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Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  686 ratings  ·  107 reviews
A revisionist new biography reintroducing readers to one of the most subversive figures in English history—the man who sought to reform a nation, dared to defy his king, and laid down his life to defend his sacred honor
Becket’s life story has been often told but never so incisively reexamined and vividly rendered as it is in John Guy’s hands. The son of middle-class Nor
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published July 3rd 2012 by Random House (first published April 5th 2012)
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Average rating 3.95  · 
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 ·  686 ratings  ·  107 reviews

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Dec 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Professor Guy has written a very good biography of one of the iconic churchmen in English history. He paints a fascinating picture of both Becket and Henry II. The author traces Becket’s rise from the son of a middle class merchant to the 2nd most powerful man in England as Henry’s Chancellor and to then how he becomes the Kings implacable enemy when he is Henry’s choice as the Archbishop of Canterbury over the objections of most of England’s bishops. In addition to tracing Becket’s rise and fal ...more
Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont
Apr 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
Kings can be dangerous and uncertain friends. Thomas More, Lord Chancellor under Henry VIII, knew as much. A close political and personal adviser to the king, he harboured no illusions about their relationship, telling Will Roper, his son-in-law, that “If my head would win him a castle in France, it should not fail to fall.” His head did fall, though not over a castle in France. So, too, in a way, did the head of Thomas Becket, the martyr Archbishop of Canterbury, who was murdered for defying th ...more
A fine example of why your GR friends are helpful to your reading success. I was ready to DNF this one pretty quickly. I simply could not stand the high amount of speculation the author uses. Prior to Becket being elected Archbishop, very little of the story is solid fact. The author uses "he surely did this, undoubtedly this was the reason, it's likely he thought....blah, blah, blah". If he was going to write fiction, then label it as such. But reading happy's review ( ...more
Mar 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book was excellent, I really enjoyed reading it. I came to this book in a roundabout way from reading Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett.

For ease's sake, I'll just copy a post I made in a buddy read thread for Murder in the Cathedral, by T.S. Eliot:

I finished reading Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel, by John Guy. This plus watching the movie, Becket makes me feel ready to go back for another go at those tempter speeches in Part One of Murder in the Cathedral. I still have 18 days re
Thomas Becket. Whether that name makes you think of Canterbury, martyrs, or Richard Burton; it regardless is a powerful name. Prolific biographer/historian (and husband of fellow biographer Julia Fox), John Guy opens the door to explore who Becket truly was in “Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel”.

The format of “Thomas Becket” may catch some readers off guard as the work is not a typical biography simply following a note-figure from birth to death. Instead, John Guy exposes various elements a
Jan 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: research-shelf
Excellent biography of Thomas Becket which draws on a wide range of sources. While there are one or two minor historical nit-pick errors, the main drive of the narrative is well researched. It's a balanced view that doesn't make Becket a saint, but is sympathetic in bias. Henry II has the gloss stripped away from him and does come over as a controlling tyrant. And do you know what? I think (having been researching Henry II for a while now) I think Guy gets as close to the truth as anyone in his ...more
Balanced, well-researched look at Thomas Becket and Henry II. Vivid narrative.
Mar 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
John Guy has written some brilliant historical biographies, 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 Henry II, as their lives, and fates, were so entwined with each other.

Thomas Becket was born to middle class, but fairly humble beginnings. His early life showed very little of what was ahead - surprisingly he was not academically minded as a young
Nov 17, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: british-history
Half way through, and one thing is clear: Becket was a pompous, childish, jerk. He's a martyr to the flaws in his own personality. The second half was more interesting: both Becket and Henry II became more alive.

