Henry II 'spent a fortune on Dover Castle to counter Becket cult'

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The fiery monarch spent at least £6,440 throughout the 1180s – more than a quarter of his average annual income – building and furnishing the impressive keep at the castle, according to a study of his finances by John Gillingham, Professor Emeritus in medieval history at the London School of Economics.

The rooms have just been renovated and refurbished in a £2.45 million project managed by English Heritage, to resemble how they would have done in Henry's day.

Prof Gillingham said Henry was worried about Becket's cult, following his murder in 1170.

He said: "Henry was eager to impress his audience amid the rise of a religious, some say anti-monarchical cult, around Becket.

"Improving the king's castle at Canterbury was an uncomfortable option because in this place royal power would always be overshadowed by the power of the saint, not the message Henry wished to send."

The Archbishop of Canterbury was slaughtered in the cathedral by four knights acting on the rash words of the king, who is said to have proclaimed in a fit of temper: "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?"

Full of remorse, the king did his penance on the Pope's orders, walking in a sack cloth and ashes to the cathedral, where he was flogged by monks.

Becket was canonised in 1173 and Henry became uneasy about the growing popularity of the martyr, which saw Canterbury established as one of the most popular pilgrimages in Western Christendom.

The catalyst for improving Dover Castle came in 1179, Prof Gillingham said, when King Louis VII of France arrived on a state visit...

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