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Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel, Victim: A 900-Year-Old Story Retold [Hardcover]

John Guy
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 April 2012

Behind the legend, there was a man.

In 1120 the wife of a Norman draper's merchant gave birth to a baby boy in London's bustling Cheapside. Despite his sickly constitution, middle-class background and unremarkable abilities, he rose within the space of thirty-five years to become the most powerful man in the kingdom, second only to Henry II himself.

At his height, he led seven hundred knights into battle, brokered peace between nations, held the ear of the Pope and brought one of the strongest rulers in Christendom to his knees. And within three years of his bloody assassination, he was a saint whose cult had spread the length and breadth of Europe, and a legend who remains as controversial and compelling today as he was during his life.

The story of Thomas Becket is the story of an enigma, as well as of one of the most tumultuous periods in English history. Drawing on a vast array of contemporary records, personal letters and first-hand accounts, John Guy has reconstructed a psychologically compelling, stunningly nuanced and utterly convincing account of this most remarkable man, the dramatic times in which he lived and the pivotal role he played in his nation's history.


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; 1st edition edition (5 April 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670918466
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670918461
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 142,887 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Guy is a Fellow of Clare College, University of Cambridge, and also teaches on the Yale in London programme at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. He read history at Cambridge and has held academic positions in Britain and the United States throughout his career, specializing mainly in the Tudor period. He is recognised as one of Britain's most exciting historical biographers, bringing the past to life with the written word and on the broadcast media with accomplished ease. He aims for first-class storytelling and for books that read as thrillingly as a detective story. His bestselling books include A Daughter's Love: Thomas and Margaret More, Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel, Victim: A 900-Year-Old Story Retold, The Children of Henry VIII, and 'My Heart is My Own': the Life of Mary Queen of Scots (in USA published as Queen of Scots), which won the Whitbread Biography Award, Marsh Biography Award and was a Finalist for the National Book Critics' Circle (USA) Biography/Autobiography of the Year Award. Books for students include The Tudors: A Very Short Introduction, Tudor England, Cardinal Wolsey: A Students' Guide, The Tudor Monarchy (edited), and The Reign of Elizabeth I: Court and Culture in the Last Decade (edited). He appears regularly on BBC radio and has presented five documentaries for BBC2 tv. A Daughter's Love was adapted as a documentary for BBC4 tv. He also writes for national newspapers and magazines, including The Sunday Times and The Literary Review.

Product Description

Review

Suspenseful, meticulously researched... Guy's biography scintillates with energetic scene-setting, giving us wherever possible a tactile, visual feel for early medieval England... however well you think you know the story, it is well worth the read (Financial Times)

It is to Guy's immense credit that he has written such a lively, effortlessly readable biography - a book that not only corrects many historical errors and uncertainties, but merits reading more than once, for the sheer joy of its super storytelling (The Times)

Fine and thought-provoking (Sunday Times)

A nuanced portrait of one of English history's most controversial figures (TLS)

Entertainingly astute, and in places positively moving - essential reading (The Independent)

Meticulously sifts the contemporary sources for Becket's life (The Telegraph)

An elegantly written, scrupulously researched and original study (The Herald)

A wonderfully moving and subtle new biography - the reading of the assassination in the north transept of the cathedral is almost unbearably intense and brings tears to one's eye (Daily Express)

Thoroughly researched. . . an impressive array of contemporary accounts (Sunday Express)

The most accessible Life of Thomas Becket to be published in recent years (TLS)

About the Author

John Guy is an award-winning historian, accomplished broadcaster and a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge. His previous books include My Heart is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots, winner of the 2004 Whitbread Biography Award and the Marsh Biography Award, the highly acclaimed dual biography A Daughter's Love: Thomas and Margaret More and a history, Tudor England, which has sold over 250,000 copies worldwide.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
39 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The hooly blisful martir for to seke ..." 21 Mar 2012
By S. J. Williams TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The rise of Becket to two of the most most influential positions in 12th century England (as the Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury - which he then trumps, so to speak, with his posthumous canonisation, his shrine becoming the object of international pilgrimage)is a fascinating tale. This is a story that many of us will feel we know. Yet while there are few outright surprises in terms of new material on Thomas in this book, the picture we get here is astonishing in its freshness and vivid detail, particularly considering the 900 years since his death.

There is a wide range of sources available, from early biographies reflecting Becket's highly politically charged martyrdom to official documents and correspondence reflecting Thomas' role at the heart of government: Guy seems to handle these effortlessly and is also admirably clear when weighing up likelihoods and possibilities. (There is an interesting, brief appendix about the 'rich and varied' primary sources.) His account of the political background to Thomas's life (the civil war between Stephen and Matilda most importantly) is clearly explained, as is the reality of the political tensions between the Capetians, the Angevins and the power of the Catholic Church: this can be complicated stuff and yet the clarity he achieves never seems like oversimplification.

What is particularly fascinating is Becket's rise in the world of power politics, becoming indispensable to Theobald, the then Archbishop and later Henry, whose virtually constant companion Becket became for the first eight years of his reign, playing an important role in supporting Henry's aspirations for his monarchy.
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reads like a historical novel 13 Jun 2012
Format:Hardcover
I feel sure that Guy has done some thorough research but the style of his book is more like that of a historic novel. It includes
- precise observations of meetings e.g. `turned on his heel', `stormed out of the room'
- descriptions of the tone of voice of an individual e.g. `he fumed' , `asked tersely'
- occasionally even telling us what an individual thought.
I can hardly believe that such detail was recorded in the 12th century. In an effort to make the material enjoyable, Guy seems to have added just a little colouring of his own. There is even a patch of dramatic present tense towards the end of the book, which is simply out of place and silly. I don't think he has done himself a favour with this style.

