Almost all English schoolchildren are said to know the story of Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury, a well-known bishop who was murdered by four knights of King Henry II in his church on December 29, 1170. From the moment of his sacrifice, his image as a saint has been remembered in the hearts of the world. In addition, the Pope’s vigorous commendation and the King’s endless repentance for this tragedy have added a dash of mystery to this saint. In 1935, the famous poet Thomas Eliot re-enacted the thrilling murder in his play “Murder in the Cathedral”. Confusingly, the martyr Beckett and the indirect murderer King Henry were once congenial friends, and the change of time and space turned the two confidants into enemies. What is hiding in this changing situation?
Thomas Beckett was born in Normandy to a merchant family in 1118, and moved to London with his parents early. He was smart since he was a child. He studied law at the famous University of Bologna in Italy in his youth. He studied hard and became a well-educated person, and soon aroused the attention of the British upper class. In 1143 Beckett was invited into the family of Bishop Theobald and became one of his vassals. The outstanding work performance made Beckett rise all the way. In 1154, just entering middle age, he was appointed as the chief deacon of the church and entered the high-end of the Church of England. At the same time, Beckett met King Henry II and soon became friends.
The king often played with Beckett, like two children of the same age: at the palace or in the church, they would sit together, or they would ride out together whenever they had free time. It is recorded at the time that, in the middle of winter, when two men rode side by side in the streets of London, the king saw a beggar in rags and said to Beckett: “Have you seen him? Would you like to give him a warm cloak?” Beckett naturally appreciated the king’s love. Unexpectedly, the king deliberately mischievously took off the bishop’s cloak and wanted to give it to the old man. Facing the sudden change, Beckett subconsciously grabbed his cloak and was unwilling to give it to the old man. The knights escorting behind saw such an interesting scene: the two most noble adults in the kingdom were tearing a cloak, and they immediately rushed over to ask about the situation. The king described what had just happened to everyone, and everyone laughed. At this time, someone put their cloak on the bishop, and the old man who was still confused at the moment happily wore the bishop’s cloak and left. Henry II treated Beckett as uninhibited as his family, and even jokingly joked with the bishop.
In 1155 the king invited Beckett to be his privy minister. The friend’s invitation made Beckett very happy, but the fact of pulling the cloak undoubtedly showed the majesty of the king. In the end, the bishop still had to send the cloak according to the king’s wishes, which was a warning to him. So Beckett chose to refuse, on the grounds that he wanted to concentrate on church work. Years of life in the Holy See cultivated Beckett’s piety. At this moment, he did not want to be in a dilemma between the king and the church over his dual identity. On the surface, Henry’s idea was an act of friendship. In essence, he also considered “kidnapping” this friendship and let the church to which Beckett belonged to obey his own arrangements. He categorically rejected Beckett’s request. At this time, Beckett seemed embarrassed, but after weighing the pros and cons and taking into account the friendship, he finally aggrieved and obeyed the king’s will, and served both sides.
Facts have proved that Henry’s choice is correct. Beckett was well versed in religion and law, and his multifaceted intellect convinced him both in the world and in the secular world: he was regarded as a saint by the church, and by the arrogant Norman nobles. These prestige, coupled with his resolute work, Beckett was naturally a duck to water in his daily work, and even more won the king’s trust. Henry and Beckett were recognized at the time as “two strong oxen pulling the heavy plow of England”. In 1162, Henry defied all opposition and appointed Beckett Archbishop of Canterbury, and Beckett’s career reached its peak.
A later foe
, in 1162, Beckett was made all the more special by his appointment as archbishop. The aura of the archbishop inspired his religious zeal, and he began the life of a saint. Before he became archbishop, his life was unparalleled in luxury: his dining table was the most luxurious in England; he brought 8 carriages, 40 horses, and more than 200 attendants with him when he went to Paris. The wealthy French also sighed. In 1162, Beckett’s demonic change took place. He began to give up luxurious clothing and food, leave noble friends, and turned to coarse clothes. Every day, he only ate vegetables, grains and water. It is he who washes the feet of 13 beggars every night. This kind of change is undoubtedly very bizarre, but people still record him exaggeratedly. But what ultimately led to Beckett’s martyrdom was not a change in his life, but a change in his views on the church and the state at the political level.
