Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Order to Arrest Becket, December 1170

Paraphrased from
Robert William Eyton (1878). Court, Household, and Itinerary of King Henry II: Instancing Also the Chief Agents and Adversaries of the King in His Government, Diplomacy, and Strategy. Taylor and Company. pp. 152–.

Monday 28th Dec 1170: Emissaries from Richard de Humez, Justiciar of Normandy arrive at the court of Henry, the Young King, at Winchester  with orders to arrest Becket.

Extract from

Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, Volume 9, p.140

Hugh de Gondeville

In [December] 1170 he was at Winchester with the young King, when he received an order from Richard de Humez, Constable of Normandy, to go to Canterbury with a party of knights to arrest Becket; but the murder of the Archbishop rendered obedience to the order unnecessary. He was Sheriff of Northants and Southants ...


G.P.R. James (1841). A History of the Life of Richard Coeur de Lion, King of England, 1. Saunders and Otley. pp. 353–.

Bibliothèque de l'École des chartes. Librairie Droz. 1857. pp. 29–.

J. A. Giles; Darboy (1860). Saint Thomas Becket. Bray. pp. 444–.

École Nationale des Chartes (Paris) (1857). Bibliothèque de l'Ecole des Chartes: revue d'érudition. Droz. pp. 29–.

Historiae Anglicanae Scriptores X :  Radulphus de Diceto... Ymagines Historiarum typis Jacobi Flesher, sumptibus Cornelii Bee. 1652. pp. 554–5.

Bulletin de la Société scientifique, historique et archéologique de la Corrèze. Volume 29 M. Roche, impr. 1907. p. 117-8

Materials for the history of Thomas Becket,. Vol 1   ed. by James Craigie Robertson. p.108-119
William of Canterbury

Materials for the history of Thomas Becket,. Vol 3   ed. by James Craigie Robertson. p.129 & 149
William FitzStephen

An Annotated Translation of the Life of St. Thomas Becket (Part Two)
by William Fitzstephen trans. Mary Aelred Sinclair (1944)
Loyola University Chicago
P. 72
When these remarks had-been ended, the King at once sent
Earl William de Mandeville, Seyer de Quincey, and Richard
de Humet. After those four who had gone into England. The report
was that they were to seize the Archbishop. Earl William
and Seyer went as far as the seaport but they did not cross.
Richard, heading for another port, .crossed. The young King was
at Winchester. Richard sent word to his guardians, Hugh de
Gondreville and William FitzJohn, to go to Canterbury, without
the knowledge of the King, with the soldiers of the royal household.
He himself lay in wait along the coast in order that the
Archbishop might be seized if he by any chance should attempt
flight to some seaport. The Earl William and Seyer did the same
on the continent, to arrest him there if by chance he should
succeed in crossing.

P. 102
When the young king heard of the death of the holy Thomas, he was greatly grieved and struck to the heart. He raised his hands to heaven hands to heaven and the eyes of his heart and body to God, saying, "Alas! But, 0 God. I give you thanks that was done without my knowledge, and that none of mine were there."  For these. four unhappy assassins had accomplished the crime before the above mentioned Hugh de Gondreville and William FitzJohn had come to Canterbury.

William of Canterbury tells a slightly different story, in which he suggests that the envoys were sent by Henry II to England to stop the four knights who eventually murdered Becket from committing such a crime. They were too late.

An Annotated Translation of the Life of St. Thomas Becket
by William a Monk of Canterbury trans. by Sister Mary Annette
Boeke (1946) Loyola University Chicago

p. 48
When the envoy came to the court. he addressed the guardians of the King and announced himself as a messenger sent by the lord Primate seeking access to the King for a conference. Though the clerks who had cane for the election instantly dispersed, the tutors of the King. William of St. John, William, son of Aldeline, Hugh of Gondreville, and Randolph. son of Stephen, asked, "What, pray, are the messages you bring? Before they are brought to the attention of the King they must be made known to us. For he does what we do; he says what we say. The word of the pupil depends upon the answer of the guardians, before whom all plans are made, business negotiations are discussed, decisions are weighed, if, indeed, they are peaceable, and conduce to the harmony of souls.

In Latin

William of Canterbury William. Materials for the history of Thomas Becket, . Volume 1:  p. 125.


Not realizing  this, he [king Henry II] set out for Argentan to talk with the bishops and archbishops of the various provinces he had summoned to discuss these difficulties. Intending to avenge the King's injuries and thinking that they were pleasing him in this way, the four who committed the crime silently left the court. Hearing of this and knowing that they were the cruelest and worst of all men living within the boundaries of his king- dom, the King feared that the deed would redound to his own dishonor.  Forthwith he sent his swiftest men to seize the ports and prevent the madness of the sons of Belial. But as if the winds in compliance were blowing for our misfortune and the dish on or of the royal name, these four, crossing the sea, committed, without the King's knowledge, a deed which will never be forgotten. For on that day he thought his retainers were in his house.


