Another contemporary writer is fascinated by Galfridus’ Historia. Alfred of Beverley is a contemporary chronicler in the time the Primary Historia (the copy found at Bec in 1139) existed as a separate book from the Libellus Merlini (the first set of Merlin Prophecies in the public domain). The First Variant version of HRB was employed as partial evidence in obtaining a metropolitan for Winchester for Henry Blois and was tempered toward a Roman ecclesiastical audience, but scholars today still do not accept this fact because they deem the First Variant as a later version than the Vulgate version. Scholars today cannot conceive of the edition being tailored toward an ecclesiastical audience in Rome; simply because to this date, they still deny Henry Blois composed HRB.
We can conclude that prophecies which predict such a future metropolitan, may well have been added to the original Libellus Merlini set of prophecies to bolster Henry Blois’ case for procuring metropolitan status for Winchester during his visit to Rome c.1144. It seems likely that the prophecies were then added to become integral with the text of HRB in the 1149 attempt for Metropolitan status. The early prophecies were included into the version known as the First Variant HRB in 1149. The First Variant volume along with other evidences concerning Glastonbury (DA) and Winchester were presented at Rome so that Henry’s desire of procuring metropolitan status for the whole of the south west of England would be granted; because he had lost the legation and his power was reduced at this time.
In Alfred’s work the prophecies of Merlin are omitted. Merlin is presented in a more moderate light than in the HRB. Passages describing Merlin’s magic are removed or have their details cut down simply because they have not fully been expanded as we witness in the Vulgate. Merlin’s prophetic interventions are reduced in number.
Scholars today believe Alfred’s reduction of Merlin material that exists in the later Vulgate HRB is motivated by brevity and credulity but it is more likely the Libellus Merlini in 1147 (when Alfred’s version came to York) had not been added to the HRB as yet. Alfred says that the prophecies are ‘too long to be included here,’ which to me might indicate they are not in the version Alfred has and exist separately. Either way, at that time just the prophetia witnessed by Abbot Suger would have been available as the Prophecies had not yet been updated.
Wace avoided translating the prophecies for obvious reasons because Henry Blois composed the Roman de Brut and the Merlin prophecies. If he were to translate them, the complete sense might be revealed. Instead Wace holds that he did not understand them and did not wish to translate them in case what he said did not come to pass. As if!!!
Alfred of Beverley was ‘sacrist of the church of Beverley. He speaks of himself in the preface to his book as contemporary with the removal of the Flemings from the north of England to Rhos in Dyfed around 1110-2. Alfred also says that he compiled his chronicle ‘when the church was silent, owing to the number of persons excommunicated under the decree of the council of London.’ He says that his interest in history in general was first sparked off by reading Galfridus’ ‘Historia Britonum’.
Scholars seem to think Alfred recycled ‘Geoffrey’s’ work from a Vulgate version of HRB not what I have termed an abridged redaction which has not evolved from a First Variant’.329 Alfred’s version of the HRB text found its way north through one of Henry Blois’ nephews. Scholars today imply that Alfred relates to episodes exclusively found in the Vulgate version only. If this is a fact, I suggest to them to think again because Alfred’s edition is an evolving edition dating to 1147 before the final Vulgate edition had been published. Alfred’s edition did not evolve from the First Variant which undoubtedly existed before it but was edited to suit a specific audience at Rome. The Vulgate edition was evolving from the Primary Historia through First Variant versions and in a version without those specific additions and subtractions between 1147-51, when Alfred relates to Geoffrey’s work. This evolved Primary Historia edition of HRB did not pander exclusively to a Roman audience in its composition like the composition of the First Variant version of HRB i.e. Alfred’s copy is a hybrid version.
Alfred admits: ‘neither the Roman nor the English historians record anything about the illustrious Arthur, although he did such remarkable deeds with such skill and valour, not only in Britain against the pagans, but also in Gaul against the Romans’. Alfred too, questions if the Ambrosius Aurelius in Bede330 was the same as ‘Geoffrey’s’ Ambrosius. The reader will soon see that King Arthur’s fight against the Romans at Autun and Langres is of course described topographically and geographically so well in both the Roman de Brut and HRB because the scene is set in the county of Blois familiar to Henry Blois and not far from Clugny.
Alfred of Beverley wrote his chronicle entitled Annales sive Historia de gestis regum Britanniae, which begins with Brutus. His title informs us ad annum 1129 and so incorporates the history of England up to 1129.
329Crick recognises that unlike the First Variant, the second Variant is closely related to the Vulgate text. What Crick refers to as the second Variant is an edition of the stemma evolving toward the Vulgate without the inclusions and exclusions designed specifically for the Roman audience. Until it is firmly understood that Primary Historia evolved the Second Variant and then to the final Vulgate edition, the evolving nature is not recognised. Any theory about the evolving nature of HRB is denied by scholars on the basis that the dedications are real and therefore dictate a chronology.
