of Canterbury: Thomas Becket was a Saxon, born in London’s
Cheapside on 21st December 1118 to Gilbert and Matilda Beket.
He became an agent to Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, and
undertook several trips to Rome. Becket was noticed by Henry II
and the two became close friends, the King made Becket his English
Chancellor in 1155. In 1162 Henry appointed Thomas Becket, Archbishop
of Canterbury. Their friendship was put under strain when it became
clear that Becket would now stand up for the church in its disagreements
with the king. In 1164, due to Henry's irritation, Becket fled
into exile in France, and remained in exile, until he returned
to Canterbury on 30th November 1170.
to Canterbury threw King Henry into a rage, he was purported to
have shouted: "What sluggards, what cowards have I brought
up in my court, who care nothing for their allegiance to their
lord. Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest."
The king's outrage
while in France inspired four knights to set sail to England to
rid the realm of this annoying high ecclesiastical dignitary.
Two of the knights landed at Folkestone, and were joined at Saltwood
Castle, by the others who had disembarked at Winchelsea to plot
the death of Becket. Hugh de Moreville was one of the four knights
that committed the assassination, along with Reginald Fitzurse,
William de Tracey, and Richard le Breton. These four discussed
their plans in darkness, none daring to behold another's face.
When the four
knights arrived at Canterbury. According to accounts they placed
their weapons under a tree outside the cathedral and hid their
mail armour under cloaks before entering to challenge Becket.
The knights informed Becket he was to go to Winchester to give
an account of his actions, but Becket refused. It was not until
Becket refused their demands to submit to the king's will that
they retrieved their weapons and rushed back inside for the killing.
Becket, meanwhile, proceeded to the main hall for vespers. The
knights, wielding drawn swords, caught up with him at the altar
in a spot near a door to the monastic cloister, the stairs into
the crypt, and the stairs leading up into the quire of the cathedral,
where the monks were chanting vespers.
...The wicked knight leapt suddenly upon him, cutting off
the top of the crown which the unction of sacred chrism had dedicated
to God. Next he received a second blow on the head, but still
he stood firm and immovable. At the third blow he fell on his
knees and elbows, offering himself a living sacrifice, and saying
in a low voice, 'For the name of Jesus and the protection of the
Church, I am ready to embrace death.' But the third knight inflicted
a terrible wound as he lay prostrate. By this stroke, the crown
of his head was separated from the head in such a way that the
blood white with the brain, and the brain no less red from the
blood, dyed the floor of the cathedral. The same clerk who had
entered with the knights placed his foot on the neck of the holy
priest and precious martyr, and, horrible to relate, scattered
the brains and blood about the pavements, crying to the others,
'Let us away, knights; this fellow will arise no more. (Lee
This Sceptred Isle p. 71)
Becket was made
a saint in 1173 and his shrine in Canterbury Cathedral became
an important focus for pilgrimage
Canterbury Trail >