Qualities and Lessons for Life from Youth of Becket by Charlotte Mary Yonge

Charlotte Mary Yonge was a nineteenth century English novelist, best known for her works, The Heir of Redclyffe, Heartsease, and The Daisy Chain. Real life stories featured a great deal in her literary pieces; some of them include A Book of Golden Deeds (a collection of true stories of courage and self-sacrifice), Cameos from English History, Life of John Coleridge Patteson: Missionary Bishop of the Melanesian Islands, and Hannah More. The Youth of Becket, which features the life of Archbishop Thomas à Becket, is one of the many descriptive sketches of people of historical importance.

The narrative begins with a brief account of the King Henry II of England, his role in the war against Count de Montreuil and his rule over England as one of the mightiest kings that the land had ever seen. King Henry is described as an alert and rapid person who hardly sat down. His face is compared to that of a lion and his taste for food and clothes, heedless. As the story progresses, a prosperous merchant by the name Gilbert à Becket, his serving man, Richard, and a young lady, who later gets christened Matilda, are introduced. Matilda gets married to Gilbert and they bear three children – son Thomas à Becket and daughters, Mary and Agnes.

Thomas’s qualities, from childhood to young adulthood are described with great fervor – how he becomes a popular name among merchants, knights and the Archbishop household, who finally confer him with the Archdeaconry of Canterbury. The narrative further entails Thomas’ secular nature and self- denying life habits. His appointment later as the Chancellor to the King, further polishes his character – he has been hailed as a worthy host not just to the King and his nobleman, but also to the poor who feast on the alms he gives away. His pupils include young men and the children of nobility, including King Henry’s own son.

Becket is later shown leading the embassy that is sent by King Henry to France; asking King Louis le Jeune to lend his daughter’s hand in marriage to Henry’s son. His dislike to be treated as a guest in France and the preference to remain a layman, is depicted in the incident where he gets his men to fetch provisions for him from the local market. As the narrative progresses, Thomas Becket gets appointed as the Archbishop, on the king’s orders. Henry is seen hoping that Thomas would secularize the church. On the contrary, Thomas resigns his chancellorship and devotes himself to the service of the poor, thereby setting a precedent for many religious duties carried out in England, even today.

Youth of Becket by Charlotte Mary Yonge, is more than a historical account. This simple and endearing narrative exemplifies qualities of self- discipline and righteousness. Thomas à Becket and his ways of life – in spite holding many positions of power and respect – compel the readers to re-evaluate their lives and belief systems in a new light. This cameo by Charlotte Mary Yonge is ancient tale of wisdom with relevance in modern times.

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