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Enrique II de Inglaterra y Thomas Becket, St. David's

Enrique II de Inglaterra y Thomas Becket, St. David's


Santo Tomás Becket

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Santo Tomás Becket, también llamado Thomas à Becket o Thomas de Londres, (nacido c. 1118, Cheapside, Londres, Inglaterra; fallecido el 29 de diciembre de 1170, Canterbury, Kent canonizado en 1173 el día festivo el 29 de diciembre), canciller de Inglaterra (1155-1162) y arzobispo de Canterbury (1162-1170) durante el reinado del rey Enrique II. Su carrera estuvo marcada por una larga disputa con Henry que terminó con el asesinato de Becket en la catedral de Canterbury. Es venerado como santo y mártir en la Iglesia Católica Romana y en la Comunión Anglicana. Es un santo patrón del clero secular (sacerdotes y diáconos que sirven pastoralmente en las parroquias).


Becket se convierte en arzobispo

La Catedral de Canterbury © Becket probablemente fue muy influyente durante la primera parte del reinado de Enrique. Actuó como embajador y negociador principal en los primeros tratos de Enrique con el rey Luis VII de Francia, y desempeñó un papel destacado en la desafortunada expedición a Toulouse de 1159. Por lo tanto, estaba cerca del rey en el momento en que Enrique estaba en su mejor momento. estridente e intransigente, y probablemente fue el recuerdo de esto lo que influyó en las acciones de Becket cuando se convirtió en arzobispo.

Todos, Henry incluido, esperaban que Becket fuera un hombre que aceptara al Rey.

En el acceso de Henry en 1154, Theobald era arzobispo de Canterbury. Theobald tenía una visión bastante pragmática de la relación entre Church y Crown. En su opinión, los dos deberían cooperar mediante un proceso sensato de toma y daca, sobre todo porque esto ponía un poco de distancia entre Canterbury y el Papa, que había intervenido recientemente de manera desastrosa en los asuntos ingleses. Theobald se había visto obligado a limpiar el lío causado por la interferencia papal en la elección del arzobispo de York, y el Papa también había reconocido a la Iglesia irlandesa en 1152, para disgusto de Theobald.

Catedral de Canterbury © Cuando Theobald murió en 1161, Henry maniobró a Becket en el asiento vacante. Sabiendo la forma en que Henry hizo estas cosas (una vez ordenó a Winchester que "celebrara elecciones libres y justas y eligiera a mi hombre Robert para el cargo"), indudablemente causó mala sangre. Es en este contexto que debemos ver la elevación de Becket al arzobispado. Todos, Henry incluido, esperaban que Becket fuera un hombre que aceptara al Rey. De lo que nadie se dio cuenta fue de que Becket se tomaría su nuevo papel muy en serio. Se había lanzado con entusiasmo al trabajo de canciller de Enrique, ahora haría lo mismo con la Iglesia. Dio aviso de esto al renunciar a la cancillería, para sorpresa de todos.


St Davids del siglo XII representados en la exposición del Museo Británico: Thomas Becket. Asesinato y la formación de un santo

La muy reverenciada Dra. Sarah Rowand Jones, decana de la Catedral de St Davids, con un báculo en exhibición en el Tesoro de la Catedral. © Catedral de San David

La catedral de St David en el oeste de Gales está prestando uno de sus báculo del siglo XII al Museo Británico para su importante exposición de verano. "Thomas Becket: asesinato y santificación" se celebrará en Londres del 20 de mayo de 2021 al 22 de agosto de 2021.

El báculo es uno de los varios artefactos medievales descubiertos en 1865 durante los trabajos de restauración del arquitecto George Gilbert Scott para sostener la frágil torre de la catedral. Se encontraron croziers, así como anillos y cálices en las tumbas del obispo Richard de Carew, obispo de St Davids 1256-1280, y del obispo Thomas Beck, obispo de St Davids 1280-1293.

Thomas Becket: asesinato y creación de un santo es la primera gran exposición del Reino Unido sobre la vida, la muerte y el legado de Thomas Becket, cuyo brutal asesinato dentro de la catedral de Canterbury en 1170 sacudió la Edad Media. Trazará más de 500 años de historia desde el notable ascenso de Becket desde sus comienzos ordinarios hasta convertirse en una de las figuras más poderosas de la Inglaterra normanda, hasta su legado perdurable pero divisivo en los siglos posteriores a su muerte. La historia se contará a través de una serie de más de 100 objetos impresionantes reunidos por primera vez, incluidos préstamos raros de todo el Reino Unido y Europa. El báculo prestado por St Davids, que data del siglo XII, mostrará a los visitantes de la exposición un ejemplo de lo que la iglesia utilizó durante la vida de Becket.

Thomas Becket fue arzobispo de Canterbury desde 1162 hasta el 29 de diciembre de 1170 cuando fue asesinado por soldados del rey Enrique II durante un servicio de Vísperas en la catedral de Canterbury - Becket había estado en disputa con el rey sobre los poderes que el monarca tenía sobre la iglesia. También fue Enrique II quien bloqueó el nombramiento como obispo de St Davids del erudito Cymro-Norman Gerald de Barri (también conocido como Gerald the Welshman, Gerallt Cymro o Geraldus Cambrensis). En su lugar, Enrique nombró al monje normando Peter de Leia, quien se convirtió en el responsable de la reconstrucción de la Catedral en 1181 en la forma en que la conocemos hoy en día. El rey Enrique también había luchado, en gran parte sin éxito, contra Arglwydd Rhys ap Gryffudd (Lord Rhys), Príncipe de Deheubarth y Gales del Sur. Gerallt Cymro y Arglwydd Rhys están enterrados en la catedral de St Davids.

Mari James, Oficial de Desarrollo de la Biblioteca de la Catedral, en la instalación del báculo en la exhibición del Museo Británico. © Los fideicomisarios del Museo Británico

Un año después del asesinato de Thomas Becket, Enrique II hizo una peregrinación al santuario de San David el 29 de septiembre de 1171. que se registró en los Anales galeses medievales, Brut y Tywysogion, o Crónicas de los príncipes. El 850 aniversario de esta visita se marcará en la Catedral de San David en septiembre de 2021. San David había sido un importante destino de peregrinaje tras la afirmación del Papa Calixto II en 1123 de que dos peregrinaciones a San David eran equivalentes a una a Roma. Gerald registró que el rey hizo su segunda peregrinación al año siguiente, el 1 de abril de 1172. La catedral tiene una capilla dedicada a Santo Tomás Becket, que puede haber sido construida en el lugar de la visita del rey al edificio más antiguo.

La Reverendísima Dra. Sarah Rowland Jones, Decana de St. Davids dijo: “El siglo XII fue un período importante en la historia de Gales, ya que vio la transición del gobierno de los príncipes nativos de Gales al de la monarquía normanda e inglesa. Estamos encantados de compartir la historia de nuestra Catedral en la época medieval, prestando uno de nuestros tesoros al Museo Británico durante unos meses. Es un placer contribuir a esta exposición excepcional sobre la vida, el asesinato y la influencia continua de St Thomas Becket ".

El báculo regresará a la catedral de St Davids después del cierre de la exposición y luego estará nuevamente en exhibición pública en el Tesoro de la Catedral.


Enrique II de Inglaterra y Thomas Becket, St. David's - Historia

El asesinato de Thomas Becket en la catedral de Canterbury el 29 de diciembre de 1170 cambió el curso de la historia. Becket fue una de las figuras más poderosas de su tiempo, sirviendo como canciller real y más tarde como arzobispo de Canterbury. Inicialmente amigos cercanos del rey Enrique II, los dos hombres se involucraron en una amarga disputa que culminó con el impactante asesinato de Becket por parte de caballeros con estrechos vínculos con el rey. Es una historia de traición, del abuso de poder percibido y de aquellos que caen por interponerse en el camino de la Corona. Aquí exploramos el ascenso y la caída de Becket, y desglosamos los eventos que llevaron al asesinato que sacudió la Edad Media ...

¿Quién era Thomas Becket?

