Timelines to Visualize History

A Project by the Department of Medieval English Literature and Historical Linguistics, University of Düsseldorf

Begin End Event Description Keywords Related Events
1118 1170

Thomas Becket

Thomas Becket was one of the most influential martyrs in the history of the English Church. Outstanding administrative talents marked him out for a rapid career and he was made Chancellor of England by Henry II, whom he was a close friend of. After multiple arguments about the powers of the Church, Becket fled to France and when he came back six years later, he was assassinated after enraging the king.

Thomas Becket was born in 1118 in London to a Norman merchant family and was educated at Merton Priory. Outstanding administrative talents marked him out for a rapid career so that in 1154, he was appointed Archdeacon of Canterbury. Later that year, Henry II also made him Chancellor of England.

For eight years Becket and the King maintained a close friendship, until Henry made him Archbishop of Canterbury in 1161, the highest clerical office in England. Becket was torn between the demands put on him by his secular responsibilities and his religious vocation and resigned as Chancellor, breaking his friendship with Henry. As a representative of the Church he became Henry's most formidable opponent, claiming that he would obey only one lord: God. They fought their most bitter fights about the powers of the church, which Henry wanted to see reduced and partly transferred to secular courts (see also Constitutions of Clarendon.

Becket, however, refused to submit to the king's wishes, and after a final stormy confrontation at a council of barons and bishops, he fled to France, where he appealed for protection to the pope. He remained in exile for six years, but when he returned, he excommunicated the Archbishop of York for having assisted with Henry the Young King's coronation, son of Henry II. This was a breach to Canterbury's privilege of coronation and angered Becket.

However, the excommunication enraged Henry II, and four of his knights interpreted his raging as an order to kill Becket. They travelled to Canterbury and assassinated him in the late afternoon of 29 December on the steps of his own Cathedral. Soon after, he became a martyr and was canonized as a saint. His shrine became one of the principal centres of pilgrimage of medieval Christendom.
History, Middle English Period, Political, Religious