Sunday, January 07, 2007

Michael Anthony needs you!

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Monday, December 25, 2006


Christmas bustle poisoning?

Hello everyone,
As I'm sure a few of you have noticed, I haven't posted an episode in quite some time. This is due to a combination of Christmas business and a bout with food poisoning that I am in the midst of fighting. I'll be back...sometime, although I can't guarantee when. Rest assured that British History 101 is not dead!

Stay tuned, folks!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Hello, this is Michael Anthony, and you’re listening to British History 101. I apologize for not posting last week – I had originally made plans to, but circumstances here made it absolutely impossible for me to sit down and write out an entire episode. With that, here we are this week, embarking on our next adventure into the mists of Britain – the life, reign, and death of one of England’s greatest kings.
“In the wet summer of 1491, on the eve of St. Peter’s Day, 28 June, Elizabeth of York, the daughter of Edward IV, the sister of the ‘princes in the Tower,’ the wife and Queen of Henry VII, gave birth to her third child, who became King Henry VIII.”
This line, from Jasper Ridley’s Henry VIII, states simply what would come to change England forever. The birth of this monarch signified a new era in royal power – an era in which Henry would enjoy absolute and unquestioned authority. The son of Henry VII was baptised a few days later in the church of the Franciscan Observants at Greenwich (the location of the Palace of Placentia, where the child was born) by Richard Foxe, bishop of Exeter, in a baptismal font brought to Greenwich from Canterbury. Two years later, young Henry was appointed Constable of Dover Castle and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports in Kent and Sussex. In the following year, 1494, Henry was made Duke of York, and later Earl Marshal of England and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.
In 1501, Henry found himself attending a wedding that would prove to be a foreshadowing of his own future. His father, Henry VII, had long desired an alliance with Spain before even his son Henry’s birth. As such, he had arranged a marriage between Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain’s daughter Catherine of Aragon and his son Arthur. The agreement to marry the two upon reaching an appropriate age was signed in 1488, three years before the future Duke of York’s birth. It was thus that at the age of 10 or 11 Henry was at his brother Arthur’s wedding at London’s St. Paul’s cathedral. This wedding, already important enough to the Tudor dynasty which Henry VII had founded in that it forged a type of alliance with Spain, would be the cause of a world-changing religious upheaval in later years. For now, however, Henry simply had a 16-year-old sister-in-law, the wife of his 15-year-old brother Arthur.
Arthur and his new Spanish wife headed off to Wales after the wedding in an attempt to quiet trouble in the area. Arthur‘s time there would be short lived – he died in 1502 of an illness that some of his contemporaries called consumption.
With Arthur’s death, his brother Henry took his title Duke of Cornwall, and was created Prince of Wales on 18 February 1503 – a week after his mother Elizabeth’s death on her 38th birthday. Plans were immediately put into place for Henry’s marriage to the new widow Catherine – Henry VII may have lost a son, but he still needed an alliance with Spain. However, there was one problem in this situation; that problem is called affinity. Historically, affinity was a concept in the Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church (and, to some extent, still is today) defined by the New Advent Catholic Encyclopaedia as “A relationship arising from the carnal intercourse of a man and a woman, sufficient for the generation of children, whereby the man becomes related to the woman's blood-relatives and the woman to the man's. If this intercourse is between husband and wife, this relationship extends to the fourth degree of consanguinity, and the degree of affinity coincides with that of blood relationship.” If Arthur consummated his marriage to Catherine, a dispensation from the pope would be necessary to allow Henry to marry his brother’s widow. The interesting thing here is that Catherine vehemently denied that she ever committed the carnal act with Arthur – according to her, the marriage was never consummated. Even if affinity wasn’t an issue, there was still the lesser problem of “public honesty.”
On 23 June 1503, the agreement between Henry VII and Ferdinand and Isabella, rulers of Spain, that his son the Prince of Wales was to marry their daughter, Catherine of Aragon, was signed. Ferdinand and Isabella were to pay a sum of 100,000 scudos, in addition to the 100,000 already paid for the marriage to Arthur, as Catherine’s dowry. The agreement further assumed that Arthur and Catherine’s marriage had been consummated, and therefore asked the pope for a dispensation. From Ridley’s book, we read “When Ferdinand heard about this, he was surprised, for he said it was well-known in England that the marriage had not been consummated and that Catherine was still a virgin. But he did not alter the wording of the marriage treaty, and ordered that his ambassador in Rome to ask the pope for a dispensation on the assumption that the marriage had been consummated.” The newly elected Pope Julius II granted the dispensation on 26 December 1503 and sent the papal bull containing his dispensation the following October. Henry, Prince of Wales, was now free to marry Catherine of Aragon.
