Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Edward Grim: Eye-Witness to the Martyrdom of Becket

Becket's death, Luttrell Psalter, British Library Add.42130, f.51

Edward Grim’s account of Becket’s murder. describes the existence of an "evil" clerk as well as the four knights. The clerk delivers the fifth wound, the slicing of Becket’s head.This final act mirrors Christ’s five wounds,The blood emanating from Becket’s head provides a strong parallel to the wounding of Christ’s own head by the Crown of Thorns. This narrative has the nature of a hagiographic description.

Extract from

William Holden Hutton (1889). S. Thomas of Canterbury. D. Nutt. pp. 234–.
Dec. 29, 1170.— The Murder of the Archbishop.  
[The account of Grim, who was an eye-witness, is given ; 
further details are recorded by the other writers.] 

Therefore the said persons, no knights but miser- 
able wretches, as soon as they landed summoned the 
king's officials, whom the archbishop had excom- 
municated, and by lyingly declaring that they were 
acting by the king's orders and in his name they got 
together a band of followers. They then collected 
in a body, ready for any impious deed, and on the 
fifth day after the Nativity of Christ, that is on the 
day after the festival of the Holy Innocents, gathered 
together against the innocent. The hour of dinner 
being over, the saint had departed with some of his 
household from the crowd into an inner room, to 
transact some business, leaving a crowd waiting in 
the hall outside. The four knights with one attendant 
entered. They were received with respect as the 
servants of the king and well known ; and those who 
had waited on the archbishop being now themselves 
at dinner invited them to table. They scorned the 
food, thirsting rather for blood. By their order the 
archbishop was informed that four men had arrived 
who wished to speak with him from the king. He 
consented and they entered. They sat for a long 
time in silence and did not salute the archbishop or 
speak to him. Nor did the man of wise counsel 
salute them immediately they came in, that according 
to the Scripture, " By thy words thou shalt be 
Justified,' he might discover their intentions from 
their questions. After awhile, however, he turned 
to them, and carefully scanning the face of each 
one he greeted them in a friendly manner, but 
the wretches, who had made a treaty with death, 
answered his greeting with curses, and ironically 
prayed that God might help him. At this speech 
of bitterness and malice the man of God coloured 
deeply, now seeing that they had come for his hurt. 
Whereupon Fitz Urse, who seemed to be the chief 
and the most eager for crime among them, breathing 
fury, broke out in these words, ** We have somewhat 
to say to thee by the king's command : say if thou 
wilt that we tell it here before all." But the arch- 
bishop knew what they were going to say, and 
replied, "These things should not be spoken in 
private or in the chamber, but in public." Now 
these wretches so burned for the slaughter of the 
archbishop that if the door-keeper had not called 
back the clerks — for the archbishop had ordered 
them all to go out — they would have killed him, 
as they afterwards confessed, with the shaft of his 
cross which stood by. When those who had gone 
out returned, he, who had before thus reviled the 
archbishop, said, " The king, when peace was made 
between you and all disputes were ended, sent yon 
back free to your own see, as you demanded : but 
you on the other hand adding insult to your former 
injuries have broken the peace and wrought evil 
in yourself against your lord. For those by whose 
ministry the king's son was crowned and invested 
with ihe honours of sovereignty, you, with obstinate 
pride, have condemned by sentence of suspension, 
and you have also bound with the chain of anathema 
those servants of the king by whose prudent counsels 
the business of the kingdom is transacted : from which 
it is manifest that you would take away the crown from 
the king's son if you were able.. Now your plots and 
schemes you have laid to carry out your designs 
against the king are known to all. Say, therefore, 
are you ready to answer in the king's presence for 
these things : for therefore are we sent." To whom 
answered the archbishop, "Never was it my wish, 
God is my witness, to take away the crown from my 
lord the king's son, or diminish his power; rather 
would I wish him three crowns, and would aid him 
to obtain the greatest realms of the earth with right 
and equity. But it is not just for my lord the king 
to be offended because my people accompany me 
through the cities and towns, and come out to meet 
me, when they have for seven years been deprived of 
the consolation of my presence ; and even now I am 
ready to satisfy him wherever my lord pleases, if in 
anything I have done amiss ; but he has forbade me 
with threats to enter any of his cities and towns, or 
even villages. Moreover, not by me, but by the lord 
pope, were the prelates suspended from their office." 
"It was through you," said the madmen, "that they 
were suspended. Absolve them." "I do not deny,"
he answered, "that it was through me, but it is 
beyond my power, and utterly incompatible with my 
position that I should absolve those whom the pope 
has bound. Let them go to him, on whom redounds 
the contempt they have shown towards me and their 
mother the church of Christ at Canterbury." 
" Now," said these butchers, " this is the king's 
command that you depart with all your men from the 
kingdom, and the land which lies under his sway : 
for from this day can there be no peace with you, or 
any of yours, for you have broken the peace." Then 
said he ** Let your threats cease and your wranglings 
be stilled. I trust in the King of heaven, who for 
His own suffered on the Cross : for from this day no 
one shall see the sea between me and my church. I 
came not to fly ; here he who wants me shall find me. 
And it befitteth not the king so to command; 
sufficient are the insults which I and mine have 
received from the king's servants, without further 
threats." "Thus did the king command," they 
replied, " and we will make it good, for whereas you 
ought to have shown respect to the king's majesty, 
and submitted your vengeance to his justice, you 
have followed the impulse of your passion and basely 
thrust from the church his ministers and servants." 
At these words Christ's champion, rising in fervour 
of spirit against his accusers, exclaimed "Whoso 
shall presume to violate the decrees of the sacred 
Roman see or the laws of Christ's church, and shall 
refuse to make satisfaction, whosoever he be I will 
not spare him, nor will I delay to inflict ecclesiastical 
censures on the delinquents." 

