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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thomas Becket
John Guy has written some brilliant historical biographies, including "A Daughter's Love: Thomas and Margaret More and My Heart is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots", so I was really looking forward to his latest work - the story of Thomas Becket and what a fascinating story it is. Although really it is not only the story of Thomas Becket, but also that of...
Published on 23 Mar 2012 by S Riaz

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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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2 of 3 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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5.0 out of 5 stars Warrior priest rebel Saint, 29 Jun 2014
Yes, it is a story well retold. John Guy gives an excellent depiction of this saint martyr. Thomas Becket became Henry II's chancellor, but after he become archbishop of Canterbury, his strong faith and love of the Church could not brook the king's demands which led to Henry's love for him to hate and ultimately to his murder. Becket, as Bishop, believed that wrongdoings within the Church were to be judged by the Church, but the King thought otherwise. Round the corner there was always a stumbling block that brought conflict with Becket's beliefs and his King, and he paid the ultimate price for his convictions. The story repeated itself centuries later when another Thomas challenged another King Henry's demands. He too suffered for his faith. Becket's story took place 900 years ago, but John Guy makes him a man for all the centuries.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The making of a saint., 29 Oct 2013
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 situation that John Guy admirably straightens out for the reader. The murder as described by the author is still shocking, even after 900 years. I especially enjoyed the period detail around Becket's London childhood. Guy shows us the making of a saint without ever losing sight of the man.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly Commended, 10 May 2013
By 
artemisrhi "artemisrhi" (Forest of Dean) - 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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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.

This is an erudite piece of research bringing together and commentating upon the various historical sources that have been used to document Thomas Becket's life and death. It is pretty well done. I am sure that it will become and standard text of the subject as well as something that the lay reader like myself can manage and enjoy. Not an easy task.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quite academic in style but fascinating, 20 Dec 2012
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J. Holmes - 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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This is a very clever book, well-researched and packed with historical facts and information. For the less academic reader it can be somewhat heavy going with it's text book feel. I knew little about Thomas Becket but I had read a biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine and this stimulated my interest in him and he was also mentioned in the Pillars Of The Earth which I loved.
Sometimes unnecessarily over complicated and uncommon language meant I had to keep re-reading sentences. Reading this book feels more like reading the script for a TV documentary rather than a book narrative making it a long read which I haven't yet finished. Half way through I find at last I am beginning to get to know Thomas Becket as a person and for this reason I am now hooked into reading to the end.
Technically a great read but needs perseverance to get into.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For England and St Thomas, 31 Mar 2012
By 
Lost John (Devon, England) - 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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But for his dispute with Thomas Becket, which on both sides became obsessive and led to Becket's murder, Henry II has generally been regarded as what Sellar and Yeatman in 1066 and All That called 'A Good Thing'. The 'nineteen long winters' of the reign of his immediate predecessor, Stephen (Grandson of William the Conqueror), left England in a state of anarchy. Powerful barons ran their own fiefs, justice was a mockery and the country was subject to invasion from Scotland and Wales. It was Henry's attempts to tackle these problems, coupled with his own and Becket's initially friendly but ultimately incompatible personalities, that led to Becket's martyrdom.

In Thomas Becket: Warrier, priest, rebel, victim; a 900-year-old story retold, John Guy does a first rate job of detailing Becket's life and relations with the king, and of painting-in the background crucial to understanding why and how the disputes came about. England was still feudal in structure; the church was a hugely powerful force; virtually all the key players, including Becket, the king, the barons, and most English bishops were second or third generation descendents of Normans who had crossed the English Channel with or following the Conquest, in many cases maintaining their links with France; and, London and Canterbury apart, much of the action of this story takes place in France. It is also relevant that the Pope of the time, as keen as Becket to defend the church's property, income and privileges in England, and generally supportive of Becket, was himself under great pressure from an anti-Pope and his sponsors, and obliged to live in exile from Rome.

John Guy is an academic and this is a serious study, up to date in that it makes the most of computerised archives and search and compare facilities, and some texts recently translated for the first time from the original Latin. It makes a solid read, but for the most part not too heavy, and obscure terms such as 'criminous clerks' and 'benefit of clergy' are fully explained. Just occasionally, currently fashionable expressions such as 'no-brainer' and 'reality check' intrude - a mild irritation and a source of concern that they will quickly date and their meaning, such as it is, be forgotten. But then, this book may well run to several editions, and John Guy will then get the opportunity to revise and update it.

