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Tuesday, 29 December 2015

29th December - Thomas Becket

Thomas Becket, also known as Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas of London and Thomas à Becket (1119-1170) was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until his murder in 1170. He engaged in conflict with Henry II of England over the rights and privileges of the Church and was murdered by followers of the king in Canterbury Cathedral. Becket was born on the feast day of St Thomas the Apostle. When he was 10, Becket was sent as a student to Merton Priory in England and later attended a grammar school in London, perhaps the one at St Paul's Cathedral. Becket was ordained a priest on 2 June 1162 at Canterbury, and on 3 June 1162 was consecrated as Archbishop. King Henry may have hoped that Becket would continue to put the royal government first, rather than the church. The famous transformation of Becket into an ascetic occurred at this time.

In June 1170, the Archbishop of York, the Bishop of London, and the Bishop of Salisbury, crowned the heir apparent, Henry the Young King, at York. This was a breach of Canterbury's privilege of coronation, and Becket excommunicated all three. 

Upon hearing reports of Becket's actions, Henry is said to have uttered words that were interpreted by his men as wishing Becket killed. The king's exact words are in doubt and the most commonly quoted is "Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?" Or perhaps "What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?"

Whatever Henry said, it was interpreted as a royal command, and four Knights set out to confront the Archbishop. They arrived at Canterbury and 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.