- Richest of the Rich position: 13
- Birth/Death: c 1120-1170
- Origin of wealth: Church
- Wealth: £20,000
- Net National Income: £900,000
- Net National Income Percent: 2.22%
- In Today’s Money: £24.641 billion
There are few deaths in English history, apart from that of Diana, Princess of Wales, that are as well chronicled as that of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1170. He was murdered in his own cathedral on the 29 December 1170 on the orders, however indirect, of King Henry II. There were five people in the cathedral as he was hacked to pieces by the king’s men. Such was the flood of miracles that followed his assassination that he was canonised a saint just three years later and for three and a half centuries afterwards, until the time of the reformation, the tourist trade at Canterbury benefited as pilgrims flocked from all over the world to kneel at the shrine of St. Thomas.
The picture left with us is that of a saintly priest opposing a dangerous king. In fact, Thomas Becket was worldly-wise indeed. Prior to becoming the Archbishop of Canterbury, he had been the young king’s confidante and the Chancellor of England. He was also a knight who fought a number of battles on the king’s behalf, in France and elsewhere. But most of all he was the supreme money man of his time. Through his friendship with the king and during his period as Chancellor he amassed a fortune, requiring 52 clerks to run his affairs.
Becket also had a military entourage of 700 knights, the equivalent of a modern army division. When he went to visit Paris once, he took with him 250 servants and paid the equivalent of £20,000 for a plate of eels. Most of this arose from the custody he maintained over vacant bishoprics, manors and so on, all granted to him by the king. In 1164, the king accused him of having made £30,000 out of this, although this was probably an exaggeration.
We go for the lower figure of £20,000, representing 2.22% of net national income of £900,000. This makes him worth about £24.6bn in modern money.