Saturday, February 19, 2005

Thoughts about the WIP

I've linked this back to the livejournal that I'm using as a sort of brainstorming place for what I want to work on next. I don't actually plan to be cross-posting like this, often.

Lately I've been thinking about Henry II and the murder of Thomas a Becket.


...The monks were solemnly chanting vespers to Almighty God, as he entered the sacred temple of Christ, shortly to become an evening sacrifice. The servants of Satan pursued having neither respect as Christians to his holy order, nor to the
sacred place, or season; but attacking the dignified prelate as he stood in prayer before the holy altar, even during the festival of Christmas, these truly nefarious Christians most inhumanly murdered him. Having done the deed, and retiring as if triumphant, they departed with unhallowed joy. Recollecting, however, that perhaps the transaction might displease the person in whose behalf they had been so zealous, they retired to the northern parts of England, waiting until they could fully discover the disposition of their monarch towards them.
Source: The Church Historians of England. Vol. IV - Part II. Translated by Joseph Stevenson. London: Seeley’s, 1856; pp. 465-7; 478-81; 493-5.
A terrible thing to love a king, and find yourself set against him. Even worse to be the king, though. The seeds of tragedy lie within human fallibility.

Divine King of England: A Study in Anthropology, by Margaret Murray, supposedly suggests the murder of Becket was actually a ritual substitute sacrifice, a Sacred-King sacrifice. Katherine Kurtz played with this idea in Lammas Night, sort of an alternate-WWII-history fantasy.

The problem IS that Murray and many of her ideas have been co-opted by more marginal new-age sites and proponents. I'm unsure as to the quality of her actual scholarship. I have a lot of work to do, there. I can't find an actual copy of her book, Divine King--which might at least help me distinguish what has been sensationalized and taken out of context. I'm off to the library as soon as I have a free day--because I just don't trust the internet for reliable sourcing.

Meanwhile, I'm completely infatuated with the picture of Becket, murdered at vespers, monks chanting, candles lit... during the Christmas season. I'm not alone in my interest, of course. There is also the French play, Becket.


Henry, legend has it, walked barefoot to Canterbury as penance. Becket and Henry, by all accounts, had been closer than brothers, at least at an earlier point in their lives and relationship. Henry was apologizing to Becket, or to the Church? Probably both, life and history being complex and fraught with rich nuances of relationship and politics. And he didn't actually cover as much ground barefoot as he might have.

Still.

The idea of the murder as a voluntary laying-down-of-life for the king--his close friend and almost brother--as a surrogate sacrifice...hmm.

Gawd, what a story, though. No matter HOW it really played out, once upon a time. You just KNOW the real story is infinitely more complex than history can really tell us.

4 comments:

Julian Black said...

I can't find an actual copy of her book, Divine King--which might at least help me distinguish what has been sensationalized and taken out of context.

I'm chiming in late, having only just now decided to follow the link from your LJ to here. If you haven't already managed to track down a copy of The Divine King in England, Suzallo Library at the University of Washington has a copy (call number 929.72 M965d). You won't be able to check it out, but you can either copy the sections you need, or read it there...

Mac said...

Thanks Julian. I haven't followed up yet, being up to my ears in medieval texts...but I will. Makes it handy to have it so local.

Anonymous said...

mac please leave aphone number V.I.P

Mac said...

Anonymous, I'm certain you aren't asking me to publically post my phone number on a blog...

If you need to get ahold of me, you're welcome to email me at macallisterstone AT yahoo DOT com.