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St. Thomas A'Becket of Canterbury

Archbishop of Canterbury
Born: 21st December 1118 at Cheapside, London
Died: 29th December 1170 at Canterbury, Kent

Thomas was of a knightly family, the son of Henry A'Becket, a merchant of Rouen and London, and his wife Rohesia. He was born in Cheapside in 1118 and educated at Merton Priory, and in Paris. At a later time, he studied canon law at Bologna and Auxerre, after he had entered the service of Archbishop Theobald, who appointed him to the Archdeaconry of Canterbury.

In 1155, King Henry II made him Chancellor of England. For seven years, he remained the close friend of the King, sharing his counsels, fighting in his wars and conducting his negotiations. But when, against his wish, he had been elected to the See of Canterbury, it became evident that the authority which Henry claimed to exercise was incompatible with Becket's conception of the duties of his new office. Opposition broke out again and again. Becket refused his consent to the Constitutions of Clarendon and Henry retaliated by demanding the payment of large sums which he maintained were owing to him.

Becket fled to France to lay his complaint before the Pope and threatened Henry with excommunication. The struggle continued for six years and then, in defiance of Becket and the Pope, Henry caused his eldest son to be crowned by the Archbishop of York. The Pope proceeded to suspend the Archbishop of York and the other Bishops who had taken part in the ceremony. Meanwhile Henry had consented that Becket should be restored to his see and, accordingly, he returned to Canterbury in 1170.

Soon afterward, he was visited by four knights from Henry's Court, who demanded, with great violence, the absolution of the suspended Bishops. The frightened followers of Becket drew him into the Cathedral. There his enemies found him and struck him down, fearless to the last. Four years later, Henry did public penance at his tomb.

Edited from G.M. Bevan's "Portraits of the Archbishops of Canterbury" (1908).      Copyright ©1999, LLC