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Thomas Becket: Murder in the Cathedral

He was a friend and a thorn to Henry II, man of the state and then of the Church, heroic martyr and then reviled traitor. Emma Wells uncovers the contradictions of this most turbulent priest
Becket was butchered in his own cathedral by four knights, but did they have Henry II’s implicit backing?
The cracks in Becket’s relationship with Henry appeared after he became archbishop

DID YOU KNOW?

Becket is central to Geo rey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales: it is to his shrine that all of the pilgrims are travelling.

Augustine of Hippo helped develop the Church’s concept of Original Sin
ALAMY X2, BRIDGEMAN IMAGES X2

On the afternoon of 29 December 1170, omas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, was retiring in his private quarters. His transition from royal favourite to enemy of the state had been swift. Unwittingly, his actions had inspired outrage in Henry II, then residing in France, and incited four knights to slip across the Channel to rid the realm of the “low-born clerk”.

The knights who arrived at Becket’s lodgings that night — William de Tracy, Reginald Fitz-Urse, Hugh de Morville and Richard le Bret — claimed to bear a message from the King. A violent struggle ensued as they attempted to take Becket prisoner. Taking refuge in Canterbury Cathedral, Becket stood resolute as the knights closed in. Glimpsing their drawn swords, he declared, “I am prepared to die for my Lord, so that in my blood the Church will attain liberty and peace.”

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About BBC History Revealed Magazine

When faced with an obstacle as imposing as the Great Wall of China, most attackers would be forced to admit defeat. Not Genghis Khan. He simply went around it and invaded China by the back door. And that's not the end of his tale - we explore how the nomadic pauper created the largest contiguous land empire in the whole of human history. Plus: The spectacular falling out between Henry II and Saint Thomas Becket, how World War I birthed the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, five key moments in the American Revolutionary War, and more.