st. thomas a becket

The Patronage of the Cult of St Thomas Becket by Henry II’s Daughters | Matilda of Saxony, Leonor of England, Joan of England 

«The Anglo-Castilian connection in this period is also represented by the queen’s efforts to  cleanse  her father’s  memory  after the murder of Thomas Becket. Leonor had  married  Alfonso [VIII of Castile] only a few months before the murder of the archbishop of Canterbury in his own cathedral, events that left Christian Europe in shock. News of his brutal assassination caused immediate reaction all over  Europe and must  have  soon reached  the  Castilian court  and Leonor’s ears.  Her  father was  blamed  for the  prelate’s  murder and the mighty king  of  the  English  was brought  to  his knees  through  public repentance  and  expiation. But  soon  after Becket’s horrid death, Henry II’s expiation turned into veneration and so the martyr of Canterbury – canonised in 1173 – having been a victim of Plantagenet wrath was then becoming an object of Plantagenet piety and devotion.

Kay Brainerd Slocum has studied the spread of the cult in Europe due to the patronage of Henry’s daughters and  has  suggested that  the  queen of Castile «departing from  the  usual  practice, wished to establish her own very close connection, and that of her natal family, to the Canterbury martyr». The wonderfully coloured prayerbook of Henry of Saxony and Bavaria, married to Matilda of England, and the stunning mosaics of Monreale in Sicily, commissioned during the  queenship of her youngest sister, Joan, bear witness to  the agency  of  Henry II’s daughters in the promotion of Becket’s cult across the continent.

Leonor paid her dues in Castile and her contribution to the cult was manifest and resolute. The queen joined her father’s cry for divine forgiveness in the dedication of altars at the cathedrals of Sigüenza and Toledo and perhaps in the commission of wall paintings at a church in Soria».


Cerda, José Manuel: The Marriage of Alfonso VIII of Castile and Leonor Plantagenet: the first bond between Spain and England in the Middle Ages, in: Aurell, Martin (ed.): Les Stratégies matrimoniales (IXe-XIIIe siècle), Turnhout, Brepols, 2013, pp. 143-153, pp. 146-147.


Or: my favourite sisterly alliance.

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Saint of the Day – 19 April – St Alphege (c953-1012) also known as St Alphege of Winchester/Canterbury/Bath – MARTYR and Bishop, Monk, Hermit, Abbot, educator, apostle of charity – his body is incorrupt.    Patron of  Greenwich, England,  kidnap victims,  Solihull, England.   Attributes –  bishop holding an axe,  bishop with an axe in his head,  carrying stones in his chasuble.

Alphege was born in 953 and became a monk at the Deerhurst Monastery of Gloucester, England. After a few years, he asked to become a hermit, received permission and retired to a small hut near Somerset, England. In 984, Alphege moved to Bath and became abbot at abbey founded by St. Dunstan. Many of Alpege’s companions from Somerset joined him at Bath. In that same year, Alphege was appointed bishop of Winchester and served there for two decades.

He was famed for his care of the poor and for his own austere life. King Aethelred the Unready used his abilities in 994, sending him to mediate with invading Danes.  The Danish chieftain Anlaf converted to Christianity as a result of his meetings with Alphege, although he and the other chief, Swein, demanded tribute from the Anglo-Saxons of the region. Anlaf vowed never to lead his troops against Britain again.   In 1005 Alphege became the successor to Aleric as the archbishop of Canterbury, receiving the pallium in Rome from Pope John XVIII.   He returned to England in time to be captured by the Danes pillaging the southern regions. The Danes besieged Canterbury and took Alphege captive.   The ransom for his release was about three thousand pounds and went unpaid. Alphege refused to give the Danes that much, an act which infuriated them.   He was hit with an ax and then beaten to death.  

Revered as a martyr, Alphege’s remains were placed in St. Paul’s Church in London.   The body, moved to Canterbury in 1023, was discovered to be incorrupt in 1105. Relics of St. Alphege are also in Bath, Glastonbury, Ramsey, Reading, Durham, Yorkminster and in Westminster Abbey.   He was canonised by St Pope Gregory VII in 1078.

St Thomas a Becket himself endorsed a parallel between himself and the Anglo-Saxon martyr, when he spoke about Alphege in the sermon he preached on Christmas Day 1170, four days before his own martyrdom:  “You already have a martyr here,” he said, “Alphege, beloved of God, a true saint. The Divine Mercy will provide another for you; it will not delay.”

Kings and Queens of Castile | Leonor of England, Queen of Castile and Toledo

 Inspired by: 

“He didn’t marry you to become king. He became king because he wanted to marry you.” ― Megan Whalen Turner, The King of Attolia.