330Historia Ecclesiastica, i 16
A second book or follow-on history by Alfred takes us up to the death of Henry Ist. Some commentators think Alfred put pen to paper c.1143 based on Hardy’s analysis of Alfred’s work. Our interest in Alfred of Beverley’s work is really only to establish that it was not written in 1143 as many commentators have thought, but the edition Alfred worked with was published at the earliest after the end of 1147 and was used as a template by Alfred probably in 1150-51 as Offler and Raine have concluded.
Many previous commentators have concluded the earlier date because Alfred relates that he wrote in an era of enforced idleness and thus refers to the Legatine council held in 1143. The splicing of the early prophetia into the version known as First Variant was not composed before 1144.
However, the First Variant has variant editions of itself such as Hammer’s edition which is mixed with excerpts that are assumed to be from the Vulgate edition not allowing my chronology. Whether these texts in their variant forms are through the copying of different editions or ‘overwriting’ is to be determined. However, the evolving nature of the First Variant and the stemma resulting in the HRB should become clearer over time once scholars rid themselves of the false premises that have dogged any light being shone upon the Matter of Britain and who was responsible for the dissemination of its material. The idea that some scholars have determined that the First Variant follows the Vulgate because some copies of FV have updated prophecies does not hold as an absolute because of overwriting. The fact that some scholars have recognised some prophecies to have been updated or changed is progress enough in terms of the glacial advancements made by recent scholastic endeavours.
The importance of the splice into the First Variant is that the prophecies of Merlin were not in the Primary Historia as Huntingdon unintentionally reveals; yet they had been spliced into a First Variant in the Libellus Merlini form and subsequently into a Hybrid edition before the fully evolved finalised Vulgate version of HRB was ‘now made public’. Certainly, the high church tone of the First Variant was not composed by the author for abbreviation in some cases or for expansion in others by comparison to the Vulgate edition, but by reason of its contents being read by a potential audience in Rome. The propensity for biblical phraseology and FV’s high tone with Classical borrowings is also indicative that the author of First Variant is versed in both Classical literature and is an authority in the church.
In Alfred of Beverley’s recycling of HRB he does not mention dedicatees, which, since much of his history is recycled from ‘Geoffrey’s’ work, one might think it an oversight not to have mentioned any of the illustrious patrons or dedicatees of ‘Geoffrey’s’ work. However, since we know the dedicatees in the finalised Vulgate HRB are not employed until after their deaths; Walter is not mentioned either by Alfred. We can therefore conclude Alfred is not using a finalised Vulgate HRB version. Although Alfred omits the prophecies of Merlin in recycling ‘Geoffrey’s’ work he does not mention Bishop Alexander either, but this is obviously because the copy he has must have been composed before Alexander’s death in 1148.
The Galfridus Artur edition of HRB arrived at Beverley through William Fitz Herbert or Hugh de Puiset, both Henry’s nephews. We may conclude Beverley would have obtained the version from either of these relations of Henry. We know that when the archbishop of York was deposed in favour of the Cistercian Murdac in 1147, William Fitz Herbert was staying with Henry at Winchester for some considerable time in-between 1147-53. Emma, the mother of William Fitz Herbert, half-sister of King Stephen and Henry Blois, was an illegitimate daughter of Stephen II of Blois Henry Blois’ father.
Hugh de puisset was the son of Henry Blois’ sister Agnes. Hugh held the office of treasurer of York for a number of years; during that period Hugh de Puiset had fled to Beverley in a confrontation with Murdac. It would not be logical to think the provenance of the Galfridus edition at Beverley found its way there by any other route than through Henry’s nephews since so few copies of HRB were in circulation at that time. Henry Blois had assisted Hugh’s ecclesiastical career which led him into conflict with the Cistercian Murdac.
This opinion of course runs contrary to modern scholar’s views regarding the distribution of HRB which is based upon the presumption that the Vulgate HRB was widely distributed at this time because modern scholars, un-discerningly, ‘lay aside’ the discrepancies in story-line related in EAW and its reduced Arthuriana section.
Scholars similarly account Alfred’s reasons for recycling what seems to be an un-expanded Arthuriad as a scepticism about King Arthur, rather than understanding that Henry had not fully developed his Arthuriad. Today’s modern scholars make ridiculous rationalisations for Huntingdon, the composer of EAW, having not mentioned Merlin or his prophecies in his synopsis of the Primary Historia. Modern scholar’s opinions are based on the presumption that the Bec edition of HRB and all subsequent copies were synonymous with the Vulgate excepting the First Variant and variants; but also, mistakenly assume the First Variant edition did not precede the Vulgate version.331
331One sure way of determining this (providing one can accept le roman de Brut having been authored by Henry Blois) is that Wace’s version would hardly commence following the First Variant version as a template for versifying the HRB and then Henry would finish the composition of the Brut by mirroring the Vulgate edition; especially if Vulgate had appeared first. This deduction will remain as unacceptable because the current concesus of modern scholar’s is that Wace’s Roman de Brut and Geoffrey’s HRB were composed by two different authors.
