Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thomas à Becket
THOMAS, known as Thomas à Becket (1118?–1170), archbishop of Canterbury, son of Gilbert Becket and Rohesia (or Matilda), his wife, was born at his father's house in Cheapside, London, on 21 Dec., perhaps in 1115 or 1120 (Garnier, pp. 203–4; Materials, iv. 4, 78), but more probably in 1118 (Radford, p. 2). Gilbert Becket, who sprang from a family of knightly rank at Thierceville in Normandy, had been a merchant at Rouen, and afterwards in London, of which city he was once portreeve; his wife was a burgher-woman from Caen. The name Becket is given to Thomas in three contemporary writings (Rog. Hov. i. 213; Materials, ii. 435, vii. 451); he called himself, even when archbishop, ‘Thomas of London’ (Round, Geoffrey de Mandeville, p. 375; Athenæum, 17 Nov. 1894; Ancient Deeds, A. 4913, Public Record Office). When ten years old he was sent to school at Merton Priory (Surrey); later he attended a school in London, and further studied at Paris, whence he returned in his twenty-second year. His father being now in straitened circumstances, Thomas earned his living for a short time as ‘notary’ to Richer de Laigle, a young knight whose sports he had shared in his schoolboy days, and for a somewhat longer period as clerk and accountant to a kinsman, Osbern Witdeniers, who seems to have been at this time sheriff of London. Thomas was taken into the household and the innermost counsels of Archbishop Theobald [q. v.] of Canterbury before November 1143, when he accompanied the primate to Rome. Twice in the next five years the jealousy of Roger of Pont l'Evêque [q. v.] drove him temporarily away from Theobald's house; once he voluntarily quitted it to spend a year in studying canon law at Bologna and Auxerre. He accompanied Theobald on his hazardous journey to the council of Reims in 1148; and it was his ‘most subtle management’ that foiled King Stephen's project for the coronation of his son Eustace in 1152. Though only in minor orders, Thomas had held the livings of St. Mary-le-Strand (London) and Otford (Kent) since 1143. He became a prebendary of St. Paul's, and also of Lincoln, before the end of 1154, when Theobald ordained him deacon and appointed him archdeacon of Canterbury. Soon afterwards he was made provost of Beverley, and, according to one account, chamberlain to Henry II. Early in 1155 Henry made him chancellor of England.
Thomas was afterwards reproached with having bought this appointment; but the reproach is pointless, for the purchase of state offices was a recognised practice of the time—a practice, however, which in the case of that particular office was made less easy for the future by the new character which the chancellorship acquired in the hands of Thomas himself. An extraordinary intimacy sprang up between him and his sovereign. Folk said that they had ‘but one heart and one mind;’ that Thomas was next to the king in dignity, not only in England, but also in Henry's continental dominions; that Henry was guided by him as by a ‘master,’ and that the chancellor was the originator of all the reforms introduced by the young king. The evidence is too scanty either to confirm or to confute this view of Thomas's influence; but what little evidence there is indicates rather that Henry's policy was his own, and that Thomas was simply the chief instrument in its execution—an instrument of such exceptionally perfect and varied capabilities that those who watched its operations wellnigh lost sight of the hand by which it was directed. Gervase says that in 1156 Henry ‘relied on the great help given him by his chancellor’ in subduing a rebellion in Anjou; but the nature of this help is unknown. In that year Thomas acted as justice itinerant in three counties (Pipe Roll, 2 Hen. II, pp. 17, 26, 65, 66). In May 1157 he took a prominent part in the trial of the ‘Battle Abbey case’ [see Hilary, d. 1169]; his attitude in it is, however, not clear enough to justify the efforts made by some of his modern biographers to evolve from it a theory of his ecclesiastical policy at this time. In the spring of 1158 he went as ambassador to France to propose a marriage between Henry's eldest son [see Henry, 1155–1183] and a daughter of Louis VII. The splendour of his train on this occasion was more than regal. ‘If this is the English chancellor,’ said Louis and his people, ‘what must not the king be!’ and they readily agreed to his proposals. Later in the year he obtained Louis's sanction for Henry's designs upon Brittany; and he also acted again as justice itinerant in England (Pipe Roll, 4 Hen. II, p. 114). John of Salisbury seems to imply (Polycraticus, l. viii. c. 24) that Henry's expedition against Toulouse in 1159 was thought to have been instigated by the chancellor. The taxes imposed to defray its costs were so arranged that a disproportionately heavy share fell on the church; and that Thomas was somehow concerned in this taxation is certain. One of his enemies at a later time said that, ‘having in his hand the sword of the state, he plunged it into the bosom of the church, his mother, when he robbed her of so many thousands for the war of Toulouse;’ while John of Salisbury declared that Thomas was in this matter only ‘a minister of iniquity,’ yielding, under compulsion, to the will of the king. In the war itself the deacon-chancellor figured prominently, at the head of a troop of picked knights, foremost in every fight. When Louis VII came to relieve Toulouse, Thomas vainly urged Henry to continue the siege. When all the great barons refused the task of securing the conquered territory after Henry's withdrawal, Thomas and the constable, Henry of Essex, undertook it, and performed it with signal success. Thomas afterwards defended the Norman border for some months with troops whom he paid at his own cost and commanded in person; he led several forays into France, and once unhorsed a famous French knight in single combat. He negotiated the treaty between Henry and Louis in May 1160. Soon afterwards he incurred Henry's wrath by opposing, though without success, the grant of a papal dispensation for the marriage of Mary, countess of Boulogne and abbess of Romsey.
