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Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel (original 2012; edition 2012)

by John Guy

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1085111,760 (4)13
Member:Robertgreaves
Title:Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel
Authors:John Guy
Info:Random House (2012), Hardcover, 424 pages
Collections:Your library, ebooks and online books
Rating:***1/2
Tags:contemporary, biography, 12th century, british author, ebook

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Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel by John Guy (2012)

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Showing 5 of 5
Some reviews suggest the author brings new perspectives on Becket. I can't speak to that. I did find the writing lucid and clear. Becket is presented not as a hero, but as a human with faults and strengths. Perhaps his greatest fault was his vacillating in the beginning in his confrontations with Henry II. And it was only five months between his "reconciliation" with Henry and his murder. Henry II turns out to be one whose word cannot be trusted -- ever. His goal was total dominance of the church; in the end he won, not by murder, but by his descendent Henry VIII. ( )
  KirkLowery | Mar 4, 2014 |
I was not prepared for this engaging and detailed yet readable biography of Thomas Becket. Like so many, I believe, I was first introduced to Becket via the Peter Glenville's cinema adaptation of Anouilh's play with Peter O'Toole as Henry II and Richard Burton as Becket. I was pleased that Mr. Guy's work was more history than hagiography. Henry II and Thomas Becket are shown for what they were: stubborn, impulsive, vain, the list goes on. Thomas Becket, the son of a London merchant, was 'raised from obscurity' as one of Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury's clerks. He is noticed by the King, Henry II and as a result of acumen in the realm of medieval politics, he first becomes Henry's chancellor and later, Archbishop of Canterbury - an idea that backfired on Henry, for Becket wasn't in the crown's pocket as Henry had hoped. In fact, it is said that Becket had a Damascene conversion as soon as he was consecrated. Or maybe he thought there'd be more power as archbishop than chancellor and gave up the chancellery for that reason.

Becket has a taste for power and luxury and he makes enemies not so much by his belief, but what that belief stands for. Becket, it appears, gave his life not for the truth of the universal church, but for a "petty squabble over the assets and privileges of Canterbury." p. 373. Both Henry and Becket refused to give ground and Henry, already known for being a less than exemplary husband and father, is shown here as a tyrant who backslides and breaks oaths at every turn. Becket is no better, stubbornly refusing to give fealty to the king first before God and the church. The quarrel started over whether the crown could prosecute 'criminous clerks,' clergy who were accused of criminal acts. It was the church's position that the church should deal with its own. Interestingly, if the church had acquiesced to Henry's demands to try criminous clerks, Becket would have found himself in trouble, for Thomas Becket had a role in a cover-up of the murder of a boy who was sexually assaulted by and later murdered on the orders of Roger de Pont'Leveque, later Archbishop of York.

After self-exile, argument and negotiation, Becket returns to England and is shortly afterwards murdered in his own cathedral by four knights who took one of Henry's famous temper tantrums to heart. The murder his horrific, gruesome, and shocked Europe.

Mr. Guy spent three years of research on this book, and he gives us more of the man than the martyr; someone who is less a priest than a courtier, a rebel, yet charismatic. His sources were the extant biographies and hagiographies written at the time (some to help along canonization)and by people who were eyewitnesses to many of the events, Thomas Grim, for example, who was gravely wounded (and survived) trying to protect Becket. William fitz Stephen, a colleague who had known Becket for most of his career.

There is no glossing over Becket's faults, nor over-praising his virtues. We are given the history and portrait of a man who chose to die for his church of Cantebury. ( )
  ELEkstrom | Jun 6, 2013 |
Well researched & detailed--almost to the point of interrupting the narrative; at times dry & bogged down in the minutia not directly related to the core subject--e.g. the back story to Eleanor's marriage to Louis has a tangent about his brother stumbling over a pig; they don't usually lend a greater understanding to Becket himself; an impartial depiction of Becket as a man & not solely saint or rebel; the murder is pretty rough (whatever happened to Mauclerk?); "The righteous would one day have their reward, but they might have to wait for it until Judgment Day." ( )
  ToddSherman | Jan 24, 2013 |
A biography of the 12th century Archbishop of Canterbury who was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral.

Not an easy read and it felt a bit of a slog (perhaps it would have worked better as a physical book rather than on a Kindle app). The subject matter was interesting and corrected some false impressions I had about the timeline. ( )
  Robertgreaves | Jan 2, 2013 |
The story of Thomas Becket and Henry II is one I have been interested in for years, and have read quite a bit about it. Most writers over the centuries since this happened fall into one or two camps. Either they are on Henry's side in which case they demonized Becket and imply his pre archbishop days show that he was an "actor archbishop" who couldn't have been spiritually pure. Or they are the Becket supporters who choose to ignore his pre archbishop days and make him a saint from the start. Both in my mind are incorrect, as Becket and Henry were both complicated people. To say because a person behaved one way that they can't change is patently wrong. And to ignore a person’s past mistakes and behavior lessens the persons spiritual change, insulted them in the process as incapable of becoming better instead of being born that way. John Guy's new biography of Becket does a fantastic job of humanizing the man, of showing him warts and all, but also showing his remarkable moral and spiritual changes. This is a fascinating read. ( )
  erikschreppel | Dec 5, 2012 |
Showing 5 of 5
"Shrewdly contrasting them and assessing their biases, Guy has constructed his own modern successor, assisted by electronic search engines and high-resolution digital photography, which revealed previously invisible annotations in volumes from Becket’s personal library."
 
"But he has given us an unfailingly lively, accessible and vividly written portrait of one of the giants of the middle ages."
added by bookfitz | editThe Guardian, Eamon Duffy (May 18, 2012)
 
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Archbishop Thomas Becket, who for four centuries after his gruesome murder in Canterbury Cathedral would be nicknamed 'lux Londoniarum" (the light of the Londoners), was the only surviving son of Gilbert and Matilda Becket, born very probably when the wreck of the White Ship was still the hottest news in town.
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Drawing on the full panoply of medieval sources, Guy sheds new light on the relationship between Saint Thomas a Becket and England's greatest medieval king, Henry II, separating truth from centuries of mythmaking, and casting doubt on the long-held assumption that the headstrong rivals were once close friends. He also provides the fullest accounting yet for Becket's seemingly radical transformation from worldly bureaucrat to devout man of God.… (more)

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