Becket, Saint Thomas

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

Page 4

Saint Thomas Becket was chancellor of England and archbishop of Canterbury during the reign of HENRY II and was martyred following a bitter battle with the monarchy over royal control of church law.

Becket was born around 1118 in London, England, the son of a prosperous London merchant and his wife who were of Norman ancestry. He was first educated at a monastery in Merton, just outside London, and then in London grammar schools. In his late teens, he was sent to Paris for further schooling, including the study of logic, rhetoric, and philosophy. At age twenty-one, after his mother had died and his father had lost his fortune, Becket returned to London and became a city clerk to three sheriffs. Three years later, in about 1143, his father introduced him to Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury. Becket soon joined Theobald's household, becoming a clerk and later a close adviser to the archbishop. In about 1150, Theobald sent Becket to Italy and France to study civil and CANON LAW. Upon his return to Theobald's court in 1152, Becket was able to secure the papal letters that prevented the English king Stephen from crowning his son to be successor to the throne. Becket's intervention permitted Henry II, in 1154, to become the king of England.

In the same year, Theobald appointed Becket archdeacon of Canterbury. Less than three months later, on Theobald's recommendation and in gratitude for Becket's role in helping him to gain the throne, Henry II named Becket chancellor of England.

Becket became the king's most trusted adviser and a constant and devoted companion. He was an effective chancellor, leading troops into war, repairing castles, conducting foreign policy, and negotiating a marriage between Prince Henry, son of the king, and the daughter of King Louis VII of France. Becket lived luxuriously, holding extravagant receptions and dressing in splendid clothes. Theobald disapproved of his protégé's lavish lifestyle. To Theobald, it was inappropriate for Becket, who still remained archdeacon while serving as chancellor, to surround himself with worldly things. Becket ignored the concerns of his mentor and even refused to visit Theobald on his deathbed.

After Theobald died in 1161, Henry appointed Becket archbishop of Canterbury in 1162. Becket, aware of the influence he now wielded as a religious leader, promptly abandoned the trappings of his previous life as chancellor. He devoted himself to the study of canon...

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