Senate Goes Medieval: James Comey And The ‘Meddlesome Priest’

Among the bombshells dropping at Thursday’s U.S. Senate intelligence committee’s hearing with former FBI director James Comey was a moment of historical camaraderie.

Independent senator from Maine, Angus King, asked Comey about U.S. President Donald Trump’s “hope” for Comey to “let go” of the bureau’s investigation into the president’s then-national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

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“When the president of the United States, in the Oval Office, says something like ‘I hope,’ or ‘I suggest,’ or ‘would you,’ do you take that as a directive?” King asked during the hours-long hearing.

“Yes,” Comey said.

“It rings in my ears as kind of ‘will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?’”

Smiling, King practically cut Comey off, excitedly saying, “I was just going to quote that,” before diving into a bit of history.

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“In 1170, Dec. 29, Henry II said, ‘who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?’ and the next day, he was killed. Thomas Becket. That’s exactly the same situation,” King said.

The quote is a frequently cited one of Henry II, king of England, who, in 1170 was stuck in a series of disagreements with Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The former friends butted heads on an increasing range of issues from church reforms, its relationship with the Crown and certain powers the archbishop could hold.

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The fight between the former friends lasted years, escalating to the point where Becket was excommunicating Henry’s supporters. Henry had enough.

Exactly what he said is a matter of debate among historians, though the sentiment remained the same, and Comey’s quote is among the popular variants.

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In any event, some knights overheard Henry lamenting over Becket, and took it upon themselves to murder the archbishop.

Not too long after Becket’s death, Pope Alexander III canonised him.

The story of Henry and Becket made it to the silver screen in 1964, when Richard Burton starred as the priest and Peter O’Toole as the king in Becket.

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