Now is where the story gets really interesting. I know that I for one have a bit of trouble following genealogies, and I thought I’d warn you because that’s exactly what we’re about to get into. Keep in mind the transcript of this is on my blog so you can go back and check the details later; for now, “go with the flow,” as it were. I’ve already borrowed quite a bit from Ripley’s book on Henry; I believe he puts the situation best, and so he writes, “But there was a hitch in the negotiations for Henry’s marriage to Catherine. In November 1504 Queen Isabella died. The throne of Castile passed to the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, Joanna, who was on the verge of becoming insane. Ferdinand continued to act as ruler of Castile as well as of Aragon as Regent for his mad daughter; but her husband, Duke Philip of Habsburg, who was the son of the Emperor Maximilian and his regent in the Netherlands, claimed the throne of Castile for him and her. The quarrel between Philip and Ferdinand made Henry VII reluctant to marry his son to Ferdinand’s daughter; for he began to consider the possibility of making an alliance with Maximilian and the Habsburgs by marrying his daughter Mary to the infant son of Philip and Joanna, Prince Charles of Castile, who later became the Emperor Charles V. The trade between England and the Netherlands made any ruler of Burgundy a more desirable ally than the King of Aragon.”
Basically, all this mess boils down to this: Henry VII began to rethink the wisdom of marrying his son off to Catherine – perhaps a Tudor alliance with Maximilian would be more beneficial. The King of England thus orchestrated a technical move in an attempt to get himself out of the contract uniting his son and Catherine – the Prince of Wales went before the Bishop of Winchester and the King’s Council, declaring that the marriage contract had been made while he was underage. Making his protest on the day before his 14th birthday, he refused to ratify the contract upon reaching the appropriate age and therefore the contract was worthless.
January of 1506 saw Philip and his wife Joanna sail for Spain from the Netherlands with 3,000 German mercenaries. They were blown ashore by storms onto the English coast, and Philip soon found himself being entertained by King Henry, with whom he made a treaty of alliance. This would later anger Ferdinand of Spain so much that he would decide to stop even trying to marry his daughter to Prince Henry; however, when he requested that the King of England send his daughter back, Henry refused.
The King of England’s later years were riddled with health scares. He became almost fatally ill in the spring of 1507, recovering only to fall ill again in February 1508. He seemed to rally but again lost his health in July of the same year. The final blow would be dealt on 24 March 1509, when Henry VII collapsed. He made his will on 31 March; on 20 April, the Prince of Wales rushed to his dying father’s bedside. England’s king would live only for another 27 hours, during which time his son would later claim his father had asked him to go ahead and marry Catherine of Aragon. It was in such a condition that Henry VII died on 21 April 1509. The crown immediately passed to his son, the Prince of Wales, who became King Henry VIII, King of England, King of France, and Lord of Ireland.
This is where we’ll stop for this week. I’m treating Henry VIII in the same style as the Battle of Hastings; that is, there’s so much material that it’d be much easier to digest if we split it up into several parts. Anyone with a bit of familiarity with British history knows that Henry VIII caused quite the turmoil between his many wives, and therefore we will start on that band of the king’s women next week.
I have a huge thank you to send out with this episode. Last Monday, I received an email from Mr. John Lu. John has been a webmaster for several different employers, and after hearing about my URL woes with the British History 101 blog, he has VERY graciously bought the domain name and forwarded it to the blog! From here on out, if you would like to check out the transcripts for each episode, you need only type in, and it will direct you straight to my blog. Thank you so much, John – I was very dissatisfied with the way I had to address the blog, and this solves many problems for me. Again, thank you!
