English Nobility, King Henry II of the English, Leonardo da Vinci, Pope Alexander III, Thomas à Becket, Thomas à Kempen, Thomas Becket
Thomas Becket (December 21, 1119 or 1120 – 29 December 29, 1170) is also known as Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas of London and later Thomas à Becket.
He was an English nobleman who served as Lord Chancellor from 1155 to 1162, and then notably as Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until his murder in 1170. He is venerated as a saint and martyr by the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. He engaged in conflict with Henry II, King of the English, over the rights and privileges of the Church and was murdered by followers of the king in Canterbury Cathedral.
On February 21, 1173 – little more than two years after his death – he was canonised by Pope Alexander III in St Peter’s Church, Segni.
This simple blog post is about his name. When I began studying European Royalty back in the late 1970s and early 1980s any publication I read about Thomas Becket and King Henry II refered to him as Thomas à Becket. This was before the internet so these publications I speak of were books or articles in history related journals.
Today However, the name Thomas à Becket, (emphasis on the “à”) has disappeared from books and journals and even online.
I believe the reason the name Thomas à Becket is no longer in use is because the name is not historically accurate, or contemporary, as in it wasn’t in usage during the time in which he lived, meaning nor did he use it himself.
It wasn’t until the 1500s when the “à” was added to his name.The “à” is French and It roughly translates to the word “of”, so his name would be something like “Thomas of the Beckets”. The mark above the letter a is called a grave and in French is used to distinguish it as different than a regular “a”.
Historians speculate that this adaptation of Becket’s name and may have been based on Thomas à Kempis, which basically means “Thomas of Kempen” where Kempen identifies the place where he lived.
Incidentally, this is the same as with Leonardo da Vinci and many other historical figures known by their personal name and their birth place or home town.
In his Renaissance Florentine name, he properly referred to by his given first name, Leonardo, but the name da Vinci is an indicator of birthplace, not a family name. Leonardo da Vinci in Italian is “Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci” which in a direct English translation means, Leonardo, son of ser Piero from Vinci.
Thomas Becket was born c. 1119, or in 1120 according to later tradition, at Cheapside, London, on December 21, the feast day of St Thomas the Apostle. He was the son of Gilbert and Matilda Beket. Gilbert’s father was from Thierville in the lordship of Brionne in Normandy, and was either a small landowner or a petty knight.
Matilda was also of Norman descent – her family may have originated near Caen. Gilbert was perhaps related to Theobald of Bec, whose family was also from Thierville. Gilbert began his life as a merchant, perhaps in textiles, but by the 1120s he was living in London and was a property owner, living on the rental income from his properties. He also served as the sheriff of the city at some point. Becket’s parents were buried in Old St Paul’s Cathedral.
There is a legend that claims Thomas’s mother was a Saracen princess who met and fell in love with his English father while he was on Crusade or pilgrimage in the Holy Land, followed him home, was baptised and married him. This story has no truth to it, being a fabrication from three centuries after the saint’s martyrdom, inserted as a forgery into Edward Grim’s 12th-century Life of St Thomas. Matilda is occasionally known as Rohise.
In the near future I will discuss in-depth the life of Thomas Becket and his conflicts with King Henry II of the English.