There are, he tells us, three contemporary versions of what Henry said that motivated the four knights to take ship (from France) and ride to Canterbury to kill Becket, but none of them are "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?", which apparently originated in the 18th century. Guy also reminds us that two generations before TS Eliot's superb but historically somewhat inaccurate play of 1935, Murder in the Cathedral, Alfred Lord Tennyson weighed-in in 1884 with his own play, Becket. That was not a success, but it did become the basis for a 1923 film. (Sorry, Tennyson fans, the film was silent.) Guy is good too on the aftermath of the murder; how a Becket cult quickly became so strong that even Henry felt obliged to pay homage. Yet it was St George, not Becket, who eventually became England's patron saint, even though in Becket's time St George 'had yet to catch on'. Guy does his best to explain why.
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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent historical account of turbulent times, 5 April 2012
By 
J. Aitken (Glasgow 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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John Guy is to be congratulated in producing such a well researched and emminently readable account of the life and martyrdom of Thomas Becket.

Becket's early friendship with King Henry and the subsequent deterioration of their relationship is traced in detail from contemporary accounts and Guy is excellent in wheedling out the likely truth or not of each chronicler.

Historically only a hundred years after the battle of Hastings, the need for Henry to sustain his right of kingship over his domains in England and France, while at the same time steering a careful course with a schismatic papacy; never was there a more difficult time for church and state to exist as separate power bases within the same kingdom.

Becket finds himself in the middle of the dilemma and with his own character flaws as well as Henry's at loggerheads, tragedy was bound to ensue.

John Guy presents this in a highly readable account which is exemplary in placing the conflict in a clear historical context, while painstakingly revealing the competing disparate traits of the principal characters.

This was a fascinating book which I can readily recommend for those readers interested in the period.
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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Convincing, absorbing and full-blooded account of Thomas Beckett, 24 Mar 2012
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - 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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This is wonderfully convincing account not just of Thomas Becket but the times in which he lived. Whisking us effortlessly back to the twelfth century, this starts with the reign of Henry I then recounts the civil war between Stephen and Matilda, and the eventual accession of Henry II with Eleanor of Acquitaine as his queen.

Do be aware that the story, inevitably, is as much that of Henry II as it is of Beckett, just as that of Henry VIII's chief ministers can't be told without reference to the king himself. In fact, the story of Becket and his relationship to Henry reminded me, in more than a few places, of that between Cromwell and Henry VIII, perhaps an unintentional commentary on commoner-monarchical relationships across the medieval/early Tudor period.

John Guy, for me, is one of our best narrative historians: like Orlando Figes, he combines impeccable scholarship with a novelist's imagination and an eye for the compelling and telling detail. Unlike more 'popular' historians, Guy goes back to the primary sources and reads and documents them meticuously, here in end-notes rather than footnotes.

This is certainly erudite enough for scholars of the period, but is also accessible and gripping for general readers. This looks set to establish itself as the standard modern life of Thomas Becket - it's difficult to imagine Becket's history being told more vividly, engagingly and truly than this.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What a Guy!!, 26 July 2012
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MLAbrahams - See all my reviews
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The beginning of the book made me impatient. I had been looking forward to learning the facts about Becket but all I got at the start was a great deal about sources. Then a lot of what was set out about Becket's childhood and youth was conjecture - informed conjecture, of course, but not confirmed fact. Not Mr. Guy's fault but a drawback when aiming to give us the genuine lowdown on something of a 900 year old mystery.

I had similar misgivings about the central section of the book too. There is an extended section about Stephen and Matilda. There is a very great deal about the character and motivation of Henry II and his wars with France - all good, documented stuff and very interesting but NOT essentially about Becket!

I felt the book really got going in the latter stages as the story began to build up towards Becket's assassination - but that was maybe 1/4 - 2/3 of the volume.

It is an interesting book if the reader doesn't take too literally that it is a biography of Becket. Of course, background,descriptions of the historical context and portrayals of the other major players are all essential, but my own feeling is that the balance was not quite right.

The larger interest arises from the book's portrayal of the period, the monarchs, and the court, with a large chunk about the Chancellor/Archbishop. If it is bought and approached on that basis it is a good read.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, thorough, scholarly, readable account of a fascinating man, 20 Mar 2012
By 
Schneehase (Norfolk, 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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This is a new biography of Thomas A Becket (as I had always known him, although the author points out that few people used surnames in the 12th Century) - The really remarkable thing about this is that within a few months of Thomas's murder, people who had actually known him, worked with him, been in exile with him, watched or intervened as he was murdered etc started to write biographies of him and they aren't all hagiographic. To have such a wealth of firsthand information about a significant person from that long ago is truly extraordinary, very exciting and means that biographers such as John Guy can be pretty confident of their material.
Guy writes in a style which sits comfortably between dry facts and racy glossy fiction - he is presenting a factual account of Becket's life but does so in a very readable way.
Becket was truly an extraordinary person, deserving of so much attention - born into an ordinary family, he rose through the ranks to become so important that a king ordered his murder (and the reasons why may well surprise you!) and was punished severely for it.
Guy also explains all the shenanigans around Stephen and Matilda and how Henry II came to the throne as Becket's life spans these turbulent and fascinating times of our history.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who knows about this period of history and wants to read about it in a fresh and invigorated way and also for those (like me) whose knowledge of this period of history is sketchy at best - you will certainly learn a lot in a very painless way by reading this.
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