Thomas Becket

Thomas Becket
John Guy

The lives of the saints don’t always make for edifying reading. A case in point is Thomas Becket. A relentless social climber, Becket’s pride led him into a prolonged medieval pissing match with Henry II, which he lost. John Guy does his best to plead the defence, and there is much to be said for Becket being no worse than his sovereign, but in the end there could be only one sovereign, which is something Becket should have known. Even at this distance there’s still something unpleasantly jumped-up about Thomas. We recognize the type: the kind of person who puts on airs with unseemly haste when he wins the lottery. Finally, he died in stubborn defence of principles that are now obsolete (that is, not individual conscience but papal authority). A political saint, and a player who lost the game. There’s not much more to say.