A fine re-telling of the long and unforgiving feud between the monarch and the man of God is of course the heart of this biography of Thomas a Becket, in the hands of an always solicitous historian. The son of a Norman burgess, educated at a priory and with a worldlier training at the Castle of Pevensey, there were early indications of Thomas' leading passion-ambition, and an incident which was to him a presentiment of the greater destiny to follow. But as a young man trained as a lawyer, he secured only indifferent positions until he was taken into the Archbishop's household and then appointed Chancellor by the young King Henry. The early years with Henry, the gay companionship, willing fealty, vain luxury (""The mob must be dazzled"") ended with Thomas' reluctant acceptance of the Archbishopric of Canterbury- a post with a traditional obligation towards the humble and oppressed. With Thomas' open opposition to Henry on a matter of taxation, the dispute which was to last many years was enjoined and Thomas was determined to be ruled by God not the ""customs"" of a king. Henry raged and both stubborn men went too far to withdraw in dignity. And the mighty drama of pride and humiliation, exile and excommunication festered and lingered through five years. Thomas' attempt at reconciliation was incomplete when Henry denied him the Kiss of Peace, and a few months later he met his anticipated death in the desecrated House of God.... There is not the intense, internal conflict of T.S. Eliot's n the Cathedral where Thomas with stood ""the last temptation"" (""...to do the right deed, for the wrong reason"") of immortality through martyrdom, and this is of course a more conventional and less controversial interpretation- a careful and substantial portrait for serious tastes.