That’s it for this week. If you’d like to check out a transcript of this and past episodes of my podcast, I am proud to say you can now head over to for current and archived content. Send suggestions, questions, comments, rants, and raves to Our music tonight is “Cominciamento di Gloia,” performed by Shira Kammen and available on Magnatune is an independent online record label that equally shares all revenue from album sales with their hand-selected artists while allowing them to retain full rights to their works. Visit for great music at low prices and support the many wonderful artists hosted there. I very much appreciate everyone taking time out of their week to learn with me, and my best to you all. Thanks again, and we’ll meet again soon.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Hello, this is Michael Anthony, and you’re listening to British History 101. This evening, we continue in the vein of last week’s episode of St. Thomas Becket, and delve into the author of The Ecclesiastical History of the English People – Venerable Bede, Saint, Doctor of the Church, and, to many, the father of English history. There are some Latin terms in here, and I will be applying my elementary language skills to pronounce them. Please bear with me if I make a few mistakes.
Bede was born in approximately 673 at Tyne in County Durham, England. At the age of seven, he was taken to the monastery at the abbey of Saints Peter and Paul at Wearmouth. He was soon moved to become one of the first members of the monastic community at Jarrow. This was only 5 or 6 miles from Wearmouth, and the two were meant to function under one abbot – for this reason, many sources cite Bede as entering the monastic life at Wearmouth-Jarrow. He was ordained a deacon at the age of 19 and became a priest at age 30. He never left this area, and yet he was one of the most learned men of the time throughout all Europe.
Very little of Bede’s actual life and the events therein are known – the best source of such knowledge is an addition to his Ecclesiastical History that he wrote after finishing the book when he was 59. The main concern of Bede is his writings – and he was well-written. He wrote over a wide range of topics, from natural history and science to Biblical commentary. His most famous work is that which has already been mentioned several times here – The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, or Historia Ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum as Bede originally titled it in Latin. It covers events from the arrival of Julius Caesar in 55-54 BC to the arrival of Augustine, the Roman missionary, in 597. It originally spanned over five different books and took up about 400 pages. Bede’s reasons for making such a record are seen clearly in his own words: “For if history records good things of good men, the thoughtful hearer is encouraged to imitate what is good; or if it records evil of wicked men, the good, religious reader or listener is encouraged to avoid all that is sinful and perverse, and to follow what he knows to be good and pleasing to God.” Historia Ecclesiastica has been called the finest historical work in the early Middle Ages, and rightfully so. Also, aside from the history it provides, Bede’s writing contributed greatly to dating the time from the birth of Christ – he commonly used the terms anno ab incarnatione Domini (in the year from the incarnation of the Lord).
Aside from Historia, Bede put pen to paper and created texts offering commentary on many books of the Bible – he lists these works at the end of Historia and they dominate the list of his writings. He also wrote a history of the abbots of Wearmouth-Jarrow. He lists several other books in the end pages of Historia, and in his own words they are:
“A martyrology of the festivals of the holy martyrs, in which I have diligently tried to note down all that I could find about them, not only on what day, but also by what sort of combat and under what judge they overcame the world…A book of hymns in various metres and rhythms…A book of epigrams in heroic and elegiac metre…Two books, one on the nature of things and the other on chronology: also a longer book on chronology…A book about orthography arranged according to the order of the alphabet…A book on the art of metre, and to this added another small book on the figures of speech or tropes, that is, concerning the figures and modes of speech with which the holy Scriptures are adorned.”
It is quite easy to see that Bede was well-learned and well-written.
Bede is thought to have been writing even upon his deathbed. This account of his last days, written by Cuthbert (one of Bede’s contemporaries), describes it quite beautifully. As with the writing we encountered with St. Thomas, this excerpt is lengthy, but the writing is powerful and I think it most definitely bears listening to:
“On Tuesday before the Ascension he began to be much worse in his breathing, and a small swelling appeared in his feet; but he passed all that day pleasantly, and dictated in school, saying now and then, 'Go on quickly; I know not how long I shall hold out, and whether my Maker will soon take me away.' To us he seemed very well to know the time of his departure. He spent the night awake in thanksgivings. On Wednesday morning he ordered us to write speedily what he had begun. After this, we made the procession according to the custom of that day, walking with the relics of the saints till the third hour, (or nine o'clock in the morning;) then one of us said to him: 'Most dear master, there is still one chapter wanting. Do you think it troublesome to be asked any more questions?' He answered: 'It