Medieval History

Selected Sources Full Text Sources Saints' Lives Law Texts Maps Medieval Films Search Help

Selected Sources Sections Studying History End of Rome Byzantium Islam Roman Church Early Germans Anglo-Saxons Celtic World Carolingians 10 C Collapse Economic Life Crusades Empire & Papacy France England Celtic States Nordic Europe Iberia Italy Eastern Europe Intellectual Life Medieval Church Jewish Life Social History Sex & Gender States & Society Renaissance Reformation Exploration
IHSP Credits

Medieval Sourcebook:
Gervase of Canterbury, d. 1205: Thomas Becket's Death, from History of the Archbishops of Canterbury

Gervase was a monk of Canterbury and knew Becket.  He died in 1205.

But on the fifth day of the nativity, which was the third day of the week, there arrived four courtiers, who desired to speak with the archbishop, thinking by this to discover the weak points [of the monastery]. These were Reginald Fitz-Urse, Hugh de Morville, William de Traci, and Richard Brito. After a long discussion, they began to employ threats; and at length rising up hastily, they went out into the courtyard; and under the spreading branches of a mulberry-tree, they cast off the garments with which they had covered their breastplates, and, accompanied by those persons whom they bad summoned from the province, they returned into the archbishop’s palace. Yet he, unmoved by the exhortations, the prayers, and the tears of his followers, remained firm in his place, until the time had arrived for the performance of the evening service in the church; towards which he advanced with a slow and deliberate step, like one who of his own free-will prepares himself for death. Having entered the church, he paused at the threshold; and he asked his attendants of what they were afraid. When the clerks began to fall into disorder, be said, “Depart, ye cowards! Let these blind madmen go on in their career. We command you, in virtue of your obedience, not to shut the door.”
While he was thus speaking, behold! the executioners having ransacked the bishop’s palace, rushed together through the cloisters; three of whom carried hatchets in their left bands, and one an axe or a two-edged glaive, while all of them brandished drawn swords in their right hands. But after they had rushed through the open door, they separated from each other, Fitz-Urse turning to the left, while the three others took to the right. The archbishop had already ascended a few steps, when Fitz-Urse, as he hurried onwards, asked one whom he met, “Where is the archbishop?” Hearing this, he turned round on the step, and, with a slight motion of the head, he was the first to answer, “Here am I, Reginald. I have conferred many a benefit on you, Reginald; and do you now come to me with arms in your hands?” “You shall soon find that out,” was the reply. “Are not you that notorious traitor to the king?” And, laying hold on his pall, he said, “Depart hence;” and he struck the pall with his sword. The archbishop replied, “I am no traitor; nor will I depart, wretched man!” and he plucked the fringe of his pall from out the knight’s hand. The other repeated the words, “Flee hence!” The reply was, “ I will not flee; here your malice shall be satisfied.” At these words the assassin stepped back, as if smitten by a blow. In the meantime the other three assailants had arrived; and they exclaimed, “ Now you shall die!” “ If,” said the archbishop, “you seek my life, I forbid you, under the threat of an anathema, from touching any one of my followers. As for me, I willingly embrace death, provided only that the church obtain liberty and peace at the price of my blood.” When he had said these words, he stretched forth his head to the blows of the murderers. Fitz-Urse hastened forward, and with his whole strength lie planted a blow upon the extended head; and he cried out, as if in triumph over his conquered enemy, “Strike! strike!” Goaded on by the author of confusion, these butchers, adding wound to wound, dashed out his brains; and one of them, following up the martyr, (who at this time was either in the act of falling, or had already fallen) struck the pavement with his sword but the point of the weapon broke off short. They now returned through the cloister, crying out, “Knights of the king, let us go; he is dead!” And then they pillaged whatever they found in the archbishop’s residence. See here a wonder. While he was yet alive, and could speak, and stand on his feet, men called him a traitor to the king; but when he was laid low, with his brains dashed out, he was called the holy Thomas, even before the breath had left his body.

This blessed martyr suffered death in the ninth year of his patriarchate, on the fourth of the calends of January [29th Dec.], being the third day of the week, A.D. 1170, while the monks were singing their vespers. His dead body was removed and placed in the shrine before the altar of Christ. On the morrow it was carried by the monks and deposited in a tomb of marble within the crypt. Now, to speak the truth - that which I saw with my eyes, and handled with my hands - he wore hair-cloth next his skin, then stamin, over that a black cowl, then the white cowl in which he was consecrated; he also wore his tunic and dalmatic, his chasuble, pall, and miter; Lower down, he had drawers of sack-cloth, and over these others of linen; his socks were of wool, and he had on sandals. If any one (as he ought) desires to know more of this martyr, let him read those books or writers which I have mentioned above, namely, Herbert, John, William, Benedict, and Gervase: and let him not omit the letters of the same saint. Others there are who probably have written respecting him; but even if it be so, they cannot tell all that ought to be known about him.

After his martyrdom the church of Canterbury was vacant for two years and five months. That he is alive in Christ is proved by the miracles which are performed throughout the whole world.


The Church Historians of England, volume V, part 1, pp. 329-336.   Translated by Joseph Stevenson.  London:  Seeley’s, 1853.  For ease of readability, I have altered the original paragraph divisions.  I believe this translation is now in the public domain.  The electronic form of this presentation is ©1998 by Scott McLetchie and may not be reproduced for any commercial purposes whatsoever.  It may be reproduced for non-profit educational purposes.

Etext file created for a class by Scott Mcletchie [[email protected]], and used by permission here.

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

© Paul Halsall, October 1998
[email protected]


The Internet History Sourcebooks Project is located at the History Department of  Fordham University, New York. The Internet Medieval Sourcebook, and other medieval components of the project, are located at the Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies.The IHSP recognizes the contribution of Fordham University, the Fordham University History Department, and the Fordham Center for Medieval Studies in providing web space and server support for the project. The IHSP is a project independent of Fordham University.  Although the IHSP seeks to follow all applicable copyright law, Fordham University is not the institutional owner, and is not liable as the result of any legal action.

© Site Concept and Design: Paul Halsall created 26 Jan 1996: latest revision 5 June 2023 [CV]