Becket, ex-communication and Christmas-tide murder

DSC_0491Christmas Day 1170 – the Archbishop of Canterbury preached his sermon. It was a bit different to the ones that get televised these days. For a start the archbishop excommunicated a number of his bishops – he hoped they’d be damned.   He went on, it would appear, to prophesy his own murder:


I have spoken to you today, dear children of God, of the martyrs of the past, asking you to remember especially our martyr of Canterbury, the blessed Archbishop Elphege; because it is fitting, on Christ’s birthday, to remember what is that peace which he brought; and because, dear children, I do not think that I shall ever preach to you again; and because it is possible that in a short time you may have yet another martyr, and that one perhaps not the last. I would have you keep in your hearts these words that I say, and think of them at another time.


Just four days later on the 29th of December 1170, four knights arrived from Bures in Normandy where Henry II  was celebrating Christmas. The Archbishop of York, as well as the Bishops of London and Salisbury had travelled there to complain about being excommunicated for having crowned Henry’s son Henry who was referred to afterwards as the ‘Young King’. Becket had returned from his six-year exile that year and re-crowned the Young King but it clearly rankled that the bishops had already done the job. Henry II is purported to have had a bit of a temper tantrum culminating with the fatal words “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest.”



Four knights saw an opportunity for fortune and glory so caught the first ship for England- Walter Fitz Urse, Walter de Tracey, Richard le Breton and Hugh de Moreville- wanted Becket to go to Winchester to account for his actions. Thomas, who had been offered an opportunity to flee as the knights burst in, refused. The archbishop was brutally murdered and the four knights discovered that Henry II hadn’t actually meant for anyone to go thundering off to kill the troublesome archbishop.





One thought on “Becket, ex-communication and Christmas-tide murder

  1. Just as you say. Hugh de Morville raced back to his home in Cumbria near Crosby Ravensworth in the Vale of Eden. He was later captured. His estates broken up and land granted to my friend Bill Peals relatives as underlings to the Noble Lord Nevil. It is possible it was Hugh who stuck the first blow to Beckets bare head with a sword that slashed through the cranium so Becket died that very second.All other blows to his body had no effect.Becket had been wearing a hair shirt to impress his monks for Becket had forseen his own death it was said.Thank you Julia H for all your hard work and good reads.Have yourself a great Christmas time in Carlisle and tell me what the one time smallest Cathedral in Britain is like today. I once did research on the many bullet holes in the wall opposite the old department store that is now sold off.Jacobites end on a high stand for all to witness caused the holes so high up the holy wall.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.