Thursday, 18 February 2016

Becket's Early Life according to Thomas de Froidmont

Translated from

Chronicon Angliae Petriburgense p. 213-

Chapter 1

[Second Herbert of Bosham and Edward Grim]

Concering Visions and Omens Exhibited Around the time of his Birth

According as Christ has been chosen him before the foundation of the world St.Thomas born in fortunate London, the capital of Britannia, has rendered his place of origin illustrious. His father was Gilbert, surnamed Becket, his mother was Matilda, as she was so-named in baptism.

When she was conceived of him she had a vision in her sleep that all the waters of the Thames flowed into her womb. Moreover, when now she was pregnant with him, she saw herself with other Christians running towards the Church of Canterbury, and when she had reached the entrance to the Church, she envisioned her womb as having been swollen so much that she was unable to enter the building..

Nevertheless when she herself now saw the boy was lying in his cradle,  she got angry with the baby's wet-nurse because it seemed as though his relics were lying bare? At which she said,  "why don't you cover the infant fully?"  The nurse answered, "my lady, he is well wrapped in the best purple winding sheet". And soon the mother of the infant and the nurse hurried equally towards the uncoiling of the purple cloth. Which when it was not possible to stretch it out in the narrow passage of the bedroom, they went out into the hall of the house itself, and which when it  was apparent that that was of a too narrow width for the purpose, they were out into the largest square in the city, and which when that itself was seen to be too narrow, suddenly a voice said to them, "the whole of England is smaller than this purple cloth, and neither can it contend with its breadth."

Truly one day a fire surged in his father's house. where the infant has been-born, which burned down a great part of London.

Accordingly  he was named Thomas,  born on the solemn feast day of blessed St. Thomas the Apostle, and on that same day was born again with the holy water of baptism and the breath of the Holy Spirit; a worthy successor, next to St. Ambrose, he possessed the covenant of voice  and  was crowned with the blood of martyrdom.  The boy therefore grew and the Lord was with him. And whilst he was still in childhood he was seized with a fever, and as he was sweating it out lying in his bed he had a magnificent vision, a tall lady with a splendid countenance promising him he would become strong and healthy, placing in his hand two golden keys and with these words she said, "O Thomas, these are the keys to Paradise, of which thou art to have charge." Twofold are the graces in mankind, one divine, the other worldly but both from God; by the first we please God, through the second the world; these are goodness and kindness. Key-bearer of the world to come in heaven it is not possible to please and thus be faithful to God like Samuel and men.

Chapter 2

Concerning Those studies and pastimes which he pursued during his adolescent years

[Herbert of Bosham]

For long the Beckets were renowned for their wealth and glory with their friends and family: but then finally after frequent fires and other misfortunate matters which assaults not moderately weakened them, they recognised they had less [time and resources] to devote to the diligent instruction of their son..Almost immediately, the desolation caused his mother's death, which at that time left the son on the road almost to total ruin relying on his own counsel. It was clear that the father had now grown old and was not able substantially to support the costs of his son with what was left. But neither did his father live much longer following his mother's demise.

A very rich man of noble birth, called Richer de L'Aigle, whenever he came to the City [of London] was accustomed to lodge with the Beckets at their house, and with whom Thomas undertook to be associated for some time for his counsel and foresights.

[Edward Grim]

Now as his childhood years unfolded he began to excel in the best of manners, clear intelligence and credible eloquence, an agreeable face mixed with gravity and a charming aspect, presenting a very elegant, amiable and pleasing appearance to all. He had married the eloquence which had sprung from nature with the highest prudence.

[John of Salisbury]

Finally, he had so sharp a mind he could unravel [win] unprecedented and difficult [court] cases with his intelligence, and in the same degree as he took such pleasure in having such a good memory that, having learned the sayings or judgements, he could bring these forth almost whenever he wanted to without any difficulty. The reason why many learned persons were not able to follow him they were ascribing his great alacrity of mind as a miracle.  For indeed just as his wet-nurse sustained the future high priest [archbishop],  as he usually said , they were at hand for him to use at conferences or during the course of speeches.  From an early age, as he was accustomed to relate, he learned from his mother to fear the Lord, and to call upon the Blessed Virgin Mary as his guide to lead his way through life as his patroness, and through her to put his  trust in Christ in everything. Accordingly, he turned towards the above-mentioned rich man after leaving his schools, and following his curiosity, he now went hunting for game, now catching birds, which pleasurably fed his youthful mind, sometimes at home in the city [of London] and sometimes living in the country with the rich man.

