Q&A: What happened to the assassins who killed Thomas Becket?
The murder of Thomas Becket on 29 December 1170 aroused popular anguish around England and Europe...
Published: October 2, 2019 at 5:00 pm
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Although there are some uncertainties about precise dates, there is no doubt that Becket’s murderers (Reginald FitzUrse, William de Tracy, Richard Brito and Hugh de Morville) were not received or protected by Henry II, although he seems to have taken no overt action against them.
In fact, probably in the course of 1172, led by William de Tracy, all four submitted to judgment by Pope Alexander III, who imposed 14 years’ penitential military service in the Holy Land (the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem). There they died soon afterwards, perhaps as early as 1174. Later accounts say that they were buried outside the entrance to the Temple in Jerusalem, where all who entered could walk over their graves.
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An important article by Professor Nicholas Vincent – ‘The Murderers of Thomas Becket’, in the German book Bischofsmord im Mittelalter (Murder of Bishops) – proved that King Henry II took charge of the murderers’ estates, denied inheritance to their male heirs, and allowed only a portion to descend to female heirs.
This severe penalty, imposed by royal authority, anticipated what King Henry made law in negotiations with a papal legate in 1176: that is, disinheritance for murderers of clerics.
Answered by Anne Duggan, emeritus professor of history at King’s College London and an expert on Thomas Becket
This article was first published in the February 2013 issue of BBC History Magazine