Henry II gained his throne thanks to the efforts of his mother, who fought to maintain her family's stature in the royal family tree. Thomas Becket was the son of a wealthy London merchant, and lived a life of no worries. Theobald, the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, recognized Becket's intelligence, and he was put under Theobald's church tree. There, Becket gained experience and serious attention from his great successes as the Archbishop's trusty servant, and King Henry II laid an eye on him also.
Seeing Becket's potential intelligence, Henry II appointed Becket to the position of Chancellor of England. In England, the Chancellor was second-in-command only to the King. Any man of this stature was given great power, and any man placed in this position must be able to match his expectations. Henry's instincts were accurate, and Becket performed amazingly at his new position. He revolutionized how England's government was run, and turned the quiet castle into a busy place of work. Becket's fame rose instantly, gaining attention from all over England, and quickly gained the reputation of being Henry's greatest loyal worker.
Becket, aside from being Henry's most trustworthy servant, also became Henry's greatest friend. Henry frequently visited Becket for dinner, and the two would discuss issues and exchange ideas almost every night. Henry was able to derive one conclusion from their dinner sessions Ð Thomas Becket was the most intelligent man in all of England.
At this point in time, the Church and State of England fought mainly for power over the judicial system of England. Henry II wanted to enforce common law in his country, a system of justice with a jury that accuses suspects and royal judges that determine the sentence on the criminals. The Church, headed by the archbishop of Canterbury, wanted to keep their traditional system of canon law. The huge flaw in canon law was apparent to all of England, but the church was not willing to back down to the State. In the church's court system, the two greatest concerns were the immunity granted to church officials and the immunity granted to those who sought sanctuary.
Sanctuary was the greatest blockade to any court system in England. Any criminal could, by religious tradition, just hide in any church to flee the hands of punishment for a crime. A thief could rob a man, run into a church, hide there for a night, and go out again the next day to continue his mischief. The church's easily manipulated emphasis on forgiveness and purity of the human soul made judicial punishments impossible in England. Henry wanted to end the Church's sympathetic system of law and bring into play common law, a strict code that would govern how to treat criminals all over the country.
Just when Henry was struggling most to figure out how to rob the church of its authority over the courts, a very convenient opportunity was handed to him when Theobald, the Archbishop of Canterbury, died. The Archbishop of Canterbury was the head of the Church of England. What Rome was for the Roman Catholic Church, Canterbury was for all of England. The year was 1162, and to Henry, it seemed like he was finally getting close to achieving the goal of increasing the State's authority over the courts of England.
Henry II had authority to choose who would be the next Archbishop of Canterbury. The man he chose would control the Church of England and lead the Church in any direction the Archbishop of Canterbury wished. The choice was obvious. What man had more intelligence, more loyalty,...