Saturday, December 29, 2018
The Death of Thomas Becket
Will No One Rid Me of This Turbulent Priest?
Today marks the anniversary of the murder in 1170 of Saint Thomas Becket. This murder has always been the most serious stain upon the reign of King Henry II
Of Norman descent (the movie Becket inaccurately has Henry referring to Becket as a Saxon), Becket rose to be appointed Lord Chancellor of England. While Chancellor Henry nominated Becket (who at this time was not a priest) to the position of Archbishop of Canterbury, clearly hoping that Becket would use his power as primate of England to mold ecclesiastical policy in favor of royal interests. Becket failed to do so, rather becoming an ascetic and placing the interests of the Church over those of the crown. Eventually he was forced to resign as Lord Chancellor.
The contest of wills between Henry and Becket over the Constitutions of Clarendon, they seeking to increase the power of the civil state over the Church and its constituents, led to a final break in the relationship, with Becket even fleeing England for France. Eventually he would return to Canterbury.
While in France and likely well into his cups, Henry made a statement (exactly what was said is lost to history – there are conflicting accounts) that was interpreted by four knights as a direction to kill Becket. They crossed the Channel and challenged Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, there killing him. Becket was canonized barely three years later, and the four assassins were excommunicated and ordered to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land (at least one of them thereafter became a Templar). Henry would later do public penance at Becket’s shrine in Canterbury Cathedral.
There is a passing reference to Becket in The Lion in Winter.