Martyrdom of Thomas Becket


On 29 December 1170, Thomas Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral by four knights from the court of King Henry II (r. 1154–89). The event shocked Western Christendom and had significant ramifications for the strained relationship between the Crown and the Church in England, which continued into the reign of John (r. 1199–1216). 

After Becket’s death and subsequent canonisation three years later, many collections of letters were compiled, relating to the conflict between the Archbishop and King Henry. The largest and most ambitious of these collections was assembled between 1174 and 1176 by the prior Alan, later abbot of Tewkesbury (b. before 1150, d. 1202). This manuscript, the earliest extant version of the collection, includes the earliest known representation of Becket’s murder, illustrating a letter of John of Salisbury (d. 1180), who was an eyewitness to the event. It also contains a number of emendations, additions and corrections, suggesting that it may have been a work in progress.

This manuscript was digitised with the support of The Polonsky Foundation.

Full title:
Alan of Tewkesbury, Collection of Thomas Becket's Letters
1174–1176, Cirencester
Alan of Tewkesbury
Usage terms

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library
Cotton MS Claudius B II

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