Becket era un inmigrante francés de segunda generación, nacido alrededor de 1120 en Cheapside, en la City de Londres, hijo de Gilbert y Matilda, que habían abandonado Normandía tras la conquista normanda. Su padre era un comerciante bien conectado, pero la familia no era ni excesivamente rica ni poderosa. Becket fue enviado a la escuela en Merton Priory y, después de unos años estudiando en París, finalmente consiguió un empleo a través de uno de los amigos de su padre como empleado de Theobald, el entonces arzobispo de Canterbury. Becket fue descrito por sus contemporáneos como inteligente, encantador y autoritario y, en 1155, obtuvo su mayor oportunidad. Reconociendo su talento, Theobald sugirió que Enrique II nombrara a Becket como canciller de Inglaterra. Él y el rey rápidamente se hicieron amigos cercanos, cazando, jugando y viajando juntos por Inglaterra. Becket abrazó la vida en la corte real: sus biógrafos contemporáneos dicen que disfrutó de una gran riqueza, organizó lujosas fiestas, decoró sus residencias con hermosos muebles y realizó numerosos viajes a Francia en sus propios barcos.

Levantarse y caer

Cuando quedó vacante el puesto de arzobispo de Canterbury, Becket fue propuesto. Dado su estilo de vida y reputación, era un candidato poco probable, pero el rey tenía otras ideas. Henry estaba ansioso por nombrar a su amigo cercano para el puesto pero, de manera crucial, quería que continuara como canciller. Con Becket en ambos puestos, Henry vio la oportunidad de ejercer una mayor autoridad sobre la Iglesia y el estado. Becket fue nombrado arzobispo el 23 de mayo de 1162 y consagrado (oficialmente bendecido) el 3 de junio. Sin embargo, en algún momento durante el resto de ese año, y en contra de los deseos del rey, Becket dimitió como canciller. Sus acciones abrieron una brecha entre él y el rey que nunca sería reparada. A partir de ese momento, la relación de Becket con Henry comenzó a deteriorarse. Se produjo una serie de disputas con respecto a la división de poder entre la Corona y la Iglesia. En 1164, las tensiones estaban en su punto más alto y, en octubre, Becket fue citado para comparecer ante el consejo del rey y se le ordenó que confiscara todos sus bienes personales. Se negó a aceptar los términos de su castigo y, temiendo mayores repercusiones por parte del rey, huyó a Francia.

La vida en el exilio

Becket permaneció exiliado en Francia durante seis años. Durante este tiempo, Enrique ejerció su poder en Inglaterra. Su desaire más flagrante de la autoridad de su viejo amigo fue su decisión de que su hijo, Enrique el Joven Rey, fuera coronado en junio de 1170 por el enemigo de Becket, el arzobispo de York. Becket apeló al Papa y, bajo una presión significativa, Henry acordó reabrir las negociaciones. Después de esto, el arzobispo y el rey hablaron en privado por primera vez desde 1164, y Henry prometió restaurar los derechos de Becket como arzobispo de Canterbury. Becket se aseguró de que sería seguro regresar a Inglaterra. Sin embargo, su acto final fue castigar a los implicados en la coronación no autorizada. Antes de salir de Francia, Becket emitió tres cartas expulsando (excomulgando) al arzobispo de York y a dos obispos de la Iglesia. Este acto iba a tener consecuencias devastadoras a su regreso a Inglaterra.

El período previo al asesinato

Becket regresó del exilio el 1 de diciembre de 1170. Los informes contemporáneos registran que, en su viaje de regreso a la catedral, fue recibido por multitudes que vitoreaban y regocijaban a los monjes, pero enfrentó una creciente hostilidad por parte de las autoridades leales al rey. Mientras tanto, el arzobispo de York y los obispos de Londres y Salisbury, furiosos por haber sido excomulgados, viajaron a la corte real de Enrique en Normandía, donde transmitieron las acciones de Becket al rey. Henry estaba indignado y, aunque no está claro si alguna vez ordenó específicamente una retribución por las acciones de Becket, su furioso arrebato llevó a cuatro caballeros, Reginald FitzUrse, William de Tracy, Hugh de Morville y Richard le Bret, a viajar a Canterbury en busca de Becket. Uno de los biógrafos de Becket registra las palabras de Henry como:

¡Qué miserables zánganos y traidores he criado y promovido en mi casa que dejaron que su señor fuera tratado con tan vergonzoso desprecio por un empleado de baja cuna!

Frank Barlow, Thomas Becket (California: University of California Press, 1986), pág. 235.

La escena del crimen

Tenemos la suerte de tener cinco relatos de testigos presenciales del asesinato de Becket, todos los cuales coinciden en general en los detalles de lo que sucedió. Un relato clave fue escrito por un hombre llamado Edward Grim, que estaba tan cerca de Becket durante la escaramuza que fue herido por una de las espadas del caballero. Grim nos dice que cuando los cuatro caballeros llegaron a la catedral de Canterbury, Becket estaba en el Palacio del Arzobispo. Intentaron arrestarlo pero se negó. Becket fue persuadido por los monjes para que se refugiara en la iglesia, pero los caballeros lo persiguieron, irrumpiendo en la Catedral con las espadas desenvainadas, aterrorizando a los que estaban adentro gritando:

& # 8220 ¿Dónde está Thomas Becket, traidor al rey y al reino? los caballeros se abalanzaron sobre él… lo maltrataron y lo arrastraron bruscamente, con la intención de matarlo fuera de la iglesia o llevárselo encadenado.

Las vidas de Thomas Becket, ed. y trans. por Michael Staunton (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001), pág. 201.

Como relata Grim, Becket se aferró con fuerza a uno de los pilares de la Catedral para evitar que lo agarraran, y fue en este punto que uno de los caballeros levantó su espada por primera vez, derribándola sobre Becket y cortando la corona de su cabeza. Dos de los otros caballeros comenzaron a atacar a Becket y la mayoría de los monjes huyeron. El tercer golpe acabó con la vida del arzobispo. Horriblemente, al final del ataque, la corona de Becket tenía:

"Separados de la cabeza de modo que la sangre [se volvió] blanca del cerebro y el cerebro igualmente rojo de la sangre".

Las vidas de Thomas Becket, ed. y trans. por Michael Staunton (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001), pág. 203.

Los caballeros asesinos iban acompañados de un empleado que, debido a su implicación, se hizo conocido como "Mauclerk" o "empleado malvado". Tras el ataque, este Mauclerk:

puso su pie en el cuello del santo sacerdote y precioso mártir, y, horrible decirlo, esparció los sesos con la sangre por el pavimento. “Vámonos, caballeros”, gritó a los demás, “este tipo no volverá a levantarse.

Las vidas de Thomas Becket, ed. y trans. por Michael Staunton (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001), pág. 203.

Las secuelas

El caos siguió al asesinato y, sin que ninguno de los presentes supiera qué hacer a continuación, el cuerpo permaneció donde había caído durante varias horas. Algunas personas sumergieron partes de su ropa en la sangre derramada o la recogieron en pequeños recipientes para llevárselas en previsión de la futura santidad de Becket. Tras pasar la noche en el altar mayor de la Catedral, fue enterrado por los monjes al día siguiente en la cripta. Inmediatamente circularon informes de curaciones milagrosas relacionadas con Becket. Ante la creciente presión de la gente de Canterbury, los monjes abrieron la cripta de la Catedral para que los peregrinos pudieran visitar su tumba. Se registró una extraordinaria ola de milagros y, en reconocimiento de ello, Becket fue santificado (canonizado) por el Papa el 21 de febrero de 1173. Fue una de las canonizaciones más rápidas de la historia. La reputación de Becket como un santo que obraba milagros se extendió rápidamente y personas de toda Europa comenzaron a acudir en masa a Canterbury con la esperanza de que se curaran. Además de visitar la tumba, los peregrinos también podían comprar una mezcla de su sangre y agua, llamada Agua de Santo Tomás, que era embotellada y vendida por monjes oportunistas en pequeños vasos de plomo llamados ampolla. Enrique II, en un acto público de penitencia por su participación en el asesinato, visitó la tumba en 1174 y concedió la aprobación real al culto de Becket.