Before becoming archbishop, Beckett used his unique means to check and balance the power of the church and the royal family. However, when he reached the top of the church priesthood, a series of his actions began to be biased towards the church. He resigned from the royal family, and as the archbishop, he took the land of the secular priests in his diocese to the church, and claimed to have guardianship and ordination power over all the priests in his diocese. Church trials, and the trial results are mostly light punishment and exemption. In 1163, Beckett wrote a letter to the Pope in a tone full of joy, “so far the clergy has been completely freed from the secular judgment by the privilege”. Contrary to his joy, King Henry was very angry with Beckett’s actions, the supreme power of the royal family was challenged, and the long-term balance with the church was broken. The most difficult thing for Henry to accept was that his friends still helped him in the position of privy minister. Strengthen the judicial system of the royal family, and now it is reversed to destroy the results of their joint operation. Undoubtedly feeling betrayal, he vented his anger at Beckett, who answered him with “There are many things that even Caesar can’t do.” The king was enraged, and he was about to start fighting back.
In 1163, there were cases against the priests in Belford, Worchester and London, which were eventually settled. Taking the “Criminal Priest Three Cases” as the fuse, Henry began to tear the veil of tenderness and openly expressed his hostility to Beckett. The king called for these cases to go to trial. On October 2, 1163, Henry convened a royal court conference in Westminster to try and deal with the case, using the king’s power to intervene in religious justice. Immediately after on January 14, 1164, the Constitution of Clarendon was promulgated, which openly restricted the ecclesiastical justice. In the face of the king’s pressing step by step, the archbishop changed his previous strength and completely compromised and agreed with it. He knew that the power of the Church of England was far from the mainland. Once the king ripped off his respect for the Church, in fact the Church did not have much to deal with him. But Beckett compromised without consulting the other bishops, much to their disappointment. At the meeting, these bishops were very calm in front of the king. “The king was like a roaring lion, very angry, but they were equally fearless in the face of the threats of the princes and nobles, who even disrupted the speeches of the bishops with violence.” . The Bishop of London, Gilbert Freeott, firmly opposed Beckett’s compromise, thinking that changing his course was a betrayal of the sacred cause. Beckett was in a dilemma for a while, his concession was to seek Henry’s stop, and at this moment he had to deal with Henry’s insistence, but also to face the indignation of the church, and the problems he had never had before made him distressed. Most terrifying, Henry asked him to sign the king’s latest decree, and only then did he realize how negatively his indecision was affecting the cause of the church. He refused to sign and wrote a letter of repentance to the Pope. For the next 40 days, he forbade himself from participating in all religious services in the church and punished himself by confinement. 40 days later, the Pope’s reply made Beckett disheartened. At this time, Pope Alexander failed in the power struggle with Frederick the Great and lived in exile on the mainland. The Pope’s expenses are now mostly paid by Henry, so he suggested Beckett Don’t provoke Henry further, he is now unwilling to be the enemy of the monarch. Had Beckett heeded the Pope’s advice, the fraternity might have died down. Surprisingly, he refused to reconcile. Beckett chose passive resistance to escape, but tried to cross the English Channel twice and was intercepted. His escape violated the terms of the Clarendon decree prohibiting priests from leaving the country without the king’s permission, and the king angrily asked Beckett: “Do you think my kingdom is too small for the two of us?” Brotherhood was completely cut off.
The escalating conflict between the king and the archbishop was exposed when Henry determined that Beckett had violated his newly promulgated law. At this time, the opposing sides are using their power, prestige and followers to compete. The Pope’s orders were indifferently rejected by Beckett. He had regarded the confrontation between himself and the king as a test of his loyalty to God. He knew that the Church of England was not strong enough to fight against the royal family at this time, but he still wanted to win. Beckett tragically confronts Henry, and the real tragedy unfolds.
On October 6, 1164, Henry convened the Northampton Conference on the grounds that the land belonging to the ceremonial officer John was unclear. Beckett attended the meeting on the same day, but Henry was late-he arrogantly falconed along the way, and came slowly. Henry’s arrival to attend the first mass presided over by the bishop, however, Henry refused to accept Beckett’s kiss according to English customary law, which was an ominous omen. After the meeting started, the topic quickly shifted from the ceremonial officer’s land to Beckett’s body, Henry began to attack Beckett, and the conflict between kingship and religious power was reduced to a confrontation between the two. Henry accused Beckett of being arrogant in the royal court and embezzling £300 of his private money directly in his former ministership. Such accusations obviously touched the bottom line of Beckett’s personality, and the king knew that the money was used to repair his Tower of London and two castles, but he suddenly became confused. Faced with the sudden accusation, Beckett angrily argued that the king did not clarify the issue beforehand and did not give him time to rebut, and the king ignored it. In order to calm the situation, Beckett promised to repay the money, and some intermediaries also came forward to make financial guarantees for him. However, the king still insisted on this, and pulled out many vague old accounts one after another, which made it difficult for Beckett to free himself. The king is determined to be his enemy, and there is nothing to worry about, but Beckett only has the strength of the spirit, and it seems that the mountains and rivers are exhausted. With the passage of time, the interior of the church is not as united as it was last time, and a division is brewing. Beckett turned against the royal family in disobedience to the Pope, and some people used this as an excuse to betray him. In reality, the power of the king made most bishops choose to remain silent. Beckett was surprised to find that among the senior clergy, only the bishops of Winchester and Worcester understood that the principle of freedom of the church was threatened at this moment, but one or two wise men could not undo the abandonment of their leaders by the church majority.
