[FOR THE NEXT SECTION OF THIS GENERAL SURVEY SEE VOLUME VII.]
ARCHIEPISCOPATE OF THOMAS BECKET
HIS DEFENCE OF ECCLESIASTICAL JURISDICTION: HIS ASSASSINATION
Henry II, son of the empress Matilda of Germany by her second husband, Geoffrey of Anjou, ascended the throne of England on the death of his uncle Stephen, the usurper, and was the first king of that Plantagenet line which ruled England for over three centuries.
Henry was crowned at Westminster on December 19, 1154, by Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury. Theobald by his authority and vigilance had maintained public tranquillity after the death of Stephen, and by his counsels of conciliation and peace and other services had earned the gratitude of the Monarch.
When age compelled Theobald
to retire from the councils of
his sovereign, he recommended Henry to accept as minister
his archdeacon, Thomas Becket.
Becket was the son of Gilbert Becket, a prominent citizen of London. The boy’s mother, according to an interesting tradition, had been the daughter of a Saracen emir who had made Gilbert a captive, in Jerusalem, after the First Crusade. The daughter helped Gilbert to escape, and later, for love of him, followed on an eastern ship bound for the English metropolis, although she knew no other words of the English language than “London” and “Gilbert.” Wandering desolately through the streets and markets, with these words on her lips, she was recognized by a servant who had shared his master’s captivity. He hastened to tell Gilbert, who at once sought for, sheltered her, and, shortly afterward, made her his wife.
Their son Thomas was educated at the Abbey of Merton and in the schools of London, Oxford, and Paris. When his father died, Archbishop Theobald took the youth into his family. He studied civil and canon law on the Continent, attending, among others, the lectures of Gratian at Bologna.
His accomplishments and talents were fully recognized on his return to England, and preferments followed rapidly until he became archdeacon of Canterbury, a dignity with the rank of baron, next to that of bishop and abbot. He became confidential adviser to the Primate;