La muerte de Becket y los milagros posteriores transformaron la catedral de Canterbury en uno de los destinos de peregrinación más importantes de Europa. En 1220 su cuerpo fue trasladado de la cripta a un reluciente santuario nuevo en una capilla construida a tal efecto en el piso de arriba de la Catedral. Geoffrey Chaucer capturó algo de la atmósfera de la peregrinación a este santuario en su cuentos de Canterbury. Al morir, Becket siguió siendo una figura de oposición al poder desenfrenado y se convirtió en el defensor por excelencia de los derechos de la Iglesia. Con este fin, puede encontrar imágenes de su asesinato en iglesias de toda la cristiandad latina, desde Alemania y España, hasta Italia y Noruega. Becket fue, y sigue siendo, un verdadero santo europeo. Sus reliquias en Canterbury fueron visitadas por personas de todo el continente hasta 1538, cuando Enrique VIII lo etiquetaría como un traidor, ordenó la destrucción de su santuario y trató de borrarlo de la historia por completo. Eso, sin embargo, es una historia para otro momento.

Thomas Becket: asesinato y creación de un santo está abierto el 20 de mayo y el 22 de agosto de 2021. Obtenga más información sobre la exposición y reserve entradas aquí.

Compre el catálogo ricamente ilustrado que acompaña a la exposición.

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El primer golpe hirió a Thomas en la cabeza, y luego, mientras la sangre corría por su rostro, uno de los caballeros, Richard Brito, "lo golpeó con tal fuerza que la espada se rompió contra su cabeza", y toda la corona de su la cabeza fue cortada. Uno de los seguidores del caballero utilizó la punta de su espada para extraer el cerebro del arzobispo a través de la herida.

Fue un crimen horrible en sí mismo. Pero, dado el estado de la víctima y la santidad del lugar, fue un ultraje más allá de la comprensión.

¿Por qué fue asesinado Thomas Becket?

El ataque fue la conclusión de una larga lucha entre el rey y el arzobispo, que estuvo marcada casi desde el principio por un choque de personalidades. Había grandes problemas en juego. Enrique II fue un gobernante notable e inteligente, que tuvo la visión de una tierra en la que la justicia debería estar disponible para todos y todos deberían ser iguales bajo la ley real. Cuando era joven, había sido testigo de la desastrosa lucha por el trono (conocida como la Anarquía) entre su primo Esteban y su madre, Matilde, y estaba decidido a restablecer el buen gobierno.

Tomás tenía su propia visión, creyendo que en todas las cosas la autoridad de la iglesia debería ser suprema, y ​​que el rey debería gobernar como representante de la iglesia en el mundo secular. La interferencia real en los asuntos de la iglesia debe terminar, argumentó, después de siglos en los que el rey pudo intimidar a quienes eligieron a los líderes de la iglesia, incluso a los cardenales que eligieron al Papa él mismo.

Ambos creían apasionadamente en las leyes: Enrique en las leyes del reino, Tomás en las de la iglesia, el derecho canónico, que había sido recientemente compilado y editado en la universidad de Bolonia.

¿Thomas Becket y Enrique II eran amigos?

Esta infame lucha entre dos hombres poderosos comenzó en armonía y amistad. Enrique II se convirtió en rey a finales de 1154 cuando solo tenía 21 años, tras la repentina muerte de Esteban. Su principal consejero al comienzo de su reinado fue Theobald, arzobispo de Canterbury y fue Theobald quien organizó el nombramiento de un secretario de 35 años a su servicio para ser el canciller del rey, efectivamente su secretario principal. Este era Thomas Becket, hijo de un londinense moderadamente rico, que se había unido a la casa de Theobald 12 años antes como un primer paso hacia una carrera en la iglesia. Se había convertido en el favorito de Theobald y lo habían enviado a Bolonia y Auxerre para estudiar derecho canónico, antes de convertirse en arcediano de Canterbury. Thomas era encantador, ingenioso y un sirviente leal.

Después de haber pasado sus primeros años en el ambiente muy secular de las familias de comerciantes de Londres, Thomas pasó fácilmente al servicio real y la corte real. Pero lo que nadie podría haber previsto fue la extraordinaria amistad que surgió entre Enrique y el canciller, y la forma en que Thomas transformó su puesto bastante prosaico, al menos en apariencia, en el cargo más importante bajo la corona.

Henry nunca disfrutó de la magnificencia y prefería, incluso en ocasiones festivas o ceremoniales, vestirse de la manera más sencilla posible. Cuando se tuvo que negociar una alianza con Francia, que se sellaría con el compromiso del hijo mayor de Enrique, también llamado Enrique, con Margarita, la hija de Luis VII, el rey envió a Tomás para que se ocupara de los aspectos comerciales de la alianza.

Consciente de la necesidad de impresionar a los franceses, el rey también lo animó a montar una magnífica exhibición. Decir que Thomas estaba a la altura de la tarea es un eufemismo. Para empezar, tomó 24 mudas de ropa, muchas prendas de seda (que regaló), todo tipo de pieles, mantos y lujosas alfombras. Cuando entró en Francia, fue precedido por 250 lacayos, que cantaron mientras marchaban. Le siguieron ocho carros, con sus provisiones y el mobiliario para su capilla, cámara, dormitorio y cocina.

El tesoro de Thomas --platos de oro y plata, dinero y libros-- fue transportado en 12 caballos de carga. Los monos iban a lomos de los caballos de tiro. Detrás de esto venían los escuderos con los escudos de sus amos y guiando sus caballos de guerra, los cetreros con halcones en sus muñecas y los miembros de la casa del canciller.

Finalmente, precedido por los caballeros y clérigos, apareció el propio canciller, acompañado de amigos cercanos. "¡Qué hombre tan maravilloso debe ser el rey de Inglaterra", se suponía que debían exclamar los franceses, "si su canciller viaja en tan gran estado!" Al final resultó que, Henry llegó modestamente vestido y acompañado por un simple puñado de caballeros.

El rey a menudo se burlaba de Tomás por su deleite en la ropa elegante. Un día, mientras cabalgaban por Londres, Henry vio a un anciano con un abrigo andrajoso y le sugirió a su canciller que sería un acto de caridad darle una capa. "Sí", dijo Thomas, "tú, como rey, deberías encargarte de ello". En esto, Henry agarró la espléndida capa de Thomas y, después de una corta pelea, se la quitó y se la dio al pobre hombre.

El clérigo William Fitzstephen escribió que “cuando se había resuelto la rutina diaria de los negocios, el rey y Tomás jugaban juntos, como niños de la misma edad, en el salón, en la iglesia y cabalgando juntos”. También describe el entretenimiento de Thomas: "Casi nunca cenó sin la compañía de diversos condes y barones ... Su mesa resplandecía con vasijas de oro y plata y abundaba en platos delicados y vinos preciosos". Y el mismo Enrique venía: “A veces, el rey, con un arco en la mano cuando regresaba de la cacería o estaba a punto de partir, cabalgaba hacia el salón donde el canciller se sentaba a la mesa… a veces saltaba por encima de la mesa y se sentaba a la carne con él. Nunca en toda la era cristiana dos hombres fueron más de la misma opinión o mejores amigos ".

Y cuando los ingleses invadieron el condado de Toulouse en el otoño de 1159, Thomas parece haber estado al mando del ejército después de que Enrique se marchara para luchar contra los franceses en Normandía. “El canciller, enfundado en cota y casco, se puso a la cabeza de una fuerza poderosa y asaltó tres castillos, que estaban fuertemente fortificados e inexpugnables. Luego cruzó el Garona con sus tropas en persecución del enemigo y, después de confirmar a toda la provincia en su lealtad al rey, regresó con gran favor y honor ”. Según todas las apariencias, Thomas disfrutaba de su papel de gran magnate secular.

¿Cómo se convirtió Becket en arzobispo de Canterbury?

Seis años después de que Thomas se convirtiera en canciller, su antiguo maestro, el arzobispo Theobald, murió. A estas alturas, los planes de Henry para establecer el poder real y la justicia estaban bien encaminados y, como Thomas probablemente había ayudado a desarrollarlos, parecía la elección obvia para reemplazar a Theobald. Es probable que Enrique consiguiera la bendición del Papa, Alejandro III, antes de decirle a Thomas sobre el nombramiento.

Y con eso comienza la tragedia. Thomas fue debidamente elegido en mayo de 1162. En palabras de un historiador moderno, "se deshizo del laico y se convirtió en el arzobispo completo". A principios de junio renunció a la cancillería, aparentemente por consejo del más antiguo de los obispos ingleses, Enrique de Blois, obispo de Winchester, y es posible que su relación con el rey ya estuviera en decadencia. Más tarde se dijo que Thomas ya le había advertido a Henry que su nombramiento como arzobispo sería fatal para su relación. En eso, demostró ser espectacularmente profético.