is no trouble. Take your pen and write fast.' He did so. But at the ninth hour (three in the afternoon) he said to me: 'Run quickly; and bring all the priests of the monastery to me.' When they came, he distributed to them some pepper-corns, little cloths or handkerchiefs, and incense which he had in a little box, entreating every one that they would carefully celebrate masses and say prayers for him; which they readily promised to do. They all wept at his telling them, they should no more see his face in this world; but rejoiced to hear him say: 'It is now time for me to return to him who made me, and gave me a being when I was nothing. I have lived a long time; my merciful Judge most graciously foresaw and ordered the course of my life for me. The time of my dissolution draws near. I desire to be dissolved, and to be with Christ. Yes; my soul desires to see Christ my king in his beauty.' Many other things he spoke to our edification, and spent the rest of the day in joy till the evening. The above-mentioned young scholar, whose name was Wilberth, said to him: 'Dear master, there is still one sentence that is not written.' He answered, 'Write quickly.' The young man said: 'It is now done.' He replied: 'You have well said; it is at an end: all is finished. Hold my head, that I may have the pleasure to sit, looking towards my little oratory where I used to pray; that while I am sitting I may call upon my heavenly Father, and on the pavement of his little place sing, Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.' Thus he prayed on the floor, and when he had named the Holy Ghost, he breathed out his soul. All declared that they had never seen any one die with such great devotion and tranquillity…”
Certainly, Bede went forth from this world according to the wishes he wrote at the very end of Historia: “And I pray thee, merciful Jesus, that as Thou hast graciously granted me sweet draughts from the Word which tells of Thee, so wilt Thou, of Thy goodness, grant that I may come at length to Thee, the fount of all wisdom, and stand before Thy face forever.” Bede has most certainly gotten his wish, and his remains now lie at Durham Cathedral.
One legend as to how Bede acquired the title Venerable is that a monk sat down to write the epitaph for Bede’s tomb and came out with “Hac sunt in fossa Bedae . . . . ossa,” or “Here are in this tomb Bede’s bones.” He wanted to add another word to complete the line, but could not think of one and went to bed to sleep on it. When he awoke the next morning, the paper he was writing on said, “Hac sunt in fossa
Bedae Venerabilis ossa,” or “Here are in this tomb Bede the Venerable's bones.” According to the fable, angels had written the extra word in during the night. Most likely, the term actually entered usage in reference to Bede at the Council of Aachen in 835. Over a thousand years later in 1859, English bishops petitioned the Vatican to make Bede a Doctor of the Church. This request wasn’t granted until 1899, when Pope Leo XIII declared that the Feast of Venerable Bede be celebrated on 27 May (the feast has since been moved to the 25th May) and he was officially made a Doctor of the Roman Church. This title is conferred on those who exhibit both brilliant witness of faith and skilful articulation and defence of Catholic doctrine. Bede is one of 33 Doctors of the Church and the only English Doctor. Venerable Bede is also the only Englishman in the Paradiso part of Dante’s Commedia Divina.
Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica is valued as the best source of knowledge concerning early English history, and has shed light on incredible amounts of information that undoubtedly would have gone unknown if not for this monk from Wearmouth-Jarrow. I know that I as an amateur historian am personally indebted to Bede and grateful for his life’s work.
That’s the end of this week’s episode. I am reluctantly announcing in advance that I am suspending production of British History 101 next week in light of the Thanksgiving holiday here in the United States. It is a time for me to see family and friends that I rarely get to spend time with, and with as much work as I am required to do over the break anyway, I want to maximize that time with them. I hope you will forgive me for this hiatus, and I assure you I will be back the following week.
A transcript of this and past episodes of my podcast can be found at Send questions, comments, rants, and raves to If I am at my computer, I can also be reached via Skype by the name britishhistory101, all in lowercase letters. Our music tonight is “Rantin’ Rovin’ Robin,” performed by O Fickle Fortune and available on Magnatune is an independent online record label that equally shares all revenue from album sales with their hand-selected artists while allowing them to retain full rights to their works. Visit for great music at low prices and support the many wonderful artists hosted there. I very much appreciate everyone taking time out of their week to learn with me, and my best to you all. If you are in the United States, have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and for those of you outside of my country I convey my warmest regards. Thanks again, and we’ll meet again soon.