In May 1162 Thomas returned to England, bringing with him the king's eldest son, of whom he had for some time past had the entire charge, and whose recognition as heir to the crown he had undertaken to procure from the barons. In this he succeeded. Just before leaving Normandy he had learned the king's intention of raising him to the see of Canterbury, vacant since April 1161. The late archbishop, Theobald, had ‘hoped and prayed’ for Thomas as his successor (John of Salisbury, Entheticus, ll. 1293–6); but Thomas shrank from accepting the office, avowedly because he knew that Henry's ecclesiastical policy would clash with his own ideas of an archbishop's duty, and that the appointment must lead to a severance of their friendship. A cardinal who was present, however, bade him take the risk, and he consented. The Canterbury chapter, urged by the justiciar in the king's name, elected Thomas archbishop; on 23 May the election was ratified at Westminster by the bishops and clergy of the province; on Saturday, 2 June, he was ordained priest in Canterbury Cathedral by Bishop Walter of Rochester, and next day he was consecrated by the bishop of Winchester [see Henry of Blois]. At the king's request the pope allowed him to send for his pallium instead of fetching it in person; he received it on 10 Aug. Henry had also procured a dispensation for him to retain the seals, but he refused to do so. He kept, however, the archdeaconry of Canterbury till he was forced by the king to resign it in January 1163. Possibly his motive may have been to effect in the archidiaconal administration some reforms which Theobald had desired, but had been unable to accomplish in the absence of the archdeacon, Thomas himself (Materials, v. 9, 10).
The life of the deacon-chancellor, however unclerical, had always been both pious and pure; and he was no sooner consecrated than he became one of the most zealously devout and studious, as well as industrious, of prelates. He seems to have taken St. Anselm [q. v.] for his model; and he made an unsuccessful request for Anselm's canonisation to Alexander III at the council of Tours, May 1163. At a council at Woodstock on 23 July he opposed a project mooted by the king for transferring from the sheriffs' pockets to the royal treasury a certain ‘aid’ which those officers customarily received from their respective shires as a reward for their administrative work. The primate's opposition was based on two grounds: (1) the sheriffs had a claim to the money by long prescription, and as earning it by their services to the people of the shire; (2) the enrolment of these sums among the king's dues would create a written record which would make their payment to him binding on all generations to come, whereas the existing arrangement was merely one of custom, between people and sheriffs, with which neither the king nor the law had anything to do. Thomas thus appears to have stood forth as the champion of justice, first in behalf of the sheriffs, and secondly in behalf of the whole English people. If the case was really as it is represented by contemporary writers, Thomas was right; but the matter is obscure, and all that can be said of it with certainty is that in ‘the first case of any opposition to the king's will in the matter of taxation which is recorded in our national history,’ the opposition was made, and apparently with entire success, by Thomas Becket (Materials, i. 12, ii. 373–374, iv. 23–4; Garnier, p. 30; Robertson, pp. 328–9; Morris, 2nd ed. pp. 112–13; Stubbs, i. 462–3; Round, Feudal England, pp. 500–1. The version of Thomas Saga and its editor, i. 139–41, ii. pref. pp. cvii–viii, is at variance with all extant contemporary authorities).
