The Angevin Empire

The Murder of Thomas Becket

Thomas Becket argues with Henry I and Louis VII (British Library)Thomas Becket was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162 and immediately became a champion of the church. In 1164 at a Council at Clarendon Henry II tried to pressure the bishops into a written agreement on the respective rights of the church and crown, but Becket led their refusal. In October Becket was charged with contempt for not answering a summons to the royal court and then accused of financial irregularity. Faced with this second charge Becket hastily left England for Flanders. Early 13th century ampulla showing St Thomas Becket [Museum of London] His dispute with Henry dragged on until 1169 when the king became anxious to have his son, Young Henry, crowned as joint king. If the coronation was not performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury its validity could be challenged. A brief truce between the king and archbishop came to nothing and in June 1170 Young Henry was crowned by the Archbishop of York supported by several other bishops.

Murder of Thomas Becket (British Library)Becket returned to England in November 1170 authorised by the pope to punish by excommunication those bishops who had usurped his rights over the coronation. Henry, who was spending Christmas in Normandy, now became extremely angry. Seeing this, four of his knights returned to England and attempted to arrest Becket in Canterbury cathedral. When Becket resisted he was savagely murdered.

It was not until May 1172 that Henry’s penance for the murder was accepted by the pope. Meanwhile miracles had started to occur at Becket’s tomb in Canterbury cathedral crypt and in February 1173 he was made a saint.

previous page    next page