On This Day In History: Archbishop Thomas Becket Murdered – On Dec 29, 1170

One of the most famous murders of the Middle Ages took place on December 29, 1170, when four knights of King Henry II of England silently entered Canterbury Church to kill the Archbishop, Thomas Becket (c.1120 – 1170).

The knights – followers of Henry II, King of England over the rights and privileges of the Church – believed the king wanted Becket out of the way.

It was time of controversy with the monarchy over authority held by the church and state.

Thomas Becket, the son of a prosperous London merchant., was born in around 1120. He was well educated and quickly became an agent to Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, who sent him on several missions to Rome. Knowing Becket’s talents king Henry II made him his chancellor and the two became close friends. When Theobald died in 1161, Henry made Becket archbishop.

The king and his archbishop’s friendship was seriously tested when it became clear that Becket would now stand up for the church in its disagreements with the king.

In 1164, realising the extent of Henry’s displeasure, Becket fled into exile in France, and remained in exile for several years. He returned in 1170.

On this day in 1170, four knights confronted the archbishop Becket, slashing at him with their swords and injuring those who came to help him. Becket was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral.

Becket was made a saint in 1173 and his shrine in Canterbury Cathedral became an important focus for pilgrimage.

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