Pero incluso si los detalles son exagerados, el repentino cambio de Thomas de un gran oficial del estado con la pompa secular apropiada a un arzobispo ascético ha desconcertado a los historiadores desde entonces. ¿Había experimentado una conversión como la de san Pablo en el camino a Damasco? El aparente contraste entre Tomás como canciller y Tomás como arzobispo es tan agudo como el que existe entre Saulo, el perseguidor de los cristianos, y San Pablo como padre de la Iglesia.

Aún más desconcertante es su implacable postura con respecto al programa de justicia que había ayudado a iniciar a Enrique en estos primeros años del reinado del rey. Como alguien entrenado en derecho canónico y experimentado en derecho real inglés, Thomas debe haber sabido que había muchos puntos en los que las intenciones de Enrique lo pondrían en conflicto con la iglesia. Sin embargo, hay desde el principio toda señal de que había decidido no negociar ni ceder terreno, sino defender los privilegios de la Iglesia con todas sus fuerzas.

Al convertirse en arzobispo, Thomas intentó restaurar las tierras confiscadas a la iglesia de Canterbury durante el reinado de Esteban. Al parecer, tenía el permiso del rey para hacer esto, pero encontró problemas. El castillo de Tonbridge, de importancia estratégica, estaba ahora en posesión de Roger de Clare, conde de Hertford, uno de los barones de Enrique más influyentes. Thomas excomulgó a otro señor importante, Guillermo de Eynsford, por reclamar la iglesia en Eynsford, pero Enrique obligó al arzobispo a absolver a Guillermo.

Sabiendo la inteligencia y determinación de Henry, Thomas pudo haber temido que si cedía en cualquier punto de disputa, Henry solo lo presionaría más. Pero en julio de 1163, en un concilio celebrado en el palacio de Woodstock, Thomas atacó una propuesta de Henry que era esencialmente una reforma de los impuestos con poco o ningún conflicto con la ley eclesiástica. Lo hizo con el argumento de que se trataba de una innovación arbitraria y sin precedentes, como si se hubiera convertido en el defensor de las antiguas costumbres reales de Inglaterra. Habían pasado dos años desde que supo por primera vez que iba a ser arzobispo, y en este tiempo había pasado de ser un partidario de los planes de Henry a una oposición absoluta.

¿Sobre qué discutieron Thomas Becket y Enrique II?

Este enfoque de mal genio impregna las relaciones del arzobispo con el rey durante el resto de su vida, y Enrique, conocido por su temperamento violento, respondió de la misma manera. Las acciones del rey, sin embargo, huelen a una determinación fría y resuelta de humillar al arzobispo. Thomas había insistido en lo que ahora llamamos "beneficio del clero", el derecho de cualquier persona en las órdenes sagradas a ser juzgada en un tribunal de la iglesia, y solo en un tribunal de la iglesia. Esos "clérigos criminales", como se les llamaba, no podían ser encarcelados por el rey ni ejecutados. En respuesta, Henry atacó a Thomas personalmente. El rey acumuló reclamos en su contra desde su época como canciller, reclamando enormes sumas que el arzobispo posiblemente no podría pagar.

Este fue el momento más débil de Henry en muchos sentidos: estaba respondiendo a un problema que golpeaba el corazón de las diferencias entre las nuevas ambiciones de la iglesia y la agenda real con un ataque personal a Thomas. Era como si quisiera demostrar que incluso el arzobispo podía ser procesado en una corte real.

Estos reclamos contra Thomas, y el argumento de si podría ser juzgado por ellos en un tribunal secular, llegaron a un punto crítico en un concilio en Northampton en 1164. Thomas había agravado sus ofensas a los ojos del rey al oponerse a las disposiciones del documento. exponiendo por escrito las antiguas costumbres de Inglaterra que Henry había presentado en un concilio anterior en Clarendon en enero de 1164. Ahora, en Northampton, estas tensiones estallaron en un conflicto abierto. Y no era solo el rey quien tenía un hacha para moler con Thomas: los grandes magnates, que nunca habían tenido mucho amor por el hijo del comerciante advenedizo, le gritaron insultos cuando declaró que los barones no tenían autoridad para juzgar. en él. Thomas, sin embargo, no mantuvo un silencio digno, sino que respondió con insultos.

El mismo mal genio fue evidente cuando Thomas, temiendo por su seguridad, huyó a Flandes. Allí fue visitado por el justiciar (presidente del Tribunal Supremo) Richard de Lucy, quien le suplicó que regresara a Inglaterra. Thomas se negó y el encuentro terminó con una violenta disputa durante la cual De Lucy retiró el homenaje que había rendido una vez al arzobispo.

Ambos lados apelaron al Papa Alejandro III, y probablemente hubiera preferido respaldar a Thomas hasta la empuñadura, si no fuera por el hecho de que era uno de los dos papas. El emperador del Sacro Imperio Romano Germánico, Federico Barbarroja, acababa de reconocer al rival de Alejandro, Víctor IV, como pontífice y, temiendo que Enrique II hiciera lo mismo, Alejandro estaba ansioso por llegar a un compromiso.

En el verano de 1165, le ordenó a Tomás que no provocara al rey de ninguna manera antes de la Pascua de 1166, tan ansioso estaba por preservar la buena voluntad de Enrique. Una vez que expiró la prohibición, Thomas, en un movimiento que sorprendió incluso a sus consejeros más cercanos, lanzó una devastadora serie de excomuniones contra los obispos y barones ingleses, que solo perdonaron al propio rey. Con las víctimas apelando de inmediato al Papa, parecía menos probable que nunca llegar a un acuerdo.

Pero era necesario encontrar un acuerdo y el Papa inició interminables negociaciones para el regreso de Thomas. Las reuniones con los legados enviados por el Papa se rompieron en amargura, pero hubo raros momentos en los que Thomas y Henry se encontraron y parecieron renovar su antigua amistad y, como resultado, finalmente se acordaron términos de paz. Sin embargo, la entente pronto se derrumbaría con un estilo espectacular.

Contra la tradición, pero no la ley de la iglesia, el hijo mayor de Enrique, también llamado Enrique, había sido coronado rey por el arzobispo de York y los obispos de Londres y Salisbury a principios de año, para asegurarse de que sucediera a su padre. Enrique tenía cartas del Papa de algunos años antes dando permiso para la ceremonia. Tomás tomó represalias en especie mediante el uso de cartas de excomunión contra ellos que el Papa había emitido, también algún tiempo antes.

Fue el acto de un hombre empeñado en vengarse, no de alguien que iba a recuperar su posición mediante la conciliación y la negociación paciente. Al poner en tela de juicio la validez de la coronación, Thomas estaba impactando en el corazón de uno de los planes más preciados de Henry. Durante los años de exilio, el arzobispo parecía haber perdido el juicio sobre los asuntos y haberse retirado a una amargura férrea.

En eso, no estaba solo: la furia de Henry con Thomas cuando escuchó la noticia en Francia también lo llevó a perder el control. Independientemente de lo que haya dicho a los cortesanos reunidos, y solo tenemos el informe de uno de los biógrafos de Thomas, que no estaba presente, su rabia inspiró a los cuatro caballeros a cabalgar hacia la costa, embarcar hacia Inglaterra y enfrentarse al arzobispo. On this occasion, intransigence and rage produced bloody murder.

Due to a lack of eyewitness evidence or personal letters, it can be difficult for historians to trace the moods and motives of the people about whom they write. But in this case we have abundant evidence, mostly from the biographers of Thomas in the years following his death – and from his own letters. There is rather less on Henry’s side, but even those who knew him well do not attempt to conceal his fierce temper and stubbornness. Only the extreme scenes of his rolling on the floor chewing the rushes and tearing his clothes when in a rage come under suspicion, as they appear rather too close to medical descriptions of madness.

It is easy to portray Henry as the villain of the piece, as some historians have done, describing a king surrounded by “slippery” advisors, “feeling utterly humiliated” and “bawling insults”. This is not in the sources, even the most hostile.

I personally see Henry as a cool and calculating man, prone to occasional disastrous outbursts of temper. Thomas, meanwhile, comes across as determined but resolutely undiplomatic, genuinely spiritual in his exile but ultimately unsure of himself – a man who relied on the advice of his followers at critical moments.

