Richard le Breton

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Contemporary drawing portraying the murder of Becket

Sir Richard le Breton (or Richard de Brito[1]) was one of the four knights who murdered Saint Thomas Becket.

Early life[edit]

He was the son of Simon le Bret or Simon Brito of Sampford Brett in Somerset and a near neighbour of the FitzUrses of Williton. He served in the household of Henry II's brother William X, Count of Poitou.

William I of England gave a mansion in the eastern end of the parish of Great Stamford Bridge in Essex and another in Sanford in Somerset to a Norman named Auvrai Le Breton for his services in the Battle of Hastings in 1066 . A later relative, Simon Le Breton, had two sons, Richard and Edmund, who inherited their share of Sanford and Great Master Bridge. Both were part of the court around Henry II of England, in particular Richard Le Breton was a close friend of the king's brother, Prince William.

Becket assassination[edit]

During the attack on Becket in 1170 by the four knights, Sir Reginald FitzUrse, Sir Hugh de Morville, Brito and Sir William de Tracy, Brito is said to have broken his sword when chopping at Becket's head.

According to Edward Grim :

...But the third knight inflicted a grave wound on the fallen one; with this blow he shattered the sword on the stone and his crown, which was large, separated from his head so that the blood turned white from the brain yet no less did the brain turn red from the blood; it purpled the appearance of the church with the colours of the lily and the rose, the colours of the Virgin and Mother and the life and death of the confessor and martyr...

He shouted "Take that, for the love of my lord William, the king's brother!" when he delivered the fatal blow.[2] It was believed by William's friends that the count had died of a broken heart after Thomas Becket refused to allow his marriage.


After the assassination the four knights fled to Scotland and from there to Knaresborough Castle in Yorkshire. All four were excommunicated by the Pope Alexander III at Easter in 1171 and ordered to undertake penitentiary pilgrimages to the Holy Land for 14 years.[3]

Brito eventually retired to the island of Jersey.[citation needed] One of his descendants was Lillie Langtry,[citation needed] the mistress of King Edward VII.

There is a gravestone for one of the le Bretons from Jersey in St. Thomas Church in Salisbury, Wiltshire, England, among its many hatchments and memorial stones.


  1. ^ Sudeley, Lord, "Becket's Murderer William de Tracy", in The Sudeleys - Lords of Toddington, London, 1987, OCLC 82268496
  2. ^ Amt, Emile, ‘William FitzEmpress (1136-1164)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [1]
  3. ^