What an unutterable crime that man, whom the Creator of the universe made worthy of heaven in honourable liberty, should be roped and led to the sale like a cow! You miserable man, you who turned traitor to your master when first you came to the throne; you shall yield to God.
When it is understood that Henry Blois is writing the VM in the period between 1155 and 1157, it is plain that he is twisting some of the prophecies from a previous version. Henry Blois writing as Merlin is actually referring in this prophecy to events which happened in the early Anarchy and may well have featured in the early Libellus Merlini or its update c.1150. We may speculate that Henry Blois is squewing the meaning here in VM to appear consistent with the previous set of prophecies put out in the Libellus Merlini.
When the King Stephen came to England, he held his council at Oxford; where he seized the Bishop Roger of Sarum, and Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln, and the chancellor Roger, his nephew; and threw all into prison till they gave up their castles. (Anglo-Saxon chronicle 1137)
The prophecy is Henry Blois’ allusion to events in 1139 where the Bishops Roger of Salisbury and Alexander of Lincoln were seized by King Stephen at the instigation of the Court, whilst Bishop Nigel of Ely fled to Roger’s castle at Devizes. Roger of Salisbury was dragged to Devizes and forced to open and surrender the castle. Roger had been in-charge of ‘the throne’and state affairs while Henry Ist was away in Normandy and was well trusted by King Henry Ist. Roger may be understood to have abused his position for his own material gain during that time.
As we can see in the account below written by Henry Blois in the GS, King Stephen was being led astray on bad advice and Henry Blois was annoyed at his brother’s naivety. It was probably the Beaumont brothers who implied that Bishop Roger was planning to join the Angevin cause. Stephen was led to believe that if he did not act by seizing Roger of Salisbury and his relations castles…. they may be used against him; especially if Roger and his relatives joined Matilda.
Henry Blois the composer of Merlinian prophecies is at the heart of this decision and advises against such action. The Beaumont twins again influence the King to the King’s own detriment. It is for this reason Henry Blois posing as Merlin includes this passage in the VM as it affected him greatly…. that his brother would not listen to his advice as we can plainly understand in GS.
By the King’s order, the captive bishops were kept apart from each other in abominable conditions. Roger was contained in the stall of a cowshed,901 and Alexander in a vile hovel; they were also kept from obtaining any food. King Stephen ordered Roger’s son to be brought forward, with a halter round his neck i.e. should be roped and led to the sale like a cow!…. threatening to hang him before the gates of the castle, unless the bishop of Ely surrendered forthwith.
901C. Florence of Worcester p. 108, says the Bishop of Salisbury was put in a cowshed.
We can see by the next two extracts how much this incident affected Henry Blois, as he knew it was the beginning of his brother Stephen’s downfall. As I cover later, in the section on the Gesta Stephani, Henry knows this action was taken against Stephen’s own better judgement to placate courtiers:
The count of Meulan, and those other adherents of the King who were on terms of the closest intimacy with him, indignant at this splendid pomp of the bishops, were inflamed against them and with a furious blaze of envy, and far from stifling the fire of their malice, once it was a light they made many shameful and slanderous accusations of them to the King.
For they went on saying that those bishops owned the primacy of the Kingdom, all the splendour of their wealth, the whole force of men for personal ostentation and profit, not for the King’s honour; that they had built castles of great renown, raised up towers and buildings of great strength, and not put the King in possession of his Kingdom, but to steal his Royal Majesty from him and plot against the Majesty of his crown; wherefore it would be judicious and was most expedient for the Kings peace to lay hands on them, that they might give up to the King for his honour the castles and whatever else could give rise to strife and wars, but that there should be yielded to their disposal, in pious and Catholic fashion what pertained to the church and to the sacred character and rights of the Bishop.
If the King they said, were minded to follow their advice as he relied on their valour and wisdom, he would arrest those men without formalities and put them in custody not as bishops but as sinners against the Pacific office of the Bishop and suspected enemies of his peace and public order, until by the restoration to Caesar of their castles and those things that belonged to Caesar the King was safer from suspicion of rebellion (the charge alleged against the bishops) and his country was more tranquil.
On hearing these councils, which they goading him perpetually, put before him with more envy and suspicion than piety and justice, the King was in a quandary and great in decision of mind, since on the one hand it was a serious and unlawful step to commit a disrespectful assault on the priestly order, and on the other it went against the grain and seemed a slight not to listen to his intimate advisers and the chief men of his court. At length overcome by their persistent entreaties and the constant and vehement pressure that they brought to bear, for his own honour and a piece of the Kingdom he allowed them to do to the bishops as they asked. In this he certainly yielded to the weight of very foolish or rather mad advice, because if it is unfitting and forbidden to offend any man, according to the well-known maxim, ’do not do to another what you do not wish done to yourself’.