The First Variant version is the copy of HRB designed to aid Henry Blois in obtaining Metropolitan status. Speeches are more pious and a theme of divine retribution pervades the text, avoiding any stance which might annoy a Roman or Papal audience or be found to be blatantly incorrect regarding historicity found in continental or Roman annals excepting a few diversions from what is know at the time. Biblical allusions abound in speeches and narrative in the Variant version making the text more pleasing to a papal audience. Another feature of the Variant Version is the tendency to tone down or to omit altogether certain unpleasant or graphic details. The conversation between Bedwer, Arthur’s butler and the nurse of Helen, Hoel’s niece, at the latter’s grave mound on Mont St. Michel etc.
Once Henry Blois has finished with his metropolitan ‘agenda’, we can witness more anti-Roman sentiment in the Vulgate edition with additional Briton pride witnessed in rousing speeches, especially understood in the fact that the final updated prophecies in HRB appealing for sedition amongst the Celts in Briton.
Alfred has an abridged or evolved Variant in which Alfred refers to Stonehenge twice. The first is recycled from Huntingdon’s Historia Anglorum, where Henry provides an architectural description of the stones and provides the earliest use of the term ‘Stonehenge’. ‘Geoffrey’ knew the HA well and borrowed the name from HA recycling Huntingdon’s name ‘Stonehenge’. What is interesting though and concurs with EAW’s synopsis of Primary Historia account is the evolving nature of HRB. In Alfred’s second reference to Stonehenge recycled from the evolving HRB we see the description of the burial of Constantine, next to Uther Pendragon, in the stone circle but Alfred omits entirely Geoffrey’s account of the transportation by Merlin of the giants’ ring from Ireland and their erection. This account is expanded for the Vulgate version.
Alfred mentions Merlin on numerous occasions, but he presents a substantially moderated, scaled back version compared with Vulgate HRB. His omission of the transportation of the giants’ ring is an example of this similarity to the un-evolved Primary Historia. Given that Alexander died in 1148 and we understand that Alfred’s HRB edition may have arrived in York c.1146-47 and we can see that Alexander is used as the splice in Vulgate for the Prophetia, it is possible to conclude Alfred’s references to Merlin were from HRB narrative and not because of the prophecies themselves being included in the text but this point is unfathomable.
The Libellus Merlini witnessed by Suger and the Primary Historia were two separate works put out by Henry Blois. The splicing of the two books using Alexander as the impetus to translate the prophecies could only have occurred after Alexander’s death.
Alfred of Beverley repeats what Britannicus (Geoffrey) says about Merlin, i.e. the account of the young Merlin delivering the story about the two dragons fighting. It is possible that Alfred only mentioned the prophecies because they were known to be authored by Merlin and the Libellus Merlini account which circulated in Alfred’s day, he had read, but was not going to divert from recycling Galfridus’ historia. Or, since we know the that the edition found at Beverley came directly by route of one of Henry’s Nephews and the author of both the Libellus Merlini and the HRB, they could have been together at Beverley but still un-spliced.
The First Variant is devoid of personal detail found in prefatory accounts regarding ‘Geoffrey’ simply because a Welsh Galfridus Arthurus was the author and at this stage c.1144-47, no-one in particular was too concerned. The early PM Libellus was distributed quietly and acted as an aid and complement to HRB’s historicity but Alfred describes the prophecies as relating ‘to the future of the kingdom’, so he has definitely seen the set Abbot Suger had seen.
However, fortuitously, once the prophecies became spliced onto the HRB; the prophecies, initially designed to corroborate the historicity of HRB were now found in the same volume. Hoel’s speech like many others had not yet been developed where he compliments Henry Blois’ alter ego (King Arthur) on his ‘Tullian dew of eloquence’.332
Most modern scholars assume that EAW’s relatively modest treatment of Arthur and its omission of Merlin entirely influence Alfred in his History, not realising that the Primary Historia evolved into First Variant and Alfred’s copy had evolved from Primary Historia. If this is not understood, researchers still think that Alfred is openly sceptical of the ‘Arthurania’ by its reduction in his History and that Alfred moderates his portrayal of Merlin by comparison with the expanded Vulgate. The simple fact is that Vulgate had not been developed fully or published until 1155. Before this a compressed less detailed evolving Variant or Second Variant existed.
Another example of the un-expanded evolving version of Merlin is Alfred seemingly reducing Geoffrey’s entire detailed story in the Vulgate of Merlin’s powers of illusion; allowing Uther Pendragon to take on the appearance of Duke Gorlois of Cornwall and sleep with his wife Yegerna when Arthur is conceived; reduced to the briefest mention. The early edition is un-expanded and is evolving toward Vulgate, not as scholars have deduced i.e. reduced from Vulgate.
Concerning the story of Leir and his daughters, Alfred provides a highly condensed abbreviation of this story in his account. His treatment is far more concise than that of Huntingdon’s précis.
Alfred’s recycling of comparative Arthuriana found in Vulgate is obviously reduced because it is not yet developed. Wright’s333 category H constitutes a huge expansion on the Variant of about 50 additional chapters of narrative and speech. This is positive development in Vulgate and cannot be accounted as reductive in a proposed late Variant.
