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Thomas Becket and Henry II


Becket, the Church and the king

Becket was the son of a wealthy Norman [norman: A person from Normandy in northern France. The Normans invaded England in 1066. Londoner:

  • He went to work in the household of Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury [Archbishop of Canterbury: The most important bishop in England., where he was very successful and became an Archdeacon [Archdeacon : A senior clergyman ranked just below a bishop..

  • Theobald recommended him to King Henry II, who made him Chancellor (1155). Becket became a successful and trusted friend and adviser – Henry sent his son, also called Henry, as a page to Becket's household.

  • When Theobald died, Henry made Becket Archbishop of Canterbury (1162).

  • As Archbishop, Becket became much more religious. He started doing godly acts, such as wearing a hair shirt [hair shirt : A shirt made from woven horse hair worn by someone doing penance for a wrongdoing..

  • The manner of his death shot him to fame. Fifteen biographies were written within 20 years of his death. The Pope [pope: Head of the Roman Catholic Church. made him a saint. His shrine [shrine : Tomb or monument to a saint or other holy person. became the most popular in England and was the destination of Chaucer's [Chaucer : Medieval writer, most famous for The Canterbury Tales. pilgrims [pilgrim: Someone who travels to a holy place for religious reasons. in the Canterbury Tales.

The Church in the Middle Ages had huge power over people's lives:

  • The Pope [pope: Head of the Roman Catholic Church. claimed authority over all kings and bishops. The bishops were powerful landowners who acted as the king's advisers.

  • If a cleric [cleric: A clergyman. was accused of a crime, he was not tried in the king's court. Instead, he was tried in a Church court where the punishments were not so strict.

  • Many knights tried to earn forgiveness for their sins by going on Crusade.

Henry II was a strong king:

  • He conquered Ireland.

  • He reformed the law. He set up the jury [jury: A group of people (usually 12 in number) who listen to the facts of a case in a court. system and ordered that only royal judges, called Justices, could try criminal cases. Henry II is sometimes called 'the Father of the Common Law'.

  • He wanted to reduce the power of the Church and in 1164 he introduced the Constitutions of Clarendon. This was a code of 16 rules to increase the king's influence over the bishops and the Church courts. Henry demanded that, if the Church courts found a cleric guilty, they had to hand him over to the king's court to be punished properly.

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