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39 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The hooly blisful martir for to seke ..."
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...
Published on 21 Mar 2012 by S. J. Williams

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23 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reads like a historical novel
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...
Published on 13 Jun 2012 by Mrs. RM KLEPPMANN


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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 "stevejw2" (Leeds, West Yorkshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel, Victim: A 900-Year-Old Story Retold (Hardcover)
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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. The changing relationship between Henry and Thomas is carefully charted and one gets a vivid sense of the character of each man and of the very significant consequences of the breakdown of their relationship and its posthumous effect. For example, in Chapter 12, 'The Solitary Man', Guy takes time out from the narrative on the cusp of Thomas's appointment to the Archbishopric to examine 'the riddle at the heart' of his character, the issue of sexual orientation which came to the fore via Anouilh and Hollywood, whether Thomas misunderstood the nature of his relationship with the King and assumed a degree of equality which was misplaced etc. He examines contemporary accounts of Henry's and Thomas's personalities. These issues are crucial to the approaching breech in their relations: Guy's handling of the issue at this point is exemplary.

Of course the heart of the book is the transformation of Becket from 'worldly warrior chancellor' to the 'otherworldly priest and victim'. In Chapter 16, 'Conversion', Guy dismisses as 'palpable fiction' some of the more doubtful versions of Thomas' metamorphosis into his role as Archbishop put forward by earlier biographers with their own agendas. But if this was not a Damascene conversion as some have suggested, Guy identifies and explores the more subtle but nonetheless important changes which fueled what he refers to as the 'reanimat[ion] of his spiritual self'. (A clear, at least with hindsight, marker of serious conflict between Henry and Becket - then warrior/Chancellor - is identified as taking place at a council of war outside Toulouse, which predates Thomas' assumption of the role of Archbishop by some years.) The subsequent rift with Henry, the years of exile and attempts at reconciliation make for absorbing and at times gripping reading. The shorter and (sometimes very significant) longer term consequences of Becket's martyrdom are thoroughly explored, as is the 'conundrum' of whether it was in some way almost sought out of stubbornness and impulsiveness.

The review copy had neither index nor plates, so it is impossible to comment on the quality of either, but it is clear the published edition will have both. I personally missed the use of at least some footnotes: source material is relegated to the end of the book in 'Notes and References', but in a form which means one has to read through a sometimes lengthy paragraph for each chapter if one wishes to find out and follow up a source, though many will be happy not to have the foot of the page cluttered with such material. These notes and references also seem to serve as the bibliography for the book, as none is listed in the contents nor present in advance reading copies: that seems unfortunate too. Perhaps the publishers were keen not to give what is in fact a serious study too many academic trappings for fear of alienating the more general reader.

This book is not quite as 'un-put-downably readable' as some recent examples of popular history, though I suspect that this is in part due to the author's refusal to step too easily into novelistic mode: for me that is a virtue and I am happy to have had to make a little more effort to stay the course. And in fact, the closing chapters, as Becket's fate becomes increasingly inescapable, make for gripping reading. In fact, on reflection, my initial 4* seem a little ungenerous so, in the absence of half stars, I amend them to 5. Recommended.
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2 of 2 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 (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel, Victim: A 900-Year-Old Story Retold (Hardcover)
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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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars forgiven and commended, 22 May 2012
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This review is from: Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel, Victim: A 900-Year-Old Story Retold (Hardcover)
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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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent biography..., 3 May 2012
By 
John "John75222" (Leeds, Yorkshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel, Victim: A 900-Year-Old Story Retold (Hardcover)
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There's not a great deal I can add to the majority of the excellent reviews above. This book represents a tour de force when it comes to describing the life and times of that turbulent priest. From humble beginnings, rather like Wolsey four centuries later, Becket's rise was meteoric. What is interesting about this book is the narrative style of Guy, which as another reviewer has said, has started from scratch with no preconceptions about where the story would lead and placed Becket's life in the political context of twelfth century England. Guy manages really well in sorting out the chaff and misinformation from the wealth of material that exists about Becket and in doing so at times paints a less than glorious, albeit objective, portrait of this warrior priest. He also debunks a few of the myths and legends that arose around Henry II and Beckett.

There are parallels between the relationship of Henry II and Becket and that of Henry VIII and Wolsey four century's later which make this interesting reading.

This is a marvellously detailed, meticulously researched and objective biography of Becket and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the history of that period, I don't think it will be bettered.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing, readable and thoroughly enjoyable modern retelling of history, 9 April 2012
By 
Hywel James "Hywel James" (Devon, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel, Victim: A 900-Year-Old Story Retold (Hardcover)
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As he writes in his introduction to this thoroughly enjoyable book, John Guy has "tried to sweep away the cobwebs, dismantle the legends and use the original sources to conjure back to life a highly controversial figure who helped to change the course of history, and who has divided opinion ever since." He has succeeded admirably in these aims and though the work is some 400 pages long, and covers some highly complex ground - I defy anyone to summarise the course of the civil war between Stephen and the Empress Mathilda without the reader falling off his chair - it remains a readable, rewarding and entertaining book.