[Edward Grim II]

And it came to pass being released in this way, this allowed him to renounce his scholarly studies.  Truly one day it happened at a certain place along the banks of a river where Thomas was proceeding at the same time with the rich man, that there flew a duck along the same river being pursued by a hawk which followed it diving in a like manner into the river. When he saw this the young Thomas took pity on the hawk which was going to lose its life, and now jumped off his horse, and followed it into the river order to rescue the bird which had been swallowed up by the stream. But before the bird was caught, he happened to find himself in the mainstream of the river,  And he was dragged under the waters. And then the surging current [tidal?] with an impelling force raised him up. He began to be in danger. To onlookers it seemed as if he would perish, while there was no one present who could stretch out a hand to save the drowning person..And then he was [fast] approaching [being dragged] towards a mill-house, which, at that moment, perchance was grinding, to where the waters first pour forth [onto the mill wheel].. The mill wheel was then stopped by the divine intervention of the Good Lord who ordered it no longer to rotate, which allowed the youth in trouble to be taken out whilst he was still alive, .

Chapter 3

How after the Archdeaconate of Canterbury, and the Provostship of Beverley he was promoted to be the King of England's Chancellor

[Herbert of Bosham]

In due course, Octonummis [Huitdeniers/Mr Eightpence]. a distinguished person in the City [of London] and affluent with many properties, who was a close blood relative, engaged Thomas for continuous period of three years in a position as a clerk, occupying him in summarising his income and expenditure.

In the meantime, in order to facilitate and open up promotion to higher offices he was invited by a certain official of Archbishop Theobald, who by divine grace brought and introduced him to the Archbishop's court, where he was received with fitting honour.
It was there, with sports and all trivial activities set aside, he always kept his mind better informed by the speeches of those older and wiser than him. At last he found great favour in the eyes of the archbishop, and thus became bound to his service, so much so that the archbishop would openly acknowledge that there was no one more capable of dealing with his business than him, finding him trustworthy, and neither was there anyone who pleased him more than Thomas. But this stirred up jealousy in that enemy of humankind, Roger, archdeacon of Canterbury, surnamed Pont de l'Eveque, upon whom, Thomas, until he rendered his dying breath to heaven , then became acquainted with the means how to pour out all the venom he could conceive.

In the meantime, in order to get him [Thomas] sent away from the court, he [Roger] now attacked him, either himself personally or though the agency of others; he set about to abuse him. And lastly repeatedly used a facetious insult often indignantly called him the clerk of the axe and hatchet, clearly after the surname of the one who had invited [originally introduced] him to the court of the archbishop.

During this time, however of venerable memory William, archbishop of York, was taken up into the bosom of eternal bliss. Archbishop Theobald using his power and influence arranged that he be replaced by the aforementioned Roger, and following a delay, anointed and consecrated him.

In particular, he made Thomas the archdeacon of Canterbury, and without any intervening delay gave him the provostship of Beverley, which the aforementioned Roger had had, and obtained for his archdeacon the multiple benefices of churches and other incomes. After a short interval of time, when Henry duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, son of Geoffrey count of Anjou and Empress Mathilda had succeeded king Stephen to the kingdom of England, the aforenamed archbishop endeavoured to see that his archdeacon was made the king's chancellor. Indeed he suspected that the youthfulness of the king seemed to be guided by the counsels of young and wicked men, from which he dreaded foolishness and wickedness would arise: both as they would drive him [the king] to act haughtily, and which as victor he [the king] falsely held himself to be, he [the king] would oppress the people. Because of this he arranged for the chancellor to be an overseer in [the king's] court, and by his aid and work the new king was restrained from those attacks upon the xhurch which did not serve it, and by his counsel he moderated the evil and restrained the audacity of officials, who under the pretext and power of public law conspired to rob the goods of churches in the provinces. He was made therefore in all the business of the kingdom second only after the king.  Rarely did the chancellor not adhere to the king's party, lest he would not be listened to by the king, and because he might have to leave the king's hospitality.  The king truly did him great honour, so large was his delight and liberty with him that there was no other person he was known to have spent more time; of this the king at a later time over and over again would remind himself But truly it was customary to compare the king with a certain elegance as having the nature of a flame, which when one is far from him it only sheds a little light upon one, but if one draws near enough it burns one up. Whatever he established, whatever he changed or abolished, withersoever the dominion of the king touched which, according to the law, was everything he held from the Ocean [English Channel] all the way up to the Pyrenees.  But woe to this present and evil age. The greater his misfortune, the greater is his miserable condition, all things considered. You may see, if you look more carefully,  that as far as a person is more powerful in the world, the more prone he is to sin, the higher up he is so much more so is he prone to ruin, the richer so much the worse, because afterwards that explains the changes coming from the king's mind.