The quarrel between Henry and Becket was more personal than political, as Guy concludes. Henry, yes, wanted what his Tudor namesake took--a "channel" church, with fealty to King not Pope. But he also was incredulous that Thomas, a commoner Henry himself had elevated to state council, th
A meticulously researched biography of St. Thomas Becket of Canterbury, one of England's most famous saints. John Guy sifts through copious source material to separate fact from pious fiction. The resulting picture of Thomas Becket glows less but impresses more. Guy explains what the argument between Becket, a hot-headed archbishop and Henry II, a demanding and devious tyrant, was actually about. He informs us that the king did not really utter the famous but altogether apocryphal words, "Will n ...more
The surest way to my heart is to teach me something, and, if that "something" is rooted in history, the odds are favorable that I won't soon forget the teacher. (Persistence helps, too, because I'm not the quickest filly to the water.) So, it is with deep appreciation that I give a shout to Clem, an engineer turned medieval art historian who volunteers at Canterbury Cathedral.
I had been wandering the cathedral half-heartedly, and an older gentleman with a yellow sash called out to me to ask him
Apr 07, 2019 rated it liked it
John Guy’s Thomas Beckett; Warrior, Priest, Rebel gets three stars because it is not that hard to read but…
It gets mired in too many on the edges issues. Details about who was allied with who and who wrote what appeals or protest. So, lots of names and very little reason to know many of them.

Thomas Beckett the warrior is a matter of a few pages and much of that about how the not yet Archbishop was already offering advice King Henry II did not want to hear.

What exactly was Thomas’s Theology? What
Timothy Lugg
Aug 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
John Guy writes a fascinating account of the life of Becket and his relationship with King Henry. I was was impressed by a few different aspects of Thomas Becket's life. His commoner roots put him at a disadvantage throughout his life, though he mostly overcomes this handicap during his life and certainly in death. Thomas had talent to accompany his sizable ambition and he made every effort to capitalize on both. Though his love of ostentation sometimes betrayed his pride, it demonstrated his qu ...more
May 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A full and rounded picture…

Written in a way that is very accessible to the non-historian, this book gives a full and rounded picture of the life of Thomas Becket and the politics of the court of Henry II.

Throughout the book, the author fills out the political and social background to the events of Becket’s life, so that we see the contrast between Becket’s relatively humble origins (coming from what would now be thought of as the middle-class) and the exalted court and religious circles in
May 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I purchased John Guy’s superb new biography of Thomas Becket as the Archbishop was central to my MTh dissertation. Uniquely, Guy uses the first third of the book to unravelling the complexity and egocentricity of Henry II’s court. I was struck at how similar some institutions operations are today. Guy builds upon Barlow’s very strong (revolutionary) academic work on Becket (from some 15 years ago) but covers the historic background in much greater detail and utilises this information in informin ...more
Jan 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
A great addition to the corpus of literature on this fascinating figure. Guy is a biographer, first and foremost, yet he is not unaware of the historical and hagiographical implications of Becket's legacy. While at times a bit grasping in his search to uncover some dirt in Becket's youth or in his career as Chancellor prior to being named Archbishop, Guy is nonetheless very adept at reading between the historical lines. Though nearly always arguable, and sometimes downright conjecture, Guy's ana ...more
Mary Alice
Mar 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
John Guy has written a revisionist biography of Thomas Becket, friend and enemy of Henry II of England. The story is probably much more accurate than the legend which was fictionalized by Jean Anouilh in his play Becket. Guy introduces the notion that Becket was always a pious Catholic, even during his early friendship with Henry. And Guy does not believe that Becket and Henry were ever close buddies even before Becket was ordained a priest and made Archbishop of Canterbury.

The story is heavily
Nov 27, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
The early parts of the book did not come alive for me. Only when, nearly half way through, the conflict between Becket and Henry II gets going did the book become more interesting.
The story of Thomas Becket, St Thomas of Canterbury fame, is one of the formative myths of the English nation - and I use the term 'myth' deliberately, because whilst most people (hopefully) know something of the story of Thomas Becket and his martyrdom, I suspect the history behind the story is much less well-known. And yet it is hard to overstate the importance of Thomas Becket in English history - not just in his struggles against the over-mighty Henry II but in the place his cult and shrine ...more
Sep 14, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 1000-1300ca
Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel
John Guy
Read it Hardback at 448 pages, including maps, index, bibliography.