Confounded at these words the knights sprang up, 
for they could bear his firmness no longer, aad 
coming close to him they said, "We declare to 
you that you have spoken in peril of your head." 
" Do you come-to till me ? " he answered,  "I have 
committed any cause to the Judge of all ; wherefore I 
am not moved by threats, nor are your swords more 
ready to strike than is my soul for martyrdom. Seek 
him who flees from you ; me you will find foot to foot 
in the battle of the Lord." As they went out with 
tumult and insults, he who was fitly surnamed 
Ursus, called out in brutal sort, "In the king's name 
we order you, both clerk and monk, that ye take and 
hold that man, lest he escape by flight ere the king 
have full justice on his body." As they went out with 
these words, the man of God followed them to the 
door and exclaimed, "Here, here shall ye find me" ; 
putting his hand over his neck as though showing the 
place where they were to strike. 

He returned then to the place where he had sat 
before, and consoled his clerks, and exhorted them 
not to fear; and, as it seemed to us who were present 
waited as unperturbed — though him alone did they 
seek to slay — as though they had come to invite him 
to a bridal. Ere long back came the butchers with 
swords and axes and falchions and other weapons fit 
for the crime which their minds were set on. When 
they found the doors barred and they were not opened 
to their knocking, they turned aside by a private way 
through the orchard to a wooden partition! which 
they cut and hacked till they broke it down. At this 
terrible noise were the servants and clerks horribly 
affrighted, and, like sheep before the wolf, dispersed 
hither and thither. Those who remained called out 
that he should flee to the church, but he did not 
forget his promise not to flee from his murderers 
through fear of death, and refused to go ; for in such 
case it were not meet to flee from city to city, but 
rather to give example to those beneath that every- 
one should rather fall by the sword than see the 
divine law set at nought and the sacred canons sub- 
verted. He who had long sighed for martyrdom now 
saw that as it seemed the occasion was now come, 
and feared lest he should delay it or put it away 
altogether if he went into the Church. But the 
monks were instant with him declaring that it were 
not fit he were absent from vespers which were at 
that moment being performed. He remained im- 
moveable in that place of less reverence, for he had 
now in his mind caught a sight of the hour of happy 
consummation for which he had sighed so long, and 
he feared lest the reverence of the sacred place should 
deter even the impious from their purpose, and cb^at 
him of his heart's desire. For, certain that he would 
depart in martyrdom from this misery, he had said 
after his return from exile in the hearing of many, 
"You have here one beloved of God and a true and 
holy martyr; another will the divine compassion 
send you ; He will not delay." O pure and trustful 
was the conscience of that good shepherd, who 
defending the cause of his flock would not delay his 
own death when he was able, nor shun the tormentor, 
that the fur of the wolves, glutted with the blood of 
the shepherd, might spare the sheep. But when he 
would not be persuaded by argument or prayer to 
take refuge in the church the monks caught hold of 
him in spite of his resistance, and pulled, dragged, 
and pushed him, not heeding his clamours to be let 
go, and brought him to the Church. 

But the door, through which was the way into the 
monk's cloister, had been carefully secured some 
days before, and as the tormentors were now at hand, 
it seemed to take away all hope of escape ; but one 
of them, running forward, caught hold of the lock, 
and, to the surprise of all, unfastened it with as much 
ease as if it had been glued to the door. 

