Q: How long had Thomas Becket been a priest when he became Archbishop of Canterbury?
A: Less than a day. He was an archdeacon, but had to be consecrated a priest quickly the day before the enthronement above.
This book is full of fascinating facts: John Guy is such a great writer of history, and he had some worthwhile material in the ever-fascinating story of Henry II and Thomas Becket, frenemies before the term was invented. In this passage, Guy makes the scene seem real and detailed, but he also makes it clear in the first line that he’s not winging it, he has factual backup for all this. The story – which ends in the murder of Becket, his canonization, his grave becoming a shrine and, ultimately, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales – has riveted writers ever since, particularly because of the homoerotic undertones in the relation between Henry and Thomas. As with every other aspect of the story, John Guy looks at the evidence carefully and calmly.
He certainly has an eye for the priceless detail:
The record of a grant of land Henry made in Suffolk to a jester called ‘Roland the farter’ for making a leap, a whistle and a fart annually at Christmas gives [an]...accurate impression of his [cultural] tastes.
John Guy’s book on Mary Queen of Scots, My Heart is My Own, is also magnificent, more hair-raising and extraordinary than any novel.
Links on the blog: Another saint here. In terms of Bishops, ‘only London, not Canterbury’ is a line from this book, Cardinal Wolsey got York but never Canterbury, and the Archbishop came calling in the famous first line of this novel.
The picture is of a Nottingham Alabaster representation of the enthronement, from Wikimedia Commons.