Thomas Becket was an interesting guy living in interesting times, from relatively meager beginnings he attains power as never seen outside of the throne. Born around 1120AD, as a youth Becket traveled and took his apprenticeship from the Church, studying law and then moving into ecclesiastical offices. He was eventually to become Lord Chancellor under Henry II and friends for a time, g
Aug 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Nothing new under the sun: politics, backstabbing, changing allegiances, breaking vows, state capture, way back in the twelfth century. John Guy brings this period and the intense struggle between Henry II and Thomas Becket effortlessly to life, with a plethora of details regarding the complicated diplomacy involved, and Becket's tragic end. It is riveting to read, given the larger than life main characters.

Niks nuuts onder die son nie: die komplekse politiekery, staatskaping, die verbreking van
Mark Durrell
A truly gripping biography. Well researched and written with enthusiasm.
Ellen Ekstrom
Jul 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: i-like, history
I was not prepared for this engaging and detailed yet readable biography of Thomas Becket. Like so many, I believe, I was first introduced to Becket via the Peter Glenville's cinema adaptation of Anouilh's play with Peter O'Toole as Henry II and Richard Burton as Becket. I was pleased that Mr. Guy's work was more history than hagiography. Henry II and Thomas Becket are shown for what they were: stubborn, impulsive, vain, the list goes on. Thomas Becket, the son of a London merchant, was 'raised ...more
May 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Sequester -(ME - sequestren, fr MF sequestrer)
Did not expect this to be the issue between Henry II and Thoms Becket:
To wit -to sieze especially by writ; sequestration - the act of sequestering - the stte of being sequestered - a legal writ authorizing a sheriff or commissioner to take into custody the property of a defendant who is in contempt until he complies with the orders of a court. (Glad we don't have this to contend with in the 21st century.)

You may have thought you knew what the probl
Apr 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel, by Cambridge lecturer and BBC broadcaster, John Guy, is the most medieval fun I’ve had this year (full disclosure: my academic life was in Medieval Studies). Too often, popular medieval history is knights and crusades, kings and plague, so it was a joy to read something written by a confident storyteller which also contains serious scholarship. Guy’s approach to Archbishop Thomas Becket, a towering figure of the twelfth century who was kille
Nov 20, 2013 rated it liked it
I really thought this period of history would be fascinating. After reading three books on this time period, I've concluded either it really wasn't too interesting or the historians writing about it don't have the ability to make it come alive. (In truth, the written record of this period is porous.)That said, this, of the three books, was the best. Not really saying much. Guy started out strong, giving a vivid picture of London in the 12th century and the geo-political landscape. But, then he g ...more
Apr 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
John Guy's new biography of Thomas Becket is sympathetic to Thomas' position, but honest about his shortcomings and failures, especially in the early years of his conflict with Henry II. Guy's solid original research sheds new light on the relationship between the two men, and the sources of their fight. In this excellent biography, we see Thomas moving step by step from ambitious young man on the move, to bishop fighting the tyranny of a king, to martyr. Guy provides a convincing argument agai ...more
Aug 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Knowing next to nothing about English/Norman/French history of this late 1100s time period, I found this book totally fascinating. It was a cruel and war-torn time, when kings with "divine rights" challenged feudal barons in their castles for total political and economic control. And the Church wanted control of its business and economic powers, which it tried to accomplish by its own diplomacy, calling numerous peace conferences and using its own moral enforcement techniques. The assassination ...more
Sep 26, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: history buffs
As I recall, my fascination with Becket began with the marvelous movie starring Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole, which remains one of my favorites. Later I visited Canterbury and shuddered while standing in the spot where he was murdered. But the most impressive thing of all was observing how the stone steps down to the crypt, which contains Becket's tomb, had been worn down 2-3" by all the pilgrims over the centuries.

This book tells the story of his life in detail, complete with his relationsh
Oct 08, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bio
Decent. It gives a much better sense of an ambitious individual than the usually told tale of "good" vs "evil". Uses info from contemporary sources well.

Note for self.
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John Guy is recognised as one of Britain's most exciting and scholarly historians, bringing the past to life with the written word and on the broadcast media with accomplished ease. He's a very modern face of history.

His ability for first class story-telling and books that read as thrillingly as a detective story makes John Guy a Chandleresque writer of the history world. Guy hunts down facts with

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