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Thomas Becket "My father, King Henry, had faithful servants—He had but to say that he was plagued with a factious priest, and the blood of Thomas-a-Becket, saint though he was, stained the steps of his own altar."

—Sir Walter Scott, Ivanhoe

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Thomas BecketThomas Becket served twelfth century England as both chancellor and archbishop at Canterbury. Born between 1117 & 1120 in London to Norman parents, he was raised within upper class society. Thomas was schooled in Surrey at the Merton Priory.

Becket of CanterburyAt the age of 25, Thomas applied for a position with Theobald of Bec, the archbishop of Canterbury. It was helpful that Theobald was a distant family relation. These years provided a privileged introduction to the political realms of church and state.

Becket of CanterburyIn 1154, Henry II, the new king, and a friend of Becket's instated the young Archdeacon as chancellor. This was supported by Theobald who saw in Thomas a close ally near to the king's ear.
Thomas Becket Thomas Becket Thomas Becket
Thomas Becket Canterbury cathedral
Canterbury cathedral Canterbury cathedral Canterbury cathedral Canterbury cathedral
Canterbury cathedral Canterbury cathedral

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  Gothic Dreams: Manuscript depiction of the murder of Thomas Becket
Twelfth century manuscript depicting the attack on Thomas at the altar of
Canterbury cathedral.

English historyAt Theobald's, death, Henry nominated Becket as archbishop of Canterbury. Thomas's refusal to maintain both positions began a dispute between the two friends which grew as they differed over the roles of church and state. Their relationship severed completely with Becket's outright dismissal of the Henry's Constitutions of Clarendon.

English historyH
enry would not tolerate such an outright defiance, and charged Thomas with treason. Becket escaped arrest, fleeing to France, where he resided in sanctuary at Sens cathedral. After six years in exile, a truce of necessity was reached in 1170, and the archbishop returned home. However a peace of agreement between them was not to be achieved. Unable to bear with certain offenses to the church, which had arisen in his absence, Becket excommunicated some of Henry's closest allies. Among the most powerful of these, were the bishops of London and Salisbury.

  Gothic Dreams Imagery: Canterbury Cathedral Portal

English history
Henry believed that upon his return to England, Thomas would change his stance regarding the bishops. Becket stood firm in his condemnation, which enraged the king further. The lore of history attributes to Henry, the words: "Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest." Whether such words were actually spoken, we know not. Yet it is easy to imagine such a complaint voiced often during their years of estrangement and dispute.

English historyOn December 29, 1170 Thomas was murdered upon the altar of Canterbury cathedral by several of Henry's knights, acting either on their own outrage or a ill guided sense of duty. Henry was greatly disturbed by the killing and the guilty were eventually hunted down. In time, the king humiliated himself in penance by walking through the streets of Canterbury without shoes while suffering a flogging administered by rows of monks. In 1173 Thomas Becket was canonized by the Pope following unprecedented popular devotion to the martyred bishop.

Henry II

Henry II"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.'

- The account of Edward Grim, a monk who witnessed the murder of Thomas Becket.

Image at left:  Interior portal at Canterbury cathedral, leading to the altar.

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Development & Production Credits
Theme Editor :   Nicole Blackford   —   Primary Text :   Rhey Cedron
Art Direction :   Thierry Alberto   —   Art Research :   Malcolm Hurrell
Principal Photography :   Rhey Cedron
Structural Design :  Mark Nelson   —   Research Assistant :  Walter McCrae
Support Production :  Henry Craig,  Joan Flandrin, Clara Kelly

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