Of course there were high principles and deep politics involved in the quarrel between Henry and Thomas, and there’s no doubt that the issue of both royal and papal authority proved an insoluble problem. But the outcome was exacerbated by the two protagonists. Thomas, despite his sainthood and undeserved martyrdom, is as much at fault as Henry. Indeed, the Norman poet who, in 1169, described Henry as blameless and Thomas as iniquitous, may have more of a point than we know. What should have been an argument – however hotly disputed – conducted between the highest representatives of church and state had become fatally enmeshed in a clash of personalities.

Richard Barber is a historian who has written several books on medieval England, including Eduardo III y el triunfo de Inglaterra (Allen Lane, 2013)


The conflict between Henry II and Thomas a Becket

In the chaos of Stephen's reign there had been little hope of obtaining Justice from any except ecclesiastical courts, which, as a natural consequence, en­croached upon the jurisdiction of the lay courts.

King Henry found that in all cases in which any person was concerned who belonged to the ranks of the clergy, including what was practically the lay fringe of that body, the Church claimed exclusive jurisdiction, and inflicted on clerics penalties which, from the lay point of view, were grotesquely inadequate. Royal expostulations were met by archepiscopal denunciations. The quarrel waxed hot.

The king was determined that the clergy should not be exempted from the due reward of their misdoings. In the Constitutions of Clarendon he propounded a scheme which he professed to regard as expressing the true customs of the kingdom. Becket was induced to promise to accept the customs but not without justification he repudiated the king's view of what those customs were.

Criminous clerks
The clauses in the Constitutions which forbade carrying appeals to Rome and required the higher clergy to obtain a royal licence to leave the kingdom were hardly disputable. But the case for the "customs" broke down when the king claimed that criminous clerks should be handed over to the secular arm for further judgment after the Church had indicted its own penalties.

Becket, however, chose to resist the demand on the ground that a cleric as such was exempt from secular punishment in virtue of his office.

Becket in exile
The barons took the king's side and threatened violence. Becket yielded avowedly to force and nothing else. Having done so he obtained a papal dispensation annulling his promise. The king's indignation was obvious and justifiable. Becket persuaded himself that his life was in danger, as it really may have been and he fled from the country to appeal to the Pope and the king of France.

In the course of the quarrel both sides had committed palpable breaches of the law. Now, with Becket out of the country, diplomacy at Rome, coupled with the logic of facts in England, might have secured the king complete victory but he was tempted to a blunder. He had his eldest son Henry crowned as his successor.

Coronation was a prerogative of the Archbishop of Canterbury the young prince was crowned without him. The Pope threatened to suspend the bishops who had performed the ceremony and to lay the king's continental territories under an interdict. Henry was alarmed and sought a reconciliation with Becket. At a formal meeting in France the quarrel was so far composed that Becket was invited to return in peace to Canterbury.

Becket's Death
He returned, but not in peace. He had hardly landed in England when he excommunicated the bishops who had participated in the coronation ceremony. The news was carried to the king, who was then in the neighbourhood of Bayeux. He burst into a fit of ungovernable rage.

Four knights caught at the words which he uttered in his frenzy, slipped from the court, posted to the sea, and took ship for England, where they at once made for Canterbury. They broke into the archbishop's house and charged him with treason. He flung the charge in their teeth. They withdrew, but only to arm themselves.

The archbishop's chaplains forced him into the cathedral where the vesper service was beginning. As he passed up into the choir the knights burst in with drawn, swords crying,"Where is the traitor? Where is the archbishop?" He turned and advanced to meet them.

"I," he said, "am the servant of Christ whom ye seek." One of them laid hands on him the archbishop flung him off with words of scorn. They cut him down and scattered his brains on the pavement. Then they took horse and departed.

The murder of Becket gave him the victory which otherwise would hardly have been his. Henry's repentance was abject and sincere. Nearly eighteen months passed before he finally came to terms with the Pope he evaded the extremity of submission, making a pretext for delay out of the expedition to Ireland, of which we shall presently speak further.

When he did come to terms he was able to maintain those claims for the independence of the English Crown which had been asserted by his predecessors. But he had to surrender on the question of the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts and no encroachment was made upon those privileges called "Benefit of Clergy" until the dawn of the Reformation.

A History of Britain

This article is excerpted from the book, 'A History of the British Nation', by AD Innes, published in 1912 by TC & EC Jack, London. I picked up this delightful tome at a second-hand bookstore in Calgary, Canada, some years ago. Since it is now more than 70 years since Mr Innes's death in 1938, we are able to share the complete text of this book with Britain Express readers. Some of the author's views may be controversial by modern standards, particularly his attitudes towards other cultures and races, but it is worth reading as a period piece of British attitudes at the time of writing.


New biography of St. Thomas Becket dispels myths with serious scholarship

A review of Fr. John Hogan’s Thomas Becket: Defender of the Church, published by Our Sunday Visitor.

Perhaps the second best-known martyrdom in the history of the Anglophone world is St. Thomas Becket, killed in Canterbury Cathedral during Vespers at the hands of four knights motivated by King Henry II of England’s ranting that the archbishop was a traitor whom he wished to be rid of. That Becket and the king had once been close friends, that Henry wished for one of his allies to become primate of England and that the future martyr’s elevation to that position was followed by his transition to a holier mode of life and by a staunch defense of the Church against royal power are also matters of common knowledge.

Those who have done even cursory research into the topic will be aware that popular perceptions of it include a high proportion of myth, much of it derived from the Jean Anouilh play that bears the martyr’s name and served as the script for the movie starring Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole. But those reading Father John Hogan’s Thomas Becket: Defender of the Church will, unless they have already made a more serious study of that saint’s life, be surprised by the full extent to which the Becket legend is filled with misunderstandings and misrepresentations.

Among the most egregious errors corrected in this book is the one claiming that Becket, despite being a deacon, was sunk in a life of immorality before his selection for the episcopate inspired a dramatic conversion. In reality, the worldliness of Becket’s early life concerned matters of perfection and prudential judgments rather than intrinsically grave sin. His love of luxury and ostentatious magnificence was joined to strict chastity and financial charity for the poor that could be as lavish as his own lifestyle. The real change he underwent after being selected as archbishop was the rejection of minimalism in favor of a seriously devout life. Although, his devout life was grounded in the spiritual formation he had received from his mother during childhood and a basic commitment to Catholicism that had never left him.

Even one of the early Becket’s very real flaws, his willingness to assist encroachment on the autonomy of the Church, is open to exaggeration. The best known conflict between chancellor Becket and England’s Catholic hierarchy concerned a tax that was not new and that did not directly target the Church. What Beckett did do was enforce a neglected law in which landholding knights legally liable to military service could pay a fee for hiring professional substitutes, changed a graduated scale of fees to a flat rate that hit the lesser knights hard and applied the law to lands in the hands of clergymen. Another notable case was grounded in a conflict of jurisdiction between a diocese and an abbey, Becket working on behalf of the latter in obedience to a king intent upon using the issue to weaken episcopal authority.

But even during the years when Becket was most closely cooperating with Henry he was still willing to stand up to him over ecclesial issues. At one point the king, wishing to gain control of Blois, insisted upon a marriage between his cousin and the heiress of the land’s recently deceased ruler—an heiress who was also an abbess entirely opposed to asking for a dispensation from her religious vows and to leaving her convent. When Henry decided to have her kidnapped, Becket condemned him to his face with all the vigor he later showed as primate.

Becket later intervened on behalf of the secretary of John of Salisbury (at the time secretary to Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury) whom Henry had decided to charge with treason. Salisbury was saved, becoming one of the more prominent thinkers of the age, a member of Archbishop Becket’s inner circle and author of one of the martyr’s first biographies. Salisbury’s biography of Becket stressed that the chancellor was commonly at odds with his royal master and concerned about the latter’s more tyrannical tendencies well before there was any question of elevation to the see of Canterbury. True as it is that the Becket chosen to replace Archbishop Theobald was still something of a king’s man, he was hardly the king’s lackey. He also had a background closer to that of men commonly chosen for the episcopate in his day than is usually realized.

