10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – 5. The Tower of London…

Thomas left the employ of Theobold, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1154 when he took up the role of Chancellor for the newly crowned King Henry II (on Theobold’s recommendation).

The new role meant he wasn’t much in London over the next eight years – King Henry II spent less than two-and-a-half years in England during that period and Becket’s new role meant he was expected to be with the King.

The Tower of London (the expansive St Thomas’s Tower is on the front left). PICTURE: flicksmores (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

One London connection during this period came about, however, when King Henry II awarded him the custody of the Tower of London (the role which is now known as Constable of the Tower and was apparently then referred to as Keeper of the Tower).

Interestingly, Becket is just one of four Archbishops of Canterbury who held the post (although he was Archbishop later) but is the only saint to have done so.

During his time as Constable of the Tower, Becket did carry our substantial repairs on the complex (while Chancellor he also oversaw repairs to other buildings including the Palace of Westminster).

There is a further connection between Becket and the Tower – King Edward I, during his rather dramatic renovations and expansion of the fortress, included a chapel dedicated to the martyred St Thomas in the royal quarters. To this day, the tower which fronts the Thames is known as St Thomas’s Tower (the naming of Traitor’s Gate, formerly known as Water Gate, under it occurred much later and had nothing to do with him).

LondonLife – The Ceremony of the Dues…

The Constable of the Tower of London, General Lord Richard Dannatt, was presented with a barrel of wine in the Ceremony of the Constable’s Dues by the commander and crew of the Royal Navy destroyer, the HMS Liverpool,  last Saturday. The annual ceremony dates back to the 14th century and relates to the right of the tower’s constable to demand tolls from vessels on the Thames on behalf of the king. Previous offerings have included  barrels of rum, oysters, mussels and cockles. The HMS Liverpool, commanded by Colin N O Williams, was berthed at West India Docks before the ceremony and the wine escorted to the Tower where, after being challenged by Yeoman Warders it was delivered to the constable at the Queen’s House. The ship is to be decommissioned in spring after 30 years of service in which it saw service in Iraq, the Caribbean and during the recent Libyan conflict. For more on the Tower of London, see www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/

PICTURE: Courtesy of Historic Royal Palaces