The story of the murder of Thomas Becket was one I learned at school and it's stuck with me. I was doing a little reading tonight and was surprised to find this paragraph on Wikipedia:

The king performed a public act of penance on 12 July 1174 at Canterbury, when he publicly confessed his sins, and then allowed each bishop present... to give him five blows from a rod, then each of the 80 monks of Canterbury Cathedral gave the king three blows. The king then offered gifts to Becket's shrine and spent a vigil at Becket's tomb.

80 monks with three blows each is 240 blows, and that's before we start counting the bishops. So Henry probably took 250+ beats from the clergy. My question is: how hard were these blows? Are we talking about ceremonial taps here? Because I imagine 250 of anything more than that is gonna leave a bruise. What are the rules when you're beating up your monarch? Are certain kinds of strike off-limits, or is it AOK to try and score a homerun with the royal noggin?

  • 6
    After the beating, he remained king. Seems to me that the only safe choice would be to hit very gently, or else hard enough to cause amnesia in all witnesses.
    – MCW
    Commented Aug 24, 2020 at 17:57
  • Definitely the bishops had to be gentle. If this was in church, so the monks had to have their hoods down, then they'd need to be gentle, too. I always thought it was weird that he was supposedly flogged inside the cathedral, but that'd be a darn good reason.
    – C Monsour
    Commented Aug 24, 2020 at 18:46
  • The question is likely unanswerable because everyone involved had a significant propaganda interest when describing the event.
    – user15620
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 23:29

1 Answer 1


Henry actually was the one that gave the order for himself to be whipped. The first thing he did was walk barefoot to the memorial (which made his feet bleed alot) and then he made monks whip him until his skin was practically hanging off him.

  • 3
    Do you have any sources for this?
    – Tom Sol
    Commented Aug 24, 2020 at 18:06
  • Sadly no because i just remembered it of my school textbook. I also remember that a writer from that time wrote about it so I’m pretty sure its accurate
    – Omer
    Commented Aug 24, 2020 at 18:08
  • (Sorry for the multiple comments) @TomSol
    – Omer
    Commented Aug 24, 2020 at 18:09
  • 3
    Answers without sources are subject to deletion and/or downvotes (FWIW I didn't). I would recommend searching the source for this claim. I for one would be really interested in a source for this claim. And don't worry about the multiple comments, my time as a new contributor did not go smoothly either ;)
    – Tom Sol
    Commented Aug 24, 2020 at 19:55

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