The seminary system as we now know it (with precisely delimited courses of studies followed by priestly ordination) was a creation of the reform movements associated with the Council of Trent. In the twelfth century men simply became members of the diocesan clergy, being admitted to the non-sacramental minor orders and then rising based on their education, sanctity, demonstrated abilities and the needs of their dioceses rather than in accordance with any set program.

Both before and during his years as the king’s chancellor, Becket also held the office of archdeacon of Canterbury—a senior diocesan administrative post. Archdeacons often knowing more about running a diocese than many parish clergymen, it was unremarkable for them to be chosen as bishops despite never having been priests. That, his experience as chancellor, and the fact that he was an expert canon lawyer rendered Becket highly qualified for the primate’s duties as an administrator. This role made him responsible for the Church throughout England. His lack of advanced theological training (for which he quickly made up) and his mode of life (which he quickly reformed) meant that he seemed set to be a bureaucratic archbishop rather than either a spiritually zealous or a scandalous one.

Of course, Henry II got a very different new primate than the one he had expected. While telling the true story of their conflict generally involved only the addition of fuller details rather than revising the broad picture, a brief mention of the real roles of Pope Alexander III and King Louis VII of France is in order. The latter did not use Becket as a political pawn but was sincerely sympathetic both to his stand for the Church and to him personally as a man, though he did sometimes compromise his inclinations for political reasons. The former was a reforming pontiff loyal to the program of the great Pope St. Gregory VII, one whose occasional vacillation was motivated by a desire to avoid Henry II dragging England into schism in alliance with the notorious Frederick Barbarossa—who supported a series of anti-popes, periodically conquered parts of Italy and forced Alexander to spend much of his pontificate in exile.

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Henry II of England & Thomas Becket, St. David's - History

The image of Becket’s bloody demise at the hands of four knights from the king’s entourage has been depicted countless times in sculpture, wall painting, stained glass, manuscript illumination and metalwork. In the exhibition you see the shocking scene on flasks sold to pilgrims, on brightly enamelled caskets made to hold Becket’s relics, and even on a stone font made for a parish church as far away as Sweden.

The archbishop’s murder by Reginald Fitzurse, Hugh de Morville, Richard Brito and William de Tracy caused outrage across Europe and continues to fascinate people today. What is astonishing, for an event which took place 850 years ago, is our ability to recount in detail what happened on the day of the crime. In this blog, we track down Becket’s murderers and explore who they were and the mysterious circumstances of their deaths.

How do we know what we know?

Within 20 years of Becket’s death, at least 13 biographies had been written about him. These ‘Lives of St Thomas’ were all composed by men who either knew Becket personally or had close associations with the Church. Five were written by eye-witnesses to the murder, including one by a man named Edward Grim, the only person who came to Becket’s defence when the knights attacked. For his valiant effort to protect the archbishop, he received a sword in the arm during the fracas.

Given their backgrounds and ties to the Church, it is unsurprising that the biographers, on the whole, paint the archbishop in a positive light, while Henry and his knights are the villains of the story. As a younger man, Becket had lived a secular lifestyle enjoying the pursuit of hunting, playing chess, and even on occasion fighting in battles. But despite this, he is routinely presented in the biographies as a model of virtue who was always destined for future saintly glory. In contrast, the four knights are lambasted as ‘men of Belial [the devil]’ and ‘ruffians’, ‘madmen’ and ‘butchers.’

The earliest description of the crime was written by John of Salisbury, an eyewitness and one of the archbishop’s closest advisors. In early 1171, John wrote a letter to his friend, the Bishop of Poitiers, in which he recounted the gory details of the murder and the astonishing miracles taking place at Becket’s tomb. Copies of the letter circulated widely, and John later expanded it into a full biography which was presented to the Pope as part of a campaign to have the archbishop canonised. This took place in February 1173 when Pope Alexander III officially made Becket a saint, one of the fastest canonisations at the time. A copy of John’s eyewitness account can be found in a collection of correspondence related to Becket and Henry’s dispute complied in the wake of the crime, on loan from the British Library. One of the earliest known images of Becket’s murder immediately precedes John’s description in this manuscript. It is a lively and dramatic scene, remarkable for the illuminator’s attention to detail.

In the upper part, Becket is interrupted at dinner by the knights’ arrival at his palace in Canterbury. They wait outside the door while a servant announces them. Below, to the left, having pursued the archbishop into the cathedral, the knights strike him down. Kneeling before his attackers, Becket is hit on the top of his head by the knight carrying a red shield while Edward Grim, who stands behind holding a cross-shaped staff, receives a blow to his arm. Between Becket and the knights, a piece of the archbishop’s bloody severed skull and a fragment from the tip of the murder weapon fall to the ground. This detail of the broken sword can be found in a number of the eyewitness accounts, as Grim states, ‘With this blow, the sword itself was dashed on the pavement.’ Medieval pilgrims to Canterbury were offered the relic of the swordpoint to kiss, in a chapel located on the site of the murder called the Martyrdom.

Who were the murderers?

As news of Becket’s murder spread throughout Europe so too did the notoriety of the four knights. The names Fitzurse, Morville, Brito and Tracy became infamous and they were almost as frequently depicted as Becket himself. All of the knights came from high-standing and land-owning families with close ties to the Crown. Their decision to arrest Becket was no doubt part of a plan to curry favour with the king. When they made their way to Canterbury they did little to conceal their identities or hide in darkness. The archbishop even knew some of the knights personally, greeting Morville by name.

In representations of the event, the numbers of knights present and the way they were depicted varied considerably, but occasionally one of them was marked out. In the illumination above, the red shield of the second knight is decorated with the head of an animal, a visual clue to the man’s identity. The bear’s head is an allusion to the surname of Reginald Fitzurse, which translates as ‘son of the bear’. According to some of Becket’s biographers, Fitzurse was the unofficial leader of the group and the bear’s head was frequently used to single him out. Fitzurse’s prominent role was widely known and medieval pilgrims to Canterbury could even buy and take home a badge in the form of his murder weapon. A surviving scabbard for a souvenir like this includes a small shield embossed with four tiny bears’ heads.

Another pilgrim souvenir names Fitzurse and describes his involvement in the crime. It is a tin-alloy flask made to hold a liquid called St Thomas’s Water, a mixture of Becket’s blood and water, which was dispensed by the Canterbury monks. Front and back are decorated with two scenes, one of Becket enthroned and another of the murder. Around the frame is a Latin inscription that translates as ‘Reginald Fitzurse brought to pass the martyrdom of Thomas.’

A myth debunked

What spurred the knights to action? For many, Becket’s death will forever be linked to the famous phrase supposedly uttered in a rage by Henry II, ‘Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?’. The knights, within earshot of the king, interpreted Henry to be fed up with the archbishop and conspired to deal with Becket once and for all. Taking it upon themselves they hatched a plan, made their way to Canterbury, and the rest is history.

But, while these events are broadly true, the exact words Henry said will never be known for certain his famous phrase can only be traced back as far as the 1700s. Becket’s early biographers attributed a few different phrases to the king and although their accounts differ, the meaning remains clear. Henry, overwhelmed by his anger with Becket, wanted the entire court to hear of his displeasure. Whether or not he wanted anyone to murder the archbishop is impossible to say!

Garnier of Pont-Sainte-Maxence, a French biographer of Becket who travelled to Canterbury to investigate the facts and even interviewed the archbishop’s sister, wrote that Henry said:

A man… who has eaten my bread, who came to my court poor, and I have raised him high – now he draws up his heel to kick me in the teeth! He has shamed my kin, shamed my realm the grief goes to my heart, and no one has avenged me!

Trans Michael Staunton, The Lives of Thomas Becket, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001, p. 189

Although Henry later distanced himself from the knights’ actions, many blamed him for Becket’s death. One of the objects on loan to the exhibition is a font from the parish church of Lyngsjö in southern Sweden. It shows how, in the aftermath of the crime, Henry was seen as its instigator. Made around 1191, the upper half of the bowl shows a scene of Becket’s murder. To the left, the king sits enthroned, named by a scroll reading ‘REX:HRICVS’ (King Henry). He points to a knight, ordering him to join in with the others who have already begun attacking the archbishop.