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Friday, November 10, 2006


Musings on the podcast

I've been playing around with a few ideas over the past several weeks (I actually slipped one into this week's episode but forgot to mention it!) and I wanted to post them to the blog to get some feedback.

I'm fairly sure most people have noticed that each episode of BH101 is completely scripted - I post a transcript to the blog after recording, and it's pretty much verbatim what I've said in the 'cast. I've been considering making the 'cast a bit form, perhaps? Maybe I could just have a general set of show notes and just kind of talk as I make each point, rather than read from a script? I'm really not sure either way, as I know that if I write it all out I'll know exactly what I want to say before I start recording, but then again I really like podcasts that are a bit more relaxed. Now is the time for the listeners of British History 101 to make a change if they want it! Please let me know your thoughts/feelings on this, and email me with them!

For whatever reason, I just now realized that even though I use music in each episode and announce the work and artist, I've never included the whole song! The episode I released last night ended with the work in its entirety, and unless there's sentiment against it I'll probably continue to do so - that way, everyone can hear a bit more of the artist I'm playing and can maybe check them out on Magnatune. (On a side note - in case anyone is wondering, I don't make any money from British History 101, and Magnatune doesn't pay me to include the line at the end. It's part of my agreement with them so I can play music from their collection of artists.)

I'm thinking about perhaps implementing a "guest intro" segment to BH101. How well would that go over? I think it'd be great if each week a listener could send in an audio file with an opening line, introducing who they are and where they are from, before transitioning into the show proper.