‘Geoffrey’ in these chapters spices up Vulgate with harangues and Battle scenes and generally throws caution to the wind where historicity is concerned while having held much closer in the Variant version to accounts known in continental, British, and Roman annals. Henry Blois actually shoots himself in the foot by adhering in the Variant to Bede too closely by repeating that the British population first migrated from Armorica which contradicts his Trojan foundation; but he then corrects this discrepancy later as Wace intoning that Amorica was the last location of continental adventures before arriving at Totnes.
332Henry Blois on the Mosan plates compares his stature in terms of legacy as an author to that of Cicero.
333Neil Wright. The First Variant Version; a critical edition. D.S. Brewer
Again, this proposition of a late Variant would never be considered if the differences in EAW had been taken into account and early researchers had not subconsciously assumed that a Vulgate version was that which was found by Torigni and passed to Huntingdon in 1139.
Alfred in his preface says that others around him had already read Geoffrey’s Historia and their mouths were full of his narrations. Alfred was by his own admission accounted an ignoramus (notam rusticitatis incurrebat) for being a stranger to Geoffrey’s work c.1149-50 by the other monks. We can gauge that the book arrived c.1147 through either of the author’s nephews and Alfred recycled c.1150-51.
Alfred witnessed charters in favour of the town of Beverley, the nearby religious houses at Bridlington, Warter, and Watton, and Rufford, between 1135 and 1154, but probably died about 1157, when a certain Robert attests as sacrist of Beverley.
The point is that, when Alfred says:‘when the church was silent, owing to the number of persons excommunicated under the decree of the council of London’…. he is not referring to the time of the council in London but what was agreed ‘at’ the council regarding ex-communication. The time that Alfred says he was composing his book must be after 1147 and within the time-frame up until Henry Murdac died in 1153. The reason for concluding this time span for Alfred’s publication is again linked to affairs concerning Henry Blois and his brother Stephen.
The poor state of the church at Beverley, which Alfred refers to, was a direct result of events which took place at York. William Fitz Herbert, as we covered earlier, was the son of Henry Blois’ sister and was Archbishop of York (twice); before and after the appointment of Henry Murdac. William of Newburgh records that William Fitz Herbert is ‘received with honour’ (put up) by Henry Blois at Winchester until re-established at York after Murdac’s death.334 King Stephen and Henry Blois helped secure Fitz Herbert’s election to York after a number of candidates had failed to secure papal confirmation.
Fitz Herbert faced opposition from the Cistercians who, after the election of the Cistercian Pope Eugene III, managed to have the archbishop deposed. Henry Murdac was a personal friend of the pope himself who was at Tiers at the time and thus consecrated Murdac as the new archbishop of York, on 7 December 1147…. effectively replacing Fitz Herbert.
However, York’s cathedral chapter and King Stephen refused to acknowledge Murdac’s appointment and Stephen imposed a fine on the town of Beverley for harbouring Murdac. In retaliation, Murdac excommunicated Hugh de Puiset (who later became Bishop of Durham), another (appointed) Nephew of Henry and Stephen who was at the time Treasurer of York when Murdac laid the city under interdict. Hugh de Puiset, in return, excommunicated the Archbishop Murdac and ordered church services to be conducted as usual. In this he was supported by Eustace, son of King Stephen.
John of Hexam relates that Hugh de Puiset fled to Beverley where even when Prince Eustace requested Hugh’s return to his see, he refused…. and probably also went to his uncle at Winchester. This era of church politics, (testing Rome’s power to appoint bishops), is the era in which Alfred refers to ‘when the church was silent’ i.e. when normal services were interrupted because numerous clergy were excommunicated.
From this we may surmise that Alfred had an evolved Variant (because there are still no dedicatees) branching off from certain differences noted in First Variant but not following its purposefully ecclesiastical design i.e. a seperate branch evolving toward Vulgate.
We will return to Alfred’s work when we compare it to the First Variant in a later Chapter. We can assume that there was not the amount of copies of HRB floating about the monastic system at that time…. which scholars seem to assume, based upon their dating assumptions derived by the dedicatees’ lifespans. The copy at Beverly was rare and it arrived there through a Nephew of Henry Blois.
334William of Newburgh, Cap XVIII.1
Aelred, Abbot of Rievaulx in North Yorkshire, author of Speculum charitatis (The Mirror of Charity), reportedly written at the request of Bernard of Clairvaux, Henry Blois’ nemesis,335 contains a dialogue between the author and his novice. The novice confesses in this exchange to being less moved to tears by pious readings than by fictitious tales of ‘somebody named Arcturus’. Later Aelred brands these tales as fabulae et mendacia, but the novice nor Aelred mention Merlin.
One would think that these could only be ‘Geoffrey’s’ fabulous tales and not something anecdotal which can be accountable as having been found in manuscripts of ‘saints lives’ or Nennius or Lambert of St Omer336 concerning Arthur. The reason I mention this is because Powicke’s study of Aelred reveals he composed Speculum charitatis in 1141-2 while novice master at Rievaulx and we should not forget Henry’s nephew William was installed in York in January 1141 (although not consecrated until September 1143).