Henry's irritation was increased by the archbishop's efforts to reclaim all alienated property of his see, even from the crown itself; by his prohibition of an uncanonical marriage which the king's brother, William of Anjou, desired to contract with the widowed Countess of Warenne; by his excommunication of a tenant-in-chief of the crown, without the previous notice to the king which was usual in such cases; and, above all, by his successful opposition to the endeavours made by the king or his justiciars, in several cases during the summer of 1163, to assert the royal jurisdiction over criminous clerks. At last Henry called upon the bishops in a body at Westminster, on 1 Oct., to confirm ‘his grandfather's customs,’ particularly two which he specified, as to the respective shares to be taken by church and state in dealing with criminous clerks. All the bishops answered that they would agree to the customs only ‘saving our order,’ and the primate absolutely refused to sanction the two which Henry had specially mentioned. From this determination Thomas was not to be moved either by the king's wrath, which the latter showed by depriving him first of some castles which he had held as chancellor and still retained, and next of the charge of the boy Henry, or by his persuasions at a personal interview near Northampton. In December, however, the archbishop's resistance was overcome by three persons who professed to have been sent for that purpose by the pope; Alexander, according to their story, having been assured by Henry that the question at issue was merely one of words. On this Thomas gave to the king in private a verbal promise to obey his customs ‘loyally and in good faith.’ But when he was required to repeat this promise publicly, before a council summoned to meet for that intent at Clarendon on 13 Jan. 1164, he saw that he had been deceived, and it was only after three days' resistance that he submitted, saying, if we may believe Gilbert Foliot [q. v.], ‘It is my lord's will that I forswear myself; I must incur the risk of perjury now, and do penance afterwards as best I can.’ By ‘my lord’ he probably meant the pope, at whose supposed command he was giving a promise which he felt he would be obliged to break. Henry now ordered the ‘customs’ to be drawn up in writing. Sixteen ‘constitutions,’ called the constitutions of Clarendon, were accordingly produced. Thomas declared them all contrary to the canon law, and refused to seal them. Some unsuccessful negotiations followed, and twice he attempted to leave England secretly.
Thomas was next summoned to appear before the king's court on 14 Sept., to answer a claim of John the Marshal [see Marshal, John, d. 1164?] touching a manor of the metropolitan see. He excused himself on the plea of sickness, and further urged that the suit ought to be decided in his own court, whence John had procured its removal by perjury. Henry rejected both pleas, and ordered the suit to be tried before a great council at Northampton on Tuesday, 6 Oct. Nothing was actually done till the 8th; then the council was made to give judgment, not on John's claim, but upon Thomas's alleged contempt of court in failing to appear on 14 Sept. The usual sentence for contempt was forfeiture of movables ad misericordiam, commuted for a sum which varied in different districts, and which in Kent was 40s. The archbishop had to pay 500l. Henry next demanded 300l., which he said Thomas owed him for arrears of the ferm of Eye. The authorities say ‘Eye and Berkhamstead;’ but the Pipe roll of Michaelmas 1163 (9 Hen. II, p. 24) records the archbishop as ‘quit’ of all dues from the honour of Berkhamstead, both for that year and for all previous years. For Eye there are, during Becket's tenure of it, no notices of any payment save one of 150l. 3s. 7d., recorded in the same Pipe roll (p. 34) as having been made ‘without rendering an account for it.’ Thomas declared that he had spent far more than 300l. in repairing the Tower of London and other royal palaces. This was probably true; but as he had no formal warrant to show for this employment of the money, Henry could and did compel him to give security for its repayment. Next day Henry demanded of him a further sum of 500l. (or, according to another account, two sums of five hundred marks each), being a loan made by the king to the chancellor during the war of Toulouse. Thomas said this money had been given, not lent; but again he had to find sureties for its repayment. He was then bidden to render up an account of all the revenues of vacant sees, abbeys, and honours which had passed through his hands as chancellor. He asked for a day's delay. On the morrow Henry demanded, no longer a statement of accounts, but a definite sum, variously stated at thirty thousand marks, thirty thousand pounds, and forty-four thousand marks. Thomas's protest against the injustice of this demand, his offer of two thousand marks as a compromise, and his plea that at his consecration he had been released by the child Henry and the justiciars, in the king's name, from all secular obligations, were successively rejected. A two days' adjournment followed, owing to Sunday and the illness of the primate. On Tuesday morning, 13 Oct., all the bishops came to him, and begged him to submit himself unreservedly to the king's will. Thomas forbade them to take part in any further proceedings against him, their father and metropolitan, and warned them that if they did so he appealed against them to the pope. After celebrating the mass of St. Stephen, with its significant introit, ‘Princes did sit and speak against me,’ he rode to the castle and, followed only by two clerks, entered the council-hall, cross in hand. It was usual for the archbishop's cross to be borne before him by an attendant, and in thus holding it in his own hands Thomas was thought to be lifting up the symbol of his spiritual authority in declared rivalry with the temporal authority of the king. When Henry, who was in another room, heard of these proceedings, he sent down a message to the primate, bidding him withdraw his threat of appeal against the bishops, and submit to the council's judgment as to the chancery accounts. On Thomas's refusal the whole council, now gathered in the king's chamber, was bidden to pass sentence on him as a traitor; but the bishops obtained leave to appeal to Rome against him instead. The justiciar was sent down to deliver the sentence of the lay barons. Thomas checked him at the outset by appealing to the pope, and with uplifted cross made his way through the mob of angry courtiers, some of whose insults he did not scruple to return, out of the castle. As Henry refused to answer till the morrow his request for a safe-conduct out of England, he fled secretly in the night.
