Becket, Thomas

(c. 1118–70)
   Saint, Martyr and Archbishop.
   Becket was born in London and educated at Merton Abbey and Paris. After legal training he was ordained Deacon. He came to the notice of King Henry II when he was in the household of Archbishop theobald. In 1155 he was appointed Chancellor of England, in which position he was a loyal and successful servant of the King. Expecting the same commitment from him, Henry secured his election as Archbishop of Canterbury. Instead, Becket resigned as Chancellor, adopted an austere way of life and dedicated himself to the Church. He opposed the King in his claims for the secular courts and insisted on the churchman’s right to appeal to Rome. In 1164 he was forced to flee to France and, although he was permitted to return to England in 1170, he promptly excommunicated several Bishops who had connived with the King. In fury, Henry demanded to be rid of ‘this turbulent priest’. Four knights took him at his word. They rode to Canterbury and murdered the Archbishop in his own cathedral. The whole Christian world was aghast. The King was forced to do public penance and Becket was canonised in 1173. Canterbury became a major centre of pilgrimage and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, describing one such journey, has become a classic of English literature.
   F. Barlow, Thomas Becket (1986);
   B. Smalley, The Becket Conflict and the Schools (1973).

Who’s Who in Christianity . 2014.

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