William de Tracy, Knt., (died c1189) was Lord of the Manor of Toddington,
Gloucestershire, feudal Baron of Bradninch, near Exeter, and Lord of
He is notorious as one of the four
knights who assassinated
the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket
in December 1170.
John de Sudeley, son of Harold de Mantes, married Grace de Tracey,
daughter and heiress of Henri de Tracey, feudal lord of Barnstaple
in Devonshire. They had two children: Ralph, who became the heir of
his father, and William. Sir William de Tracey inherited the lands
of his mother and assumed her family name, becoming a knight of
Gloucestershire, Sir William de Tracey, and holding the lands of
his brother by one knight's fee. He married Hawise de Born and had
one son, Sir Henry de Tracey, and two daughters
He also appears in a charter of his older brother Ralph de Sudeley
assigning the manor of Yanworth, near Cirencester, to the monks of Gloucester Abbey. Two of the witnesses to that charter lived on
property owned by the Normandy branch of
the de Tracys, and two of the English witnesses witnessed a
previous charter for Henry de Tracy to Barnstaple Priory in 1146.
In 1166 William held one feu
of his brother, Ralph.
William de Tracy made charitable benefactions in France, building
and endowing a house for lepers
at a place
called Coismas. In addition he made gifts to the Priory of St.
Stephen, Plessis-Grimoult, lands possessed by the family before all
finally came to England.
Tracy was one of the four knights who, at the behest of King
murdered Thomas Becket
, Archbishop of Canterbury and
who afterwards invaded the Archibishop's Palace plundering Papal
Bulls and Charters, gold, silver, vestments, books, and utensils
employed for the services of the church.
The following is a late 19th century account of the murder of
Sir William de Tracy was one of four knights who at the
instigation of Henry II assassinated Thomas a Becket....[T]he four
conspirators, Reginald Fitzurse, Hugh de Moreville, William de
Tracy, and Richard le Brey, entered the cathedral....The three
knights...struggled violently to put him on Tracy’s
shoulders.....In the scuffle Becket fastened upon Tracy’s
shoulders, shook him by his coat of mail, and, exerting his
strength, flung him down on the pavement....Fitzurse, glowing with
rage...wav[ed] the sword over his head, cried, “Strike! strike!”
but merely dashed off his cap....Meanwhile Tracy, who since his
fall had thrown of[f] his haubeck to move more easily, sprang
forward and struck a more decided blow. Grim, the monk, who up to
this moment, had his arm around Becket, threw it up, wrapped in a
cloak, to intercept the blade, Becket exclaiming, “Spare the
defence !” The sword lighted on the arm of the monk, which fell
wounded or broken, and he fled, disabled....The next blow, whether
struck by Tracy or Fitzurse, was only with the flat of the sword,
and again on the bleeding head, which Becket drew back as if
stunned, and then raised his clasped hands above it....[H]e said,
“Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.” At the third blow,
which was also from Tracy, he sank on his knees, his arms falling,
but his hands still joined as if in prayer.In this posture, he
received from Richard Breton, a tremendous blow...aimed with such
violence that the scalp or crown of the head, which it was remarked
was of unusual size, was severed from the skull, and the sword
snapped in two on the marble pavement....This story differs from
those of the several writers of English history, insomuch, that
Tracy simply put his hand on him, and arrested him in the name of
the king, but did not strike him; but he was killed by Fitzurse.
Before Becket died he put a curse on Tracey's family, a water
curse. His family will always have too little or too much water.
And believe it or not this has always happened to his family, now
the Garnetts and Coogans.
failed to arrest the knights, advising them to flee to Scotland, and it is
clear also that whilst he had an escheat of their properties for a
short while, they nevertheless retained them. They stayed only a
short while in Scotland, returning to the castle of Knaresborough in Yorkshire the possession of Hugh de Morville one
of the assassins.
known that Hugh de Morville, Richard de Brito, and William de Tracy
built a church at Alkborough, near Scunthorpe in South Humberside, where, until 1690, an inscribed stone on the
chancel recorded the
of the town of Bovey
Tracey is derived from the river Bovey which passes
through the town, and from the 'de Tracey' family - from Traci near
Bayeux - who settled in the area after the Norman Conquest of 1066.
rebuilt the town's church of St Peter, Paul and Thomas after 1170
as part of his penance for his part in the Archbishop's murder.
addition he added a tower, chancel, and porch to the church of
Lapford, Devon, which was
dedicated to Becket, and, according to local tradition, founded a
church nearby at Nymet
Tracey in penance.
Excommunication and exile
The benefactions failed to impress Pope Alexander III
, and he excommunicated
Tracy and the other murderers on Maundy
, March 25, 1171.
out for Rome after the
end of September (but before Henry
II's expedition to Ireland in October)
when he made appearances in the Shire
Court of Oxford, attesting a
quitclaim relating to land of Winchcombe Abbey at Gagingwell, near Enstone, north of
In addition, Tracy was present when the charter
recording the transaction was offered up on the High Altar at
Winchcombe Abbey. Scutage
was paid on
Tracy's lands that year.
The departure of the other knights to Rome was delayed until two of
them, FitzUrse and de Morville, had taken part in the great
rebellion against the King of 1173-4. The Archbishop's
murderers gained their audience with the Pope and who, despite
their penitence, declared they should be exiled and fight for a
number of years "in knightly arms in The Temple for 14 years" in
Jerusalem, and after the given time return to
Death and burial
There is speculation as to what happened next. Herbert of Bosham says that de Tracy did
not reach the Holy Land but died as early as 1174 of leprosy at
Cosenza in southern Italy.
After much examination the present Lord
dismissed this story as Herbert wishing to give Tracy a
sensational end. Tracey's journey east is confirmed by
Romwald, Archbishop of
Salerno and Roger Hovenden, who
says the Pope instructed the knights, once their duties were
fulfilled, to visit the Holy Places barefoot and in hairshirts and
then to live alone for the rest of their lives on the Black
Mountain near Antioch, spending all their time there in vigils, prayers,
It is thought that de Tracy retired to a
hermitage there. Roger Hovenden continues that after their death
the bodies of the knights were buried at Jerusalem before the door
of The Temple. But this does not conform to the tradition that the
murderers were buried under the portico in front of the Aqsa
mosque, which was the refectory
tradition is that the bodies of the knights were returned to the
island of Brean Down, off the coast of Weston-super-Mare and buried there.
a tomb in Mortehoe
Church, near Ilfracombe in Devon which
carries an inscription to Sir William de Tracey.
slab of black or dark grey marble, has incised in it the figure of
a priest in full vestments, with a chalice on his breast. The
inscription is much defaced, Risdon
"On whose mangled monument I found this fragment of a
French inscription, in this ancient character 'Syree Williame de
Trace-Il enat eeys-Meercy'."
On the north side of the tomb are three shields; the first, with
three lions passant, in pale for Camvill; the second, two bars
(Martyn); and the third, a saltire, charged with three plates. On
the same side, beneath plain canopies, are effigies representing
wheel, and St. Mary Magdalene
long flowing hair. The south side of the tomb is divided into seven
compartments, filled with Early Decorated tracery; the Crucifixion
forms the subject of the carving at the west end of the tomb. .
Lord Sudeley insists this is the tomb of William de Tracy who
endowed a chantry at Mortehoe in 1307/8 and died in 1322. The
priest is described as 'Sir' because this was an oft-used prefix
for priests in mediævel times.
In 1969 the Master of the Rolls
Elizabeth the Queen Mother
as a descendant of de Tracy.
The Most Rev. Frank Tracy
, former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal
Church in the United States of America
, is a direct descendant