Monday, 11 March 2013

Election of Thomas Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury

Consecration of Thomas Becket as Archbishop
Victoria and Albert Museum London

Archbishop Theobald, Becket's predescessor, died on 18th April  1161. For about one whole year the post was left vacant. During all this time the barony that went with the position was given over to the care and custody of the king's chancellor, Becket, to garner for the king's benefit the income that derived from the estate. This arrangement  was the feudal custom at the time in the case of vacant bishoprics and abbacies. It was at about this time king Henry II had the idea of combining the role of chancellor together with that of the archepiscopacy, which would seemingly enable him personally to gain control of both wings of power in the kingdom, the spiritual and the temporal,.

In 1162 Becket was summoned to appear before the king at his court in the castle of Falaise, in Normandy, to be given instructions about his return to England. Becket thought he was being sent back as chancellor for the purpose of managing some aspect of the kingdom's business during the king's absence and to deal with Welsh incursions. But there was some other matter on the king's mind. After Becket had paid his respects to the king,  the king called him aside, telling him privately, "You do not fully comprehend the reason for your mission. I intend to appoint you as archbishop of Canterbury." After some jests that he was not really a proper candidate for the role, saying he was too worldly, Becket reluctantly accepted the king's offer. The king charged Richard de Lucé, his justiciar, to go along with Becket back to England to ensure that his will was done. They set out for Canterbury.

After they arrived the prior, canons and monks  of the abbey of Christchurch and cathedral of Canterbury were convoked to appear before them in the chapter house. The congé d'eslire  (a special licence from the king of England issued under the great seal authorizing them to elect an archbishop when the position is vacant) was delivered to the prior by three bishops acting as the royal commissioners.  Together Richard de Lucé, the justiciar, and the three bishops explained to them they were essentially free to choose whom they like but that the king's desire was that chancellor Becket should be elected as their archbishop, and successor to St. Augustine. There was some hesitation from the monks at this, as Becket was only a member of the secular clergy [archdeacon] and was not, at that time, ordained, nor was he even a monk, which were generally the normal preconditions for being able to be proposed as a candidate. But their arms were twisted, and, it is recorded that the canons and monks of Canterbury cathedral in the chapter house of the abbey of Christchurch consented to elect Thomas Becket as archbishop of Canterbury, on 23rd May 1162.

Following this election, and a few days later Becket, and the royal commissioners gathered in Westminster in London, together with a delegation from the chapter of Canterbury convoking a synod of all the bishops and mitred abbots of the ecclesiastical province of Canterbury, who were summoned to inform them of the result of the election at Canterbury and ask for their agreement to and confirmation of the appointment. The synod took place in the monks' refectory in Westminster Abbey before the young prince Henry, the king's eldest son, and other notables of the kingdom. Their collective consent was more or less unanimous, saving for that of Gilbert Foliot, bishop of Hereford [later Bishop of London], who alone dissented. After being ordained as a priest Becket was consecrated archbishop by Henry, bishop of Winchester and installed as primate of the English church. After the consecration Henry, bishop of Winchester asked the prince, as the king's representative, to release Becket from all secular obligations that he may have incurred as chancellor up till then. The prince consented to this. The king had already written that whatever was done in the matter of the election of the archbishop in his son's presence would meet with his own approbation and consent.

The election of Becket as archbishop freed him from a great deal of his feudal responsibilities to the monarch. However he did have residual obligations, but he owed a greater honour and duty to God thereafter, as did the king following his coronation. King Henry II never really could accept that a vassal of his could presume such a freedom. Becket could never accept that he was still technically a vassal of the king as well as a servant of God.

It has been suggested that king Henry II chose to make Becket archbishop at this time in 1162 so that he would be able to preside over and perform the coronation ceremony of Henry, his eldest son, as the Young King, which he was planning to have done at this time. Once crowned the barons would have to swear allegiance to and perform homage before the new king, one way to ensure their loyalty to his dynasty.

