Sir Reginald Fitzurse (1145 – 1173) was one of the four knights who murdered Thomas Becket in 1170. His name is derived from Fitz which is a contracted form of the Norman-French fils de, meaning "son of" and urse from the Latin ursus, meaning a bear, probable nom de guerre of his ancestor. Although he lived before the true age of heraldry which developed in the early 13th century, his shield bore the cognizance of a bear.
Fitzurse was the eldest son of Richard Fitzurse, on whose death about 1168 he inherited the manor of Williton, Somersetshire. He also held land in Leicestershire and Northamptonshire and at Barham, Kent, between Canterbury and Dover. He lived for a time at Barham Court in Teston. The name of the village of Barham is derived from 'bear' ('urse' in Fitzurse) and 'ham' because it was a hamlet. He was a Knight Attendant upon Henry II. Reginald Fitzurse was a follower of Henry II from a very young age.
Assassination of Becket
At Christmas, 1170 he was at the court of Henry II at Bures in France when Henry ranted against Thomas Becket. Fitzurse and the other three knights, Sir Hugh de Moreville, Sir William de Tracy and Sir Richard le Breton or Brito, crossed the Channel and met up in Saltwood Castle, Kent, to plan their attack.
On December 29, 1170 they burst into the cathedral choir at Canterbury clad in armour and carrying swords determined to capture or kill Becket. FitzUrse appeared to be their ringleader and delivered the first but non-fatal blow to Becket's head and the other knights followed suit until Becket lay dead. Christendom was outraged and the King filled with remorse.
The four knights initially escaped to Scotland and thence to Morville's Knaresborough Castle where they stayed for a year. All four were excommunicated by the Pope on Easter Day and ordered to make a penitential pilgrimage to the Holy Land staying for 14 years. It is believed that none returned. Legends hold that Fitzurse fled to Ireland where he fathered the McMahon clan.
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