THE SWORDS OF DECEMBER by Robert York

THE SWORDS OF DECEMBER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The famous Henry II-Thomas … Becket 12th-century embroilment--in a strenuously different version. The narrator is William of Colchester, chronicler and close friend of Thomas. William pounds down the tangled routes of the power battle between Crown and Church and in a tedious monotone carefully spells out the theological machinery central to his weird version of Thomas' death. According to York, Thomas and William were Cathari, followers of a Christian heresy containing elements of belief and rites not always compatible with Christianity. Henry is not a religious man but is acquainted with the old gods of bull and sun worship. The King's major blunder in forcing Thomas to become Archbishop of Canterbury here is that the common people, still close to the ancient religions, expect the Archbishop to assume the role of the Divine Victim, a sacrifice to relieve floods and droughts. (There is quite a to-do about the Kiss of Peace, which signals the identity of the Victim.) William records the events and dialogues as Thomas travels to the courts of Henry and Queen Eleanor, the Pope, and Louis of France--and Thomas' end is arranged by himself after a ritual ""Self Judgment"" before others of the faith. Very odd--and uncommonly drear.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1979
Publisher: Scribners