Thomas Becket: murder and the making of a saint


Marking the 850th anniversary of his dramatic murder, this major exhibition and book presents Becket’s tumultuous journey from a London merchant’s son to Archbishop, and from a revered saint in death to a ‘traitor’ in the eyes of Henry VIII over 350 years later.


ISBN: 9780714128382 Category:

Lloyd de Beer, Naomi Speakman


Praise for the exhibition

***** The Times
***** The Telegraph
***** The Guardian
***** Evening Standard

Praise for the book

‘If you cannot make it to the show itself, then I implore you to buy the catalogue, which is one of the best I’ve ever read – scholarly and entertaining, a good history book in its own right.’ – Tim Stanley, The Telegraph

‘A marvellous and consistently enthralling account’ – Christopher de Hamel, bestselling author of The Book in the Cathedral

“[The book] provides an up-to-date, highly readable and lavishly illustrated text that will finally supplant Borenius’s book as the definitive account of the art of Thomas Becket” – Dr Tom Nickson, Arts Journal

The murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral on 29 December 1170 sent shockwaves across medieval Europe. He rose from ordinary beginnings in London to become chancellor to King Henry II and then Archbishop of Canterbury, making him one of the most powerful men in England. Becket’s fortunes changed when a bitter dispute with Henry forced him into a six-year exile. Less than a month after his return to England, he was killed by four knights with close ties to the king. In the wake of Becket’s death, hundreds of miracles were attributed to him and, just over two years later, he was canonised. All across Europe he was celebrated as a defender of the Church against royal tyranny.

Lloyd de Beer and Naomi Speakman tell the story of Becket’s dramatic life, death and legacy through a stunning array of objects, including medieval stained glass, manuscripts, jewellery and sacred reliquaries. They reveal Canterbury Cathedral’s transformation into one of Europe’s most popular pilgrimage destinations. Over the centuries pilgrims visited Becket’s shrine in their thousands, a journey famously reimagined by Geoffrey Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales. A dedicated section by Rachel Koopmans, which features groundbreaking new research, delves deeper into Becket’s miracle stories through the lens of one of the stained-glass miracle windows from the cathedral. The cult of Thomas Becket endured in spite of the English Reformation, during which his shrine at Canterbury was dramatically destroyed and his image and name outlawed. From twelfth-century London to the Tudor court, this magnificent book takes you through the twists and turns of one of the most remarkable stories of the Middle Ages.

Additional information

Weight 1414 g
Dimensions 22.7 x 25.6 cm
Publisher name The British Museum Press
Publication date 15 July 2021
Number of pages 256
Format Hardback
Dimensions 22.7 x 25.6 cm
Weight 1414 g


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Lloyd de Beer is Ferguson Curator of Medieval Britain and Europe at the British Museum and co-curator of the exhibition Thomas Becket: murder and the making of a saint.

Naomi Speakman is Curator of Late Medieval Europe at the British Museum and co-curator of the exhibition Thomas Becket: murder and the making of a saint.