Historical Background of Murder in the Cathedral.

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 Murder in the Cathedral is a historical play, written for the religious festival at Canterbury. Its title refers to the murder of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury in the cathedral of the city.

Thomas Becket:-

      Thomas was the son of a London merchant, born in 1118. Educated in London and Paris, he sought a career in the church. Theobald, the Archbishop of Canterbury recommended him to Henry II and the King before long, raised Thomas to the rank of Chancellor, the highest office in the State. Henry II and Thomas became good friends. The King, thinking that it would be advantageous, appointed Becket as the Archbishop of Canterbury.


Murder in the Cathedral is a historical play, written for the religious festival at Canterbury. Its title refers to the murder of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury in the cathedral of the city.
Murder in the Cathedral


Error of Judgement:-

      The King's idea, however, proved to be erroneous. Becket as Archbishop was different from Becket as Chancellor. The worldly Chancellor became an ascetic monk and a spiritual leader. "As Chancellor he had the mind of the King. Now he must have the mind of the Church, of the divine society whose, least officer was greater than the greatest Layman.

Conflict:-

      A man of determined will, Henry became annoyed with Becket and a series of minor disputes quickly progressed into a major quarrel. In 1164, at Clarendon, Henry tried to get Becket to agree to a certain "Constitution" which laid down in detail the rights of the King over the English Church. Becket in a moment of weakness submitted, but soon regretted it and revoked the agreement. Henry was yery angry and, calling Thomas to a Council at Northampton, accused him of dishonesty while he had been Chancellor.

      Behind this bitter quarrel lay a number of ideas and assumptions which displayed the divergence of the views of church from that of the state. There was also the tragedy of a close friendship turned bitter. Henry thought that Becket had let him down, betrayed his trust.

      Becket seems to have been a complex character : as Archbishop he did not want to be considered as the King's tool; he wanted to convince the world, as well as himself, that he was going to take the work of Archbishop, seriously.

       Thomas fled to France : The conflict reached a point of crisis when the King had his son crowned by the Bishop of York in 1170 in Becket's absence. Becket, supported by the Pope, now threatened the suspension of all religious services in England. This action would have had grave consequences on a mediaeval state and this resulted in Henry arranging to meet Becket. The result was a cold and formal reconciliation.

The Archbishop's murder:-

      Shortly afterwards Becket pronounced the excommunication of all who had assisted at the Prince's coronation. A few days later, Becket was murdered by four knights at the altar of the Cathedral. It cannot be ascertained how far Henry himself was responsible for the deed. Reputed to have been unreasonable in rage, he could well have given the order.

      The world believed that the king was to be blamed. Four years later he did public penance at the scene of murder and paid for an expedition to the Holy Land.

Significance:-

      The confrontation between the Archbishop and the King was one of the most crucial events of the century in the history of Europe. A basic question of the time involved : the great' challenge that the Church posed to the authority of the Kings.

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