In this lively new biography of Thomas Becket, Guy (A Daughter’s Love: Thomas More and His Dearest Meg, 2009, etc.) illustrates his vast knowledge of medieval England.
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.
Guy exposes Becket’s history so well that readers may question how much of a saint he really was.