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Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel by…

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

by John Guy

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199959,063 (3.91)1 / 33
Title:Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel
Authors:John Guy
Info:Random House (2012), Hardcover, 448 pages
Collections:Your library

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



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Just finished listening to the audiobook of this title, as I have not really had the time to read the paperback. Absolutely incredible account of the life and career of a remarkable man, from his birth, to his tragic murder.

This book really helps you to understand the nature of the conflict between Becket and Henry II- and the wider conflict between church and state in 12th century England. It was about far more than just criminous clerks.
Now I don't tend to go for books that base their treatment of historical figures and events on sensationalism, speculation, and modern ideas or fashions. I expect to see the authors using contemporary sources and material- and Mr Guy draws on these heavily.

It also convinced me that King Henry was an absolute ass in his treatment of Becket. Oh the Archbishop was not perfect. They were both stubborn and obstinate- and readers must note that I have no love for the Catholic church. Yet, the King as it is shown, was notorius for his duplicity and not keeping his word. Whereas Becket comes across as a man of conviction who was fighting to retain the independence of his institution against state control.

There were also other fascinating details. I had no idea Becket was a lifelong friend of the theologian, diplomat and philosopher John of Salisbury. The development of the concept of tyranny, and the Christian's reponse to it during Becket's day and before is also explored. These were ideas that the men behind the Magna Carta and the first Baron's Revolt against King John would pick up on. They were not invented in the 17th or 18th century.

In the final chapter, the author draws some interesting parallels between the actions of Henry II and his later descendant Henry VIII in their treatment of the church. They are actually quite remarkable. Clearly the conflict did not begin with the Tudors, and Reformation did not come out of nowhere.

Throughly recommended. Now I want to go and visit Canterbury Cathedral to see the site of the martyrdom of one of our most Charismatic and courageous Archbishops. ( )
  Medievalgirl | Oct 4, 2016 |
While this biography of Thomas Becket covers his entire life from birth to martyrdom, its heaviest focus is on the church and state dispute between Thomas and Henry II. I learned more than I really wanted to know about criminous clerks and ancestral customs. Thomas was Henry II's chancellor when Henry appointed him Archbishop of Canterbury. Henry expected Thomas to fill both positions. Thomas, I think rightly, decided that “no man can serve two masters” and resigned the chancellor's position, opening a rift in his relationship with Henry that would never close. Henry never forgot Thomas's middle class origins and he couldn't forgive Thomas for his “ingratitude” in opposing Henry's will.

Although historian Guy admits in his acknowledgments that he is a specialist in the Tudor era, he more than competently handles medieval sources. His primary sources include the letters of Thomas Becket and John of Salisbury, 12th century chroniclers, and the lives of Becket written within the first decade after his death. One of the two appendices identifies the authors of these early biographies and Guy's assessment of the reliability and objectivity of each account. Guy's biography would be a good choice for nonspecialists seeking a thorough summary of Thomas Becket's life and legacy. ( )
1 vote cbl_tn | May 24, 2015 |
I enjoyed this very much. I really like the way Thomas is portrayed as a consistant whole. ( )
  MarthaJeanne | Apr 24, 2015 |
This is a biography of a middle class man, Thomas Becket, who became archbishop of Canterbury during the reign of King Henry in the 1100s. The back cover says suspenseful, meticulously research. I’d say not so suspenseful because you know what is going to happen but the author did try to create enough to pull the reader along but the meticulous research resulted in a somewhat dry story. I am not a fan of biography and never liked studying history much though as I grow older, history becomes more interesting. My impressions. I am struck with how much we (humans) haven’t changed. I have a greater appreciation of why laws needed to be made to protect people from the rich and greedy. I see why there was a need to seek separation of church and state.
This is a story of a murder and explores the question of was Becket appropriate to be archbishop. Was he murdered or was this a suicidal gesture or was he a martyr. Did he deserve sainthood.
What do I think, I think there was a real possibility that Becket and King Henry were too much like each other, both were too stubborn and rigid to compromise. I think Becket may have become more Christian than he started, people do progress in sanctification. He certainly did stand for principles even when others were wishy washy (even the pope). Unfortunately religion is represented by human frailties and politics. But a part of the battle was pride. Becket couldn't let go his grievances. On the other hand, I totally despised King Henry. That was one bad tempered spoiled, insufferable human. I think Becket may have chosen to be murdered. He seemed to know where things were going and I think he felt that was the only way he would be able to wake people up to what was the risks. I think he may have even set it up. Becket had grown tired and aged prematurely along with chronic health problems and I think he was tired of the fight but still wanted to win. He may also have thought that to be murdered would be more romantic than the violence that it became when he was attacked by drunken men set on violence. ( )
  Kristelh | Apr 18, 2015 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
"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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