Henry II was among England’s most remarkable kings, forceful and brilliant. But he is best known for his quarrel with close friend Thomas Becket. Becket was born in London in 1118. His father was a Crusader, his mother a princess. He was Henry’s equal in appearance—handsome, tall, commanding, affable, athletic, and alert. Henry appointed Becket, 37, chancellor of England, the highest civil post in the land, and for seven years Becket lived in splendor, traveled in style, and ruled in power. He became de facto king, Henry’s closest ally.

In 1162 Henry wanted to appoint Thomas as Archbishop of Canterbury. Becket warned him he would lose a friend, but Henry nonetheless made him head of England’s church. The change in Becket was immediate. He traded his splendid clothes for rags and wandered through his cloisters shedding tears for past sins. He whipped himself, read the Bible, and spent hours in prayer. And to Henry’s horror, Becket endlessly sided with church against crown. The frantic king finally banished him from the country.

On December 1, 1170 Becket returned, electrifying all England. Henry, foaming with rage, shouted, “By the eyes of God, is there none of my cowardly courtiers who will deliver me from this turbulent priest?” Four knights took up the challenge, and on December 29 they fell on Becket during evening vespers. “In the name of Christ and for the defense of his church, I am ready to die,” Becket uttered as the blows fell. “Lord, receive my spirit.” The attackers slashed at his head, spilling his blood and brains on the floor. A violent thunderstorm broke over the cathedral. The Christian world reeled with horror, and Henry saw the tide turn against him. Walking through Canterbury’s streets with bleeding feet, he entered the cathedral, kissed the spot where Becket had died, and placed his head and shoulders on Becket’s tomb. There he was flogged by the priests. But the rest of his days were calamitous, and he died broken in spirit, cursing his life

Controlling your temper is better than being a hero Who captures a city. We make our own decisions, But the Lord alone determines what happens. (Proverbs 16:32,33)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Dec 1.

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