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History Society – Thomas Becket

27th May 2022 @ 6:06am – by Valerie Mackin
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thomas becket murder


On the 19th May 2022 local historian and resident Roger Wickson gave a talk to the Audlem and District History Society on the interesting life and death of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury.

This talk was postponed from 2021, because of Covid restrictions, which would have been the 750th anniversary of Thomas Beckets death. An interesting subject never the less.

Thomas Becket was not Archbishop of Canterbury for long and spent most of his time in exile. He was murdered at the request of King Henry ll, after which his popularity grew throughout Christendom Miracles were attributed to him and he was made Martyr and Saint.Many people came to worship at his shrine.

It is said it inspired the Canterbury Tales. Tennyson and TS Elliot wrote poems and plays. Thomas's blood was greatly sort after as a relic.

King Henryll ,mother Matilda was in conflict with King Stephen for many years for the throne and it is said she gave up her struggle as long as her son was in line for the throne after Stephen's death. This was made easier as Stephen's own son died before him. Henry ruled not only England but over many lands in France. He was in conflict with the King of France over these lands. Through Henry, England became the centre of education through universities in Oxford and Cambridge. Henry had a temper and liked to get his own way, in the end this is what caused conflict between him and Becket.

Thomas Becket started his professional career in the household of Archbishop of Canterbury Theobold and was introduced to the King by Theobold. They soon became friends, Becket was made Chancellor. Although they were of the same mind the king made sure Becket was subordinate. Coming across a beggar the king made Becket give up his cloak to the man, just to prove who was senior.

After Theobolds death Henry wanted Thomas to become Archbishop of Canterbury even though he was only low order ordained and he felt he wasn't qualified. In the end the king got his way and Becket was not only Archbishop of Canterbury but also Chancellor.

Although Becket had supporters he also had opponents. Henry wanted to restore Law and Order and make crimes committed by the church come under common law and not be punished and tried by Church Courts.
Becket did not fall into line and refused to follow Henry's wants. Even when Henry suggested the Church could try clergy in Church Courts but be sentenced in the Kings Court Beckett would not agree. In the end Becket went into exile. During his exile Becket self tortured, wearing a lice ridden hair shirt and eat and drank little.
Henry wanted to get his son crowned in the end the Archbishop of Coventry crowned him, Becket felt this a deliberate slight on him by the king. They did meet in France for a reconciliation, no kiss of peace though. Thomas Becket returned in 1164 to Sandwich in Kent, the king delighted to have him back but Becket preached, and denounced the Kings supporters and x communicated them. In 1170 Becket again returned to Canterbury but no reconciliation.

Henry was at the end of his tether and a chance comment 'who will rid me of this turbulent priest.' sealed his fate. 29th December 4 knights made there way to Canterbury Cathedral and approached the Archbishop after a short consultation they killed Thomas Becket. Henry was shocked not only by the killing but also by the adoration Thomas was held in. Even after in 1174 King Henry did penance in the Cathedral, Thomas Becket's memory affected the rest of his reign.

Thank you Roger Wickson for this informative talk on Thomas Becket a man who stood up for his principles and whose memory is still with us today.

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