On 2 Nov. Thomas sailed in disguise from Sandwich; next morning he landed in Flanders; a fortnight later he was welcomed at Soissons by Louis of France; and a week later still he laid at the feet of Alexander III, at Sens, first the constitutions of Clarendon, on which he besought the pope's judgment, and next his own pontifical ring, in token of his desire to relinquish an office into which he had been intruded by the royal power, and in which he considered himself to have failed. Alexander pronounced six of the constitutions individually ‘tolerable,’ but condemned them as a whole, and he bade the archbishop take back his ring and his office. On 30 Nov. Thomas went to live in the Cistercian abbey of Pontigny (Burgundy). At Christmas Henry confiscated the property of his see, and banished all his relatives, friends, and servants. The pope himself, an exile, driven from Rome by the anti-pope, who was backed by the emperor, feared that any strong measures might provoke the English king into joining this schismatic alliance. It was therefore not till the spring of 1166 that he gave Thomas leave to take against Henry whatever steps he might choose. Thomas wrote to Henry two letters of remonstrance which were not answered. He then, in a third letter, threatened him with excommunication, and prepared, by spending three nights (31 May to 2 June) in vigil before three famous shrines at Soissons, to fulfil his threat on Whit-Sunday, 12 June, at Vézelay; but hearing that Henry was dangerously ill, he contented himself with publicly repeating his threat, anathematising the royal customs, and excommunicating seven of Henry's counsellors. Henry's announcement in September of his resolve to expel all Cistercians from his dominions if the order continued to shelter Thomas compelled the latter to remove (November) from Pontigny to Ste. Colombe at Sens, a Benedictine abbey under the special protection of the French king. Henry himself now asked the pope to send legates to settle the dispute. This Alexander could not do without overriding a commission as legate for England which he had given to Thomas at Easter (24 April 1166). His envoys were therefore empowered merely to act as arbitrators; and neither party in the case would submit to their arbitration. Negotiations dragged on till 6 Jan. 1169, when Thomas suddenly presented himself before the two kings in conference at Montmirail, and, falling at Henry's feet, offered to be reconciled to him at his discretion; but he added, ‘saving God's honour and my order,’ i.e. he refused to pledge himself to acceptance of the customs, and Henry on this drove him angrily away. He excommunicated two of his disobedient suffragans and eight usurpers of church property on Palm Sunday, 13 April, at Clairvaux, and six other persons on Ascension day, 29 May. He also proclaimed that if Henry did not amend before 2 Feb. 1170, England should then be placed under interdict.
