Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Taphophile Tragics

The Martyrdom, Canterbury Cathedral, England

The Martyrdom - A modern memorial, at the place where he was slain, marks the martyrdom of Thomas Becket. Two ragged steel swords and a broken sword point throw a striking shadow behind a bare stone altar - it is visited as much today as it ever has been.

The best known event in the Cathedral's history was the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170. Canterbury, always on the medieval pilgrim route to Rome, became an end in itself, as thousands came to worship at Becket's tomb, especially after his canonization in 1173. Geoffrey Chaucer's pilgrims in his poem, The Canterbury Tales, were by no means unique. They represented the hundreds of thousands who travelled to the Cathedral to pray, repent or be healed at his shrine. (The word canter comes from the pace of the pilgrims' horses as they rode to the Cathedral.) The tradition of pilgrimage is very much alive today, although the journey is faster and considerably more comfortable. Thomas' shrine was destroyed in 1538 on the orders of King Henry VIII; today, a simple candle marks the place where it once stood and the pink stone before it bears the imprint of thousands of pilgrims' knees. When Becket was made Archbishop of Canterbury by King Henry II in 1162, he changed his total allegiance from the King to the Pope and the Church. Henry had expected his full support, and there were many conflicts between them, the final one being Thomas' excommunication of the Archbishop of York and the Bishops of London and Salisbury for their support for Henry's attacks on the rights of Thomas as archbishop; not only had the king’s agents used Thomas’ property while he was in exile in France but, in the summer of 1170, King Henry had his son crowned as his heir by these and other bishops, usurping a long standing right of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Four knights, Richard Brito, Hugh de Moreville, Reginald FitzUrse, and William de Tracy overheard the King's rage and took seriously his shout of "Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?" On 29 December 1170, returning from France where Henry had held his Christmas Court, they entered the Archbishop’s lodgings from Palace Street; the monks persuaded Thomas to enter the Cathedral from his Palace through the Cloisters and into the North West Transept. Vespers was in progress when the knights burst in, and found Thomas kneeling at the altar. According to Edward Grim, a monk who watched the murder, Thomas refused to absolve the Bishops and told the Knights that "for the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death."It was not long before he did so. The knights wielded their weapons and administered three mighty blows, the last one breaking off the tip of a sword. Three days after his death, there began a series of miracles attached to his martyrdom. These are depicted in the miracle windows of the Trinity Chapel. In 1173, Becket was canonized by Pope Alexander III. Pilgrims began to flock to Thomas' shrine in the Cathedral; a year later Henry, in sackcloth, walking barefoot, was among them.

The Black Prince

A notable feature of the ambulatory are its many tombs of archbishops and royals. The most famous of these is the Tomb of the Black Prince (1330-76), topped with a bronze chainmailed effigy of the knight, in the south ambulatory. It's not clear how he got his romantic nickname; his contemporaries knew him as Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales. He was the eldest son of a king (Edward III) and the father of a king (Richard II), but was never king himself because he died before his father.

Archbishop Henry Chichele (I think)

English archbishop, founder of All Souls college, Oxford, was born in the Borough in 1362, the youngest of the 3 sons of Thomas and Agnes Chichele. Thomas Chichele was a yeoman farmer and was Mayor of the Borough in 1373. The family lived at 67 High Street, Higham Ferrers - the property still remains.

Chichele was taught in a small school by Henry Barton, the Schoolmaster, and in view of his outstanding abilities he was introduced to William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, who was working in the Castle on plans for the building of New College, Oxford. He accompanied the Bishop to Winchester to continue his studies and later to Salisbury. His further appointment was to the Archdeaconry of Salisbury, then Chancellor of Salisbury. His further appointment was to the Bishopric of St. David's, and in 1414 he became Archbishop of Canterbury.

During his career he practiced as an advocate in the principle ecclesiastical court and from that time an extraordinary number of posts fell to him including a much heralded diplomatic career. He acquired livings and canonries wholesale. He was with the English force under the Earl of Arundel which accompanied the Duke of Burgundy to Paris in 1411 and there defeated the Armagnacs; and in 1413 was sent by Henry V., with the Earl of Warwick, to France to conclude peace. He was certainly at the Battle of Agincourt with Henry V and there was a charge, versified by Shakespeare (Henry V. act 1, sc.2) from Halls Chronicle, of having tempted Henry V. into the conquest of France for the sake of diverting parliament from the disendowment of the Church.

Chichele was present at the siege of Rouen, and the King committed to him the negotiations for the surrender of the city in 1419 and for the marriage of Katherine. He crowned Katherine at Westminster in February 1421 and in December of the same year baptised her child, Henry VI.

Chichele is renowned chiefly for his educational foundations. He endowed a chest or loan fund for poor scholars at New College, and another for the university at large. He founded at least three colleges, one at Higham Ferrers and two at Oxford. The licence for the first was given by Henry V in May 1422 and was closely modeled on Winchester College, and to it was attached an alshouse for 12 poor men (more of the Bede House later).

He retained the position of Archbishop of Canterbury until his death in 1443, at the age of 81 years. He was the longest serving Archbishop of Canterbury.

This is an entry in Julie's Taphophile Tragics meme.


Joe said...

Wow, very impressive research. Thank you. I don't think I would stand underneath those swords.

Gemma Wiseman said...

I knew of Thomas Beckett and the Black Prince, but these photos really bring their stories to life! But I have never heard of this longest serving archbishop of Canterbury. An mazing post!

Julie said...

Maybe the Black Prince had bad circulation!

I live the imagery of those crossed daggers, certainly brings the bastardry to life, so to speak.

I had no idea that canter had that etymology. how very quaint.

I think you may have a typo, as I am figuring that Chichele became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1414 rather than 1914.

Keep 'em coming ...

Nicola Carpenter said...

What a stunning post! I cvan remember learning about Thomas Becket's murder in history at school.

Herding Cats

Jim said...

Amazing post.

Ann said...

Thanks Julie, teach me to read the text I c&p. Blogger is giving me trouble. It won't work properly in my work browser and I'm blocked from downloading Chrome. Have tried to fix the typo - it should be 1414 - but it won't let me.

CaT said...

wow, those swords are very impressive... scary!