Lesson 15 - Bloomsbury

Lesson 15: Henry II and Thomas Becket
Background information
In 1154, King Henry II appointed Becket as his Chancellor. They were good friends
and worked well together. In 1161, Henry asked Becket to become the new
Archbishop of Canterbury, hoping that Becket would be able to control the church
courts, which were powerful and unfair. But instead, Becket refused, as he believed
that was not what God wanted. Above all, Becket’s master was God. Then Henry
decreed that all serious church court cases could be tried in the king’s courts. Becket
agreed at first and then in 1164 he changed his mind. Henry was furious and Becket
fled to France. In 1170, Henry ordered the Archbishop of York to do something that
was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s job. Becket was furious. But that summer, Henry
and Becket met in France and made friends again. Yet as soon as Becket was back in
Canterbury Cathedral, he began excommunicating all Henry’s followers. Henry flew
into a rage and shouted, ‘Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?’ Four knights
overheard him and decided to carry out his wishes. On 29 December 1170, they burst
into Canterbury Cathedral and demanded that Becket retract the excommunications.
Becket refused. The knights tried to drag him from the Cathedral, but he would not
go, so they killed him there and then with repeated sword blows.
http://education.hodge.continuumbooks.com © Susie Hodge (2010)
Resources for Teaching History 11–14. London: Continuum.