John Guy, one of our most acclaimed and successful historians, brings a colossal figure of British history vividly to life in this unabridged, downloadable audiobook edition of Thomas Becket. Read by Roy McMillan. 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 sickly constitution, 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, he was a saint whose cult had spread the length and breadth of Europe, and a legend who remains as controversial and compelling today as he was during his life.
The story of Thomas Becket is the story of an enigma, as well as of one of the most tumultuous periods in English history. 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 dramatic times in which he lived and the pivotal role he played in his nation’s history.
©2012 Guy, John (P)2012 Penguin Books Ltd
"Illuminating and shocking"
My previous knowledge of Becket's life and death was based on the film, Becket, starring Peter O'Toole and RIchard Burton. I now realize that the film art-brushed out Henry II's tyrannical behaviour, mendacity and cruelty to any who tried to impede his wishes. The book gives a detailed account of the deteriorating relationship between Henry and Becket from bosom buddies to arch enemies with a wealth of information about this turbulent period in European history in the 12th Century. There's a dizzying amount of historical detail that warrants a visit to Wikipedia to remind one of the the genealogy of the main players as one skips from the English to French Court with detours to the Vatican and other European nobilty.
Frankly I couldn't keep track of all the many characters and the intrigues and double-dealing by monarchs, barons and clergy, including Popes (and there were more than one at any one time owing to a schism in the Catholic Church). However, the lively writing and engaging narration kept me listening. Even if you can't remember all the sub-plots and characters the gist of the story comes over clearly and what a story it is. Christian benevolence was lost under an avalanche of political intriguing, self-agrandissement, bribery and war-mongering from all quarters. Becket, and very few others, come out of the narrative largely untarnished and he guilty only of sticking stubbornly to his principles leading to his undignified assassination.
I was shocked by the deceitiveness and vindictiveness of Henry, even by Medieval standards, and by the general lack of morality among those in power, both lay men and clergy, and of the lottery of life when rule is by a dictator answerable to no-one.
If you're interested in biography enriched by history this book is an excellent example.
"A genuinely remarkable man"
Although this is a serious biography, Roy McMillan reads with care and sensitivity so the thread is never lost. A print version would give one the benefit of being able to flip back to check the identify of some of the characters who cross Becket's path from time to time, but perhaps it would not convey the overall sweep of his life so well.
Obviously in a biography the main character is critical; and Becket is certainly a riveting figure who rose from obscurity to a position of intimacy with the king, and then to a confrontation with him. The account of the character was not always consistent: sometimes John Guy depicts him as shy and uncertain overawed by the king, whilst at other times he is presented as a subtle and skilled political operator who followed his own path. The interaction was not only between these two men (with a panoply of secondary characters), but also between the two institutions they eventually led---the church and the secular state---whose relationship remained unsettled for another 400 years until the confrontation between Henry VIII and Thomas More, which eerily echoes that between Henry II and Becket. The book provides a raft of colourful and interesting details about Becket's life and offers a plausible picture of a man who was surely one of the most remarkable of his age; and even though I was inevitably left with questions, the book sets Becket's life in the context of his times, and describes how he shaped and changed those times.
His voice is pleasant, well-modulated and easy to listen to. There was however a problem: there are, unavoidably in a book of this period, many many French names of places and people; and Roy McMillan's French pronunciation was bad enough to be seriously distracting. It is acceptable to Anglicise all names and pronounce them in the English fashion; but if you want to pronounce them in French, then some basic attention to the rules of French pronunciation (eg the accent always falls on the last syllable) is indispensable. I found this really grated after a while, which is a shame because fundamentally Roy McMillan is a good reader.
No. It is a complex story with many subordinate characters and a good deal of detail, and I appreciated being able to pause and think.
This is one of the few biographies of a man who was colourful, powerful, and unexpectedly radical in his own day, and whose influence has echoed down the ages ever since, even to today: if you see the worn stone steps in Canterbury Cathedral, you cannot help wanting to know about the man whose death so galvanised the world that millions have come to pray at the site of his shrine over the last 900 years. It is well worth a listen!
"Very slow to warm up"
This is a solid, if often uninspired account of Thomas Becket's life, with an obvious focus on his time as Archbishop of Canterbury. The biggest drawback is that these events happened 900 years ago and there is a dearth of material which is genuinely contemporaneous. There is next to nothing available on his early life, and material about his relationship with Henry II is inevitably coloured by his canonisation.
As a result, the author pads out his book with a host of material about Henry's predecessors which is next to irrelevant, but accounts for about a quarter of the book. Next, he gives a critical review of the accounts of Henry and Thomas's interactions. These actions fill the book out and give a worthy analysis of the reliability of 900 year-old texts, but hardly engage the listener. As an aside, the narration is polished and engaging.
The pace picks up as the narrative reaches its climax, but this is really the last 10-20% of the book. Had it not been for some very long car journeys, I am not sure I would have got there.
Hard work, and ultimately unsatisfying.
I would definitely listen to this book again. It was a fantastic listen, and filled in many gaps about a story that I thought I really knew everything about.
The characters were really bought to life in all there glory, warts and all. It was fascinating to hear how much the Pope(s) of the day we're involved in the politics of such a far flung country as England was at that time in history.
Roy McMillan's voice was very easy to listen to. I never felt myself nodding off at all.
I live near to Canterbury and thought I knew everything about this story inside out. But it turns out there was still more to learn. It was so moving to hear how quickly Becket was put on the path to becoming a saint.
I can thoroughly recommend this book. If I didn't live so near to Canterbury it would certainly make me want to make a pilgrimage there to see the setting of such a great story for myself.
It's possibly unfair not to award 5 stars, but although this audiobook is excellent in many respects I didn't find it an easy listen. I had to go back again and again - 4 or 5 times for some chapters - because the concentration required to remember so many names, royal family trees, and to follow the many twists and turns of Becket's various hearings was often too great for driving home after a hard day's work. On the plus side, when I did "rewind" I actually got to the start of a Chapter, far too rare in Audible recordings, so if I could award a 5th star it would be for that.
"What happened to the 'a'?"
I found this book quite hard to get into,in fact I gave up to it for a couple of weeks. The narration so fast it was impossible to absorb the story. I don't think that it was explained anywhere in the book the change of the name from Thomas a Becket to Thomas Becket unless I missed it somewhere along the line. There is such a lot of information to take in and I am still not clear about the sequence of events. It just seemed to be about two pig-headed men, neither of which were particularly likeable
sorry to say this was a waste of my money never even finished it.bad quality sound .listening to this was hard.
Report Inappropriate Content
If you find this review inappropriate and think it should be removed from our site, let us know. This report will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.