[John of Salisbury, bishop of Chartres]

From the very outset of his chancellorship he endured so many difficulties and necessary expenses, he became worn down by all the labours, overwhelmed by so many afflictions, by all the so many snares of ambition,  exposed to the many traps at court and the wickedness of those who dwell therein, so much so that, as the archbishop and his friends can testify that he was often in tears,  and found that he was frequently weary of day-to-day living, and, besides wishing for the everlasting afterlife, above all he desired to be free of the bonds of wickedness.  Although it can be admitted that the world with all its charms seemed to flatter and applaud him he never forgot his place nor his burdens, which henceforward was for the honour and salvation of his lord the king, and thence the needs of  the church and its province for which he was forced to contend against the king himself  and his enemies, to elude various deceits and trickery.  But ultimately, he continually needed to fight the wild beasts at court, and just like Proteus [Peregrinus], as the saying goes, conducted business and practised in Palestine..

A serpent of envy pursued him, whose venom he feared might escape from the royal court. This serpent has honey in its mouth, but in its heart a bitter gall, and also has a sting on its back. This destructive spotted lizard dwells not only in the royal palace but also in the house of a bishop. Among so many and great dangers, however, he preserved his spirit like a strong athlete, in patience and with a knowing certainty because that is like a forge for gold, a threshing flail for grain and/or a file with which to sharpen a sword, that this same false brother is tried. The Chancellor ministered to the poor without thought of the expense..But so were all the gifts of grace hidden by an outward pride, that, except for worldly pomp, no one even thought that it was this same archbishop.who was often doing this. Praise no man before his death, but do not despise him.  For what man knoweth if he will return and repent, God?

[Alan, abbot of Tewkesbury]

There was in the town of Stafford as far as the royal pleasures were concerned a beautiful woman who, it was said, was having an amorous affair with the king. And because the Chancellor often visited this place relaying many lavish gifts, the innkeeper in the town where he was lodging thought that the woman was enticing him [Thomas the Chancellor] to embrace her in order to procure for herself a new lover, because the king seemed to be disregarding her and engaging in lovemaking with her less often.  Wanting to find out more, silently in the dead of night he took a lantern and secretly entered the bedroom where his guest was staying, in which when he saw that nothing stirred he crossed the room and raised the light. He saw before the man lying before the bed on the bare ground with his feet and legs uncovered, one who had perchance fallen asleep after bending down on his knees in prayer many times. And it thus came to pass that thinking he would expose a lustful man only found a religious man of God. Oh how easy it is to be judged by men who know not what is inside a person.


Opera. Auctore Edwardus Grim: Parker. 1845. pp. 10–.

James Craigie Robertson. Materials for the History of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury (Canonized by Pope Alexander III, AD 1173). Auctore Edwardus Grim: Cambridge University Press. pp. 325–. ISBN 978-1-108-04926-

Opera. Auctoribus Joanne decano Salisburiensi et Alano abbate Tewkesburiensi: Parker. 1845. pp. 321–.

Patres ecclesiae anglicanae : Aldhelmus, Beda, Bonifacius, Alcuinus, Lanfrancus, Anselmus, Thomas Cantuar, et reliqui. J.-H. Parker. 1845. pp. 12–. 

James Craigie Robertson. Materials for the History of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury (Canonized by Pope Alexander III, AD 1173).Voll III p. 304 John of Salisbury

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