  1. Hi!I'm writing a graduation thesis on the figure of Thomas Becket and I've found your blog very useful!Now..could you help me writing something about the consequences of his murder on the relationship between crown and church or in the English kingdom? I got stuck at this point. Thank you so much

    1. Thank you for your comment.

      Oh my gosh, your question would probably require a full Ph.D. thesis to answer properly! This blog is a "work in progress", and I haven't quite yet reached that point where I could respond to your enquiry satisfactorily. The blog is not yet complete, nor concluded. Further this blog is not "peer-reviewed", so there has to be a warning label on the knowledge which I have posted in it as information which I have reasearched and found out, but which has not been submitted for professional or full academic criticism. Becket's story fascinates me as one of the most interesting to be found in the Middle Ages. That is why I have invested a huge amount of effort in posting what I have done to date.

      Perhaps I can direct you to some other scholars and historians who may be able to help you to answer your question more competently.

      One of the very best scholars and historians of Becket is Professor Anne J. Duggan. She has written a very comprehensive modern biography on Becket called:-

      Anne J. Duggan (2004) Thomas Becket. Hodder Education.
      ISBN 978 0 340 741382

      Another would be David Knowles:-

      David Knowles (1970) Thomas Becket. Adam & Charles Black.
      ISBN 0 7136 1154 5

      And another

      Z.N. Brooke (1952) The English Church and the Papacy. Cambridge.


      W.L.Warren (1973) Henry II. California.
      ISBN 0 520 02282 3


      Frank Barlow (1986) Thomas Becket. Weidenfeld and Nicholson.
      ISBN 0 297 78908 2


      Felix Makower (1895) The Constitutional History and Constitution of the Church of England. London and New York.

    2. Additonally.

      In terms of what happened following the murder, Becket won the hearts and minds of the ordinary people of England. The church exploited the miracles which supposedly surrounded his martyrdom. The people loved this. Canterbury became extremely rich as the international centre of the Cult of Becket. Becket's Cult very definitely spread to most of Scandinavia and Iceland, and Norman Sicily, and Normandy. I have yet to research just how far.

      A very large number of hagiographies and biographies followed the slaughter of Becket in his cathedral, many, many more than might be expected for the average saint of the times. Becket was an extremely well-known celebrity in his day. It is almost certain he exploited his celebrity status during his lifetime.

      King Henry II was forced to compromise with the church [Compromise of Avranches 1172]. He was flogged by the monks of Canterbury before the tomb of Becket.

      Henry II, on the 21 May 1172, was flogged in public, naked, before the door of the cathedral at Avranches upon the Pope's Orders:
      And again in 1174 he was flogged before the tomb of Becket at Canterbury.

      Henry II was absolutely to submit to the Pope in all spiritual matters.


      But this was also mixed up with Henry's troubles with his family, wars with his sons and estranged wife and queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

      Pope Alexander III was a far superior politician in his times to Becket. His diplomatic skills have to be admired even today.

      The empires and powers in Western Europe have to be taken into account: The Holy Roman Empire, The Norman Kingdom of Sicily, The Kingdom of France, The Angevin Empire (an Kingdom of England), the emerging visigothic kingdoms of Spain, Navarre and Portugal. And of course the Papal States.

      A very deep analysis of the events of the time might wish to relate the Becket story and its aftermath with the Crusades, and realtions of Western Christendom with Eastern Christendom, though I think that is stretching historical imagination too far.

      Further down the line the Becket story demonstrates the limits of power and authority that the kingship of England had. William the Conqueror was perhaps and ruled as an absolute monarch, absolute in every sense. A succession of influential archbishops of Canterbury helped to show just how limited this power was: Lanfranc, the intellect and his hugely influential power behind the throne of William I. And then Anselm the philosophical and perhaps reluctant archbishop who opposed two kings, and then the other archbishops before Becket; including the warring over the primacy of Canterbury over York. And all this later followed by Stephen Langton and the composition of Magna Carta in 1215, and the bringing of king John to book. Or even later still the example of Simon de Montfort, and the rise of Parliament. The suppression of church power beginning with the laws of Mortmain. I will not not speculate further beyond this.

    3. Yet more




    4. Another relevant paper is the following

      Henry II and the Papacy, 1170-1189
      by Henry Mayr-Harting
      The Journal of Ecclesiastical History Volume 16 Issue 01 April 1965, pp 39-53.

  2. Another reference

    Twelfth Century Decretal Collections and their importance in English History. By CHARLES DUGGAN. University of London Historical Studies XII. The Athlone Press.