When the monks had entered the church, already 
the four knights followed behind with rapid strides. 
With them was a certain subdeacon, armed with 
malice like their own, Hugh, fitly surnamed for his 
wickedness Mauclerc, who showed no reverence for 
God or the saints, as the result showed. When the 
holy archbishop entered the church, the monks 
stopped vespers which they had begun and ran to 
him, glorifying God that they saw their father, whom 
they had heard was dead, alive and safe. They 
hastened, by bolting the doors of the church, to protect 
their shepherd from the slaughter. But the champion, 
turning to them, ordered the church doors to be 
thrown open, saying, "It is not meet to make a 
fortress of the house of prayer, the church of Christ : 
though it be not shut up it is able to protect its own ; 
and we shall triumph over the enemy rather in suffering 
than in fighting, for we came to suffer, not to resist." 
And straightway they entered the house of peace 
and reconciliation with swords sacrilegiously drawn, 
causing horror to the beholders by their very looks 
and the clanging of their arms. 

All who were present were in tumult and fright, for 
those who had been singing vespers now ran hither 
to the dreadful sight. 

[As he descended the steps towards the door, 
John of Salisbury and his other, clerks, save Robert 
the canon and William FitzStephen, and Edward 
Grim, who was newly come to him, sought shelter, 
some at the altars, some in hiding places, and left 
him. And, indeed, if he had wished, the archbishop 
might easily have saved himself by flight, for both 
time and place gave occasion. It was evening, a 
very long night at hand, and the crypt was near 
wherein are many dark recesses. There was also a 
door near by which a winding stair led to the lofts 
and roof of the church. But none of these ways 
would he take.] 

Inspired by fury the knights called out, " Where is 
Thomas Becket, traitor to the king and realm" As 
he answered not they cried out the more furbusly, 
"Where is the archbishop?" At this, intrepid and 
fearless, as it is written, "The just, like a bold lion, 
shall be without fear," he descended from the stair 
where he had been dragged by the monks in fear of 
the knights, and in a clear voice answered "I am 
here, no traitor to the king, but a priest. Why do 
ye seek me ? " And whereas he had already said 
that he feared them not, he added, "So I am 
ready to suffer in His name. Who redeemed me 
by His Blood: be it far from me to flee from 
your swords, or to depart from justice." Having 
thus said, he turned to the right, under a pillar, 
having on one side the altar of the blessed 
Mother of God and- ever Virgin Mary, on the other 
that of S. Benedict the Confessor : by whose example 
and prayers, having crucified the world with its lusts, 
he bore all that the murderer could do with such 
constancy of soul as if he had been no longer in the 
flesh. The murderers followed him ; " Absolve," 
they cried, " and restore to communion those whom 
you have excommunicated, and restore their powers 
to those whom you have suspended." He answered : 
" There has been no satisfaction, and I will not 
absolve them." "Then you shall die," they cried, 
"and receive what you deserve." " I am ready," he 
replied, " to die for my Lord, that in my blood the 
Church may obtain liberty and peace. But in the 
name of Almighty God, I forbid you to hurt my 
people whether clerk or lay." Thus piously and 
though tfulr;, did the noble martyr provide that no 
one near hiSi should be hurt or the innocent be 
brought to d^ath, whereby his glory should be 
dimmed as he hastened to Christ. Thus did it 
become the martyr knight to follow in the foot- 
steps of his Captain and Saviour Who when the 
wicked sought Him said :  "If ye seek Me, let these 
go their way." Then they laid sacrilegious hands 
on him, pulling and dragging him that they might 
kill him outside the Church, or carry him away a 
prisoner, as they afterwards confessed. But when he 
could not be forced away from the pillar, one>of them 
pressed on him and clung to him more closely. Him 
he pushed off calling him  "pander" and saying, 
"Touch me not, Reginald ; you owe me fealty and 
subjection ; you and your accomplices act like mad- 
men." The knight, fired with terrible rage at this 
severe repulse, waved his sword over the sacred head. 
" No faith," he cried,  "nor subjection do I owe you 
against my fealty to my lord the king." Then the 
unconquered martyr seeing the hour at hand which 
should put an end to this miserable life and give him 
straightway the crown of immortality promised by 
the Lord, inclined his neck as one who prays and 
joining his hands he lifted them up, and commended 
his cause and that of the Church to God, to St 
Mary, and to the blessed martyr Denys. Scarce 
had he said the words than the wicked knight fear- 
ing lest he should be rescued by the people and 
escape alive, leapt upon him suddenly and wounded 
this lamb who was sacrificed to God or the head, 
cutting off the top of the crown which the sacred 
unction of the chrism had dedicated to God ; and 
by the same blow he wounded the arm of him who 
tells this. For he, when the others, both monks and 
clerks, fled, stuck close to the sainted archbishop and 
held him in his arms till the one he interposed was 
almost severed. Behold the simplicity of the dove, 
the wisdom of the serpent, in the martyr who opposed 
his body to those who struck that he might preserve 
his head, that is his soul and the Church, unharmed, 
nor would he use any forethought against those who 
destroyed the body whereby he might escape. O 
worthy shepherd, who gave himself so boldly to the 
wolves that his flock might not be torn. Because he 
had rejected the world, the world in wishing to crush 
him unknowingly exalted him. Then he received a 
second blow on the head but still stood firm. At the 
third blow he fell on his knees and elbows, offering 
himself a living victim, and saying in a low voice, 
"For the Name of Jesus and the protection of the 
Church I am ready to embrace death." Then the 
third knight inflicted a terrible wound as he lay, by 
which the sword was broken against the pavement, 
and the crown which was large was separated from 
the head ; so that the blood white with the brain 
and the brain red with blood, dyed the surface of 
the virgin mother Church with the life and death of 
the confessor and martyr in the colours of the lily 
and the rose. The fourth knight prevented any from 
interfering so that the others might freely perpetrate 
the murder. As to the fifth, no knight but that clerk 
who had entered with the knights, that a fifth blow 
might not be wanting to the martyr who was in other 
things like to Christ, he put his foot on the neck of the 
holy priest and precious martyr, and, horrible to say, 
scattered his brains and blood over the pavement,
calling out to the others, " Let us away, knights , he 
will rise no more." 

