Thomas a Becket (Now known as Saint Thomas Becket) was an Archbishop of Canterbury famous for being murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170
When and Where was he Born?
Thomas Becket was the son of wealthy Norman Merchants.
Merton Priory near Wimbledon, south west London. Paris. Studied law at Bologna and Auxerre.
Chronology/Biography of Thomas a Becket:
1140’s: Becket was trained in knightly exercises at Pevensey Castle. (now East Sussex).
1142: Thomas Becket entered the household of Theobald, the Archbishop of Canterbury who sent him to Italy and France to study Canon Law.
1152: At the Papal Court he prevented the recognition of King Stephen’s son Eustace as heir to the English throne.
1154: Becket appointed Chancellor of England and became a close friend of King Henry the Second of England whom he served as a skillful diplomat.
1159: Thomas Becket shows off his knightly combat skills during the Toulouse campaign.
1162: He is appointed Archbishop of Canterbury by King Henry. He emerged as an unlikely defender of the rights of the Church.
1163: Becket spoke up against the King at the Council of Westminster.
1164: At the Council of Clarendon Thomas a Becket spoke out against the King’s wish to try in the lay courts clergy who had already been convicted in an ecclesiastical court. (The so-called “Benefit of Clergy”) and refused to endorse other orders which further challenged the authority of the church. He finally went into exile in France after appealing to Pope Alexander the Third about the enraged King who had sequestered all his goods and revenues.
1170: He returned to England after two years in France (Cistercian Abbey of Pontigny) and Italy (Rome, again appealing to the Pope and excommunicated a number of bishops, including the Archbishop of York who had participated in a ceremony to crown Henry’s son as joint King of England. This further infuriated the King who was heard to say, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” Four knights, Hugh de Merville, William de Tracy, Reginald Fitzurse and Richard le Breton took the king at his word and entered Canterbury Cathedral and murdered him in spite of the best efforts to protect him of Robert, one of the Canons from Merton Priory. Robert was later to show people Becket’s hairshirt which was proof, in medieval eyes, of his holiness.
Canterbury Cathedral where Becket was murdered (copyright Anthony Blagg)
(1173): Becket is acclaimed a martyr and canonised and his tomb at Canterbury Cathedral became one of Europe’s most important centres of pilgrimage.
(1174): King Henry pays public penance at his tomb.
When and Where Did he Die?
Murdered on 29th December 1170, Canterbury Cathedral, Kent.
Age at Death:
Site of Grave:
Canterbury Cathedral, Kent, England. In 1220 his bones were transferred to a shrine in the Trinity Chapel, which was destroyed in 1538 during the Reformation. King Henry the Eight ordered the desecration of his bones but since that time his skull, which was the only part to survive, has been preserved under the corona.
Places of Interest:
Merton Priory. The Chapter House and a few ruins only remain and are threatened by modern developments. Besides Becket other famous people to be schooled at Merton were Nicholas Breakspear, the only English Pope and Walter De Merton, the founder of Merton College, Oxford University.