Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

History/Citizenship/RE - A Precarious Living: Resources

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

History/Citizenship/RE - A Precarious Living: Resources

Article excerpt

Archbishops of Canterbury have a history of untimely deaths.

The fate of Thomas Becket is well known, but five Archbishops of Canterbury have been killed while juggling the demands of the job. Investigating the reasons behind their grim deaths could broaden pupils' concept of unrolling history and help them to explore interesting historical threads. It may also prompt thoughtful discussion of the dilemmas and difficulties that the new archbishop, Justin Welby, will face in modern times.

St Alphege

Archbishop from 1006 to 1012

In 1011 the Danes laid siege to Canterbury, sacking the city, plundering and burning the cathedral and breaking their promise not to raid again. Alphege was held prisoner for seven months, and refused to allow his people to pay the Pounds 3,000 ransom demanded by the Danes. One night the Danes, who were camping at Greenwich, became drunk and pelted Alphege with bones, stones and the heads of cattle. The death blow came from the butt of an axe. Canonised by Pope Gregory VII in 1078, St Alphege is still remembered on his feast day: 19 April.

Discussion: invasion and the spread of Christianity.

St Thomas Becket


Becket began his career as agent to the previous archbishop. Henry II noted his talents, made him chancellor and they became great friends. But when Henry promoted him to archbishop, Becket became a serious cleric and things began to sour. One disagreement concerned the Church escaping the jurisdiction of secular courts, which some felt led to injustice. Becket was cut down with swords by four knights in Canterbury Cathedral. He was made a saint and his shrine became a great inspiration for pilgrims travelling to Canterbury.

Discussion: the roles and power of church and royalty, Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, pilgrimage and justice.

Simon Sudbury


Simon Sudbury was killed in the Peasants' Revolt in 1381, dragged to Tower Hill and beheaded by a furious mob who saw him as the head of a corrupt Church and were bent on achieving better treatment and rights. His partly mummified head is preserved in his home town of Sudbury, clearly showing the axe mark, although his body is buried in Canterbury Cathedral.

Discussion: serfdom, social upheaval, taxation and suspicion of the Church.

Thomas Cranmer


Cranmer joined the Church when it was common for younger sons without inheritance to do so. …

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