Describing Privilegium Canonis reported in
Sägmüller, J.B. (1911). Ecclesiastical Privileges. In The Catholic Encyclopedia:

Injuring or wounding of a cleric was punished by severe canonical penances, and on occasion by excommunication A person wounding a bishop incurred ipso facto excommunication. 

The Second Council of the Lateran further decreed that whosoever laid a malicious hand on a cleric or monk incurred ipso facto anathema. This privilege was called the privilegium canonis.
Latin Text
Grim, Edward, Vita S. Thomae, Cantuariensis Archepiscopi et Martyris, ed. James Robertson, Materials for the Life of Thomas Becket, (London: Rolls Series, 1875-1885) Vol. II. pp. 430-8.



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The Murder of Thomas Becket

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Jon E. Lewis (2012). The Mammoth Book of How it Happened in Britain. Constable & Robinson Ltd. ISBN 978-1-78033-728-9.

BBC Cathedral Series

English Historical Documents Volume 2
EHD 152: narrative of the murder of Thomas Becket (29 December 1170) by Edward Grim p. 812.

The Martyrdom

The Murderers

Roger of Hoveden (1853). H.T. Riley, ed. The Annals of Roger de Hoveden H.G. Bohn. pp. 335–9.

What Became of the Bones of St Thomas?. Section I: The Narratives of the Passion CUP Archive. pp. 3–.

William Woolnoth (1816). A graphical illustration of the metropolitan cathedral church of Canterbury: accompanied by a history and description ... of that venerable fabric ... : also comprising biographical sketches of the lives of the archbishops, and deans of Canterbury : and historical notices of the celebrated Convent of Christchurch .... T. Cadell and W. Davies. pp. 7–.

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Canterbury Cathedral Waterworks drawing

William Urry (1999). Thomas Becket: His Last Days. Sutton. ISBN 978-0-7509-2179-4.

David Charles Douglas; George William Greenaway (1996) .EHD 152: Narrative of the murder of Thomas Becket (29 December 1170) by Edward Grim   English Historical Documents, 1042-1189. Routledge. pp.812-20. ISBN 978-0-415-14367-7.

James Craigie Robertson (1859). "Appendix XXIX: Place of Becket's Death"Becket, archbishop of Canterbury: A biography. J. Murray. pp. 351–.

Frank Barlow (1990). "Chapter Eleven: End of the Road"Thomas Becket. University of California Press. pp. 225–50. ISBN 978-0-520-07175-9.

Abbott, Edwin Abbott (1898), St. Thomas of Canterbury, his death and miracles
Volume 1 https://archive.org/details/stthomascanterb00abbogoog

Location of Becket's Murder


Canterbury cathedral, plan (c.1180)

The Conspirators and others

Michael Staunton (7 December 2001). The Lives of Thomas Becket. Manchester University Press. pp. 190–. ISBN 978-0-7190-5455-6.

Reginald Fitzurse - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Fitzurse, Reginald (DNB00) - Wikisource
Saltwood Castle - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Gervase de Cornhill - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Richard le Breton - Wikipedia

Hugh de Morville, Lord of Westmorland

William de Tracy - Wikipedia

The picture of Plymouth. 1812. pp. 32–.

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Ancestry Library World Tree Project- Rodd-Burridge-Parham-Bennett


Reginald Fitz-Urse (1145–1173) - The Bowdlers

Page-Dictionary of National Biography volume 19.djvu-224 - Wikisource

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The Murderers of Thomas Becket
By Thomas K. Compton
The Historian Volume 35, Issue 2, pages 238–255, February 1973

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