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 "Remember" 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

Story of the English - Helene Guerber

Thomas a Becket

In the beginning of his reign, Henry was often helped by the good advice of a man named Thomas a Becket. A very pretty story is sometimes told about this man's mother. His father Gilbert, it seems, had gone to Palestine on a crusade or as a merchant. In some way he became the prisoner of a Saracen lord, and would have been obliged to remain in a dungeon all his life, had not the Saracen's daughter fallen in love with him. She helped Gilbert to escape; and then, thinking she could not live without him, she too started off for England, hoping to find her lover. She persistently said the word London over and over again until she reached that city. Then she changed her refrain and wandered up and down the streets, crying, "Gilbert!" which was the only other English word she knew. Strange to relate, Gilbert heard her cry, and, rushing to meet her, took her into his house, where she became his wife.

Thomas a Becket, the son of Gilbert and of this Saracen lady, received such a good education that he was asked to teach the king's children. Henry soon became very much attached to him, and he rose from rank to rank until he became chancellor of the kingdom, and keeper of the great seal, an impression of which was placed at the bottom of every royal decree.

Henry II. not only raised Thomas a Becket to a high rank, but also gave him great wealth. The chancellor delighted in fine clothes, had many followers, lived in beautiful houses, and spent his money freely. He was on such good terms with his royal master that they often had friendly disputes.

One day, when the king was riding out with Thomas, a beggar stepped up, asking for alms. Henry slyly asked Becket whether it would not be a very good deed to give the poor man a warm cloak. Becket answered that it certainly would; but when the king laid hands upon the beautiful mantle he was wearing, and tried to pull it off, he resisted. The result was a scuffle, and finally Henry gave so strong a tug that he tore the cloak off the chancellor's back. He then tossed it to the astonished beggar, and rode away, laughing at Becket's dismay.

In the first part of the king's reign, Becket, who was also a priest, helped him in his disputes with the clergy. Because of this, Henry decided that Becket should be named Archbishop of Canterbury. The priest of this cathedral was the primate, or principal clergyman, in the kingdom, and Henry fancied that when Becket was in this position he would go on helping him.

The king was mistaken, however, as he soon found out. No sooner had Becket become Primate of England than he suddenly changed. He no longer wore beautiful clothes or lived luxuriously. On the contrary, he wore the plainest garments, ate simple food, and, instead of leading a merry life, spent all his time in penance and prayer and in doing good.

Henry did not like this sudden change at all; but what made him most angry was that Thomas a Becket, instead of helping him subdue the rebellious priests, now became the most obstinate and resolute of them all. He bitterly opposed the Constitutions of Clarendon, refused to recognize any other master than the pope, and declared that Henry should obey the Church in all things, instead of trying to be sole master in his kingdom.

The quarrel between the king and his archbishop grew more and more bitter, until finally Becket left England and went over to France. Here he stirred up trouble for Henry by persuading the French king, Louis, to invade the English king's possessions there, and by threatening Henry with excommunication, or expulsion from the Church. Henry was, of course, very indignant when he heard this; but a meeting was soon brought about, and king and primate were publicly reconciled. To show the people that he and the priest were again good friends, Henry even held the stirrup of Becket's mule and helped him to mount it when Becket had once thrown himself at the king's feet.