At last a project was devised for effecting a personal reconciliation between Thomas and Henry without any mention of the customs. Thomas, somewhat unwillingly, yielded to this scheme for the sake of getting back to England. Henry's object in entertaining it seems to have been merely to gain time. On 18 Nov. 1169, at Montmartre, he received a petition from Thomas, requesting that the archbishop himself and his adherents might be reinstated in the king's favour and in the enjoyment of their rights and their property. To this petition he gave a verbal assent. Thomas and the pope vainly insisted on his confirming it by giving to the archbishop the kiss of peace, and early in 1170 they learned that he was planning to have his eldest son crowned by the archbishop of York, Thomas's old rival, Roger of Pont l'Evêque. This was a clear proof that Henry had no real intention of letting the archbishop of Canterbury return home, and also a flagrant insult both to him and to his see, to which alone, save in case of absolute necessity, the right of crowning a king of England was held to appertain. The coronation was performed by Roger on 14 June, although prohibitions of it from both Thomas and Alexander had reached him on the previous day. Henry, however, seems to have felt that he had gone too far, for he hurried back to France, and met Thomas at Fréteval on 22 July. Not a word passed between them about the customs; the king promised complete restitution to the archbishop and his friends, and, after a long argument, declared himself willing ‘to be guided by the archbishop's counsel’ as to the amends due to the see of Canterbury for the violation of its rights in the matter of the coronation. The plea which he put forth in his own behalf on this last point was certainly irrelevant; it consisted in his possession of a papal brief authorising him, indeed, to have his son crowned by any bishop whom he might choose, but only during the vacancy of Canterbury, the brief having been granted for that special purpose in 1161–2, during the interval between Theobald's death and Thomas's appointment. Still worse than the king's offence was that of Roger of York, who had crowned the boy in the teeth of a direct prohibition from the pope as well as from the primate of all England. The pope's wrath was increased by a report that a very offensive change had been made in the coronation oath. On 16 Sept. he therefore suspended and censured in the severest terms Roger himself and all the bishops who had assisted him in the ceremony. These letters of suspension were sent to Thomas for transmission to England. Thomas, however, having learned that the report as to the oath was false, thought them too severe, and asked Alexander to soften their terms. Meanwhile two more meetings took place between the archbishop and the king. Henry proposed that they should go to England together, and there exchange the kiss of peace; but when the appointed time came for their voyage he sent word that he was unavoidably detained, and requested Thomas to go under the escort of John of Oxford [q. v.], who had been one of his most active and unscrupulous opponents.
Exasperated by these delays and shifts, and still more by tidings of a plot which was hatching between Roger of York, the bishops of London and Salisbury, and the sheriff of Kent, to intercept him on his landing, and seize any papal letters that he might bring with him, Thomas, on 29 Nov., sent over to England the pope's letters of 16 Sept., and they were delivered next day to Roger and the two bishops who were at Canterbury with him. On that day, 30 Nov., Thomas sailed from Wissant; on 1 Dec. he landed at Sandwich, and proceeded, amid much popular rejoicing, to Canterbury. Here he was met by a demand from some of the king's officers for the immediate and unconditional absolution of the suspended bishops. Thomas, expecting that by the amended papal letters, which he knew to be on the way, he would be empowered to deal at his own discretion with all except York, offered to absolve London and Salisbury if they would in his presence swear to obey the pope's orders. They refused, and, with Roger, went over sea to complain to the king.
Thomas set out for the court of the younger Henry at Woodstock or Winchester, but was stopped in London by an order, in the boy's name, to ‘go and perform his sacred ministry at Canterbury.’ He went back to find the long-promised restoration of his property apparently as far off as ever, and the De Broc family, one of whom had had the custody and the enjoyment of the archiepiscopal estates for many years past, occupying his castle of Saltwood, and turning it into a den of thieves. On Christmas day he again publicly excommunicated these robbers. In the afternoon of Tuesday, 29 Dec., he was visited by four knights, Hugh de Morville (d. 1204) [q. v.], William de Tracy [q. v.], Reginald Fitzurse [q. v.], and Richard le Breton, who, in the name of the elder king, from whose court they had come, again bade him absolve the bishops. He repeated his former answer to this demand, saying he could not go beyond the pope's instructions. A violent altercation ended in the withdrawal of the knights, to return at the head of an armed force supplied by the De Brocs. The archbishop's attendants dragged him into the church, and then, all save three, hid themselves in its furthest and darkest recesses, as they heard armed men approaching the door which led from the cloister into the north transept, and which Thomas forbade them to fasten. ‘God's house must be closed against no man,’ he said. He was going up the steps into the choir when the four knights, with a clerk named Hugh of Horsea, burst into the transept. To the cry ‘Where is the traitor, Thomas Becket?’ he returned no answer; but at the question, ‘Where is the archbishop?’ he stepped down again into the transept, saying, ‘Here I am, not traitor, but archbishop and priest of God; what seek ye?’ ‘Your death—hence, traitor!’ ‘I am no traitor, and I will not stir hence. Wretch!’ (this to Fitzurse, who had struck off the archbishop's cap with his sword) ‘Slay me here if you will, but if you touch any of my people you are accursed.’ They again bade him absolve the bishops; he returned the same answer as before. They tried to drag him out of the church; but he and Edward Grim [q. v.], now his sole remaining companion, were more than a match for the five, hampered though Grim was by the fact that he ‘bore the cross’ (Thomas Saga, i. 541). In the struggle fierce words broke from the archbishop; but when his assailants drew their swords to slay him where he stood, he covered his eyes with his hands, saying, ‘To God and the blessed Mary, to the patron saints of this church, and to St. Denys, I commend myself and the church's cause,’ and with bowed head awaited their blows. The first blow made a gash in the crown of his head, and then fell sideways on his left shoulder, being intercepted by the uplifted arm of Grim. Probably this wound compelled Grim to relinquish the archbishop's cross, for it is expressly stated in a contemporary letter that Thomas himself had the cross in his hands when he was smitten to death (Materials, vii. 431). He received another blow on the head, with the words, ‘Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit;’ at a third he fell on his knees, and then, turning towards the altar of St. Benedict on his right hand, and murmuring ‘For the name of Jesus and for the defence of the church I am ready to embrace death,’ dropped face downwards at full length on the floor. One more sword-stroke completed the severance of the tonsured crown from the skull. ‘Let us begone,’ cried Hugh of Horsea, scattering the brains on the pavement; ‘this man will rise up no more.’
