In this final installment of the trilogized, 12th-century confrontations of Henry II and Thomas a Becket, Butler continues her fastidious scholarship and cool strategies of character and plot. The Henry of this book evolves smoothly from the Henry of The Lion of England (1973) and The Lion of Justice (1975) without one wrinkle of inconsistency: an often cruel, demanding, increasingly canny ruler, driven to contradictory actions by the need to protect his throne and a more unwieldy, elusive need--to be loved. Archbishop Thomas, Henry's equal in pride and passion, has by now consolidated his territory--the Church of his domain--and defends its boundaries in a leonine crouch. Butler has surrounded the two behemoths with historical personalities who bristle with a variety of talents, prerogatives, and Vendettas--including shrewd King Louis of France and his clerical counterpart in power ploys, Pope Alexander. The book begins with Thomas in Flanders pondering gambits to force Henry to reverse his edicts against Church authority. After six years of feint and thrust, Thomas returns, and a brief, mutual attempt is made to link destinies--but the touch is fatal and Thomas is murdered. The author approximates the intricacies of the intramural struggles of king, Church, and barons through court and boudoir dialogue and careful miniatures of clerics, nobles, ladies, and the assassins themselves. Butler is wise to forgo emotive turbulence for precision (she has incorporated much ""authentic"" dialogue), and she has achieved a responsible, thoughtful, and convincing work.