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Thomas Becket

Archbishop of Canterbury, 1170

The life and death of Thomas Becket have intrigued scholars and church people for centuries. Was he a politician or a saint? or perhaps both?

He was born in London in 1118 of a wealthy Norman family and educated in England and in France. He then became an administrator for Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury. Later he was sent to study law in Italy and France and, after being ordained deacon, he was appointed Archdeacon of Canterbury. His administrative skills eventually brought him to the notice of King Henry II, who to Thomas’s surprise, appointed him Chancellor of England. He and the King became intimate friends, and because of Becket’s unquestioning loyalty and support of the King’s interests in both Church and State, Henry secured Thomas’s election as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162. Becket, foreseeing a break with his Royal Master, was reluctant to accept. As Archbishop he changed, as he tells us, “from a patron of play actors and a follower of hounds, to being a shepherd of souls.” He also defended the interests of the Church against those of his former friend and patron, the King. The struggle between the two became so bitter that Thomas sought exile at an abbey in France.

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