Timed to appear for the 850th anniversary of Becket’s election as archbishop of Canterbury, this full-length new biography will be published by Viking in London in spring 2012 and by Random House in New York.
Behind the legend, there was a man.
In 1120 the wife of a Norman draper’s merchant gave birth to a baby boy in London’s bustling Cheapside. Despite his middle-class background and unremarkable abilities, he rose within the space of thirty-five years to become the most powerful man in the kingdom, second only to Henry II himself.
At his height, he led seven hundred knights into battle, brokered peace between nations, held the ear of the Pope and brought one of the strongest rulers in Christendom to his knees. And within three years of his bloody assassination in Canterbury Cathedral at the age of fifty, he was a saint whose cult had spread the length and breadth of Europe, inspiring works by Chaucer and T S Eliot.
The story of Thomas Becket is the story of an enigma. As the descendants of William the Conqueror engaged in a bitter struggle for the succession to the throne, this tall and handsome man climbed the rungs of power to become one of the most charismatic, adept and determined power-brokers of all time. At once a peace-maker and a ruthless manipulator, a lover of hunting and fine clothes yet with a reputation for asceticism, a dilettante who later found the capacity for rigorous hard work, but who remained deeply insecure about his background throughout his career, Becket’s singular abilities as a politician sprang from a host of personal contradictions.
Drawing on a vast array of contemporary records, personal letters and first-hand accounts, John Guy has reconstructed a psychologically compelling, stunningly nuanced and utterly convincing account of this most remarkable man, the tumultuous times in which he lived and the pivotal role he played in his nation’s history.
For nine-hundred years, Thomas Becket has been lauded and damned, venerated and judged. Here, in this living, breathing portrait, he is finally understood.
The UK paperback of Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel, Victim is published by Penguin Books on 25th April 2013.
An elegantly written, scrupulously researched and original study…Guy provides a splendid account of this infamous medieval tale and a nuanced portrait of its protagonist.Jonathan Wright, The Herald
[An] intelligent, confident and absorbing book.David Horspool, The Daily Telegraph
This is an important study of Thomas Becket … John Guy is a valuable and reliable guide and this book is a model of what a popular presentation of history should be: accessible and accurate, and distinguished by measured conclusions …. Altogether this is a splendid book.Edward Norman, Literary Review
…breathes new life into an oft-told tale of throne and altar antagonism, with its complex undercurrents of money, politics, religion and shocking violence. However well you think you know the story, it is well worth the read.John Cornwell, Financial Times
A thought-provoking book questions many of our assumptions about the martyred Thomas Becket.Helen Castor, The Sunday Times
…a lively, effortlessly readable biography…superb storytelling.Dan Jones, The Times
A compelling read … [Guy] knows how to take the familiar and shape it into a narrative that both improves our historical knowledge and is entertainingly astute, and in places positively moving …. Essential reading for the candidates for the post of Archbishop of Canterbury.Peter Stanford, Independent
Guy carries to the 12th century the scholarly and analytical acumen, and the vivacious prose, he has brought to the 16th …. It is Guy’s achievement, when he has stripped the embellishments, to leave us with a sense of Becket’s greatness.Blair Worden, Spectator
Guy wears his learning lightly, and this is undoubtedly the most accessible Life of Thomas Becket to be published in recent years. One of Guy’s great strengths as a biographer is his ability to elucidate not just the character and motives of his subject, but also the ways of the world in which he lived. His vivid descriptions of medieval London, of the Plantagenet court, and of twelfth-century Canterbury help us to understand the turbulent environment in which Becket operated, but they also add a novelistic quality to the volume … John Guy spins an enjoyable narrative which is evocative and entertaining, even as it informs.Katherine Harvey, Times Literary Supplement
Magnificently successful … for disclosing some of the difficulties of Thomas à Becket, and for rendering them both comprehensible and exciting to a modern readership, John Guy deserves both our thanks and our admiration.Nicholas Vincent, The Tablet
John Guy has given us an unfailingly lively, accessible and vividly written portrait of one of the giants of the middle ages.Eamon Duffy, The Guardian