What this shows is that in the middle of the Anarchy, an abbot in Yorkshire only three years (or so) after the Bec copy was found, may have been reading Geoffrey’s Primary Historia (ex-prophetia). In terms of propagation we must look to Henry Blois who has passed a copy to his Nephew, as the Primary Historia was not in wide circulation at this early date.
335The contention between Bernard and Henry Blois started over the Oxford Charter of Liberties in 1136 where Henry Blois managed to reassert the sovereignty of the Celtic church in England. Bernard’s reforms were nullified for a time. The Oxford charter retained power for monastic Abbots over Bishops; thus, limiting Vatican appointed Bishops to presiding exclusively over Vatican business in England. The charter effectively guaranteed autonomy for the Abbots. The Cluniac’s were not anti-papal but recognised that the papacy was starting to interfere with their institutions and Henry Blois, his mother and brother, all held Cluniac values. Ultimately, the Beaumont twins, siding with Clairvaux’s aims persuaded King Stephen to abandon Henry’s advice against the Papacy. Henry was essentially displaced in 1138 as archbishop of Canterbury on the advice that the Beaumont’s said he was becoming too powerful. To all intents and purposes, it was a papal plot to undermine Henry Blois so Roman power would not be reduced and Bishops would retain their power. This of course led to the mistrust between the Bishop of Salisbury which we covered earlier.
336Lambert in his Liber Floridus recycles from Nennius: There is a pile of stones in Britain in the province of Buelth where one stone at the top has footprints of a dog called Cabal, belonging to Arthur the warrior imprinted on the stone, from where he was hunting Trointh the boar in Carmy Cabal. Under that stone Arthur made the pile of stones. It is understood that when men of that domain remove a stone from the pile and secrete it for two days, on the third day it is found back on top of the pile. There is a sepulchre in Britain in the domain of Ercing near the spring of Lycatanir which pertains to Arthur’s son the warrior called Anyr, where Arthur buried him. Men try to measure the tomb, sometimes it measures 5 feet long, sometimes 8, sometimes 9, sometimes 15, but never the same measurement at any time. Arthur the warrior has a castle in the land of the Picts in Britain, built with amazing artistry in which are engraved all his escapades in battle. One can see the 12 battles against the Saxons who once occupied Britain. The first battle was at the mouth of the river called Gleuy. The second, third, fourth and fifth were on the river Dubglas. The seventh in the forest of Celidon and the eighth in the Castle Guinon, where Arthur carried an image of St. Mary on his shoulders in battle where the pagans fled. On that day there was a massacre of the pagans through the virtue of the Lord Jesus Christ and his saintly Virgin Mother. The ninth battle was in the City of the Legion. The tenth was at the edge of the river Tribuith. The eleventh was on mount Agned. The twelfth was on mount Badon, where 960 men fell in a single attack by Arthur with by the virtue of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In other words; what Aelred’s novice has read cannot be a First Variant version which we know was only compiled after William of Malmesbury had died in 1143 and for the express purpose to bolster evidence toward the case Henry Blois put forward in Rome in 1144 to obtain metropolitan status for southern England.
Tatlock is drawing the wrong conclusion in assuming the finalised Vulgate HRB was in full circulation when he understands that it was Walter Espec who had passed this copy on to Aelred. Tatlock’s theory is largely based upon the supposed evidences provided by Gaimar’s epilogue and the fact that Rievaulx was near to Walter’s estate of Helmesley and also the fact that Aelred gives a good description of Walter at the Battle of Standard.
The fact that Walter Espec was buried at Rievlaux aids Tatlock’s deduction. Tatlock reckons that Aelred’s is the first reference to HRB before 1147 (apart from Huntingdon) and the ‘earliest proof of divulgation of the Historia in England,’ (which obviously is assumed as the date when Alfred obtained his copy). But Tatlock’s date is based upon Walter Espec having received a copy of Geoffrey’s HRB from Robert of Gloucester who died in 1147.
The name of Robert of Gloucester as dedicatee was not employed until after his death and it is highly unlikely, Robert ever saw any version of HRB as Henry Blois was essentially at war with him until his death. So, Tatlock’s proposition should be ignored. There is nothing in the novice’s tears to indicate they could not come from the same version recounted in EAW i.e. the Primary Historia. Certainly, the story of King Lear, Helena’s rape by a giant, even the nostalgia of a once chivalric Briton would be enough to bring the soft-hearted novice to tears.
Tatlock has been duped by the misinformation inserted in Gaimar’s epilogue in L’estoire des Engles. Gaimar’s epilogue is vital in misleading posterity into believing Henry’s assertions that the ‘good book’ provided by Archdeacon Walter really existed, as posited in the Vulgate HRB.
The four written sources Gaimar refers to are Walter Espec’s book, the ‘Good book of Oxford’, the Winchester history, and an English book from Washingborough; all mentioned for a specific reason polemically.
