Beck′et, Thomas à,
an English archbishop, born in London about 1118; murdered in Canterbury cathedral, Dec. 29, 1170. His father, a London merchant, was a friend of Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury, who thus became acquainted with the young man, helped him in his education, and induced him to enter the church, also bringing him to the notice of King Henry II, who soon after appointed him lord chancellor of England. Becket showed great ability, and also distinguished himself in Henry's war against France. He lived in great magnificence and was constantly in the company of the king. In 1162, on the death of Archbishop Theobald, the king had Becket appointed archbishop of. Canterbury. Immediately Becket's conduct changed. Instead of the brilliant courtier and statesman, he became grave and austere, and began to oppose the king, making himself the champion of the rights of the church against the king's demands. In 1164, at Clarendon, the king had resolutions drawn up which declared what the king's rights and what those of the church were on certain disputed points. These Constitutions of Clarendon, as they were called, Becket at first refused to agree to, but finally signed them. As soon as he left the place, he repented having signed them and declared that they ought not to be observed. He was then obliged to flee to France. In 1170 he was allowed to come back; but he at once began his old opposition to the king, who was then in Normandy. The king is said to have angrily cried out: “Will no one rid me of this pestilent priest?” At once four knights
left the king, and, going to Canterbury, murdered Becket at the altar of the church. He was declared a saint by the pope, and his tomb at Canterbury became a shrine visited by pilgrims from all over the world. But the beautiful shrine was destroyed by Henry VIII, and the cathedral was partly destroyed by fire in 1872.