Tuesday, December 21, 2010

BBC's Worst Briton of the 12th Century

St. Thomas a Becket was born on December 21, 1118. In 2005, he was selected as the Worst Briton of the 12th Century:

The "greedy" Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, was nominated by Professor John Hudson, of St Andrews University, as the 12th century's worst villain.

"He divided England in a way that even many churchmen who shared some of his views thought unnecessary and self-indulgent," he said.

"He was a founder of gesture politics.

"Those who share my prejudice against Becket may consider his assassination in Canterbury Cathedral on 29 December, 1170, a fittingly grisly end."

I think that Henry II engaged in some "gesture politics" himself, trumping up charges against his former chancellor--and expressing his desire for someone to solve the problem of Becket for him.
The last sentence in the professor's overview reveals quite a bit: "my prejudice"? assassination--murder--violence in a cathedral a "fittingly grisly end"? I think the BBC's website provides a little more balanced view of the disputes between St. Thomas a Becket and Henry II. Seems to me that the professor reveals the role of bias in his evaluation of Becket.

Of course, St. Thomas a Becket's opposition to Henry II was too real a symbol to Henry VIII when a few members of the clergy like the Carthusians and Bishop John Fisher and one layman, Sir Thomas More opposed his will in the 16th century. Not content with violently executing the current opponents of his supremacy over the Church in England, Henry went after the martyr and saint, destroying his tomb and keeping the jewels and gold that had decorated it. St. Thomas a Becket's feast, December 29, was removed from the sanctoral calendar--although the Church of England honors him now on that date.


  1. The Feast of St. Thomas of Canterbury was made an optional memoria in England a few years ago. Fortunately it has now been reinstated as an obligatory FEAST. he is the patron saint of the English clergy.

    By the way, I wondered if you would be interested in my short article on the "Divine Right of Kings" in relation to the English Reformation:


  2. Thank you, Father Abberton. I will read it with great interest.