It is one of my suppositions that Walter Espec’s name is included in the epilogue because in 1132 when Henry Blois had met Walter Espec, he had handed him a copy of his pseudo-history ( The very first draft destined originally for his uncle and Matilda) and he subsequently was trying to confuse us and contemporaneity by inventing Gaimar’s epilogue…. and the provenance of Walter’s book (by the invention of L’estoire des Bretons which no-one has ever seen). I can see no other reason for the inclusion of the name Walter Espec except to confuse by muddling all the versions if indeed Walter Espec had ever had a version.
Henry Blois had met Walter Espec when he signed a charter with King Henry Ist granting permission to build Rievaulx abbey.337 We will return to Gaimar in a later chapter but more importantly, to Alfred of Beverley’s use of an evolved First Variant version because contrary to scholarships belief, First Variant most emphatically preceded Vulgate and Alfred mentions no dedicatees or Walter. If Henry Blois had come up with the invention to introduce Archdeacon Walter to provide a provenance for Geoffrey’s source book at the time Alfred was recycling ‘Geoffrey’s’ HRB…. Alfred would surely have included this information. The need for this only really came after seditious priophecies were added to the Vulgate version and in case he was found out Henry could deny authorship.
337With the mention of Walter Espec in Gaimar’s epilogue it is likely that he had a copy of the original Psuedo-History which was later to become the material for the Primary Historia.
Apart from Huntingdon’s EAW there is only Abbot Suger’s recycling of the Libellus Merlini and Alfred of Beverley’s work from which we can deduce ‘Geoffrey’s evolution’ of HRB before 1155 (with Aielred’s anecdote). If, as scholars propose the First Variant followed the Vulgate HRB I can think of no good reason why Geoffrey would have crafted the ecclesiastical edition except for presentation to papal authorities in an attempt at gaining MetropolItan status for Winchester
Orderic’s interpolation we can dismiss because this contains the ‘Sixth in Ireland prophecy’ and is a late interpolation. Suger does not mention the ‘Sixth in Ireland’, so has an early edition of the prophecies. There would appear no reason to think that Alfred knew the prophecies from any other source than from the Libellus Merlini but where Merlin had been introduced into the body of the text of an evolving HRB which had expanded Merlin’s importance since the Primary Historia.
The omission of the prophecies (and Alfred’s mention of them) occurs at the point in the text where they appear in the First Variant and Vulgate so this is an evidence for their introduction into the text but no mention of Alexander so how was the splice made?
Alfred clearly knew of the prophecies, before stating that they were too long to go into. These prophecies were in some cases squewed in the later updated Vulgate edition, but seemingly (appeared to all) to have remained consistent with the Libellus edition. Maybe we can speculate that in the interim period since the advent of Primary Historia the First Variant had a set of the Libellus Merlini prophecies added which have since been substituted to the updated version from Vulgate.
It is my deduction this was carried out in the 1149 version of the evolved First Variant where the Merlin prophecies were added to the text after Alexander had died so Alfred’s text would not be the latest edition, since his arrived in the north c1147 and was a branch evolving toward the final Vulgate version.
So, the thorny question arises, if scholars can accept that the First Variant preceded the Vulgate and it was indeed employed as evidence for Henry’s request for Metropolitan status in 1144; the question is, when were the prophecies attached to the first Variant? The answer in my mind would be that the initial attempt at Metropolitan by Henry Blois at Rome in 1144 did not have the prophecies included in the text. But in the 1149 attempt when the First Variant was presented again in evidential support of his claim, the Libellus Merlini may have been spliced Obviously, the second attempt to gain Metropolitan status for Winchester in 1149 (after Alexander was dead 1148) would have been the catalyst for inserting the Merlin prophecies in the First Variant.
But firstly, scholars have to accept HRB was written by Henry Blois, secondly the Vulgate follows the First Variant edition chronologically and thirdly the prophecies of Merlin were written by Henry Blois.
This small mountain to climb as a conversion to a new view is virtually impossible to gain traction and that is even before we get to the broader aspects of the Matter of Britain. But this ties back into my view that Alfred of Beverley did not have a Vulgate version from which he recycled ‘Geoffrey’s’ work but had what I have termed an ‘evolved variant’ because Alfred’s edition is dated to c.1147 and therefore there is no dedication to Alexander. But what we do know is that Variant editions do have the dedication to Alexander and the near contextual content of First Variant and so are specifically designed to be acceptable to a papal audience. This I believe is the 1149 edition.
As far as I can figure out from when Huntingdon wrote his letter to Warin c.1140 until Alfred’s report c.1150-51…. there is still the omission of the account of the transportation of the giant’s ring. We will never know what the prophecies contained as Alfred said they were too long to include in his comment of Britannicus’ work. Alfred refers to Geoffrey as the Briton never as hailing from Monmouthshire and is skeptical of the Briton’s accuracy saying: ‘It is worth the effort to correlate what Bede has taken from Orosius and included in his History with this account so that the basic truth of these things which are read about Caesar, according to the Briton, can be agreed
Alfred recycling ‘Geoffrey’s’ HRB wondered why King Arthur and his war against the Romans at Autun was unrecorded by the Roman annals and the Frankish chroniclers saying about his recycling of Geoffrey’s history: without daring to detract from its historical accuracy, I have done my best to briefly extract from the British history all those things which seem true whilst leaving out those things which might appear to certain people unbelievable.
