The year 1178 saw the infrastructure of the Abbey of St Mary and St Thomas the Martyr; Lesnes Abbey as it is known was founded be Richard De Luci.
Richard De Luci (1089 – 1179) was founder of Lesnes Abbey and Chief Justiciar of England under Henry II.
He was also joint Justiciar with Robert De Beaumont 2nd Earl of Leicester from his appointment in 1155 till De Beaumont’s death in 1168; Richard De Luci was then sole Justiciar, until his resignation in 1178.
As Chief Justiciar of England he would have had a prime role in the case of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury and whom half the story of lesnes is based.
Thomas Becket was a close friend of Henry (later Henry II) as young men. When Henry II ascended to the throne, Becket was appointed the Kings Chancellor in 1155.
Both worked tirelessly to bring stability to England, with help from Richard De Luci.
Becket and Henry II worked very hard to safe guard the King’s revenue. They kept on top of both revenue from nobles and revenue from the church.
They also reformed the law; ensuring common law was available to free men; with the justiciars Richard De Luci and Robert De Beaumont earl of Leicester enforcing this new, more orderly means of justice.
In medieval times you would have been required to be loyal to the King and to the church; so while the King could assert corporal power over his subjects, the Pope in Rome held real sway over the spiritual life of the people of England.
In addition the clergy (priests, monks and nuns) were subject to different laws to the Kings subjects.
While a layperson could be beheaded for a serious transgression, a member of the clergy could, quite literally, get away with murder with the worst that could happen being expulsion from the priesthood.
With Henry on a drive to reduce crime and increase punishment, he ‘persuaded’ his best friend Thomas Becket to become Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162.
Becket didn’t want the job saying in a letter that ‘it will turn our friendship into hate’.
Becket then had a complete character change.
Wine and pheasant were now off the list, water and bread would have to do.
Under his robes he would wear a hair shirt and rather than dishing out justice and discipline, his new way of asserting himself was something terrifying in medieval times, excommunication.
In 1164 Henry II passed the ‘constitutions of claredon’ a law stating that any member of the clergy could now be tried in the royal court.
At Northampton Castle, Henry accused Becket of being a ‘traitor’, with having such first-hand experience of the King, Becket accused the sitting King of England to be a ‘Whoremonger’ and a variety of other insults, details of which have been lost in the passage of time.
Within days of the standoff at Northampton Castle, the Kings Justiciar, Richard De Luci had been excommunicated by the Pope on behalf of Thomas Becket, basically kicked out of the Catholic Church.
After excommunicating De Luci, Becket wisely fled to France.
6 years later Becket felt things had calmed down enough to return to Canterbury (he had excommunicated De Luci again in 1169)
Becket even excommunicated all of his fellow bishops.
When Henry II and the kings court heard of Beckets behaviour, he was urged to ask ‘ who will rid me of this troublesome priest’ as second in command Richard De Luci would have heard this, as did four knights whom immediately set off for Canterbury.
Once there they stormed into the Cathedral, finding Becket at the high alter. One of the knights approached Becket and struck him on the shoulder with the flat of his sword, the rest of the knights then piled in, hacking the Archbishop of Canterbury to death.
Thomas Becket became a massive celebrity across Europe in the wake of his death.
Richard De Luci was so affected by the incident that he commissioned a brand new Abbey, as penance and guilt he felt over the gruesome death.
That Abbey was Lesnes Abbey; built to appease the guilt over the death of England’s premier saint demonstrates the possible negative perception of Richard De Luci.
Richard De Luci commissioned Lesnes Abbey in 1178 then promptly resigned as Chief Justiciar and retired to the Abbey in 1179; When Richard retired to the Abbey he was already extremely elderly at about 90 years of age.
Around mid-June he came down with a heavy fever, the abbeys apothecary made potions to ease the fever but he succumbed to the fever on the 14th of June 1179 and was buried in the Abbey.