Don’t Upset King Henry…

There’s something quite awesome about the way in which a cathedral dominates the skyline of a small town or city. Particularly a medieval cathedral, although the relatively modern red-brick cathedral of Uppsala, Sweden, is especially distinctive. There is a fantastic view of Canterbury Cathedral across the city from the top of a monument in the Dane John Gardens. Apparently, a rule exists in Canterbury which forbids building anything taller than the cathedral.

Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral

Uppsala Cathedral

Uppsala Cathedral


Perhaps the most significant event to happen under the shadows of the eaves happened in 1170. As frequently happened, the Church and the State were at loggerheads. Henry II thought that clergymen should be tried in civil courts and punished accordingly. The Church actually rather thought that the Church should retain authority over clergy and the punishments. Which didn’t involve anything very harsh, unlike the civil ones. So when the Archbishop of Canterbury died in the 1160s, Henry thought he’d appoint his good friend, the Chancellor Thomas Becket. Thomas was not, at this time, a priest, but Henry as never one to let little details like that stand in his way. Thomas didn’t want to be the Archbishop either. But Henry got what he wanted, ordaining Thomas a priest one day, and then consecrating him Archbishop the next. But Thomas said that now that he was a servant of the Church and God, actually he couldn’t support Henry’s reforms. Which annoyed the fiery King. One thing led to another, and Thomas was approached by four knights in his own Cathedral on his way to Vespers. They wanted to arrest him, but he refused to go quietly. Apparently they weren’t patient men, and they struck the Archbishop with swords, killing him. Henry was devastated; he hadn’t wanted Thomas to be killed.


The moral of the story is: be careful what you say when people who want to be in your good books are around to hear you.

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