Thomas a Becket
Born on 21st of December 1118
Died in Canterbury, Kent
Died on 29th of December 1170
Thomas à Becket (or Thomas Becket, the à added to his name long after his death) became a saint and martyr following his brutal murder in Canterbury cathedral for opposing Henry II.
Becket was born in Cheapside, London on December 21, 1118. From the age of 10 he received an excellent education in the law travelling to Paris, Bologna and Auxerre to complete his studies. Back in England in 1142 he was taken under the wing of Theobald, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who entrusted him with important missions to Rome. He came to the attention of Henry II who saw that Thomas could be extremely useful in helping him govern his domains in France and England. Henry was also comfortable with Becket’s courtly behavior, and made him chancellor – the first Englishman in the Norman era to attain high office. The two became firm friends with Thomas living a life of pomp and luxury.
When he became Archbishop of Canterbury following Theobald’s death Thomas à Becket forsook his former life becoming an ascetic and unswerving servant of the church, not afraid to excommunicate courtiers and great nobles. He incurred Henry’s displeasure – and eventually a huge financial demand - when he opposed the King’s plans to reduce the independence of the clergy. Forced to flee to France Thomas spent 6 years in exile (1164 - 1170) eventually returning at the King’s request, greeted joyously by those without power as their defender. However the old quarrels reignited so much so that the Kings complaints about Thomas were interpreted as an order to kill him. Four knights hacked him to death with their swords in Canterbury cathedral on December 29, 1170. Thomas à Becket was seen as a martyr and in 1173 was canonized by the pope. A popular saint, pilgrimages from Southwark where his last sermon was preached to the site of his murder contributed to the rebuilding of London Bridge and the founding of an infirmary to care for pilgrims on the road. This was to become of the site of St Thomas’s Hospital. His tomb was destroyed in 1538 during Henry VIII’s attack on the church.
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