Thomas à Becket

Published in Issue 5 (September/October 2016), Letters, Volume 24

Sir,—An inset to the thoughtful and interesting article ‘Reclaiming an Irish “Way of St James”’ (HI 24.3, May/June 2016, p. 17) gives a short summary of Thomas à Becket and his relationship with King Henry II, one-time friend and possible accomplice to his murder. It says that what came between the one-time friends was, ‘among other things, the refusal to hand over to the crown for punishment churchmen accused of sexually assaulting and murdering subjects’. What the author must not understand is that the church courts had no desire to hide those guilty of a crime, ‘criminous clerks’, as they were termed in the day. They wished, however, to ensure that the punishment fit the crime and ‘spilled no blood’. It needs only a short and horrifying investigation into the history of the English courts, sentencing and the punishments meted out to understand why Thomas à Becket resisted agreement. A friend once commented, concerning English penal codes and the tortures they employed, that ‘… eventually, the English even disgusted themselves’. While the author does a wonderful job on the main topic of the article, the inset is misleading and does a disservice to understanding the issues of that day, as well as Thomas à Becket and King Henry II. It smacks more of what passes for newspaper and electronic journalism today.—Yours etc.,

TIMOTHY HOGAN

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