Eleanor of England
(Spanish: Leonor; 13 October 1162 – 31 October 1214), or Eleanor Plantaganet, was Queen of Castile and Toledo as wife of Alfonso VIII of Castile. She was the sixth child and second daughter of Henry II, King of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Eleanor was born in the castle at Domfront, Normandy on 13 October 1162, as the second daughter of Henry II, King of England and his wife Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine, and was baptised by Henry of Marcy. Her half-siblings were Marie and Alix of France, and her full siblings were Henry the Young, Duchess Matilda, King Richard, Duke Geoffrey, Queen Joan and King John.

In 1174, when she was 12 years old, Eleanor married King Alfonso VIII of Castile in Burgos. The couple had been betrothed in 1170, but due to the bride’s youth as well as the uproar in Europe regarding her father’s suspected involvement in the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket, the wedding was delayed. Her parents’ purpose in arranging the marriage was to secure Aquitaine’s Pyrenean border, while Alfonso was seeking an ally in his struggles with his uncle,Sancho VI of Navarre. In 1177, this led to Henry overseeing arbitration of the border dispute.

Around the year 1200, Alfonso began to claim that the duchy of Gascony was part of Eleanor’s dowry, but there is no documented foundation for that claim. It is highly unlikely that Henry II would have parted with so significant a portion of his domains. At most, Gascony may have been pledged as security for the full payment of his daughter’s dowry. Her husband went so far on this claim as to invade Gascony in her name in 1205. In 1206, her brother John, King of Englandgranted her safe passage to visit him, perhaps to try opening peace negotiations. In 1208, Alfonso yielded on the claim.Decades later, their great-grandson Alfonso X of Castile would claim the duchy on the grounds that her dowry had never been fully paid.

Of all Eleanor of Aquitaine’s daughters, her namesake was the only one who was enabled, by political circumstances, to wield the kind of influence her mother had exercised. In her own marriage treaty, and in the first marriage treaty for her daughter Berengaria, Eleanor was given direct control of many lands, towns, and castles throughout the kingdom.She was almost as powerful as Alfonso, who specified in his will in 1204 that she was to rule alongside their son in the event of his death, including taking responsibility for paying his debts and executing his will. It was she who persuaded him to marry their daughter Berengaria to Alfonso IX of León. Troubadours and sages were regularly present in Alfonso VIII’s court due to Eleanor’s patronage.

Eleanor took particular interest in supporting religious institutions. In 1179, she took responsibility to support and maintain a shrine to St. Thomas Becket in the cathedral of Toledo. She also created and supported the Abbey of Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas, which served as a refuge and tomb for her family for generations, and its affiliated hospital.

When Alfonso died, Eleanor was reportedly so devastated with grief that she was unable to preside over the burial. Their eldest daughter Berengaria instead performed these honours. Eleanor then took sick and died only twenty-eight days after her husband, and was buried at Abbey of Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas.

Derek Jacobi in the title role of Becket at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, 1991 (Many thanks to my friend Tanja Dubelloy)

“It would be hard to overpraise the performances of Derek Jacobi and Robert Lindsay as St Thomas a Becket and King Henry II. Jean Anouilh’s play describes the development of Thomas from a libertine Saxon collaborator to saint and martyr. It is a difficult business to chart the making of a saint without lapsing into sentimentality and inhumanity: Derek Jacobi grows in stature through the play without for an instant seeming anything but human and vulnerable” (The Gardian 19th October 1991)

pilgrim’s badge of the shrine of st. thomas becket at canterbury, 1350-1400

This impressed badge shows the shrine of the martyred saint before it was plundered by Henry VIII’s commissioners in 1538. The golden structure, as seen on the badge was ordered by Archbishop Thomas Langton and dedicated on July 2, 1220. Created by the famed goldsmith Walter of Colchester, the tomb, supported on four bays, contained an effigy of Thomas Becket in ecclesiastical vestments. Here, raised above it, is the gabled shrine, encrusted with jewels on a trellis-like ground and surmounted by two ship models, one of which was damaged. A small figure points to a ruby, claimed to be the largest in existence and given in 1179 by the king of France. To the right another figure raises the cover of the shrine with ropes and a pulley. This badge is one of the best surviving visual documents of the shrine. 

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Browne Hours, Widener 3

This manuscript, in the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia, was made sometime between 1460 and 1480 for a wealthy merchant named John Browne, who lived in Stamford, Lincolnshire. It was made in Flanders, and at that time, there were a number of places in Flanders called “ateliers” that would make Books of Hours for individuals all over Europe, especially people living in England. The Browne Hours is a very traditional-looking Book of Hours—in earlier years, most Books of Hours would have belonged to members of the nobility.  But John Browne was a member of a newly arrived successful class of noveau riche or very successful bourgeoisie, who may have long admired the handsome books of the noble class his entire life, and probably sent off for his manuscript to be made when he could finally afford to do so.