The corpse was buried next day in the crypt without any religious service, as none could be held in the desecrated church till it was formally reconciled. But the grave immediately became a place of pilgrimage and a scene of visions and miracles, and the vox populi clamoured for the canonisation which was pronounced by the pope on 21 Feb. 1173. On 12 July 1174 the king did public penance at the martyr's tomb. In that year the choir of Canterbury Cathedral was burnt down. When its rebuilding was completed the body of St. Thomas was translated, on 7 July 1220, to a shrine in the Trinity chapel, behind the high altar. Thenceforth the ‘Canterbury pilgrimage’ became the most popular in Christendom; jewels and treasures were heaped on the shrine, till in September 1538 (Stowe, Annals ad ann.) it was destroyed (as were, in the same year, all the shrines in England save one) by order of Thomas Cromwell (1485?–1540) [q. v.], acting as vicar-general for Henry VIII. It was afterwards reported that Henry had, on 24 April 1536, caused the martyr to be summoned to take his trial for high treason, and that on 11 June 1538 the trial had been held, the accused condemned as contumacious, and his body ordered to be disinterred and burnt (Wilkins, Concilia, iii. 835–6, 841; Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, xiii. pt. ii. p. 49); but the tale is of doubtful authenticity. Whether the contents of the shrine were really burnt has been much questioned, and in January 1888 they were for a moment thought to have been discovered buried in the crypt. Further investigation, however, showed that the bones then found could not be those of St. Thomas, and that the evidence for the burning of the latter far outweighs that which has been adduced for their burial.
On 16 Nov. 1538 Henry issued a proclamation declaring that the death of Thomas was ‘untruly called martyrdom;’ that he had been canonised by ‘the bishop of Rome’ merely ‘because he had been a champion to maintain his usurped authority, and a bearer of the iniquity of the clergy;’ and that ‘there appeareth nothing in his life and exterior conversation whereby he should be called a saint, but rather esteemed to have been a rebel and traitor to his prince;’ wherefore he was in future to be called no more St. Thomas of Canterbury, ‘but Bishop Becket;’ all images and pictures of him were to be ‘put down,’ and all mention of him in calendar and service book to be erased (Burnet, Hist. Reformation, Records, pt. iii. bk. iii. No. 62). In consequence of this, mediæval representations and direct memorials of the most famous of English saints are extremely rare in his own land. Our one contemporary portrait of him is the figure on his archiepiscopal seal; it agrees with the descriptions given by his biographers of his tall slender form, dignified bearing, and handsome features, at once strongly marked and refined. A mosaic in the cathedral of Monreale (Sicily), though obviously conventional in general treatment, may very likely be correct in its colouring of dark grey eyes, dark brown beard, and somewhat lighter (possibly grizzled) hair, for it is part of a series of decorations completed within twenty years of Thomas's death, under the superintendence of King William the Good, whose queen, married in 1177, was a daughter of Henry II. A sculptured representation of the martyrdom, over the south door of Bayeux Cathedral, dates from the same period.
