Historians have until very recently sought to avoid interpreting the past through employing the values and passions of the present. They have been travellers in a strange land, observers and not participants, assessors and not moralists. But practices seem to be changing, and the writing and teaching of history would appear to be transforming the subject into a series of judgements that measure the values and behaviour of the people of the past precisely by modern standards of moral sense. It is as if Sir Herbert Butterfield’s assault upon the ‘Whig Interpretation of History’ was in vain.
This new life of Thomas Becket by John Guy begins with some indications that it might turn out to be in the modern genre. At first sight the book might seem to be a quasi-polemical attempt to rescue Becket’s reputation from the mauling it has received at the hands of