The Murder of Becket (c. 1170-77)

Dublin Core


The Murder of Becket (c. 1170-77)


When the monks had entered the church, already the four knights followed behind with rapid strides. With them was a certain subdeacon, armed with malice like their own, Hugh, fitly surnamed for his wickedness, Mauclerc, who showed no reverence for God or the saints, as the result showed.

When the holy archbishop entered the church, the monks stopped vespers which they had begun and ran to him, glorifying God that they saw their father, whom they had heard was dead, alive and safe. They hastened, by bolting the doors of the church, to protect their shepherd from the slaughter. But the champion, turning to them, ordered the church doors to be thrown open, saying, “It is not meet to make a fortress of the house of prayer, the church of Christ: though it be not shut up it is able to protect its own; and we shall triumph over the enemy rather in suffering than in fighting, for we came to suffer, not to resist.”

And straightway they entered the house of peace and reconciliation with swords sacrilegiously drawn, causing horror to the beholders by their very looks and the clanging of their arms. All who were present were in tumult and fright, for those who had been singing vespers now ran hither to the dreadful sight.

Inspired by fury the knights called out, “Where is Thomas Becket, traitor to the king and realm?” As he answered not they cried out the more furiously, “Where is the archbishop?” At this, intrepid and fearless, as it is written, “The just, like a bold lion, shall be without fear,” he descended from the stair where he had been dragged by the monks in fear of the knights, and in a clear voice answered, “I am here, no traitor to the king, but a priest. Why do ye seek me?”


About Edward Grim, the author of this passage, little information is known. He was born in Cambridge and received a Master of the Arts. Grim also happened to be in Canterbury at the time of Becket's execution and was an eyewitness to the event. This passage comes from the longer hagiography that Grim wrote about Becket’s martyrdom. Grim describes the men who wanted to kill the Archbishop. His descriptions of them are negative, showing them to be wicked and as having "no reverence for God or the saints." Thomas Becket, on the other hand, is "holy." These two descriptions highlight the “savage” knights and the “holy” Archbishop.

The rest of the passage details the interactions between Becket and the knights. Through their dialogue, it is clear that Thomas Becket is truly dedicated to the Church. This clash between Becket, who is devoted to his cause and quarrels with the knights, provides a context for the conflict in the movie. It is very interesting to see that the movie and this passage depict this incident in practically the same way. This scene in the movie serves to represent one of the overarching themes: Saxons trying to overcome the oppression from the Normans. Once Becket becomes Archbishop in the film, he decides to honor God and not Henry, identifying as a Saxon again and giving back to those in need. Furthermore, the killing of Becket, who represents the Saxon “race” in the film, is the culmination of the conflict in the film, which argues, in the end, that Becket in death gained the upper hand. 


Edward Grim


Longmans, Green, and Co.


c. 1170-77


Logan Clair


Public Domain




Primary Source Text



Edward Grim, “The Murder of Becket (c. 1170-77),” Medieval Hollywood, accessed February 27, 2024,

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