In England the surviving memorials of the martyr are mostly, from the nature of the case, only recognisable as such when their history is known. One of the most interesting is St. Thomas's Hospital in Southwark. The present hospital is historically identical with one established by the citizens of London in 1552, in the place of an Augustinian house, devoted to the like charitable work, which they had bought of the king on its dissolution in 1538. The new foundation was for a time called ‘the king's hospital;’ but it soon resumed a part, at least, of the title of its Augustinian predecessor, which had been founded on the same site in 1228, under the invocation of S. Thomas the Martyr, and whose first beginnings twenty-one years earlier still, on another site, may possibly have been connected with a yet older ‘Xenodochium’ begun, ‘in honour of God and the blessed martyr Thomas, at Southwark in London,’ within seventeen years of his death (Tanner, Not. Mon., Surrey, xx. 2; Ann. Monast. iii. 451, 457; Materials, vii. 579–580). Another hospital, established by Thomas's own sister on the site of the Beckets' old home in Cheapside, and served by canons who were also knights, of the order of St. Thomas of Acre, was purchased, on its dissolution in 1538, by the Mercers' Company, and the birthplace of the saint is now marked by their hall and chapel (Monast. Angl. vi. pt. ii. pp. 645–7; Watney, St. Thomas of Acon, pp. 118–40). Many of our older churches now nominally dedicated to St. Thomas the Apostle are in reality dedicated to St. Thomas of Canterbury, the title of the patron saint having been merely changed to evade Henry VIII's proclamation. One indirect commemoration of St. Thomas, which did not fall within the terms of the proclamation, still holds its place in the calendar and services of the English as well as of the Roman church. In his time, and for a century and a half after him, the festival of the Holy Trinity was kept on different days in different parts of Christendom. Thomas, immediately after his consecration, ordered that it should thenceforth be kept in England on that day, the first Sunday after Pentecost, and in 1333 this English usage was adopted throughout the whole western church by order of Pope John XXII.
One of the most singular features in what may be called the posthumous history of Thomas Becket is the interest which he inspired at the farthest end of Christendom. The contemporary historian of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, William of Tyre, breaks the thread of his narrative of the wars of King Amalric and Saladin to wind up the story of the year 1170 with a short account of the new English martyr (W. Tyr l. xx. c. 21). The order of knights of St. Thomas (see above) sprang up in Palestine very soon after the martyr's death. Possibly it may have originated in the penance imposed on his murderers, of serving for fourteen years under the Templars in Holy Land; possibly in that imposed on Henry II, of maintaining, in defence of the same land, five hundred knights for a year at his own expense. The later tradition which ascribed its foundation to Richard I (Stubbs, pref. to Itin. Ricardi, vol. i. pp. cxii–xiii) seems to have grown up out of the fact that Hubert Walter [q. v.] ‘constituted the order of canons’ (or knights, for they were both) ‘at St. Thomas the Martyr in Acon’ (Ann. Monast. iii. 126), i.e. established them in a chapel which Richard had ‘ordered to be built’ there in 1192 (Matt. Paris, Hist. Angl. ii. 38), and which itself seems to have been merely an enlargement or restoration of one founded two years earlier, under the same invocation, by William, a chaplain of Ralph de Diceto [q. v.] (R. Diceto, i. 80–1). It is further possible that the origin of this order may have been in some way connected with that of the famous legend which represents the mother of Thomas as a Saracen emir's daughter, converted to christianity by love of Gilbert Becket, who, when a pilgrim in Holy Land, had become her father's captive, and whom, on his escape, she followed across land and sea till she found him in London and became his wife. This tale in Latin, followed by the heading and first sentence of the same story in French, occurs among the miscellaneous contents of Harleian MS. 978 (fols. 114 b–116). The portion of the manuscript in which these two items are included dates from 1264 to 1270 (Kingsford, Song of Lewes, introd. pp. xi, xvi–xvii); and the words with which the story opens in the Latin version—‘Nunc autem ut paulo altius sermonem historiæ repetamus’—as they refer to nothing in the preceding pages, indicate that this was not its first appearance in writing, but that it was an extract copied out of some previously existing work. Such a legend is perhaps more likely to have been invented in Palestine than in Europe. Its invention at a date so near the lifetime of its subject, and its unquestioned acceptance during more than five hundred years, are curious tokens of the extent to which the imaginations of men, alike in east and west, were fired by the character and career of Thomas of London.