Perhaps the nub of the work is to found in chapter 12, 'A Solitary Man', where Professor Guy offers a profound analysis of a major source, the narrative of William fitz Stephen, written about 1173/74, and in doing so provides insights into the character and personality of Becket and his relationship to Henry II, which are entirely convincing and provide ample proof that John Guy has indeed succeeded in conjuring Becket back to life.

Highly recommnded.
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23 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reads like a historical novel, 13 Jun 2012
By 
Mrs. RM KLEPPMANN (Germany) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel, Victim: A 900-Year-Old Story Retold (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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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enigmatic character, 16 Jun 2012
By 
laineyf "widnes" (warwickshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel, Victim: A 900-Year-Old Story Retold (Hardcover)
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Thomas Becket is a character whose name is instantly recognisable, and forever linked with Henry II. His story is one of triumph, tragedy, war, victory and defeat, friendship, enmity and ultimately, murder and martyrdom. We've all heard of him, but in his book, 'Thomas Becket' John Guy attempts to delve under the 'facts', and allow us to see the 'real' Thomas, Henry, and the events that shaped their lives (and deaths). I LOVE books like this, not just naming names, and giving dates, but giving a glimpse into lives, loves, hatreds, friendships - and so making these historical lives and events REAL. If history in schools was taught like this, I for one would have paid much more attention! I have savoured this book, become submerged in it, and fascinated by it. I took my time reading it, and sometimes had to work a little to stay with the story, but was happy to do so. The denoument is of course, well known, and although I knew what was going to happen, I found myself wanting to change the course of events, so involved was I with the story. This for me is the sign of a great book. It's a total triumph, and one that I whole-heartedly recommend.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First rate account, 17 May 2012
By 
T. Curry "Crazy Curry" (N.Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel, Victim: A 900-Year-Old Story Retold (Hardcover)
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I have taken my time reading this wonderful account of the life of Thomas Becket and realise just how little I knew about the man beforehand. The vast amount of research that John Guy did is astounding, he writes about the events of 900 hundred years ago and the reader can almost feel as though it is set in the present day. For once the family background has been revealed and how a humble lad, though far from poor, rose to gain such favour with the crown. I have read many books about English and French history but this just fills in so many blanks, how the succession came to be so uncertain for years etc. and how Beckett himself had not set out to become a religious figure, let alone a Saint. There are the human stories, he was a young man with ambition but also feelings and desires which may not have been previously written about in such detail. Like other reviewers have commented the relationship between Henry 11 and Beckett were almost mirrored in Tudor times between Henry V111 and Cardinal Wolsey. This book is excellent if you are interested in history but may prove to be heavy going for anyone else. Forget what you were taught in school, this is the account of a real man before he became a Saint. I will be looking out for more books by this brilliant author.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A full and rounded picture..., 25 Mar 2012
By 
FictionFan (Kirkintilloch, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel, Victim: A 900-Year-Old Story Retold (Hardcover)
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Written in a way that is very accessible to the non-historian, this book gives a full and rounded picture of the life of Thomas Becket and the politics of the court of Henry II.

Throughout the book, the author fills out the political and social background to the events of Becket's life, so that we see the contrast between Becket's relatively humble origins (coming from what would now be thought of as the middle-class) and the exalted court and religious circles in which he later moved. Guy suggests that his lack of an aristocratic background played its part in Henry's attitude towards him and subsequent fury at Becket's refusal to submit to his will.

As someone who knew only the bare bones of the Becket story, I felt that the author explained very clearly the different political strands that contributed to his eventual fate - Henry's ambitions in Europe, the involvement of King Louis of France, the ongoing schism in the papacy. Relying throughout on original sources, Guy gave a convincing picture of how Becket was seen by his contemporaries, both friend and enemy. He also looked at how Becket's story had been written over the centuries, pointing out where he felt that inaccuracies had crept in and going back to the original sources to support his own interpretation.

But although this is clearly a scholarly, well-researched book, it is so well written that it reads almost like a novel; the lead up and execution of the murder were particularly finely done. For a non-historian like myself, this is exactly how history should be presented - assume no knowledge on the part of the reader, fill in all the necessary background, give a picture of the wider society and tell the whole thing in an interesting way. An excellent read - highly recommended.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very well researched and presented, 25 July 2012
By 
P. Fitzpatrick (Cardiff UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel, Victim: A 900-Year-Old Story Retold (Hardcover)
I purchased John Guy's superb new biography of Thomas Becket as the Archbishop was central to my MTh dissertation. Uniquely, Guy uses the first third of the book to unravelling the complexity and egocentricity of Henry II's court. I was struck at how similar some institutions operations are today. Guy builds upon Barlow's very strong (revolutionary) academic work on Becket (from some 15 years ago) but covers the historic background in much greater detail and utilises this information in informing Barlow's research and well as developing his arguments. This is useful because it provides a reasonable (and well argued) explanation for the change in Beckets behaviour after his ordination to Archbishop, the central question in understanding Beckets construction as a man. Superbly researched and very readable, this work left me satisfied but also asking questions provoked by Guys fresh direction and understanding of this irascible man. I re-read sections several times over and found it very hard to put down late into the night. My book of the year.
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