Henry’s audit is not for his own financial losses, he wants to completely knock down Beckett. On October 12th, the beleaguered Beckett fell ill. Facing the king’s accusations of wearing a legal and moral mask against himself, he felt a desolate life in his cold hut. The only one who could support him was his own. Belief. The 13th, Tuesday, a day without the need for regular mass, however, this day the Christian church will commemorate their first martyr, St. Stephen, and Beckett also chose mass on this day to express his mood. During this ill-timed Mass, Beckett delivered an emotional speech and sang together the verses of the Psalms: “The nobles of the royal palace sat and denounced me, and the wicked persecuted me continually . . . But your servants still hold fast to their beliefs and to the laws of the church.”
After the ceremony, Beckett, wearing white sashes, rushed to the king’s castle, where the king and his nobles were convening a legal council. Beckett dismounted in the courtyard, took the cross from his entourage, and walked towards the king’s meeting room. Many royal attendants and priests present tried to seize the relic from his hand, but were all stunned by his majesty and retreated. Henry witnessed this scene upstairs. He understood that Beckett was using the cross against the sword in his hand. He felt guilty and had to let some of his nobles go downstairs to talk with Beckett and let him present the accounts requested by the king. . Beckett rejected them, he had lodged a complaint with the Pope, and expressed great dissatisfaction with the king’s interference with him. Beckett originally wanted to negotiate with Henry, but in front of the representatives of these kings, he expressed his contempt for the king’s power and did not leave any way out for himself. The king decided to replace the power of the pope, abolishing Beckett’s office. The nobles who competed for merit rushed downstairs in a hurry, and they insulted Beckett as a “traitor”. Offending the king was treason, and they would imprison him for life. Beckett scolded them in a gaffe, and hurried out of the castle.
With the king’s sword unsheathed, England obviously couldn’t stay long. Beckett ran away from Northampton on another day and went to many places. On November 2, he fled to France on a stormy night, starting his six-year exile. In the days of exile in France, Beckett still wrote letters to Henry to persuade him to defend the power of the church. He wrote in a letter in May 1166: “You have no right to rule over bishops, you have no right to bring priests before secular courts, and God Almighty desires that Christian priests should be judged by bishops and not by secular authorities. Domination and Judgment”. Time’s tolerance eased the struggle, and between the end of 1169 and 1170, Henry summoned Beckett twice, ostensibly reaching a settlement with him. On June 14 of this year, Henry Beckett was not in England, and asked the Archbishop of York to hold an anointing and coronation ceremony for his son in advance, degrading his power. In order to swear his existence, Beckett returned to England in time, to the cheers of the fanatical believers. He was well aware of the dangers of this trip. He declared in his sermon, “I have come to die with you”, calling on everyone to be martyred and expelling the priests who participated in the coronation activities. Disgruntled priests visited the king in Normandy at this time, and exaggeratedly fabricated the archbishop to incite riots in the religious circles to take off the king’s crown. Henry believed these lies and said angrily: “I have raised a bunch of fools and cowards, and no one has avenged this troublesome priest for me!” The four knights heard the king’s complaint and crossed the channel without authorization. On December 29 Day rushed to Canterbury, quarreled violently with Beckett, and finally stabbed him to death with a sword.
When the incident came out, the whole country was in an uproar, and Henry was also greatly shocked. He still had some scruples about blatantly challenging the church. So he arrested the murderer, went on a hunger strike for three days, whipped himself, apologized for this, and made peace with the Pope. For a long time after that, the royal family no longer intervened directly in the church, and Beckett’s desire to defend the church’s authority was realized.
Death destroyed the former friendship, tragedy made Beckett’s reputation, and the past events many years ago can’t help but sigh in retrospect. However, Beckett’s tragedy was the inevitable result of the contradiction between the king and the church at that time, and he was only the victim of the social contradiction at that time.