[The primary Latin authorities for the life of Thomas are the biographies by William of Canterbury, John of Salisbury, Alan of Tewkesbury, Edward Grim, William FitzStephen, Herbert of Bosham, and two anonymous writers (one of whom was formerly, but without sufficient evidence, called Roger of Pontigny, while the other was styled Anonymous Lambethensis), several shorter pieces of various kinds, and a vast collection of letters; all these have been published, and the letters arranged in chronological order, by the Rev. J. C. Robertson and Dr. J. B. Sheppard, in seven volumes of Materials for the History of Archbishop Becket (Rolls Ser.), which have entirely superseded the edition of Dr. J. A. Giles (S. Thomas Cantuariensis, 8 vols. 1845). The Vie de St. Thomas, in French verse, by Garnier de Pont Sainte-Maxence (ed. C. Hippeau), is also contemporary. The Icelandic Thomas Saga Erkibyskups is a fourteenth-century compilation based on earlier materials, especially on two twelfth-century lives, now lost, by Benedict of Peterborough and Robert of Cricklade. On the authors, dates of composition, and value of all these, see the prefaces of Canon Robertson to his Materials, vols. i–iv., that of Mr. E. Magnusson to his edition of Thomas Saga (Rolls Ser.), vol. ii., and Mr. Radford's appendix to his Thomas of London (see below). Gervase of Canterbury and Ralph de Diceto (Rolls Ser.) were also contemporaries, and supply a few details and dates. The later literature of the subject is overwhelming in quantity, but most of it is of little historical worth. A composite biography of St. Thomas, made up of extracts from four of the earlier lives, was put together in 1198–9. This was edited by Christian Wolf (Lupus), printed at Brussels in 1682, and reprinted in Robertson's Materials, vol. iv. It is usually called the Second Quadrilogus. The First Quadrilogus—so called because first printed—seems to have been compiled in the thirteenth century, and was printed in Paris in 1495. From this Dr. Giles reprinted in his second volume the legend of Thomas's ‘Saracen’ mother. This legend occurs, in almost exactly the same words, in some late manuscripts of the life by Grim (from one of which it is printed in Robertson's Materials, vol. ii.), in the chronicle known as John Brompton's (Twysden's Decem Scriptores, cols. 1052–5), and in Harleian MS. 978, of which Mr. C. L. Kingsford has given a full account in the introduction to his edition of the Song of Lewes (Clarendon Press Ser. 1890). The modern works dealing with Thomas's life as a whole are F. J. Buss's Der heilige Thomas, 1856; J. Morris's Life and Martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket, 1859; 2nd edit., much enlarged, 1885; J. C. Robertson's Becket, a Biography, 1859; Hook's Archbishops of Canterbury, vol. ii. 1862; R. A. Thompson's Thomas Becket, Martyr Patriot, 1889. Of these Canon Morris's book, in its later form, is by far the best. The history of Thomas of London before his Consecration has been worked out by the Rev. L. B. Radford (Cambridge Historical Essays, No. vii., Prince Consort Dissertation, 1894). The fourth volume of R. H. Froude's Remains, 1839, contains a History of the Contest between Thomas Becket and Henry II, carefully compiled from such materials as were then accessible, i.e. the Quadrilogus and a comparatively small collection of letters, of which Froude was the first to attempt a chronological arrangement and a systematic use. Thomas's last days, death, and posthumous history are dealt with in Dean Stanley's Memorials of Canterbury Cathedral. There is an essay on St. Thomas of Canterbury and his Biographers in Freeman's Historical Essays, 1st ser. Freeman's articles on the Life and Times of Thomas Becket, in the Contemporary Review, 1878, were called forth by those published under the same title by J. A. Froude in the Nineteenth Century, 1877. These latter were reprinted, with modifications, in Froude's Short Studies, vol. iv. On the constitutional and legal aspects of the strife between Thomas and Henry, see Stubbs's Constitutional Hist. vol. i., Pollock and Maitland's Hist. of English Law, i. 430–40, and Professor Maitland's article on Henry II and the Criminous Clerks, in English Historical Review, April 1892. The controversy as to the fate of the relics is summed up in Canon Morris's pamphlet on the Relics of St. Thomas (Canterbury, 1888). An article by Mr. F. J. Baigent, in the Journal of the Archæological Association, vol. x. (1855), on the Martyrdom of St. Thomas, &c., contains descriptions of some of the few remaining English mediæval pictures of the saint, with reproductions of two of them, and of his archiepiscopal seal, the latter from an engraving in J. G. Nichols's Pilgrimages of Erasmus. Other pictures (thirteenth century) of Thomas are reproduced in Archæologia, vol. xxiii., in the Rev. W. H. Hutton's St. Thomas of Canterbury (English Hist. from Contemporary Writers, 1889), and in Green's Short History, illustrated edition, vol. i. The best, as well as the earliest, extant English representation of the martyrdom is an illumination in fol. 32 of Harleian MS. 5102 (British Museum), a Psalter written in Normandy and illustrated by an English hand early in the thirteenth century. The Monreale mosaic is reproduced in Gravina's Il Duomo di Monreale (Palermo, 1859), pl. 14 D. St. Thomas of Canterbury is the subject of a dramatic poem by Aubrey de Vere, and of a drama (‘Becket’) by Tennyson. The writer of this article is indebted to Mr. T. A. Archer for some valuable suggestions.]