It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt. — Abraham Lincoln

Story of the English - Helene Guerber

The Murder of Thomas a Becket

Henry and Thomas a Becket did not long remain on good terms, for the primate was as haughty as ever. During Becket's absence Henry's son had been crowned as his heir. The primate said no one had the right to perform such a ceremony without his consent. He therefore excommunicated the bishops who had done so. When this news reached Henry, he angrily cried: "Of the cowards who eat my bread, is there not one who will free me from this turbulent priest?"

Thomas a Becket.

These rash words were unhappily taken in earnest by four of his knights, who, leaving his presence, went over to Canterbury to murder Becket. They were so determined to kill him that they forced their way into the cathedral, crying, "Where is the archbishop? Where is the traitor?"

"I am the archbishop, but no traitor," answered the primate, proudly, as he came forward to meet them. But they rushed upon him, weapons in hand, and in spite of his struggles struck him down at the foot of the altar. Then, frightened by what they had done, they fled in haste, and, troubled by remorse, went to Palestine. They never dared come back to England, but died and were buried in the Holy Land, where these words were written on their tombstone: "Here lie the murderers of St. Thomas of Canterbury."

This murder, which the king had not positively ordered, excited great indignation among the people. They loudly mourned the archbishop, and buried him in the cathedral at Canterbury. Soon after, the pope declared that he was a saint and a martyr, so the pious began to visit his tomb in crowds. Before long the rumour spread that those who visited it were healed of any disease from which they happened to suffer, and that even the dead came back to life.

The result of this report was that pilgrims came from all parts of the world to pray at the shrine of St. Thomas a Becket. Every fifty years there was a special celebration, called a jubilee; and on one of these occasions no less than one hundred thousand pilgrims came to the grave of the murdered primate.

When the pope heard how Becket had died, he wanted to excommunicate Henry; that is to say, to forbid his entering a church or being considered a child of God. The people fancied that they need no longer obey a man who had been so wicked as to quarrel with a priest, and Henry saw that unless he did something to please the pope he would soon have no more power. He therefore went over to Ireland, conquered the country, and made the rebellious people obey the priests of the Catholic Church. Then he solemnly swore that he had not intended to kill Becket.

The pope consented to forgive him, but even then Henry's troubles were not ended. His sons revolted; and Henry, hoping to gain God's help to subdue them, prepared to do public penance for his share in Becket's murder. He therefore walked to Canterbury barefoot, spent the night in prayer at the saint's tomb, bade the eighty monks there beat him on his bare shoulders, and by thus humiliating himself brought the monks and his subjects to think less severely of his sin. The same day his army won a victory, which the people claimed as another miracle worked by St. Thomas of Canterbury.

In the course of his reign, Henry had not only to oppose his rebellious children in Normandy, but also to fight their allies, the Scotch, Welsh, and Irish. He recovered the province which the Scots had won in the preceding reign, took their king captive, and became master of a large part of Ireland, which he said he would give to his favourite son, John, for at that time he fancied that John had always been a good son.

This was not so. All Henry's children were undutiful, because they had been badly trained by their mother Eleanor. When they first revolted, she tried to escape from England and join them; but by the king's orders she was overtaken and thrust into prison, where she staid as long as her husband lived.

Henry's public penance had made so good an impression on his people that they cheerfully helped him against his sons; but after some more fighting, Henry was compelled to make peace, submit to the terms of the French king, and swear to forgive all the rebels. As soon as he had given this promise, some one brought him a list of the men who had plotted against him; and Henry was stricken with grief when he saw among them the name of his youngest son, John.

This last sorrow proved too much for the poor king, who fell sick, and died at the foot of the altar, where he had asked to be laid. He had reigned thirty-four years, had extended the English territory, and had made many improvements in the condition of the inhabitants; so he is remembered as one of England's great kings.


Front Matter

Early Times
The Druids
The Britons
Caesar in Britain
Queen Boadicea
The Great Walls
The Great Irish Saint
The Anglo-Saxons
Brave King Arthur
The Laws of the Saxons
The Story of St Augustine
Three Great Men
The Danish Pirates
King Alfred and the Cakes
Alfred conquers the Danes
A King's Narrow Escape
The King and the Outlaw
The Monasteries
An Unlucky Couple
St Dunstan
King Canute and the Waves
A Saxon Nobleman
Lady Godiva's Ride
The Battle of Hastings
The Conquest
Lords and Vassals
Death of William
The Brothers' Quarrels
Arms and Armour
The "White Ship"
Matilda's Narrow Escapes
Story of Fair Rosamond
Thomas a Becket
Murder of Thomas a Becket
Richard's Adventures
Richard and the Saracens
The Faithful Minstrel
Death of Richard
The Murder of Arthur
The Great Charter
The Rule of Henry III
A Race
Persecution of the Jews
The Conquest of Wales
A Quarrel with France
The Coronation Stone
The Insolent Favourite
Bruce and the Spider
Death of Edward II
The Murderers punished
The Battle of Crecy
The Siege of Calais
The Age of Chivalry
The Battle of Poitiers
The Peasants' Revolt
Richard's Presence of Mind
A Tiny Queen
Henry's Troubles
Madcap Harry
A Glorious Reign
The Maid of Orleans
The War of the Roses
The Queen and the Brigand
The Triumph of the Yorks
The Princes in the Tower
Richard's Punishment
Two Pretenders
A Grasping King
Field of the Cloth of Gold
The New Opinions
Death of Wolsey
Henry's Wives
The King and the Painter
A Boy King
Lady Jane Grey
The Death of Cranmer
A Clever Queen
Elizabeth's Lovers
Mary, Queen of Scots
Captivity of Mary Stuart
Wreck of the Spanish Armada
The Elizabethan Age
Death of Elizabeth
A Scotch King
The Gunpowder Plot
Sir Walter Raleigh
King and Parliament
Cavaliers and Roundheads
The Royal Oak
The Commonwealth
The Restoration
Plague and Fire
The Merry Monarch
James driven out of England
A Terrible Massacre
William's Wars
The Duke of Marlborough
The Taking of Gibraltar
The South Sea Bubble
Bonny Prince Charlie
Black Hole of Calcutta
Loss of the Colonies
The Battle of the Nile
Nelson's Last Signal
The Battle of Waterloo
First Gentleman of Europe
Childhood of Queen Victoria
The Queen's Marriage
Wars in Victoria's Reign
The Jubilee