Crime and punishment

Henry’s appearance on the Lyngsjö font raises the question of what punishment he and the murderers faced for Becket’s death. Following the crime, the knights trashed and looted the archbishop’s palace, probably in search of incriminating evidence which they could use against him. They then made their way to Saltwood Castle, located 15 miles south of Canterbury. From there, they travelled to Knaresborough Castle in Yorkshire, where they stayed for about a year. Surprisingly, the knights faced little initial backlash from the king and appear to have been left in peace during their time in Knaresborough. Behind the scenes however, Henry barred their male heirs from inheriting property – a serious blow.

To absolve themselves, the knights made their way to the Pope in Rome, who commanded them to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. All four are believed to have died either in Jerusalem or on their way there. William de Tracy left us with a final clue to his whereabouts, a surviving charter dating from 1173 to 1174, now in the library and archive of Canterbury Cathedral, issued by him in the Italian city of Cosenza. Desiring forgiveness for his involvement in the murder, he grants gifts to the monks of Canterbury and asks that they pray for his soul.

As for the king, his punishment was light. Two years after Becket’s death, he performed a public penance in the Norman towns of Avranches and Caen. Afterwards, the Pope absolved Henry of any wrongdoing. But the king’s public demonstrations did not end there. In July 1174 he was facing the greatest challenge to his authority yet, a civil war brought about by his sons and their mother, his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. In the midst of this war, he finally visited Canterbury and the resting place of his old adversary. In an astonishing public humiliation, the king walked barefoot through the city and knelt before Becket’s tomb in the Cathedral crypt. He acknowledged his involvement in the crime and was punished by monks. The next day, Henry’s fortunes changed. His men won a decisive battle and his success was widely attributed to the intervention of Saint Thomas of Canterbury.

From then on, Henry adopted Becket as his protector. He made numerous gifts to the cathedral and visited it regularly on pilgrimage. In a royal charter, on loan to the exhibition from Canterbury Cathedral, Henry promises to protect the rights of the Canterbury monks in perpetuity. It came endorsed by his great seal, a magnificent wax image of the king enthroned with sword in one hand and orb in the other.

Despite Henry’s penance and personal endorsement of Becket’s burgeoning cult, he could never escape his association with the murder. A later genealogy of English kings, on loan from the British Library, shows both men locked in a heated argument. Enthroned on the left, Henry presses a finger emphatically into his open palm while the Archbishop raises a hand in disagreement.

Their dispute became the defining feature of the king’s reign, whereas Becket would be raised up as a champion among those who sought a model of opposition to royal tyranny and a defender of the rights of the Church.

Thomas Becket: murder and the making of a saint is open 20 May – 22 August 2021. To find out more about the exhibition and to book tickets visit britishmuseum.org/becket

To find out more about Becket’s life and legacy, read Thomas Becket: the murder that shook the Middle Ages

Buy the richly illustrated catalogue accompanying the exhibition.


The Cult of Thomas Becket: History and Historiography through Eight Centuries

Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury (1120–70) is one of the iconic figures in British history – a man who most people have not only heard of, but also have an opinion on. Yet, despite the brutality of his murder, such opinions are not always positive. In fact, this medieval archbishop is an unusually divisive figure, and always has been. In the 12th century, he was both revered as a saint and dismissed (by his fellow bishop Gilbert Foliot) with the famous line ‘[he] always was a fool and always will be’. More recently, he has been included in lists of both the greatest and the worst Britons of all time. Notably, in 2005, he was runner-up to Jack the Ripper in a BBC History Magazine poll – above King John and Oswald Mosley. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the strength of feeling he is capable of provoking, he has also been the subject of vast quantities of writing in the eight centuries since his death.

Several recent historians, including Anne Duggan and Nicholas Vincent, have produced surveys of this substantial body of literature, but Kay Brainerd Slocum’s The Cult of Thomas Becket: History and Hagiography through Eight Centuries is the first book-length study to focus solely on the myth rather than the man.[i] Her emphasis is on strictly historical texts, and cultural representations (such as T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral) are dealt with in a few brief pages. The strange history of people who have compared themselves to Becket is similarly addressed only in passing – although former FBI director James Comey does earn a mention. Slocum approaches her subject chronologically, beginning with Becket’s murder and continuing through to the present day.

Thus the opening section of the book, ‘Saint and cult’, covers the copious hagiographical, liturgical and iconographical material which was produced in the three centuries after Becket’s murder. Chapter one (‘The creation of St Thomas of Canterbury’) provides brief summaries of the early Becket lives: more than a dozen such biographies were produced between 1171 and 1213, and it is on these writings that most subsequent work about Becket has been based. Chapter two (‘Thirteenth-century translations’) explores slightly later attempts to spread Becket’s cult by translating these biographies into the vernacular, and by stressing aspects of the archbishop’s life which gave him wider appeal – for example, his close relationship with his mother, and his great concern for the poor. The growth of the cult is further examined in chapter three (‘Holy blisful martir: the development of the Becket cult’), which begins with the earliest recorded miracles. Many of these involved the ‘water of St Thomas’ (a mix of water and the martyr’s blood which could be drunk by the sufferer), which was potent, but also controversial, since it echoed the Eucharist a little too closely for comfort. Nevertheless, devotion to the dead archbishop spread rapidly across Europe, aided by the continental marriages of Henry II’s daughters and the efforts of Cistercian monks. Slocum highlights how, even at this early stage, people were prone to find what they needed in the Becket story. He was, for example, particularly appealing to bishops facing their own church-state battles, in countries as far apart as Poland and Iceland.

Chapter four (‘Liturgies, sermons and the translation of 1220’) focuses on the author’s particular speciality: the medieval liturgies dedicated to Thomas Becket, of which over 300 survive.[ii] Drawing heavily on the existing lives, these texts were designed to further develop Becket’s sanctity, by highlighting his key roles: he was a pastor, a defender of the church, a martyr, and an intercessor. Slocum identifies a gradual shift in tone (the earliest liturgies contained more violence, whereas those written for and after the 1220 translation emphasised reconciliation), and argues for the importance of liturgy in spreading the cult. Sermons were also important, allowing oral dissemination of Becket’s saintly and episcopal virtues. Chapter five (‘Becket and iconography’) highlights the wealth of material remains (manuscript illumination, Limoges reliquaries, pilgrim badges and ampullae, seals, and stained glass), and draws attention to recent interdisciplinary studies which draw on these sources.[iii]

Becket’s cult thrived for three centuries after his death. Then came the Reformation, the impact of which is unravelled in chapters six (‘Henry VIII and the spectre of Becket’) and seven (‘Becket as a symbol for the Catholic opposition’). Inevitably, there had been some pre-Reformation criticism of Becket’s cult, notably from 15th-century Lollards. In the early years of the 16th century Erasmus commented unfavourably on the immense wealth of the shrine, and William Tyndale made unfavourable comparisons between Becket and his namesake Cardinal Wolsey. By the 1530s, the archbishop had developed into a major problem for the Henrician Reformation, since he was not only a saint but also a symbol of effective ecclesiastical resistance against the crown. Consequently, destroying the Canterbury shrine and burning Becket’s bones was not enough: the archbishop had to be transformed from saint to traitor, and this was achieved in part by rewriting the story of his death. In this new version of events, Becket was a troublemaker, justly killed after a jurisdictional dispute between Canterbury and York led to a riot. Despite efforts to revive his cult during the brief reign of Mary I (1553–8), the Tudor Becket was (to quote John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs) ‘not a Martyr, but a stubborn man against his King.’

For Protestants like Foxe, Becket’s popish tendencies and opposition to Henry II made him a traitor, but for early modern English Catholics these were positive attributes. Devotion to the saint survived in recusant communities throughout the period, and he was often linked to more recent martyrs such as Thomas More and Edmund Campion. His experiences as an exile and his willingness to die for his faith enhanced his appeal to Catholic exiles from Reformation England, and in particular to priests trained for missionary work at the English Catholic colleges on the continent. In these institutions, Becket was the subject of artwork, plays, and spiritual exercises, and an inspiration for seminarians who believed that their destiny was to follow in the footsteps of this English martyr.

18th-century interpretations of Becket were less focused on religion, as Slocum outlines in chapter eight (‘Rationalism and the Canterbury martyr’). Most Enlightenment historians saw Henry II as an effective monarch striving to establish good government in an age of superstition, and his actions during the Becket dispute as necessary attempts to maintain order in his kingdom. The archbishop, on the other hand, was a man with many flaws, not least overweening ambition. David Hume (1711–76) wrote disapprovingly of Becket’s ‘violent spirit’, and claimed that his triumphant final return to Canterbury was effectively a declaration of war. In this version of events, the murder in the cathedral was not a martyrdom, but a necessary step towards English freedom from superstition and foreign rule.

