Friday, 30 September 2011

Henry II & his good friend Thomas. Dover Castle:Pt 2

It is a rare treat, indeed, to be greeted by the king himself when visiting Dover Castle. This summer, Henry II was in residence and on the day we arrived at court he seemed in a jovial mood. He sat on his throne and received guests and gifts.

It wasn't until we adjourned to the shrine of Thomas Becket, the king's private chapel located to the east of his personal chambers, that Henry became thoughtful, sad, angry, and in the end, resigned.

You see, Thomas and Henry were friends once. Henry II made Thomas his Lord Chancellor, with the duty of enforcing the king's sources of revenue, from both landowners and the church. Henry's son, Henry the Younger even lived in Becket's household as a youth, as it was common for noble children to be fostered outside their home.

The problem came when the Archbishop of Canterbury died. The church and the king were often at odds. In an attempt to solve this problem, Henry II appointed Thomas as the Archbishop. Since Thomas had always served him faithfully, Henry thought the problem settled.

What Henry did not expect, was Becket's sudden devotion to the church. Whether Thomas had a true revelation, or simply let the position go to his head, the king wasn't happy - and the conversation as we conversed in the chapel turned quite colourful!

Thomas excommunicated several of the king's knights, and chaos erupted. At one point, Henry II complained to four of his closest knights. Saying either:

"Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" or "What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?"

Henry couldn't remember exactly what he said, but either way, his knights interpreted his frustration as a royal command.

The knights went straightway to Canterbury Cathedral. There they found Thomas on his way to vespers. At the entrance to the crypt they killed him.

King Henry II bemoaned the fallout from that single act. It would become the defining moment in his entire reign.

We felt it best to leave the king to his ramblings and went to find a meal.

Cheers! x

1 comment:

  1. How interesting that you got to witness this momentous conversation in Dover Castle! I enjoyed your account.