Christmas 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.