How can you talk about Henry II of England and not mention Thomas Becket? ‘Will no one rid of this turbulent priest?’ are the most commonly quoted words uttered by Henry that sent four knights on their way to commit murder under the presumption of royal command. It is those four knights that I want to look at a little closer, and find out if it was Henry that gave the seed of thought who where the real murders of Thomas Beckett.
Reginald FitzUrse was born in 1145 and was the eldest son of Richard FitzUrse. FitzUrse translates as ‘son of bear’, Fitz taken from the Norman-French ‘fils de’ meaning ‘son of’ and Urze from the latin ‘ursus’ meaning ‘bear’. Reginald’s shield bore the cognizance of a bear. On the death of his farther in 1168 Reginald inherited the manor of Wiliton in Somerset. He also held land at Barham in Kent which took its name from Reginald ‘Bar’ from the word bear and ‘ham’ from hamlet. Reginald was a knight attendant to Henry II.
It is believed that FitzUrse could have been the ringleader during the assignation of Thomas and it is said he delivered the first but non-fatal blow during the attack to Becket’s head. After the assassination Reginald escaped to Scotland with the other knights and onto Morville’s castle at Knarsborough where he stayed for a year. All four were excommunicated and ordered by the Pope to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land for 14 years. It is believed that none returned although some legends state that FitzUrse fled to Ireland and fathered the McMahon clan.
Hugh de Morville
Hugh de Morville is believed to be the eldest son of Hugh de Morville, Lord of Cunningham and Lauderdale and appears in the services of Henry II from 1158. His mother was Beatrice de Beauchamp. It is believed also that Hugh the younger held the title of Lord of Westmorland.
After the assassination de Morville assisted with the building of a church at Alkborough in today’s North Lincolnshire. This didn’t do enough to impress Pope Alexander III who still excommunicated all four knights and after an audience with the Pope they were exiled to fight ‘in knightly arms in The Temple for 14 years’ in Jerusalem.
The Lordship of Westmoreland passed to Hugh’s sister Maud in 1174 and it is believed that he must of died before 1202/03 as his lands were then in the hands of co-heiresses.
William de Tracy
William de Tracy was the great grandson (through the illegitimate William I de Tracy) of King Henry I. Henry granted William I the feudal barony of Brandninch in Devon. His parents were John de Sudeley and Grace de Tracy and he had a brother called Ralph de Sudeley. William took his mother’s name and also inherited her lands at Brandninch. William passed these lands onto his son William III and then it passed to his grandson Henry who lost the lands by 1202.
Like the other knights William was excommunicated on Maundy Thursday 25th March 1171 and sentenced to give 14 years of service in the holy land. There is speculation as to what happened to William next. Herbert of Bosham says that de Tracy died of leprosy at Cosenza in Southern Italy in 1174. Romwald, Archbishop of Salerno confirms de Tracy’s journey east and also by Roger Hovenden who stated that the Pope instructed the knights, once their duties were fulfilled, to visit the Holy Places barefoot and in hairshirts and then to live alone for the rest of their lives on the Black Mountain near Antioch, spending all their time there in vigils, prayers, and lamentations. It is thought that de Tracy retired to a hermitage there.
Richard le Breton
Richard le Breton was the son of Simon le Bret or Simon Brito of Sampford Brett in Somerset and where neighbours to the FitzUrses. He served in household of William X, Count of Politou brother to Henry II. It is believed that the le Breton’s received the land at Sanford in Somerset due to the service of Auvrai Le Breton at the Battle of Hastings.
According to the account of the assassination by Edward Grim de Breton is meant to have broken his sword when chopping at Becket’s head. After the service in the holy land following excommunication it is believed that de Breton may have retired to Jersey. One of his descendants is said to possibly be Lillie Langley a mistress of King Edward VII