Please feel free to email me and let me know what you think!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Thomas Becket was born in 1118, most likely on 21 December, to a middle class Norman family in London. Although he was from the middle class, Thomas was able to associate with those in the upper strata of society, spending much time with his father Gilbert’s rich friend Richer de L’aigle from whom he learned to hunt, ride, and behave as a gentleman – in other words, Thomas was well educated in social matters. At the age of 10, Thomas was sent to the Merton Abbey, where he learned to read. He completed his early education at the University of Paris. After university, Thomas entered into secretarial work for Richer de L’aigle, which it is probably safe to assume was due to his earlier connections with de L’aigle. Becket also worked for Osbert Huitdeniers, who was King Stephen’s Justiciar, a term which we would associate with prime minister in modern times. Around 1141, Becket earned the attention of Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, served as a clerk to the archbishop, and became Theobald’s most trusted man. Robert of Clicklade gives us a pretty good idea of Thomas at that point in his life:
“To look upon he was slim of growth and pale of hue, with dark hair, a long nose, and a straightly featured face. Blithe of countenance was he, winning and loveable in his conversation, frank of speech in his discourses, but slightly stuttering in his talk, so keen of discernment and understanding that he could always make difficult questions plain after a wise manner.”
Theobald was very impressed with Becket, and trusted him with important work. He sent Thomas off to Bologna and Auxerre for a year to study civil and canon law. After his time on the Continent, Theobald ordained Becket a deacon in 1154 and then appointed him archdeacon of Canterbury.
Right about this time, King Stephen died, and Henry II took the throne. On Theobald’s advice, Henry appointed Thomas to be his chancellor. Thus, at the age of only 36 or 37, Thomas Becket became one of the most powerful subjects of King Henry II, falling behind only the justiciar of London. Henry was charmed by Thomas, and the two immediately became great friends, even though Thomas was 12 years older than Henry. Many history texts will cite the opinion of the time that the two men “had but one heart and one mind.” Theobald, having played a large part in Thomas’ rise to power, expected Becket to support the clerical faction whenever disputes arose between the Church and the sovereign, but more often that not Thomas sided with Henry – there is no doubt that he was fiercely loyal to his king. The two were extremely close, and Thomas was most assuredly one of, if not the, most trusted advisor of Henry. Becket is credited with reorganizing the imposition of a scuttage – a fee that could be paid in lieu of military service. He even accompanied Henry on a military expedition to Toulouse in 1159 – and Thomas certainly wasn’t known to shrink from battle.
It should be pointed out that Thomas shared another bond with King Henry – both lived in extravagance, and Thomas loved to show off his station in life. When traveling to France in 1158, Becket displayed such magnificence that it is thought the French said “"If this be only the chancellor what must be the glory of the king himself?"
Worldly though his behavior seemed to be, hardly any man dared to doubt Thomas’ piety – privately, it would seem he was devoted to God and Church, and worked very hard to maintain the Church’s power in England. Although he usually agreed with Henry, Thomas was not afraid to stand up and speak for the benefit of the Church.
Thomas saw the conflict this would cause when, in 1161, Archbishop Theobald died, and the Archbishopric of Canterbury was open. Over the course of the next year, Henry saw this as a way to strengthen his own power and position when conflict would arise with the Church – if he could install Thomas as Archbishop, he would have his own man inside the Church, and therefore could push his own reforms against the Church more easily – after all, Henry saw himself as supreme master of the land, and did not want to yield any authority to the Roman Church.. Dedicated as Thomas was to the Church, he felt obligated to tell Henry “I know your plans for the Church…you will assert claims which I, if I were archbishop, must needs oppose.” Henry pressed forward anyway and convinced Thomas to take the position. Thomas Becket was ordained a priest and consecrated bishop on 3 June 1162.
Becket’s consecration marked the end of his worldly life – he immediately changed his ways, and his private piety was brought to the public forefront. In modern terms, it could be said that he performed a complete 180 degree turnaround. He rid himself of his previously lavish lifestyle (along with his chancellorship) and became devoted to the interests of the Church – which, of course, conflicted with why Henry had made him Archbishop of Canterbury in the first place. Sir Winston Churchill, in his History of the English-Speaking Peoples, illustrates this change by saying “But whereas hitherto as a courtier and a prince he had rivaled all in magnificence and pomp, taking his part in the vivid pageant of the times, he now sought by extreme austerities to gather around himself the fame and honour of a saint. Becket pursued the same methods and ambitions in the ecclesiastical as previously he had done in the political sphere; and in both he excelled. He now championed the Church against the Crown in every aspect of their innumerable interleaving functions. He clothed this aggressive process with those universal ideas of the Catholic Church and the Papal authority which far transcended the bounds of our Island…”
One of the biggest issues causing distress between king and bishop was that of “criminous clerks.” At the time, men in holy orders who were accused of committing crimes would be charged in ecclesiastical, rather than secular, courts. Seeing people wriggle out from under his control, Henry strongly opposed this protection of the Church, and at the Council of Westminster in 1163 he demanded that those men tried and convicted in ecclesiastical courts also be punished by civil courts. The next year, Henry codified this demand, among other complaints against Church authority, in the Constitutions of Clarendon. Becket gave his oral assent but refused to sign the Constitutions. However, when Pope Alexander III voiced his opposition to the Constitutions, Becket openly refuted them. He was summoned to the Council of Northampton and accused of misappropriating funds when he was chancellor. Becket sealed his position against the king by refuting the council’s jurisdiction over himself, and the resulting hostilities led to Thomas’ flight to and exile in France. Although the subject of criminous clerks is only one among several major injuries Thomas saw against the Church, it was quite clear that Becket and Henry would never agree on relations between Church and State, and the Archbishop fled the country for fear of what would happen to him after his latest and loudest opposition to Henry’s power. Thomas left from Sandwich on 2 November and headed for France, where he was cordially welcomed by Louis VII. Three weeks after he left England, the Archbishop of Canterbury presented himself to the pope at Sens. The pope welcomed him warmly, but refused to accept his resignation from the Archbishopric of Canterbury. At the time, Frederick Barbarossa had placed an antipope on the papal throne in Rome, and Alexander feared that supporting Thomas too strongly would cause Henry to unite against him with Frederick.