References and Sources

EHD 120. Herbert of Bosham on the appointment of Thomas Beckct as
archbishop (1161-2)
(Materials for the History of Thomas Becket, III, 180)

EHD 121 . "Roger of Pontigny" on the election of Thomas Becket as archbishop
(Materials for the History of Thomas Becket, IV, 14)

John of Salisbury
Materials, II, 305

Edward Grim
Materials, II, 368

Gervase of Canterbury (ed. W. Stubbs, Rolls Series, 1, 169)

Council at Westminster, May 26th 1162
For the Election of Thomas Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury

Councils & Synods #156 
Dorothy Whitelock; M. Brett; Christopher Nugent Lawrence Brooke. Councils & synods: with other documents relating to the English ChurchVol 1. Part 2. Clarendon Press. ISBN 978-0-19-822394-8 p. 843-5

D. Douglas; G.W. Greenaway (1996). English Historical Documents: Vol 2. 1042-1189 . EHD 120  Routledge, Chapman & Hall, Incorporated. pp. 755–. ISBN 9780203439517.

EHD 120: Herbert of Bosham on the appointment of Thomas Becket as archbishop (1161-2)
(Materials for the History of Thomas Becket, III, 180)

L.B. Radford. (1894) Thomas of London Before His Consecration. CUP Archive. GGKEY:LPUALGW4X2R
Chapter VIII The Primacy, p. 191-224

Edward Hasted (1801). The History and topographical survey of the county of Kent. Printed by W. Bristow. pp. 328–.

The Election at London
Thomas Saga, i. 73-83

Hugh James Rose; Samuel Roffey Maitland (1833). The British Magazine. John Turrill. pp. 37–

James Craigie Robertson (1859). "Chapter IV: The Archbisopric"Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. pp. 37–.

Arthur Penrhyn Stanley (1869). Historical memorials of Westminster Abbey. J. Murray. pp. 449–.

Alban Butler; Paul Burns (1995). Butler's Lives of the Saints: December. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 225–. ISBN 978-0-86012-261-6.

Anne Hope; Thomas Becket (st., abp. of Canterbury.) (1868). The life of s. Thomas à Becket. pp. 51–

John Morris (1885). The Life and Martyrdom of Saint Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. Burns and Oates. pp. 50–

William Holden Hutton (1899). S. Thomas of Canterbury. pp. 26-8 D. Nutt.

Henry Hart Milman (1860). Life of Thomas à Becket. Sheldon & company. pp. 36–

Guy, John (5 April 2012). Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel, Victim: A 900-Year-Old Story Retold. Penguin Books Limited. pp. 208–. ISBN 978-0-14-193328-3.

Anne Duggan (29 October 2004). Thomas Becket. Bloomsbury Academic. ISBN 978-0-340-74138-2

Michael Staunton (7 December 2001). The Lives of Thomas Becket. Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-0-7190-5455-6

Michael Staunton (2006). Thomas Becket and His Biographers. Boydell Press. pp. 83–. ISBN 978-1-84383-271-3.

Kay Brainerd Slocum (2004). Liturgies in Honour of Thomas Becket. University of Toronto Press. pp. 27–. ISBN 978-0-8020-3650-6

Wilfred Lewis Warren (1978). King John. University of California Press. pp. 453–. ISBN 978-0-520-03494-5

Wilfred Lewis Warren (1973). Henry II. University of California Press. pp. 454–. ISBN 978-0-520-02282-9

James Jacob Spigelman (1 June 2004). Becket & Henry: The Becket Lectures. James Spigelman. pp. 81–. ISBN 978-0-646-43477-3.

Matthew Paris Council of london
D. Wilins (1715) Concilia Magnae Britanniae et Hiberniae p. 434

The following references suggest that Becket did everything possible to get himself advanced into the post of archbishop of Canterbury:-

Hugh James Rose; Samuel Roffey Maitland (1833). The British Magazine and Monthly Register of Religious and Ecclesiastical Information, Parochial History, and Documents Respecting the State of the Poor, Progress of Education, Etc. J. Petheram. pp. 31–.

George Lyttelton (1767). The History of the Life of King Henry the Second, and of the Age in which He Lived, in Five Books .... W. Sandby. pp. 133–.

THE 'TRANSFORMATION' OF THOMAS BECKET '. . . poteris de nostra manu pontificalis officii curam recipere'
Theoria: A Journal of Social and Political Theory
No. 58 (May 1982), pp. 25-32
Published by: Berghahn Books
Article Stable URL:

Richard Hurrell Froude; James Bowling Mozley (1839). Remains of the Late Reverend Richard Hurrell Froude: v. 2. Means Used to Secure His Election as Archbishop: J. G. & F. Rivington. pp. 582–.

1 comment:

  1. Very clear and corredponds to the excellent volume on TB by John GUY, Penguin, 2013.