Notebook

True Honour

While out on a long drive, I listened to a podcast of Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time dedicated to Thomas Becket. None of the participants, specialists all, seemed to consider it possible that Becket’s mature recalcitrance may have been based on sincere conviction. The idea that faith might be, or become, the defining reality of a person’s life was not entertained. Such a priori scepticism on others’ behalf is bound to make for a shallow reading of history, and indeed of the present. Jean Anouilh, whose play inspired the 1964 movie Becket with Burton and O’Toole, was nearer the mark when he put this prayer into the newly consecrated archbishop’s mouth: ‘I gave my love, such as it was, elsewhere. […] Please, Lord, teach me now how to serve you with all my heart, to know at last what it really is to love, to adore, so that I may worthily administer your kingdom here on earth, and find my true honour in serving your divine will.’ As Henry II remarks with a mixture of disdain and awe later on, when Becket’s position is fixed: ‘Here he is, in spite of himself.’