Negotiations continued between the pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the King of England for four more years, never with much change being made. Finally, Henry came to France and made a tenuous peace with Thomas, under threat of a papal interdict – under which Mass could not be celebrated, sacraments could not be given unless absolutely necessary, and Christian burials would be forbidden. The threat of an interdict was issued after Henry had his son crowned by the Archbishop of York – something that, at the time, was an enormous insult to Thomas. It had long been the Archbishop of Canterbury’s prerogative to perform the crowning, and having York do it was the ultimate slap in the face to Thomas.
The crowning of Henry’s son had taken place in June of 1170. In December of that year, Thomas Becket returned to England, and promptly excommunicated the bishops who had taken part in the coronation. This enraged Henry, and his response has several different variations – I have heard at least five or six myself, but we’ll turn again to Winston Churchill for his take on Henry’s statement. Flying into a fit of rage, he purportedly yelled “What a pack of fools and cowards I have nourished in my house that not one of them will avenge me of this turbulent priest!” Henry probably said this only out of anger and didn’t actually mean much by it, but four knights who heard what Henry had said - Reginald Fitzurse, Hugh de Moreville, William de Tracy, and Richard le Breton – took this as their call to action, and mounted their horses for Canterbury. When they arrived at the cathedral, they tracked down the archbishop and demanded the absolution of the excommunicated bishops. When Thomas refused, the knights left, only to return a short time later with a gang of armed men. They demanded “Where is the traitor?” Thomas replied “Here I am, no traitor, but archbishop and priest of God.” The men tried to drag Henry from the Church to no avail, and so they murdered the Archbishop of Canterbury in his cathedral, supposedly in front of the main altar, before the eyes of astonished monks. The monk who supposedly carried the Archbishop’s cross, Edward Grim, was also wounded in the attack, and he gave one of the most detailed contemporary accounts of the assassination. Here’s an excerpt; it’s a bit long but I assure you it is an excellent account of the event:
“With rapid motion they laid sacrilegious hands on him, handling and dragging him roughly outside of the walls of the church so that there they would slay him or carry him from there as a prisoner, as they later confessed. But when it was not possible to easily move him from the column, he bravely pushed one [of the knights] who was pursuing and drawing near to him; he called him a panderer saying, "Don't touch me, Rainaldus, you who owes me faith and obedience, you who foolishly follow your accomplices." On account of the rebuff the knight was suddenly set on fire with a terrible rage and, wielding a sword against the sacred crown said, "I don't owe faith or obedience to you that is in opposition to the fealty I owe my lord king." The invincible martyr - seeing that the hour which would bring the end to his miserable mortal life was at hand and already promised by God to be the next to receive the crown of immortality - with his neck bent as if he were in prayer and with his joined hands elevated above - commended himself and the cause of the Church to God, St. Mary, and the blessed martyr St. Denis. He had barely finished speaking when the impious knight, fearing that [Thomas] would be saved by the people and escape alive, suddenly set upon him and, shaving off the summit of his crown which the sacred chrism consecrated to God, he wounded the sacrificial lamb of God in the head; [my] lower arm was cut by the same blow. Indeed [I] stood firmly with the holy archbishop, holding him in his arms - while all the clerics and monks fled - until the one he had raised in opposition to the blow was severed…Then, with another blow received on the head, he remained firm. But with the third the stricken martyr bent his knees and elbows, offering himself as a living sacrifice, saying in a low voice, "For the name of Jesus and the protection of the church I am ready to embrace death." But the third knight inflicted a grave wound on the fallen one; with this blow he shattered the sword on the stone and his crown, which was large, separated from his head so that the blood turned white from the brain yet no less did the brain turn red from the blood; it purpled the appearance of the church with the colors of the lily and the rose, the colors of the Virgin and Mother and the life and death of the confessor and martyr. The fourth knight drove away those who were gathering so that the others could finish the murder more freely and boldly. The fifth - not a knight but a cleric who entered with the knights - so that a fifth blow might not be spared him who had imitated Christ in other things, placed his foot on the neck of the holy priest and precious martyr and (it is horrible to say) scattered the brains with the blood across the floor, exclaiming to the rest, ‘We can leave this place, knights, he will not get up again.’ But during all these incredible things the martyr displayed the virtue of perseverance. Neither his hand nor clothes indicated that he had opposed a murderer - as is often the case in human weakness; nor when stricken did he utter a word, nor did he let out a cry or a sigh, or a sign signaling any kind of pain; instead he held still the head that he had bent toward the unsheathed swords.”
Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, was dead, murdered by agents of the King of England.
Canterbury cathedral immediately became a place of pilgrimage, and people began praying to him and vying just to touch pieces of his clothing or bits of his bones in the hope of being healed of various ailments. Pope Alexander canonized Thomas in 1173, and the former Archbishop of Canterbury became St. Thomas of Canterbury. The following year, King Henry did public penance, walking to Canterbury barefoot and allowing the monks there to whip him as he prayed at the site of the saint’s murder. The shrine of Canterbury remained a place of prayer and veneration until Henry VIII brought it down in 1538. St. Thomas Becket’s feast day is 29 December, the day he was murdered in 1170.
Some have placed an “a” between the names Thomas and Becket, turning his name into Thomas à Becket, probably in an attempt to compare the archbishop with Thomas à Kempis, the theologian who wrote “Imitation of Christ”. Although it is a nice touch, it isn’t exactly correct, and the more accepted form of the name is simply Thomas Becket.
In an interesting side note, readers of BBC Magazine voted Thomas Becket the second worst Briton in a thousand years, ranking behind Jack the Ripper and before King John (of Magna Carta fame). Those readers apparently saw Becket’s piety as phony, and thought of him as a greedy hypocrite. Regardless of how you feel about the saint, it is unquestionable that he stuck to his principles and carried out the duties of his office with gusto – he performed extremely well as Henry’s chancellor, and the ambition seen in his secular office transferred exactly into his office as Archbishop. He refused to compromise in the face of opposition and died for what he believed in.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Take a listen and I'll fix the facts for James I !

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