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ABecket Thomas

A'Becket, Thomas, born in London, 1118, the son of a well-to-do merchant probably of Norman race. He received a good education both in England and in France. On his father's failure in business he became a lawyer's clerk, but in 1142 the Archbishop of Canterbury gave him a post in his court, and he displayed such ability that he received from Henry II. the Chancellorship of England (1155). In this position he was a zealous partisan of the King against ecclesiastical encroachments; he fought valiantly, if cruelly, in the War of Toulouse; enforced scutage on the clergy; and in 1159 conducted with great magnificence an embassy to France for the purpose of arranging the marriage of the heir apparent. In 1162 he was elected Archbishop of Canterbury, though as yet only in deacon's orders. His views thereupon underwent a complete change, and he stood forth as the champion of Papal authority against that of the Crown. In those days the Church represented democracy, whilst Henry and his barons were striving for a supremacy of class and race. Hence the sympathies of the Saxon population were entirely with the Archbishop. Worsted at first in the struggle, A'Becket was forced to pledge himself by oath to observe the Constitutions of Clarendon. The Pope absolved him from this obligation, which he repudiated with vehemence. He was summoned before a great Council at Northampton, and condemned to pay a heavy fine for alleged misappropriations during his Chancellorship. Upon this he claimed the protection of the Holy See, and fled to France, whence he denounced Henry, Pope Alexander III. lending him countenance. Henry, fearing the Church, was fain to seek for reconciliation, and after an interview with A'Becket (1170) agreed to his return. This agreement was violated by the King, so the Primate on reaching Canterbury excommunicated the Archbishop of York and the Bishops of London and Salisbury, who fled to join their royal master in Normandy. Henry on hearing of A'Becket's reception in England exclaimed, "Of all the cowards who eat my bread, is there not one who will free me from this turbulent priest?" This taunt moved four knights, Fitzurse, Tracy, Morville, and Brito, who forthwith proceeded to Canterbury, unknown to the King, and threatened the Archbishop, in the cathedral, with death (1170) unless he absolved the excommunicated prelates. On his refusal, A'Becket was murdered before the altar of St. Benedict. Two years later he was canonised, and his shrine - fruitful in miracles - became the most popular in England. Henry VIII. ordered his body to be exhumed and burnt as that of a traitor, and his shrine to be destroyed, but it is doubtful if the order was executed. Some remains found in the cathedral in 1889 were at one time thought to be identified as those of the murdered prelate.