Robert of Tilbury

Early 13th Century
Gave Alms for the Care of Thomas Becket's Grave

Canterbury Cathedral Archives
Dean & Chapter

Chartae Antiquae

Grant, in perpetual alms, from Robert of Tilbury to Canterbury Cathedral Priory:
an annual payment of 12d. in Tilbury, payable for 'wichope' and an acre of land before the gate of the Fleming which Godwin le passur holds. Godwin will hold the land for life and shall give surety to the priory.
The grant is made because of reverence for St. Thomas Becket and for restoring annually the place in which his body rests, and for Robert's soul and the souls of his wife, ancestors and heirs (endorsed with description in early 13thC hand and 'Tilleberi' in late 13thC hand). (ref.CCA-DCc-ChAnt/S/5).

Undated - early 13thC
Witnesses: Robert the calf [vitulus], William of Laindon [leinduna], William the marshal [marescallus], Robert the teasel? [Tassellus], Martin son of Walter, William son of Richard, Robert son of Godeva, Geoffrey son of Randal, Richard son of Robert, Turpin.

Thomas Becket

From the "Universal History of the Catholic Church" by the Abbe Rohrbacher, Paris, 1858

3rd edition, volume 16, book 69, pages 39-42

"A distinguished citizen of London - since he received the title of viscount - by the name of Gilbert, joined the crusades, and went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land with a relative named Richard, who served him as squire. While they were visiting the holy places, together with others they fell into an ambush of Saracens, were taken prisoner and brought to an emir, or commander, of the infidels. They thus remained a year and a half as slaves. Since Gilbert, surnamed Becket, seemed the more important of the prisoners, and moreover he was of good appearance, the emir, without removing his irons, treated him with reasonable humanity, had him brought to his table, to discuss the situation, the morals and customs of various nations and countries. Pleased with his conversation, the emir showed kindness more than once to his fellow-prisoners. The emir's daughter secretly did all she could for them. This young muslim girl formed an affection for Gilbert. One day, having the opportunity to speak with him, she asked him from where he came and of what consisted the Christian religion. Gilbert replied that he was English, from the town of London, and explained the Christian faith to her as best he could. Then she asked him: Would you willingly die for your God and your faith in Christ? He replied: I would die joyfully for my God. Then the young Muslim girl declared that she wished to become a Christian for him, provided he would promise on his faith to marry her. Gilbert, very embarrassed, remained silent and put off replying from day to day. In the meantime, he found the means of escaping from prison with his fellows and returned to England and London. A little time afterwards, the young Muslim girl, the Emir's only child, also ran away from her father's house, and embarked with some pilgrims from the north of Europe, who landed her in England on their way. To guide her in this new land, she knew only two words: London and Gilbert. Having reached London in this way, she was enquiring for Gilbert about the streets, when squire Richard recognised her and informed his friend and master. Astonished beyond measure, Gilbert Becket arranged for her to stay with a respectable widow, went to the Bishop of London, related the entire story, and asked his advice. Six bishops happened to be there on the business of state and church. They were all amazed at such a strange adventure, and recognised therein a particular moving of Providence. On their advice, the young Muslim girl was solemnly baptised in St. Paul's Cathedral, received the name of Matilda, married Gilbert Becket, and on 21st December 1117, the day of St. Thomas, gave him a son who was baptised with the name of that Saint.

A little while before his son was born, Gilbert had once more joined the crusaders and returned to the East. He remained there three and a half years. On his return to England he was named Sheriff, or viscount, of London. He never sought to benefit from his position, nor took part in commerce, but was content with the annual rent from his property. He died in 1138, leaving his son exposed to all the dangers of which abound the world for an inexperienced youth.

Luckily for young Thomas, from childhood his mother had inspired in him the fear of God and a tender devotion to the Virgin. At the same time, he was accustomed to practice obedience and sacrifice. He knew well enough the maxims of the Gospels to be on his guard and do nothing without consulting people of knowledge and virtue. He had begun his studies in a monastery of good monks, he was to continue studying in London. At that time the principal churches there each had a great school of which the public proclamations and literary disputes maintained great emulation of their masters by the pupils. Thomas attended these schools until the age of twenty-one. Having lost his mother, he ceased studying for a year; but he determined to study further in order to avoid the dangers of a leisurely and aimless lifestyle. He therefore went to Oxford, then to Paris, where he gained knowledge of canon law and the different styles of literature.

On returning to London, he joined, as clerk or secretary, the town Court, and showed himself capable in business. Then he retired to the country and a young nobleman who was passionately fond of hunting. Without realising it, he adopted the same tastes, and the love of pleasure made him neglect the service of God. But Providence cause an accident which brought him to himself. One day when he was hunting birds, his falcon fell upon a duck and with it plunged into the river. Fearing to lose him, Thomas jumped into the water, and the current carried him a mile. His life was nearly lost, he was about to pass under the mill-wheel, when suddenly the wheel stopped. This event was considered a miracle. Thomas, thankful to God, resolved to live a more Christian life and returned to London. His virtues and his capabilities brought him repute; he was universally estimed in particular for his integrity and straightforwardness. From childhood even, he would put up with anything rather than speak untruth, and he was never guilty of even the smallest lie.

Theobald, who had been raised to the throne of the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1138, had been a great friend of Thomas' father. They had both come from Normandy, and from the same canton. The Archbishop, to whom Thomas was recommended, offered him a place in his house. Thomas went to join him in the village of Harrow. He was tall, well made, of an appearance which advantaged him. He spoke with as much grace as ease. He had embarrassed the ecclesiasts some time previously. Theobald soon realised that he could render him the greatest service. He permitted Thomas to travel to Italy, and study canon law at Bologna University for a year. Thomas also spent some time at Auxerre. After returning to England, he was created a deacon. The Archbishop gave him successively the prebendary of Beverley, and two canonships, one in Lincoln and the other at St. Paul's in London. He also named him archdeacon of Canterbury: the leading ecclesiastical dignitary of England, and he who held this position sat in the Lords, after the bishops and the abbots. Theobald entrusted him with the most difficult matters, and undertook nothing without his advice. He sent Thomas to Rome on several occasions for important negotiations, and he never repented of having trusted Thomas.

... Theobald refused to consent to Etienne's son Eustache succeeding his father as king [the crown was to go to Henry on Etienne's death]. Theobald was exiled, but recalled honourably soon afterwards. The Archbishop only acted throughout on Thomas' advice; thus it was Thomas who ensured possession of the crown for Henry II.

Henry rose to the throne on 20 December 1154. Theobald spoke to him of his archdeacon; he represented him as a man with as much experience as capacity; that he was above interest when duty was concerned; that he was exceptionally prudent in all matters, and that he could fill with distinction the most eminent of situations. After such an elogious recommendation, Henry named Thomas Chancellor of England, in 1157.
[to be continued...]

(September 2006) (fonts: Technical, Times New Roman)