Opposition to foreign rule also played an important role in the histories considered in chapter nine (‘Victorian biographers and antiquarians’). During the 19th century, a growing interest in national histories led to a new focus on the question of Becket’s identity: was he a Saxon or a Norman? Some Victorian historians went so far as to reconfigure the Becket dispute as a conflict between an oppressive Norman king and a Saxon priest who wanted only to preserve the rights of the native people. Others argued that Becket must have been on the side of the oppressors, since his penitential practices (particularly his penchant for hair undergarments) were decidedly un-English. Once again, the Protestant-Catholic divide reared its head, as Becket was adopted as one of the figureheads of the Oxford Movement, whilst historians concerned by the rise of Anglo-Catholicism produced strident attacks on the saint. Of the latter group, James Froude (1818–94) was one of the most forthright: his Becket was ‘overbearing, violent, ambitious [and] unscrupulous’, and the church which he defended was ‘saturated with venality’. A less dramatic, but perhaps ultimately more significant, Becket-related enterprise of this period was the production of new editions of the key texts, including the seven-volume Rolls Series edition of the lives and letters.

In the final section of the book, Slocum focuses on ‘Becket in the modern and postmodern world’, and begins by turning her attention to ‘Becket in legal and intellectual history’ (chapter 10). In the late 19th century, the reign of Henry II began to be seen as a key period in English legal history, and consequently the Becket dispute began to be studied in legal terms. This approach survived well into the 20th century, favoured by historians including Z. N. Brooke, C. R. Cheney and Charles Duggan- who reached very different conclusions about whose legal case was stronger. At around the same time, historians such as Beryl Smalley[iv] and Benedicta Ward[v] placed the archbishop in his intellectual context, the former by looking at the influence of the Schools and the latter by focusing on medieval understandings of the miracles.

Recent decades have also seen the publication of numerous biographies of Becket, and Slocum surveys these in chapter 11 (‘Biographies of the Canterbury martyr in the twentieth and twenty-first century’). In broad terms, she sees the first half of the 20th century as a period of continuing nationalism, when Becket was either an English Christian hero, or a vain and ambitious man who overreacted in the face of Henry II’s moderate demands. Since the 1950s, there has been a turn towards ‘psychological interpretation’, with biographers such as David Knowles, Anne Duggan and John Guy paying increasing attention to Becket’s personality and its impact on the dispute. The last few decades have seen yet more new approaches, as summarised in chapter 12 (‘Becket scholarship in the postmodern world and beyond’): contemporary historians have approached the man and the dispute through prisms including gender and sexuality, anger and conflict studies, friendship, and medievalism. In doing so, they have addressed topics ranging from Becket’s sex life (or lack thereof) to his horses.

Ultimately, the Becket who emerges from these pages is, in Slocum’s words, ‘a kaleidoscopic personality’, a man who has been constantly reconfigured into new shapes to suit the beliefs and agendas of those who have written about him. Indeed, one of the greatest strengths of this book is that it highlights just how malleable a figure Becket is, and how it is possible to project almost anything onto him- a quality which both explains the enduring interest in his story, and raises interesting questions about the ways medieval history has been used for modern purposes. For those who are familiar with the medieval Becket, but who know little about the ways in which his story has subsequently been adapted and exploited, this is an eye-opening read.

The other enigma in this volume is the author: what Slocum thinks about this material, and the questions it raises, is not entirely clear. Which of the interpretations she describes does she find credible, and/or worth further investigation? If all (or at least most) of these theories have emerged from the same set of 12th-century biographies, what does that tell us about that original set of texts? She shows that the medieval cult of Becket was Europe-wide, but also states that (prominent exceptions such as Raymonde Foreville notwithstanding) the historiography is primarily in English: if interest in Becket was so widespread in the middle ages, when and why did it shrink? And where will Becket studies go next? Even allowing for the fact that this is a historiographical survey, it would be useful to have a stronger sense of why Slocum thinks this material matters, perhaps in a more substantial conclusion.

Overall, however, this a clear and wide-ranging survey of a vast number of texts. With a study of this kind, it is perhaps inevitable that some readers will wish that there had been room for other things: a summary of the non-English historiography, perhaps, or more detailed consideration of the work of a particular author. Nevertheless, this is a valuable addition to the ever-growing literature on Thomas Becket, and a very useful introduction to that literature. With the 850 th anniversary of his martyrdom coming up in 2020, there will undoubtedly be a further flurry of publications about Becket in the next few years, and it will be interesting to see what new forms the martyr takes. Based on what Slocum tells us about past histories, one thing seems certain: these new interpretations will tell us as much about twenty-first century priorities and interests as they do about the man himself.

[i] Anne Duggan, Thomas Becket (London, 2004), pp. 224-52 Nicholas Vincent, ‘Thomas Becket’ in G. Atkins (ed.), Making and Remaking Saints in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Manchester, 2011), pp. 92-111

[ii] See Kay Brainerd Slocum, Liturgies in Honour of Thomas Becket (Toronto, 2004).

[iii] Especially Paul Binski, Becket’s Crown: Art and Imagination in Gothic England, 1170-1300 (New Haven, CT, 2004) and the work of Rachel Koopmans, including her Wonderful to Relate: Miracles Stories and Miracle Collecting in the High Middle Ages (Philadelphia, PA, 2011).

[iv] Beryl Smalley, The Becket Conflict and the Schools: A Study of Intellectuals in Politics (Oxford, 1973)

[v] Benedicta Ward, Miracles and the Medieval Mind: Theory, Record and Event, 1000-1215 (Philadelphia, PA,1982), pp. 89-109


Constitutions of Clarendon

The Pope in Rome was horrified when they heard the news that Henry had destroyed St. Thomas Becket's Shrine. On 17 December 1538, the Pope excommunicated Henry VIII from the Catholic church.

In 1539 the Corporation of the City of London changed its Common Seal. It used to bear on its reverse side an image of Thomas Becket. This was removed: from then on this became a shield of the City Arms.

It has been estimated that bullion, plate and other treasures worth over ٟ million, including spoils from the shrine of St Thomas Becket at Canterbury, were sent to the Mint [Tower of London] between 1536 and 1540 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, to be melted down.

It had been suggested that, as long as the name of St. Thomas of Canterbury should remain in the calendar, men would be stimulated by his example to brave the ecclesiastical authority of their sovereign. The king's attorney was therefore instructed to exhibit an information against him and "Thomas Becket, some time archbishop of Canterbury," was formally cited to appear in court and answer to the charge.

The Nineteenth Century and After. Volume 60. Henricus R versus Thomas Becket by E. Taunton: Leonard Scott Publishing Company. 1906. p. 1003.

Ethelred Luke Taunton (1906). Henricus R. Versus Thomas Becket. Periodical: The Nineteenth Century and After (Volume 60). pp. 1003–.

Christopher Morgan and Andrew Alderson wrote an article published in the Sunday Times (UK) on June 22nd 1997 entitled "Becket's bones kept secretly at Canterbury for 450 years".

Benedictine martyrs of Reformation (d. 1539) (blessed)
This is a group of three English Benedictine abbots with several other monks who were executed for resisting Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries. They were Richard Whiting, abbot of Glastonbury, Hugh Faringdon of Reading, and John Beche of Colchester. Among the 'incriminating' documents Whiting possessed was a life of Thomas Becket he was hanged, drawn and quartered on Glastonbury Tor, along with his treasurer and sacristan. The other two were also executed. They were beatified as martyrs in 1895. It is interesting, though, to note that none of them rejected the Oath of Supremacy they seem to have been fighting to keep their monasteries rather than out of opposition to Henry's rejection of papal supremacy.

Conjectured pictures of Becket's Shrine



By J. Cole

Dudley (?) - Watercolour - "Reconstruction of the Shrine of St. Thomas Becket, Canterbury Cathedral", 10ins x 7.75ins, indistinct signed and dated 1969, with inscription to reverse indicating "The Original Drawing for Christian Canterbury City of Pilgrims", in gilt moulded frame and glazed


Ver el vídeo: BECKET: The Best Scene (Diciembre 2021).