St. Thomas ả Becket





Thomas Becket, also known as Thomas of London, was born in that city in 1118. He was born to his mother Matilda and his father Gilbert, who was a wealthy Norman merchant. He first began to be educated at Merton Priory in Surrey, then in a City of London school, and finally in Paris. He then became a city clerk and accountant for the sheriffs at age 21. He continued this job for three years when his father introduced him to Archbishop Theobald. He soon joined Theobald’s staff at about 1142. After accompanying the archbishop to Rome in 1143, Thomas was sent to Bologna and Auxerre to study canon law. Becket had very important job which included distributing royal charters, writs, and letters. Becket gradually increased his influence under Theobald. After this he was given more important diplomatic missions and distinguished himself by acting as the English primate’s agent at the papal curia in 1152.


Then in 1154, Archbishop Theobald, when asked by King Henry II, recommended Becket as chancellor of England. As chancellor, Becket did many things to strengthen the central monarchy and even led one of Henry’s armies into battle. He would hold this position for seven years until Theobald died in 1161 when Henry appointed Becket Archbishop of Canterbury in hopes of regaining control over the churches in England. Becket, being only a deacon at the time, had to first be ordained a priest. This angered many churchmen Becket was an inexperienced priest and a cruel military leader who was a close friend of Henry’s. Despite most expectations, Becket turned out to be supportive of keeping the church and crown separate. This was a shock to everybody, especially Henry who was relying on Becket to support his plans to tax the church.


Becket’s habits also changed. He was previously known for his love of expensive food, wine, and clothes, but now he showed much concern for the poor. Also, to show penance for previous sins, Becket slept on a cold stone floor, wore a tight hairshirt infested with fleas, and was whipped daily by his monks.


Becket continued to stand up for the church which turned Henry and him from best friends to almost enemies. In 1163, while Henry was in France, Becket had claimed the right to hold the trial for anyone the church had trained. Most people sought to be tried by the church courts because the punishments could not include torture or execution unlike the King’s courts. Henry ordered that any clergyman found guilty of serious crimes to be tried by his courts. Becket opposed this and insisted the church try there own clergy. This infuriated Henry who was set on revenge.


In 1164, Becket was involved in a land dispute and was summoned by Henry to appear before his courts but he refused. Henry then confiscated Becket’s property and claimed Becket had stolen 300 pounds while he was chancellor. Becket denied this and even offered to repay the money but Henry insisted he stand trial for it and other charges including treason. This caused Becket to flee to France where he started propaganda against Henry with King Louis VIII help. Becket eventually agreed to return to England while Henry was away in Normandy. Becket expelled from the church many of the leading clergymen who supported Henry.


Henry, who had gotten word of Becket’s return, was claimed saying, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” Four knights, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy, Reginald Fitz Urse, and Richard le Bret, heard this and decided to return to England and kill Becket. The four knights arrived in Canterbury on December 29, 1170, and demanded Becket pardon the men he excommunicated, but Becket refused. He then walked to the alter of St. Benedict the Confessor and begin to pray where he was murdered by the knights. Henry was held responsible for the murder and forced to give penance of face excommunication, so he did. Becket was canonized by Pope Alexander III and December 29 was officially named St. Thomas’s feast day on the church calendar. Becket’s tomb quickly became a favorite spot to make a pilgrimage to in that time period and was a main theme in Chaucer’s The