A revisionist new biography reintroducing readers to one of the most subversive figures in English history—the man who sought to reform a nation, dared to defy his king, and laid down his life to defend his sacred honor
Becket’s life story has been often told but never so incisively reexamined and vividly rendered as it is in John Guy’s hands. The son of middle-class Norman parents, Becket rose against all odds to become the second most powerful man in England. As King Henry II’s chancellor, Becket charmed potentates and popes, tamed overmighty barons, and even personally led knights into battle. After his royal patron elevated him to archbishop of Canterbury in 1162, however, Becket clashed with the King. Forced to choose between fealty to the crown and the values of his faith, he repeatedly challenged Henry’s authority to bring the church to heel. Drawing on the full panoply of medieval sources, Guy sheds new light on the relationship between the two men, separates truth from centuries of mythmaking, and casts 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.
Here is a Becket seldom glimpsed in any previous biography, a man of many facets and faces: the skilled warrior as comfortable unhorsing an opponent in single combat as he was negotiating terms of surrender; the canny diplomat “with the appetite of a wolf” who unexpectedly became the spiritual paragon of the English church; and the ascetic rebel who waged a high-stakes contest of wills with one of the most volcanic monarchs of the Middle Ages. Driven into exile, derided by his enemies as an ungrateful upstart, Becket returned to Canterbury in the unlikeliest guise of all: as an avenging angel of God, wielding his power of excommunication like a sword. It is this last apparition, the one for which history remembers him best, that will lead to his martyrdom at the hands of the king’s minions—a grisly episode that Guy recounts in chilling and dramatic detail.
An uncommonly intimate portrait of one of the medieval world’s most magnetic figures, Thomas Becket breathes new life into its subject—cementing for all time his place as an enduring icon of resistance to the abuse of power.
About John Guy
John Guy studied history at Clare College, Cambridge, and became a lecturer on early modern British history and Renaissance political thought. He has held academic positions in Britain and the United States throughout his career and is still a Fellow in history at Clare College, Cambridge, and teaches on the Yale in London program at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. He appears regularly on BBC Radio and has presented five documentaries for BBC2 television. He also writes and reviews for various newspapers and magazines, including The Sunday Times, The Guardian, and The Economist.
The author explains Becket’s non-royal, but hardly peasant, heritage and describes a stammering youth in which he had little interest in study. His Norman parents saw to it that he was well educated, however, including sending him to France for his studies. There he met his lifelong friend, John of Salisbury, who would provide a firsthand account of Becket’s murder in Canterbury Cathedral. France was also a flight to safety from tensions at home. Becket was well-known as rakish, lazy and vain, and he never really applied himself to his studies. When Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, took him into his household, he realized his failings and set to ameliorate his poor education with an autodidactic fervor. Becket watched and learned as Theobald politicized the relationship between the king and archbishop, not realizing that he, too, would one day face exile as he refused to be “bullied by a tyrant.” In his nine years of service to the archbishop, Becket gained considerable power and riches, but many still regarded him as a newcomer aspiring to be an insider. However, he felt he was an equal, especially after he was appointed as the king’s chancellor. The author’s exhaustive research shows that Becket clung to the trappings of wealth he had accumulated well after being appointed as archbishop. – Kirkus Reviews
Murder in the Cathedral - ‘Thomas Becket,’ by John Guy
The New York Times Book Review – September 7, 2012 (Excerpt)
“The biographer’s trap,” John Guy remarks in “Thomas Becket,” his portrait of that foremost friend turned foremost foe of Henry II, “is to look for a decisive moment of change.” But, he adds, “to do that is to write the history of the saint without his shadow.” With Becket, this temptation often seems to have been irresistible, from the very night of his murder, Dec. 29, 1170, near the high altar of Canterbury Cathedral. As a crowd swooped down on the battered corpse of the archbishop, tearing off pieces of clothing to dip in the gruesome puddle of his blood and brains, the outlines of the story of Becket’s sudden conversion from luxury-loving chancellor to ascetic defender of the church were already being rehearsed, soon to be followed by tales of his miraculous powers.
Although Guy is known as a historian of the Tudor period, he admits to a long-held fascination with the 12th century’s “extraordinary galaxy of larger-than-life characters.” And his previous book, “A Daughter’s Love: Thomas More and His Dearest Meg,” must have provided ample psychological grounding for this new one, tracing another struggle between an imperious, unscrupulous monarch, Henry VIII, and another stubborn commoner who found it impossible to bend to the royal will. In the case of Becket, Guy was also aided by an array of firsthand source materials, many of them biographies written by men who knew Becket themselves. 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. [Read the full article...]
QUEEN OF MISFORTUNE A Lady Jane Grey Novel by Peter Carroll
A Love Story of Shakespearean Dimension!
Queen Of Misfortune is the fictional story of Lady Jane Grey as told by her beloved tutor, John Aylmer. At the time of her execution a stranger is recorded to have assisted her when, blind folded, she lost her way upon the scaffold. Was it the same strange who was also recorded to have visited her when she was imprisoned in the Tower? Little is known of this unfortunate girl who was beheaded for treason in the 16th Century. She was only 16. She is omitted from the list of monarchs but was actually queen for nine days. Author Peter Carroll, in his novel, follows John Aylmer’s close relationship with Jane as her tutor and later, as she grows up, her lover. [More...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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