The Browne Hours is best-known for its binding, an original, fifteenth-century binding by Anthony de Gavere, a member of a prominent family of Flemish bookbinders active from 1459 to 1505.  His name is recorded in the inscriptions stamped into the borders of the four decorative panels on the front and back covers.  The two clasps that contain miniatures depicting the Virgin and Child with an angel (upper) and St. Veronica holding the Sudarium (lower) are inscribed on the reverse with the names of John and Agnes Browne to further personalize the manuscript for its owners.

A particularly English miniature in this manuscript is that of St. George, one of the patron saints of England.

One of the fun miniatures in this manuscript is of St. Margaret.  It looks as though someone has tried to erase her face. In fact, it’s most likely that many women in possession of this manuscript kissed the face many times, effectively blurring it.  St. Margaret was swallowed by a dragon and escaped alive when the cross she was carrying irritated the dragon’s insides. St. Margaret, for that reason, is the patron saints of women in childbirth.

Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was killed by four knights while he prayed at the altar in Canterbury Cathedral on December 29, 1170, supposedly on the king’s orders. For a simple explanation of the situation, he had been arguing with the king, Henry II, over the powers of church and state. Becket was quickly canonized by Pope Alexander III in 1173 and his remains were removed to a phenomenally ornate tomb at Canterbury Cathedral on July 7, 1220. Two feast days were observed in England for St. Thomas Becket: December 29, the date of his death; and July 7, the date of the translation of his remains. The tomb of St. Thomas Becket was visited by pilgrims from all over Europe, and it was the destination for the pilgrims in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which was written in English at the end of the fourteenth century, around 200 years after Becket’s death.

Turning to the suffrages of our book Widener 3, or the Browne Hours, we have a full-page miniature of St. Thomas Becket. By royal injunction of November 1538, King Henry VIII of England decreed that images of St. Thomas were to be destroyed. As can be seen in this photograph of the Free Library’s book, the owners at the time couldn’t quite bring themselves to destroy the Becket image. However, they did mark out the text on the opposite page with a graphite pencil. Interestingly, it turns out the Browne family, who lived in Stamford, Lincolnshire, attended the All Saints Church in Market Street, and they were all buried in the St. Thomas of Canterbury chapel there—so the family had a strong feeling toward St. Thomas in particular.  King Henry VIII also wished for the feast days of St. Thomas to be scratched out in the calendars of all books, and both feast days are intact in the calendar for the Browne Hours.

But Henry VIII also decreed that images of the Pope and his trappings should also be scratched out of books.  As can be seen in this image of the Mass of St. Gregory, the triple crown or papal tiara of the Pope has been scratched out, showing that the book’s owners in 1538 did comply with this order.  This miniature is also interesting because it depicts the original owners of the book, John Browne and his wife Agnes, painted into the picture. Browne also had his merchant’s trademark—a heart-shaped base with a small “B” supporting a cross-staff with two chevrons—included in the border decoration to the left of his portrait.

Some images can be seen here for the book in high resolution: http://libwww.freelibrary.org/medievalman/detail.cfm?itemID=mcaw030350

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St Thomas à Becket Church at Fairfield, Romney Marsh.


Where we live on the beach we have the English Channel in front of us and behind Romney Marsh - flat and desolate.

The marsh has many medieval churches - some still in use, others abandoned. Fairfield lies between Brookland and Brenzett on a minor road in a deserted part of the Walland Marsh. The area was won from the sea (inned) sometime between 1200 and 1270. The monks from Canterbury built dykes to the western edge of the Rhee Wall (the sea defenses built by the Romans) and enclosed the land so reclaiming the rich and fertile soil from the sea.

1287 saw the great storm in which Broomhill was swept away and New Romney barely survived. The River Rother changed its course to the sea, and exited the marshes at Rye, whereas before the storm the river found its way to the sea near to modern day Greatstone and Littlestone.

Fayrefelde (old English spelling) existed before 1595 as a map of the time shows the village approximately where the church now sits. It is likely that as the land became more reclaimed so the village sprung up.

The church was built as a temporary structure of timber lath and plaster in the 1200’s to support the local farming community. The exterior has been strengthened with brick, and in 1913 the whole building was reconstructed and encased to preserve it.

The church now stands alone as the village of Fairfield no longer exists. Uniquely, the churchyard has no boundary, no tombstones, no trees and no memorials.