Thomas Becket

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Saint Thomas Becket
Archbishop of Canterbury

Illustration from an English Book of hours telling an account of the murder, c. 1390, National Library of Wales
Appointed 24 May 1162
Enthroned 3 June 1162
Reign ended 29 December 1170
Predecessor Theobald of Bec
Successor Roger de Bailleul
Orders
Ordination 2 June 1162
Consecration 3 June 1162
by Henry of Blois
Personal details
Birth name Thomas Becket
Born 21 December c. 1119
Cheapside, London
Died 29 December 1170
Canterbury Cathedral
Buried Canterbury Cathedral
Nationality English
Denomination Roman Catholic
Parents
  • Gilbert Beket
  • Matilda
Previous post Archdeacon of Canterbury
Sainthood
Feast day 29 December
Venerated in
Title as Saint Bishop and Martyr
Beatified 21 February 1173
by Pope Alexander III
Canonized 21 February 1173
St Peter's Church in Segni
by Pope Alexander III
Attributes Sword, Martyrdom, dressed in chancellor's robe and neck chain
Patronage Exeter College, Oxford; Portsmouth; Arbroath Abbey; secular clergy
Shrines Canterbury Cathedral

Thomas Becket was an English priest, and Archbishop of Canterbury, who was killed by four knights with their swords in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. People used to think his name was Thomas á Becket, but it is now known to be wrong.[1]

Becket was born in Cheapside, London. He was intelligent when he was a child. He also enjoyed playing sports, such as hunting. At age 16, he left for Paris to study.[2]

In 1143, Becket joined the household of Theobald, as a clerk. He became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162. He had been a close friend of King Henry II, but they argued about the rights of the Church. A rift grew between Henry and Becket. The new archbishop resigned as Lord Chancellor and sought to extend the rights of the archbishopric. This led to a series of conflicts with the King. One was on the jurisdiction of secular courts over English clergymen.

Stained glass window of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral

Attempts by Henry to influence the other bishops against Becket began in Westminster in October 1163. The King sought approval of the traditional rights of the royal government in regard to the church.[3] Henry presided over most of the higher English clergy at Clarendon Palace on 30 January 1164. Becket was officially asked to agree to the King's rights.

Henry summoned Becket to appear before a great council at Northampton Castle on 8 October 1164, to answer allegations. Convicted on the charges, Becket stormed out of the trial and fled to the Continent.[3] King Louis VII of France offered Becket protection. He spent nearly two years in the Cistercian abbey of Pontigny, until Henry's threats made him return to Sens.

Beckett returned to England, but the dispute continued. He excommunicated his enemies in the Church, and threatened to do the same to Henry.

Upon hearing reports of Becket's actions, Henry said things which were understood 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 "Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?".

Becket was killed by four followers of the King on 29 December 1170. He became a saint in 1173. His major shrine is in Canterbury, but was destroyed by order of Henry VIII during his reign.

References[change | change source]

  1. Memorials of Thomas Cranmer (1694)
  2. "Thomas Becket." World History: Ancient and Medieval Eras. ABC-CLIO, 2013. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Barlow "Becket, Thomas (1120?–1170)" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. [1]