Caroline Barron is Emeritus Professor of the History of London in the University of London. She taught at Bedford College and then at Royal Holloway and Bedford New College. Her interests have always centred on the medieval city of London but this has led her to investigate the lives of medieval women, religious beliefs and practices, and the power struggles between London and the Crown (particularly in the reign of Richard II). She has published extensively, including her acclaimed London in the Later Middle Ages: Government and People 1200-1500 (Oxford University Press, 2004).
William FitzStephen, a clerk in the household of Thomas Becket and a witness to his murder, wrote a biography of the saint which he prefaced with a eulogy of the City of London. Although Canterbury had the honour of being the resting place of the saint yet ‘St Thomas has adorned both cities: London by his rising and Canterbury by his setting’. The influence of St Thomas was not, however, confined to his rising: his martyrdom had a lasting impact on his native city: the completion of the first stone bridge over the Thames was made possible by offerings in the chapel on the bridge dedicated to the saint; the hospital in Southwark dedicated to him was founded soon his death; the Becket family home in Cheapside became the London headquarters of the Military Crusading Order of St Thomas of Acre and later the hall of the Mercers’ Company, and the first Common Seal of the city of London depicts St Paul on one side and St Thomas on the other. This lecture will explore how the influence of St Thomas permeated city life in medieval London until Henry VIII ordered the destruction of his shrine and the removal of his name from all liturgical books. Yet 850 years after his death, St Thomas the Martyr is still remembered.