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King Henry II and Thomas Becket: From Close Friends to Fierce Enemies

King Henry II and Thomas Becket

Thomas Becket was a Catholic priest who became the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162 until his murder in 1170. King Henry II was the King of England from 1154 to 1189.

King Henry II appointed Becket as Archbishop, and in fact the two were such good friends that Henry's son, who would later become Henry the Young King of England, was in part raised by Becket, living with him in Canterbury for several years of his childhood. The younger Henry grew to love Becket as a father.

Unfortunately, over time the two friends developed differences of opinion as to the amount of power the King should have, and the role of the Church in State, or government, affairs. Henry II believed the King should rule over the Church and the Secular (non-church) lands. He believed that the church lands should pay taxes to the monarchy and that the king should be able to set rules and laws for the churches to follow.

Becket eventually determined that the church should set it's own policies and rules, and that the monarchy's power should be limited. Over time Becket used his power as Archbishop to consolidate as much power as possible in order to put a strong front up to Henry. At the same time, Henry sought to gain the support of clergy from other areas of English rule. Becket was told to support to either support Henry or face political jeopardy.

During The Constitutions of Clarendon in 1164, Henry sought to pass legislative procedures that would limit the tie between the Church in England and the Church in Rome, and to solidify his own power over the Church. During the debating and voting Becket eventually said he agreed in principle with what Henry wanted but refused to sign legislation voting for same. Henry had Becket criminally charged with contempt of royal authority and malfeasance in the performance of his duties. Becket fled to France, where he lived in exile for a few years.

Becket returned to England and attempted to convince the leader of the Church, Pope Alexander III, to excommunicate Henry II. The pope, while agreeing with Becket's concerns, was at that time unwilling to take this step against the king. The next three years, from 1167 - 1170, Becket and the pope argued about this topic. In 1170 the pope was believed to be weakening on the topic. Henry II attempted to make a peaceful resolution to the dispute that included allowing Becket to return to Canterbury.

Later that year Henry II's son Henry the Young was coroneted the new king by three bishops, of York, London and Salisbury. This violated the long-standing privilege of coronation held by the Bishop of Canterbury. Becket excommunicated all three of the other bishops.

Word got back to Henry II, who was ailing, and he angrily complained about Becket, reportedly asking ‘Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?' No one knows to this day if the old king was seriously requesting that Becket be killed or if he was just angry, but three knights travelled to Canterbury and murdered Thomas Becket. In just three short years the pope canonized him as a saint.

The best of friends had become the deadliest of enemies.

This is an original news article © The Kids Window

One in a series of articles of articles about British history, see our range of historical dressing up costumes.  



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