Today in the Middle Ages: July 12, 1174

King Henry II of England performed penance for the murder of Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral on July 12, 1174.

Henry's first penance was a public flogging in front of the Cathedral of Avranche, his Norman capital, in 1172. He had to meet a number of conditions set by the Pope, including restoration of Church property and the funding of 200 knights for a crusade. The policy defeat of secular authority by the Church fueled similar struggles that continued until the Reformation.

The relationship between Henry and Becket, two colorful characters and onetime friends, has captured the imagination of modern artists. T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral and the plays and films Becket and The Lion in Winter all revolve around these remarkable men.