Teach a little history lesson to your homeschool students today.
On December 29th in 1170, Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered at the foot of the altar in Canterbury Cathedral by four knights who may, or may not, have been acting under orders from King Henry II. Becket had been a long-time friend and counselor of King Henry, and Henry had appointed him archbishop with the expectation that Becket would allow the king to exert greater control over the church. But upon his elevation, Becket decided to be his own man, and he focused his loyalty on the church and the Pope, much to Henry’s dismay, until he became a thorn in the king’s side. The traditional account says that Henry one day shouted in a fit of rage, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?” — and four of his knights, overhearing their master, took the king’s outburst as their license to kill.
Thomas Becket’s murder — the open assassination of the most senior religious figure in England, in his own church — has loomed large in the Western imagination ever since. It sent shockwaves through Europe and played a significant role in the struggles between church and state that continued for centuries. The site of Becket’s murder became a place of pilgrimage and has remained so for more than 800 years.
Take five minutes today to teach your students the name of Thomas Becket, who he was, and how he met his fate on this day in 1170. Those little cultural facts will make it possible for them to understand centuries of subsequent references in literature, art, and history. They’ll understand Herman Melville’s description of the “ancient decks” of the whale-ship in Moby-Dick, which “were worn and wrinkled, like the pilgrim-worshipped flag-stone in Canterbury Cathedral where Becket bled.” And they’ll recognize the title and story behind one of the standard texts used in many college literature courses, T.S. Eliot’s famous twentieth-century play Murder in the Cathedral.
What historico-literary discoveries have you made in your homeschool this week? 😊
❡ Explore more: The history encyclopedia in your recommended River Houses reference library has an excellent review of church and state in medieval Europe on pages 194–197, with a specific mention of the murder of Thomas Becket as a significant event of the period. And you can have your students find the location of Canterbury in southeastern England on plate 61 in your atlas.