Thomas Becket

English archbishop and martyr, 1119/1120–1170

Thomas Becket was an English priest, and Archbishop of Canterbury, who was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. People used to think his name was Thomas á Becket, but it is now known to be wrong.[1]


Thomas Becket
Archbishop of Canterbury
Illustration from an English Book of hours telling an account of the murder, c. 1390, National Library of Wales
Appointed24 May 1162
Installed3 June 1162
Term ended29 December 1170
PredecessorTheobald of Bec
SuccessorRoger de Bailleul
Ordination2 June 1162
Consecration3 June 1162
by Henry of Blois
Personal details
Birth nameThomas Becket
Bornc. 1119
Cheapside, London
Died(1170-12-29)29 December 1170
Canterbury Cathedral
BuriedCanterbury Cathedral
DenominationRoman Catholic
  • Gilbert Beket
  • Matilda
Previous postArchdeacon of Canterbury
Feast day29 December
Venerated in
Title as SaintBishop and Martyr
Beatified21 February 1173
by Pope Alexander III
Canonized21 February 1173
St Peter's Church in Segni
by Pope Alexander III
AttributesSword, Martyrdom, dressed in chancellor's robe and neck chain
PatronageExeter College, Oxford; Portsmouth; Arbroath Abbey; secular clergy
ShrinesCanterbury Cathedral
Lord Chancellor
In office
MonarchHenry II
Preceded byRobert of Ghent
Succeeded byGeoffrey Ridel

Becket was born in Cheapside, London. He was an intelligent child, who also enjoyed playing sports and hunting. At age 16, he left England to study in Paris.[2]

In 1143, Becket joined the household of Theobald of Bec, as a clerk. He became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162. He had been a close friend of King Henry II, but they argued about the rights of the Church. This argument between Henry and Becket ended their friendship. Becket resigned as Lord Chancellor and sought to extend the rights of the archbishopric. This led to a series of conflicts with the King. One was on the jurisdiction of secular courts over English clergymen.

Stained glass window of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral

Attempts by Henry to influence the other bishops against Becket began in Westminster in October 1163. The King sought approval of the traditional rights of the royal government over the church.[3] Henry held a meeting with most of the higher English clergy at Clarendon Palace on 30 January 1164. Becket was officially asked to agree to the King's rights.

Henry summoned Becket to appear before a great council at Northampton Castle on 8 October 1164, to answer allegations. Convicted on the charges, Becket stormed out of the trial and fled to Europe.[3] King Louis VII of France offered Becket protection. He spent nearly two years in the Cistercian abbey of Pontigny, until Henry's threats made him return to Sens.

Becket returned to England, but the dispute continued. He excommunicated his enemies in the Church, and threatened to do the same to Henry.

Upon hearing reports of Becket's actions, Henry said things which were understood as wishing Becket killed. The king's exact words are unknown and several versions have been reported. The most commonly quoted, as handed down by oral tradition, is "Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?"

Becket was killed by four of the King's knights on 29 December 1170. He became a saint in 1173. His major shrine is in Canterbury, but was destroyed by order of Henry VIII during his reign.


  1. Memorials of Thomas Cranmer (1694)
  2. "Thomas Becket." World History: Ancient and Medieval Eras. ABC-CLIO, 2013. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Barlow "Becket, Thomas (1120?–1170)" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. [1]