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Becket As Archbishop

Archbishop Theobald died on 18th April 1161 after a long illness. Most contemporary writers agree that both Theobald and King Henry were eager for Thomas to be appointed as the next Archbishop. Henry also hoped that Thomas would retain his role as Chancellor, as having Becket as both Chancellor and the Archbishop would strengthen the king’s power over church and state.

The monks at Canterbury were less in favour of Becket’s candidacy. He was an unusual choice, as previous archbishops of Canterbury since the Norman Conquest had all been monks or canons and some had also been distinguished theologians and scholars.

Despite the monks’ reservations, Thomas Becket was appointed Archbishop on 23 May 1162, and consecrated (officially blessed) on 3rd June. At some point during that year, against the king’s wishes, he also resigned as Chancellor. It is unclear exactly why Thomas made the decision to give up this role, though it may have been because he felt the king would have had too much power over the church and state if he remained in both posts.

As Becket started to enact his duties as archbishop, his relationship with Henry began to deteriorate. This was probably due to the change in Thomas’ loyalties – as archbishop, Becket no longer made decisions that aided the king and the crown, but the church. A series of disputes ensued between Becket and the king, all of which were concerned with whether the crown or the church had more legal authority over the clergy, secular authorities and everyday people.

Date: early 13th century
A small fragment of Becket’s marble shrine, which was destroyed at the order of Henry VIII during the Reformation.