The `ancestral customs' which were critical to the relationship between Henry II and Becket are nowhere described adequately.

Interestingly, Guy's description of `... a monarch,.... set on building a regional church under tight royal control, ring-fenced by the coast, as an integral part of a centralized state controlled by himself,...' actually refers to Henry VIII, as he points out the similarity between him and Henry II.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars forgiven and commended 22 May 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
When John Guy published his biography of Mary, Queen of Scots, I thought I'd never forgive him for writing a new biography of the Scots Queen when Antonia Fraser's was probably the most masterly work and stands the test of time, even now, as being possibly one of the best biographies ever written in its genre. At that time I found Guy's writing, although highly scholarly, very dry and uninspiring to follow.
The succeeding book on the double biography of Thomas More and his daughter was a fascinating piece of writing and innovative in its style.
However, with his new book on Thomas Beckett, Guy has found his way, I feel at least, and has presented a refreshing and exciting book which is virtually, with every chapter, a page-turner. Rather than use some of the distracting hagiography of Beckett, Guy has set his life against a fascinating insight of the times, with a clear backcloth of the monarchical struggles in England and France. As Beckett grows and matures into the opportunities that come his way, we see a clever man battling against the social odds of his up-bringing in the face of the nobles and landed gentry who saw him as an upstart. The friendship, fights and eventual falling-out between him and Henry II was a much longer and protracted series of incidents than I had realised, and does give a better understanding of the King's final desperate cry to see an end to the Archbishop's opposition - but perhaps not as the priest's assassin's interpreted.
This is a highly accomplished, exciting, commendable and incredibly interesting book to read and will be hard to match.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Who Will Rid Me Of This Turbulent Priest' 18 Mar 2012
By M. Dowden HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
We all know about Thomas Becket, or do we? I remember we did about his killing in history at school but we didn't go into much depth on the matter and were soon on to another piece of history. John Guy here takes us into the life of Thomas Becket and the age he lived in with quite some aplomb. Born in London of immigrant parents from France, Becket rose to the heights of his world, short only of the king in this country, but he never set out to be a priest.

There are things we know about Becket, things that we know are outright lies, things we can conjecture and things that have become distorted due to the hagiographers. John Guy tries to peer beyond all this to give us the man himself, and the obstacles he faced. Taking us back to Becket's birth we are given a quick look into the England of the time, with the civil war raging between King Stephen, and the Empress Matilda. As he grew up he attended college but dropped out and with some networking was soon going up in the world.

Taking us through when he was the Chancellor and then the Archbishop of Canterbury we see here how his life altered and how he dealt with things, and his relationship with Henry II deteriorated. From his birth to his death we are given here an absorbing piece of biographical history that can be seen in some ways as a forerunner to what would happen later when Henry VIII wanted to marry Anne Boleyn.

Also taking in the altering Catholic Church, the schism that meant that you had the Pope and the Anti-Pope this is an enthralling book to read that will more than keep you engrossed in the subject. This would be good for anyone studying this period of history, or like the majority of us ideal for learning more about a significant moment in this country's history.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars None the wiser
I gave up on this book. I got no real sense of the man or of his motivation. The book was quite full of information about the times in general, but it said more about Becket's... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Charles Richard Sinclair
5.0 out of 5 stars Good scholarly book.
Entertaining read, if somewhat scholarly. He has pored through a huge amount of historical first hand evidence and done justice to one of history's most enduring and complex... Read more
Published 5 months ago by ChrisG
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book,shame about the rain.
it's a good book,just what I wanted to go with the Thomas More biog I have.Problem was the postman left it out in the rain cos it wouldn't fit in the postbox,so it got soaked. Read more
Published 5 months ago by greyghost
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Lord Archbishop, do you wish to be more than a Saint?'
Although the story of Thomas Becket was taught to me in school, the only bits that sank in were that he was killed by (or for) the king, his friend, after an argument. Read more
Published 5 months ago by S. Matthews
5.0 out of 5 stars The making of a saint.
This is a wonderfully detailed and well researched biography that reads like a page turning novel. St Thomas is shown as very human and struggling with a complicated political... Read more
Published 5 months ago by KAW
5.0 out of 5 stars Thomas Beckett
Thomas Becket is John Guy's thrilling, revisionist biography of one the most controversial yet revered figures in British history - "the man who sought to reform a nation, dared to... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Erin Britton
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book about an extraordinary subject
My opinion may be biased as I look at Saint Thomas Becket as the very example of how a man vain and bound to earthy 'pleasures' may turn to God and change, and thus always found... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Rose of Lancaster
5.0 out of 5 stars Very well researched and a great insight to the character of becket.
Very fascinating to discover the tightrope he had to walk when he was Henry's right hand man and his devotion to the church , his conscience must have been torn in two.
Published 7 months ago by Mrs_O
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
Thomas Becket from head to toe in the most thorough account I've come across. Not just a player in Henry II's story, but a man with his own astonishing tale to tell. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Pompom
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly Commended
An interesting piece of research that is well written and quiet gripping in places, even if in others I did find it rather dry and I confess to reading some of it rather fast. Read more
Published 11 months ago by artemisrhi
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