When Thomas Becket in 1170 exasperated his opponents to such an extent that they killed him, it was only natural that all sorts of writers should at once seize upon this sensational topic.
The first biographies appeared in Latin, but the vernacular works came out almost as soon. The earliest non-Latin life of Thomas Becket that we have today is that written in French verse by Garnier of Pont-Sainte-Maxence, here offered in translation. It was completed between 1173 and 1175.
Garnier was a professional writer, good at and proud of his craft. He was dextrous in his use of words, he knew how to produce crisp dialogue and vivid realization of character, and how to organize his material competently. Also he believed in the importance of going and finding out - he had not known Thomas personally (though he had seen him, sitting a warhorse and encouraging his troops), but he did all he could, travelling to Canterbury and other parts of England to interview those who had known him, and to get at the facts. Garnier's Vie Saint Thomas is an important historical document, an early and beautiful example of Old French literature, a rattling adventure story, and what is more, an eye-opening introduction to 12th-century feelings and ideas.
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