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Saint Thomas à Becket

Early Career and Chancellor

He came from a middle-class Norman family and was well educated, completing his studies at the Univ. of Paris. He entered (c.1142) the household of Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury, in whose service he performed several delicate missions. Theobald apparently sent him to Bologna and to Auxerre to study law. In 1154 he was ordained deacon and appointed archdeacon of Canterbury.

In the same year the young Henry II, acting on the advice of Theobald, appointed him chancellor. Theobald and the clerical party expected Becket to represent their interests at court, but the chancellor, who rapidly became an intimate friend of the king, devoted himself largely to secular affairs. He lived in magnificence, took an unclerical part on the battlefield in the Toulouse campaign (1159) and, when a clash of interests arose between church and state, usually supported the king. It is not surprising, therefore, that when Theobald died (1161), Henry, who hoped to curb the growth of church power, nominated his friend to succeed to the archbishopric. Becket himself, foreseeing the conflict that lay ahead, was reluctant to accept, but the king insisted, and, in 1162, Becket was ordained priest and consecrated archbishop of Canterbury.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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