It is much baser and less permissible to show disrespectful violence in any way to the highest of the ministrants at the holy altar. For to do one in the sight of men is acknowledged to be a great transgression; to bring the other to pass is considered, and really is, a monstrous sin against God himself. Hence also the Lord says in the words of the prophet,’ he that touches you touches the apple of mine eye’. And in the gospel, he that despiseth you despiseth me’. And to inflict dishonour so rashly and recklessly, or dishonourable extortion, on the ministrants at the holy altar he thus for bids them in the words of the prophet saying, ‘touch not mine anointed’. For my part, I proclaimed firmly and boldly that God himself cannot be more swiftly or more grievously offended by anything than by any man’s offence, in word or deed, to those appointed to serve at his table. And indeed, the sons of Korah, because they rose up proudly and haughtily against those set over them, not only incurred reproach from God but perished by being swallowed up alive. Saul too, because in imperious and unseemly fashion he rose up against the priests of the Lord, was not only dispossessed from his Kingdom in the sight of the Lord but fell by a most cruel death in war. Having set forth these few words to put straight the insolent despisers of God’s servants, let me at length return to my subject.902
William of Malmesbury said that after the three bishop’s humiliation by King Stephen, the King had been urged to atone for his sin and finally had not rejected a summons to the church council. It can be seen in the next piece why this is so close to Henry’s feelings and why it is a Merlin prophecy in the VM. Henry Blois is recorded by William of Malmesbury in HN on the same topic:
Next he (Henry Blois) made a speech before the council in Latin as he was addressing educated men on the indignity of arresting the bishops, of whom the Bishop of Salisbury had been seized in a room at court and the Bishop of Lincoln in his lodging, while the Bishop of Ely, from fear of such a precedent, had escaped disaster by a speedy flight to Devizes. It was a lamentable crime he said, that the King had been so led astray by those who instigated him to this as to order hands to be laid on his men, especially when they were bishops, in the peace of his court.
To the King’s disgrace he had added a wrong to heaven, in that, under pretence of the bishops being at fault, churches were robbed of their property. The King’s outrage upon divine law caused him so much grief that he would sooner suffer great damage to his person and possessions than that the dignity of bishops should be lowered by such a humiliation. The King, moreover, had often been urged to atone for his sin and finally had not rejected a summons to the council. Therefore, let the Archbishop and others take counsel together about what should be done; he himself would not fail to carry out the decision of the Council either out of regard for the King who was his brother, or philosophy property or even danger to his life.903
There can be little doubt as to the author of the Vita Merlini being the same as the Gesta Stephani. It is interesting to note though, Henry Blois forgets for a moment his anonymous authorship referring to the Bishop of Winchester as different from himself or in the third person, when he interjects; for my part, I proclaimed firmly and boldly that God himself cannot be more swiftly or more grievously offended by anything.
This obviously was a great offence to Henry. Ganieda prophesy’s again of the same event at the end of the VM; exposes definitively Henry as both author of Vita Merlini and GS. Henry understood Stephen’s actions against the three bishops offended God himself. He thought it was the very reason for the troubles Stephen endured in the Anarchy.
902Gesta Stephani. Henry Blois.
903Historia Novella, William of Malmesbury.
At the capture of Stephen when William of Ypres and the Count of Meulan had deserted; Henry even has Stephen admit his own fault in the GS: when at length they disarmed him and he kept on crying out, in a humble voice of complaint that this mark of ignominy had indeed come upon him because God avenged his injuries.
Henry Blois is in effect putting words into his brother’s mouth in the hope that posterity views his brother in a better light. This is in fact a defining moment in the Anarchy where Henry realised that his own advice as a brother was no longer listened to by Stephen. The Beaumonts and other envious toady courtiers had (by their iniquitous advice), caused Stephen to make a grave error of judgement that offended Henry greatly…. and other clergy.
If Orderic vitalis’ portrayal is more accurate in reality, Orderic then confirms the Beaumont’s suspicions were in fact real. The fact that Orderic implies Roger of Salisbury as a pending turncoat against Stephen; he might be more accurate than Henry’s tarnished view (against church) in hindsight. Looking back, Henry sees this as the defining moment of Stephen’s downfall, but if the bishops had gone over to the Angevin cause, it would have been the end of the Blois brothers.
