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

by John Guy

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128894,050 (3.93)1 / 32
Member:ToddSherman
Title:Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel
Authors:John Guy
Info:Random House (2012), Hardcover, 448 pages
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Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel by John Guy (2012)

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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 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (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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