1. Education
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Thomas Becket

Article from the 1911 Encyclopedia


THOMAS BECKET (c. 1118-1170), by his contemporaries more commonly called Thomas of London, English chancellor and archbishop of Canterbury under Henry II., was born about the year 1118 in London. His mother was a native of Caen; his father, who came of a family of small Norman landowners, had been a citizen of Rouen, but migrated to London before the birth of Thomas, and held at one time the dignified office of portreeve, although he ended his life in straitened circumstances. The young Thomas received an excellent education. At the age of ten he was put to school with the canons of Merton priory in Surrey. Later he spent some time in the schools of London, which enjoyed at that time a high reputation, and finally studied theology at Paris. Returning at the age of twenty-two he was compelled, through the misfortunes of his parents, to become a notary in the service of a wealthy kinsman, Osbert Huit Deniers, who was of some importance in London politics. About 1142 a family friend brought Thomas under the notice of Archbishop Theobald, of whose household he at once became an inmate. He accompanied the primate to Rome in 1143, and also to the council of Reims (1148), which Theobald attended in defiance of a prohibition from the king. It appears to have been at some time between the dates of these two journeys that he visited Bologna and Auxerre, and began those studies in the canon law to which he was in no small degree indebted for his subsequent advancement and misfortunes. Although the bent of his mind was legal, he never made himself an expert jurist; but he had the art of turning his knowledge, such as it was, to excellent account. In rip he was sent to Rome by the archbishop with instructions to dissuade the Curia from sanctioning the coronation of Stephen's eldest son Eustace. It is said that Thomas distinguished himself by the ability with which he executed his commission; in any case it gave him a claim on the gratitude of the Angevin party which was not forgotten. In 1154 he was promoted to be archdeacon of Canterbury, after first taking deacon's orders. In the following year Henry II., at the primate's recommendation, bestowed on him the important office of chancellor. In this capacity Thomas controlled the issue of royal writs and the distribution of ecclesiastical patronage; but it was more important for his future that he had ample opportunities of exercising his personal fascination upon a prince who was comparatively inexperienced, and thirteen or fourteen years his junior. He became Henry's bosom friend and was consulted in all affairs of state. It had been the hope of Theobald that Becket's influence would be exercised to support the extensive privileges which the Church had wrested from Stephen. But the chancellor, although preserving friendly relations with his old patron, subordinated the interests of the Church to those of his new master. Under his administration the Church was severely taxed for the prosecution of Henry's foreign wars; and the chancellor incurred the reproach " of plunging his sword into the bowels of his mother." Like Wolsey he identified himself with the military aspirations of his sovereign. It was Thomas who organized the Toulouse campaign of 1159; even in the field he made himself conspicuous by commanding a company of knights, directing the work of devastation, and superintending the conduct of the war after the king had withdrawn his presence from the camp. When there was war with France upon the Norman border, the chancellor acted as Henry's representative; and on one occasion engaged in single combat and unhorsed a French knight of reputation. Later it fell to his part to arrange the terms of peace with France. He discharged the duties of an envoy with equal magnificence and dexterity; the treaty of May 1160, which put an end to the war, was of his making.

Continued on page two.

This article is from the 1911 edition of an encyclopedia, which is out of copyright here in the U.S. It is in the public domain and you may copy, download, print and distribute this work as you see fit.

Every effort has been made to present this text accurately and cleanly, but no guarantees are made against errors. Neither Melissa Snell nor About may be held liable for any problems you experience with the text version or with any electronic form of this document.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.