‘Geoffrey’ refers to Avalon twice in the Vulgate HRB. The first is to describe Arthur’s sword. Alfred, in his reworking of the passage concerning Caliburnus, where it is forged in the island of Avalon in Vulgate HRB of 1155 omits mention of the island. This is an important point and a reflection of Henry having evolved the importance of Avalon in HRB to become commensurate with Insula Pomorum in 1155 in VM.
Henry Blois composing the the First Variant had not fully developed his coalescing of material around establishing Avalon at Glastonbury. When Alfred describes the passage found in HRB where the mortally wounded Arthur is being taken to the island of Avalon to have his wounds tended, Alfred recycles this passage and here mentions Avalon, but significantly, omits the ambiguous word letaliter ‘mortally wounded’ which indicates that, like Huntingdon’s account in EAW, it is left open to accommodate the ‘hope of the Britons’ at this stage. It could just however be a case of Alfred reducing the recycling of the story but I would suggest that Arthur only becomes certainly dead when Henry Blois has manufactured a grave site for him within the Glastonbury graveyard. The word letaliter may indicate that Henry Blois has not yet decided to plant the body of Arthur at Glastonbury, but it definitely shows he has come up with the ’Mythical Island’…. but his muses have not fully developed the potential of Avalon. Alfred instead has Arthur only as ‘vulneratus est.’ and the word ‘letaliter’ found in Vulgate is a future development. Arthur is only wounded in battle and then abdicates
Afterall, it was this very Zeitgeist of ‘hope’ for the conquered Britons that fused with Henry’s muses to aggrandise an oft spoken but insignificant Briton warlord from the Saxon era into a fully fledged ‘Chivalric’ hero who had all the same morals and thought patterns of the Norman readership.
Alfred also refers to Stonehenge twice in his history. The first is recycled from Henry of Huntingdon’s Historia Anglorum – where Huntingdon338 provides an architectural description of the stones and provides the earliest use of the term ‘Stonehenge’ that survives. It must have seemed strange to Huntingdon discovering the Primary Historia at Bec because Henry Blois posing as Galfridus used the HA as a source for Primary Historia and almost certainly borrowed the name from that source.
‘Geoffrey’s’ Vulgate story of Merlin’s transportation of the stones from Ireland recycles Huntingdon’s name for the circle as ‘Stonehenge’. The evidence showing that the character and actions of Merlin is developed over time is that Alfred’s second reference to Stonehenge is recycled from the evolving First Variant which had developed the story. He uses the description of the burial of Constantine, successor of King Arthur, ‘next to’ Uther Pendragon. Since Alfred is not using (a finalised) Vulgate, he is not aware of Geoffrey’s further developed account of the transportation by Merlin of the giants’ ring from Ireland.
338Antonia Grandsen an understated scholar says: the way Geoffrey treats his known sources corroborates the view that he was capable of intellectual dishonesty. And again, a great observation: Geoffrey was a romance writer masquerading as a historian.
Alfred mentions Merlin on numerous occasions in book five of his History, but he presents a substantially understated and underdeveloped version compared to Vulgate HRB; quite obviously because he has a copy of a developing Variant. We must assume that the prophecies that Alfred saw (whether spliced or not) were from the Libellus Merlini and not the updated set now attached to the extant First Variant copies.
Alfred’s references to the name ‘Geoffrey’ are nil. He never uses the options of naming Geoffrey as Gaufridus Artur, or Gaufridus Monemutensis; although the latter would be impossible because Henry Blois had not come up with the Monmouth appellation until after he had signed the Charters at Oxford and thought he too would be from Monmouth like Ralf who also genuinely had signed his name on some of them.
Alfred always uses the term ‘Britannicus’. Some commentators may take Alfred’s Brittannicus reference to mean Celt or even Welshman assuming Alfred’s reference is based upon the author having situated Arthur in Wales. Alfred’s dismissal of the author’s personal name may indicate a scepticism by Alfred of Geoffrey’s existence in reality. Alfred does in fact come across as sceptical of ’Geoffrey’s’ work, but still very interested in its contents. Alfred, assuming that the Author has the same name as the protagonist, probably thinks the author is going a bit too far and does not want to proliferate further an assumed name.
Alfred makes the point that he is sifting the fact from the dross of Geoffrey’s account and if at this stage there had existed the assertion that the book had been translated, Alfred would hardly not mention that the book had never been heard of let alone presume to start correcting ancient Brittanic recorded history.Alfred knew Geoffrey’s history was inaccurate with such ridiculous inclusions such as Gormund invading.
One poignant fact never really discussed about Alfred’s work is why would he go to all the effort of abridging Brittanicus’ work if so many editions of that work existed in 1147-50. I can see it might be argued he is just trying to sift fact from fiction against Gildas Bede where they differ from HRB and other histories but all those at Beverley were reading the same edition delivered by Henry’s nephew. There were just not the swathe of manuscripts circulating all the monasteries and courts that is believed by modern scholars as Tatlock points out.