Orderic relates that Bishop Roger had: useful connexions, and strong castles, as he had been at the head of affairs throughout all England during the whole of King Henry’s lifetime, obtained a bad reputation above all the great men of the realm for being disloyal to his King and lord, Stephen, and favouring the party of Anjou. He had accomplices intimately attached to him, in a son who was the King’s chancellor, and two nephews of great influence, one of whom was bishop of Lincoln, and the other bishop of Ely. Emboldened by their vast wealth, these men presumed to harass the lords of their neighbourhood with various outrages.
Roused by these sharp attacks, many of them formed a league against the bishops, and when an opportunity offered, took arms by common agreement, and tried to obtain satisfaction for the wrongs which they had suffered. The two brothers, Waleran and Robert, with Alain of Dinan, and several others, raised a quarrel at the city of Oxford with the retainers of the bishops, and falling on them, several men were slain on both sides, and the bishops Roger and Alexander were arrested.
But the bishop of Ely, who was not yet come to the King’s court, being lodged with his attendants in a vill outside the city, had no sooner heard the dreadful news than, moved by his evil conscience, he fled with all haste to the strong castle of Devizes. He then, having laid waste with fire the whole country round, put the castle in a posture of defence, and determined to defend himself in it against the King with all the force he could muster. The King, much incensed on hearing this, marched an army towards the place, and, sending forward William d’ Ypres, charged with severe threats, swore that bishop Roger should be kept without food till the hostile castle was given up to him.
He also seized Roger, surnamed ‘the Poor’, the bishop’s son, and gave orders that he should be hung before the castle gates in sight of the rebels; for his mother, Maud of Rimsbury, the bishop’s concubine, kept possession of the main building of the fortress. At last, the bishop of Salisbury, by the King’s leave, had a conference with his nephew, and much blamed him for not retiring to his own diocese, but stealing away in a rage to a place belonging to another, when he found that the peace was broken; and reducing thousands to want by the devouring flames. But his arrogant nephew, with his followers, persisting in their rebellion, and the incensed King having commanded that Roger should be immediately hung on a gallows, his trembling mother being informed of the lamentable condition of her son, in her anxiety for him leapt up and said: “It was I that bore him, and I ought not to lend a helping hand to his destruction. Yea, rather I ought to lay down my own life to save his.” Accordingly she immediately sent a message to the King, offering him the strong fortress …..
Henry of Huntingdon has a similar take on the events: For, after receiving amicably Roger, bishop of Salisbury; and his nephew Alexander, bishop of Lincoln; he (Stephen) violently arrested them in his own palace, though they refused nothing which justice demanded, and earnestly appealed to it. The King threw Bishop Alexander into prison and carried the bishop of Salisbury with him to his own castle of Devizes, one of the stateliest in all Europe. Therefore, he tormented him by starvation, and put to the torture his son, the King’s chancellor who had a rope fastened round his neck, and was led to the gallows. Thus, he extorted from him the surrender of his castle. Unmindful of the services which the bishop had rendered him, more than all others, in the beginning of his reign. Such was the return for his devotedness. In a similar manner he obtained possession of Sherborne Castle, which was little inferior to Devizes. Having got hold of the bishop’s treasures, he used them to obtain in marriage for his son Eustace the hand of Constance Lewis the French King’s sister. Returning thence, the King took with him to Newark, Alexander, bishop of Lincoln, whom he had before thrown into prison at Oxford.
This whole event covered by many contemporary chroniclers is something that obviously struck to the heart of Henry Blois, mainly from personally witnessing a starving Roger, a man of God, a Bishop in that awful situation.
One observation which strikes me is that if it had not been for Florence of Worcester, the relevance of the Cowshed and Henry’s allusion to being ‘led like a cow for sale’ from it; the prophecy would have less relevance to us in posterity. In fact, without the GS we would not have the insight on Ganieda’s prophecies. These Freudian slips of similar attitude from opinions, often subconsciously given in GS; becoming opinioned prophecy by Merlin, gives away Henry’s authorship of the Merlin prophecies. Don’t forget the consensus of scholars is that whoever wrote the Merlin prophecies wrote HRB because they discovered the prophecies add to the historicity of HRB as a device.
I had a scholar contact me saying ‘yes’ he could accept that the Merlin prophecies were written by Henry Blois and conceded ‘just’ that GS may also have been written by Henry Blois but he would never consider that ‘Geoffrey’ was Henry Blois. So, I repeated to him the scholar’s adage that whoever wrote Merlin prophecies must have written HRB because Merlin corroborates Geoffrey’s false historicity. But you can’t unlearn 200 years of Dogma!!!!!