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King Henry II

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Published: 1st Jan 2015 in History

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King Henry II

“What sluggards, what cowards have I brought up in my courts, which care nothing for their allegiance to their lord. Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest.” – Henry II, King of England. This quote that was spoken by King Henry II of England would lead to a horrific event, the killing of Thomas A Becket. The two men where similar as if they had one mind and worked diligently in their work to bring law and order to Henry’s realm. Henry known for his temper would have an outburst and mutter these words and four of Henry Knights would have token him seriously and kill Thomas A Becket. The murder was grosom and King Henry II would regret say these falte word but live with the consequence of his action that would we write the history book.

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Thomas A Becket was “slim of growth and pale of hue, with dark hair, a long nose, and a straightly featured face. Blithe of countenance was he, winning and loveable in his conversation, frank of speech in his discourses, but slightly stuttering in his talk, so keen of discernment and understanding that he could always make difficult questions plain after a wise manner” [1] as was stated in The Catholic Encyclopedia by Herbert Thurston. Becket was born in London on December 21, 1118 and at the age of thirty six he was appointed to King Henry II chancellor where he was the most powerful subject to Henry lands. Both Thomas and Henry worked hard in their work to bring common law to England. In 1161 Archbishop of Canterbury died and King Henry promoted Thomas to fill in this position. Henry saw the chance to take over the church which at the time had its own courts or also know as cannon law, Henry was not found of this. After being appointed to Archbishop it’s told that Thomas demeanor has started to change due to experienced a religious conversion2. Becket was murdered by four of king Henry knights on December 29 1170. After Becket death he was immediately canonized in 1173 and his shrine was placed in Canterbury Cathedral[2].

King Henry II and Thomas Becket relationship was a very good one. Ever since Henry II and Becket meet in 1154 both immediately hit it off, with similar personality and their belief on their theory of law and order. The two were close friends and spent most of their time together in which they did governing, scheming, drinking, hunting, and carousing. Some of that scheming involved ways of tapping into the wealth of the Church for the benefit of the kingdom, which made many enemies for Becket among the English clergy. During war time Becket served King Henry well in war and also carried out diplomatic missions for the king. Becket was the King’s right-hand man and his best friend. Henry trusted Becket to go on a mission for him to France where he would negotiate marriagle plans between Young Henry who is Henry II and Eleanor oldest son, to Margaret who was the daughter of the King of France Louis VII from his second marriage. Becket started his journey to the embassy of Paris in 1158 and is motioned in the book England under the Norman and Angevin kings 1075-1225 by J.M. Roberts of how unbelievable his convoy was when he states “two hundred horse men -knights, clerks, stewards, squires, and the sons of nobles accompanied him. There were eight wagons, each drawn by five great horses. Twelve packed horse bored the chancellor gold and silver plates, his money, clothes and the sacred vessel and books for his chapel. As the retinue entered the village and fortresses of northern France, the 250 foot men in the van would being singing English songs then would follow the hounds and hunt-sever ants , the pack flacons, then the household officials, followed by knights and clerks, riding two by two and finally Becket and his close friend, suck a retinue was spectacle” (Roberts 134). The French king was so impress of Thomas style and the wedding argument was accepted. I feel like this event was significant in Henry and Becket relationship due to the fact of the importance of the mission that Henry gave Becket. The marriage was an attempt to settle a long struggle between the Plantagenet’s and Capetian over the territory of Norman Vexin.

The feud between King Henry II and Thomas Becket Started when King Henry II appointed Thomas to the vacant seat of archbishopric of Canterbury in the year 1162. Thomas went under a transformation as is stated by Brian Tierney “he adopted a life of ostentatious piety and began to fight the tooth and nail on every issues involving the right of the church.” 3 (Tierney 327). Shortly after Thomas denoucened the Constitution of Clarendon, which were 16 articles which denoused the power of the church courts and the extent the power of the papal authority in England at the time, Henry had exile Thomas. The denoument of the Constitution of Clarendon was very significant because Henry started English common law and it meant law that was applied throughout the realm-that was common to all people and all class3 .Henry did not like the church way of hadling its laws for example in the book of Western Europe in the middle ages 300-1475 by Brian Tierney he gives use a example of the church process “There the accused was to be tried by the ordeal of water-that is, after certain religious formalities, the individual was bound hand and foot and thrown into a pool, on the theory that water duly blessed would reject a guilty person, who thus would float. An innocent person would be accepted by the water and sink.” 3 (Tierney 327). Both the church and Henry law vary in many different way thus angering Henry when Thomas denounced the Constitution of Clarendon in favor of the church cannon law.Henry thought by having Thomas in the archbishopric of Canterbury he would have a chance to remove the cannon law form England and have common law as a dominate law. In 1170 Thomas exile was revoked and he returned back to Canterbury but is motioned in Tierney book “but immediately he stirred up a new quarrel by excommunicating prelates who supported the king during his exile” (Tierney 327) 3. On November 30 1170 Becket returned to his post at Canterbury. As motion before, while Becket was in France, he had excommunicated the Bishops of London and Salisbury for supporting the king. Becket remained unwavering in his refusal to absolve the bishops. This news made King Henry go into a rage in which he would shout “What sluggards, what cowards have I brought up in my courts, which care nothing for their allegiance to their lord. Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest.” 4

After Henry famous quote was spoken four of Henry knight left for Canterbury on December 29. The four knight immeately searched for Becket. They heard that Bucket had fled to the Cathedral and proceed to kill Becket. There are many different version of the death of Thomas a Becket but from the Book St Thomas of Canterbury by Edwin A. Abbott. He goes into in-depth detail that were writing by a monk name Edward Grim who took refuge in a place near the alter during the murder.

1. Thurston, Herbert. “St. Thomas Becket.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 20 Mar. 2010 .

2. http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/England-History/ThomasBecket.htm

3. Western

4. England under the Norman and Angevin kings 1075-1225

5. Abbot, Edwin A., St. Thomas of Canterbury (1898)

6. The Turbulent Priest (1964)


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