Alfred’s work refers to the HRB as the Historia Brittonum and its author is always named as Britannicus. Scholars need to realise that the Historia Brittonum was the title of the Primary Historia discovered at Bec. Subsequent versions were sometimes titled De gestis Britonum until such time Glafridus Artur became Geoffrey of Monmouth and the HRB was titled Historia Regum Britanniae in the final Vulgate version or De gestis Britonum.
Collation of the Alfred’s work with the textual differences between the Vulgate and FV versions of the HRB, compiled by Wright does not as is thought by scholars prove evidentially that Alfred’s work is derived from the Vulgate text. Alfred’s manuscript is a branch which is evolving toward the final Vulgate text but incorporates some recent developments in FV but does not incorporate the ecclesiastical bent of the FV but is nearly as modern. Scholars that believe FV was composed after Vulgate have not understood because they don’t know who the author of HRB is or why FV has the ecclesiastical template.
In 1147-8, when William Fitz Herbert had been suspended and the monks at Beverley had ‘all’ read the Historia before Alfred, Henry Blois had not come up with the name Geoffrey of Monmouth.339 Britannicus as an appellation by Alfred at this stage may not be based upon pudibundus Brito…. a reference to Geoffrey himself as ‘an unabashed Briton’ in a Variant version. This was probably only introduced in a revision of the prologue to the prophetia in the Vulgate version. However, pudibundus Brito seems to only be in manuscripts of the historia in Britain, which shows Henry Blois is under pressure and indicating to those hunting Geoffrey that they are looking for a Brit not a Norman.
Logically, (as long as we accept the back dating of Vulgate occurred) the prologue to the prophecies could not have been written until after Alexander died in 1148. The pudibundus Brito reference logically disqualifies Henry Blois as author (as a purposeful misdirection) especially if that edition of HRB derives from either of his Nephews. That specific Beverley edition was directly traceable back to him. By 1155 when Vulgate was published ‘Geoffrey is dead’. Anyone trying to trace Geoffrey would not be looking for someone of Norman heritage….. as intended!! This is plain from the new updated prophecies where the Neustrians are going to be defeated.
339The name, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Henry Blois only introduces after 1153, when he has signed the charters as Galfridus Arthur at Oxford and seen and imitated Ralph’s provenance. No twelfth-century chronicler more frequently refers in a historical text to ‘Geoffrey’ than Alfred does, but he does so by referring to him as Britannicus. Alfred does not refer to Geoffrey by name, only by ethnicity. If Alfred dismissed the Gaufridus Arthur appellation as an improbable pseudonym…. then why would he not once mention Geoffrey of Monmouth…. if his name existed with the text? The simple answer is…. the name of Geoffrey did not exist in 1151 at the completion of Alfred’s work. Obviously, Huntingdon in EAW calls him Galfridus Arturus but Robert of Torigni refers to him in his chronicle under the year 1152 as ‘Gaufridus Artur, qui transtulerat historiam de regibus Britonum de Britannico in Latinum fit episcopus Sancti Asaph in Norgualis’. Yet as discussed Robert did not compose consecutively so the ‘Translation’ reference is feasible for my chronology of when the ex brittanicus book appeared as a feature in the Vulgate version c.1155.
As an indication that the history was talked about (at least at Beverley) Alfred remarks: anyone not acquainted with the History of the Kings of Britain puts himself down as uncultivated.
Huntingdon’s omission in EAW of the three archflamens when mentioning Eleutherius’ missionaries only gets introduced into the storyline of First Variant when Henry Blois was in pursuit of metropolitan in 1144 just after Malmesbury’s death.
This however, leads to another deduction in that, Alfred had a copy of an ‘evolving Variant’ because Alfred notes by name Faganus and Dunianus sent by Pope Eleutherius where they were distinctly not mentioned in EAW. The preachers were not mentioned either by Malmesbury in any of his works, except those interpolated by Henry. The whole fabrication of Faganus and Dunianus sent by Pope Eleutherius was introduced into the Fist Variant as part of the evidential support of an apostolic foundation for Glastonbury when Henry was pursuing his claim for Metropolitan for the whole of Southern England.
These two very important figures Faganus and Dunianus were not included in Primary Historia.
As I shall cover later in the chapter on DA, the St Patrick charter was included in DA for the 1149 request for metropolitan status where the HRB edition was also presented as evidential supporting evidence and had the contents of First Variant i.e. the scriptural toned down contents; but most probably the 1149 version of FV also had the new improved dedication to Alexander that allows the insert of the Merlin prophecies to become part of the text.
Therefore, Alfred and the monks at Beverley c.1148 had the most recent recension of Henry Blois’s evolving HRB in the’ branch’ toward the finalised Vulgate which most likely Henry had originally passed to his Nephew before going north. This is the time when Henry was steadily evolving the Variant of HRB toward the final Vulgate in 1155-7 which incorporated the Colophon concerning the three historians and the updated prophecies and the ex-Brittanica ruse .