Facts about Thomas Becket

Thomas Becket died at 52 years old
Birthplace: London, England
Best known as: The archbishop murdered in his own cathedral in 1170


Thomas Becket Biography

Thomas Becket was King Henry II‘s right hand man — until a conflict over the powers between Church and State led to Becket’s murder in 1170, which in turn led to his speedy canonization as St. Thomas Becket.

Becket was of a fairly well-to-do family from Normandy who had immigrated to England. He studied to be a notary and worked as a secretary, landing a position around 1142 with Theobald, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

By the time Henry II took the throne in 1154, Becket had risen to prominence with the Archbishop and was recommended for the post of Lord Chancellor. As Henry’s chancellor, Becket held great power.  Becket and Henry got a long famously, and as Henry’s senior, he was mentor as well as friend.

That changed when Becket became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162 (on Henry’s recommendation). Becket resigned his government post and became a rigid ascetic. In the power struggle between the king and the Church, Becket sided with Rome. Henry felt betrayed and in 1164 Becket was forced to flee England.

He returned in 1170 after moves toward reconciliation, but continued to be Henry’s “turbulent priest,” ex-communicating courtiers, nobles and landowners who were political opponents. It’s said that Henry, back in France, uttered words that were taken as orders, and four knights attacked Becket in his own cathedral.

Becket died December 29, 1170, martyred by the king’s men. Henry’s reputation would never be the same, and Becket became a venerated saint and symbol.

Extra credit

Thomas Becket’s remains were carefully hidden from thieves and enemies until the completion of a shrine at Trinity Chapel, which became a popular pilgrimage site. The shrine was destroyed under King Henry VIII around 1538. In 1888 remains were unearthed near the site of Becket’s original tomb, but speculation that it was Becket was shot down in the early 1950s… In the 1964 film Becket, Thomas Becket was portrayed by Richard Burton and Henry II was portrayed by Peter O’Toole. Both actors were nominated for Best Actor, but lost out to Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady. Because, you know, it’s the Oscars.


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