Lovely to see you again, my dear Weekend Warriors! Why do I persist in this looong history of Britain? Because I think it’s only right that if we expats are to reside in London apartments and enjoy all that the city and nation have to offer, we ought to at least have a vague idea as to who brought it all about. If there’s one thing the British are, it’s proud of their history and traditions, and we should honor that. So then, last week we were just about hearing the death rattle of Stephen’s reign and, well, Stephen himself…

Stephen, King of England, dies in 1154, and succeeding him as promised is Matilda‘s son Henry, who is thenceforth known as King Henry II. We must realize that England at this point is actually rather unruly. Stephen was not the toughest of monarchs, and his lack of true leadership has eroded away at royal authority in general; his civil war against Matilda was also a great distraction that has allowed barons much leeway, so it is practically a state of anarchy. Henry II, however, has stepped in to clean things up. He strengthens government administration, reorganizing the judicial system with the aid of his chancellor, Thomas Becket (Does that name ring a bell? Give it a minute…).

As the courts and treasury get sorted, royal authority spreads, and not left untouched in this progress is the Church. Becket becomes Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162, and in subsequent years the church courts are dominated by royal courts, so tensions between Becket and Henry II rise. As the two men’s disagreements and resentment escalate, Henry II rather publicly and unfortunately declares his exasperation with Becket and desire to be rid of him. Well, four knights took him at his literal word and, in 1170, murdered Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. If his name is now starting to come back to you, it is likely because Becket’s martyrdom earned him Saint status, and it is his very shrine that the characters of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales journey toward, as have infinite real-life pilgrims.

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