St. Mary, and to the blessed martry Denys.
Scarce had he said the words than the wicked knight, fearing lest he should be rescued by the people and escape alive, leapt upon him suddenly and wounded this lamb who was sacrificed to God on the head, cutting off the top of the crown which the sacred unction of the chrism had dedicated to God; and by the same blow he wounded the arm of him who tells this.
For he, when the others, both monks and clerks, fled, stuck close to the sainted Archbishop and held him in his arms till the one he interposed was almost severed.
"Then he received a second blow on the head but still stood firm. At the third blow he fell on his knees and elbows, offering himself a living victim, and saying in a low voice, 'For the Name of Jesus and the protection of the Church I am ready to embrace death.'
"Then the third knight inflicted a terrible wound as he lay, by which the sword was broken against the pavement, and the crown which was large was separated from the head. The fourth knight prevented any from interfering so that the others might freely perpetrate the murder.
"As to the fifth, no knight but that clerk who had entered with the knights, that a fifth blow might not be wanting to the martyr who was in other things like to Christ, he put his foot on the neck of the holy priest and precious martyr, and, horrible to say, scattered his brain and blood over the pavement, calling out to the others, 'Let us away, knights; he will rise no more.'
But the Bishop's intercession goes on...
if one studies the reign of Henry II, it becomes obvious that he really regretted prompting those knights to kill Thomas.
I think Thomas overplayed his hand though in the events leading up.
*not just me either, Churchill shares that view in his writings on the matter
Maybe I'm just ignorant on the matter, but what did Henry II's affairs have to do with Thomas Becket's murder?
Henry II was my 23 gr grandfather possibly 6X. Wiki says he had firey red hair, freckles and grey eyes, like me when young. I've never found anyone else in my history with that description, could be from somewhere else easily enough.
The account was gruesome, wiki says he regretted it, but how do you atone for something like that, murder and sacrilege? Bloody years back then but this was one of the worst.
To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list.
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Substitutional sacrifice of the “Sacred King” ping.
“For good or ill, let the wheel turn.
The wheel has been still these seven years,
and no good.
For good or ill let the wheel turn.
For who knows the end of good or evil?
Until the grinders cease,
and the door shall be shut in the street, and all the daughters of music shall be brought low.”
T. S. Eliot - “Murder in the Cathedral”
(”..... Here is no continuing city. Here no abiding stay .....”)
Not bad from memory, huh?
(..... Here is no continuing city. Here no abiding stay .....)
Out here in the perimeter, there are no stars....
His descendent Thomas Tracy was an early settler in New England.
Our family book says that the local folk in England say that his ghost still howls in the graveyard. I don't know how to source that, but yes, those were gruesome acts, although human nature still has that capacity for cruelty.
I won't say his name, but here is his website, and his name and email contact are on there.
I talked to him a lot on the Plantagenet group which has gone quiet for months now; he's an expert researcher, was a great help to me. He took his huge database down from rootsweb. I haven't asked him why, but he had it all sourced, so he would know. His sources were in code, and I should have gotten them all and the code before he took it down, but didn't; we have one American royal descendant ancestor in common. If he can't help you, he will know where to steer you.
Credible sources are critical in genealogy, the primary source documents are best, then on down to family bible notes, etc.
Also, Gary Boyd Roberts is a professional genealogist who has written 2 or 3 books. They deal with royal lineages of 600 and one other one with a similar title only a different number of immigrants. Also has one about the American cousins of Princess Diana, her American ancestry, something like that. I suggest you call your local library and ask them to look him up and the titles in their database; it would be in a special collections department, genealogy section, etc. Gary should have William de Tracy's descendants.
Google books has an open page where you can read about the shriek of William de Tracy's ghost.
Our Brown Deer had an extensive database on rootsweb, but his has disappeared, too. He's gone quiet lately as well. I might write him an email and ask why it's gone. I had a lot of fun with it, had all the American presidents, got a lot of good info from him. de Tracy might be in his database, too.
Otherwise, it might be in some peerage book. Those I haven't tackled yet, kind of formidable for where I'm at. Most libraries have them.
I don't know what's happened with ancestry.com, but they used to have tons of books, including 1 or 2 of Roberts' books I used a lot, can't get to them now.
Let me know if I can be of any further help. If I find anything more, I'll ping you. I could be descended from him (de Tracy) as well, think I also have Stuart ancestry from Mary Queen of Scots, will never be able to make the leap as it was probably illegitimate, and many of the northern Ireland records were burned. There is one blurb in a PA history I can use and a family genealogy, that's it. I got too frustrated with it and don't have the energy to travel to those huge libraries and pursue it like I ought.
Usually some of that family lore have some substance in fact such as the ghost of which you spoke.
Thanks for the post.
I need to get a copy of “Beckett”.
DECADES since I last saw it.
How can you go wrong with Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole in the
(with the two great talents as Beckett and the King, respectively)
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