Porchester shall see its broken walls in its harbour until a rich man with the tooth of a wolf shall restore it.
Portchester Castle is a medieval castle built within a former Roman fort at Portchester and is located at the northern end of Portsmouth Harbour. The Normans, at the beginning of the 12th century, commenced the erection of the Castle, under the orders of Henry Ist, and in 1133, at the instigation of Henry Blois. He gave a Charter to the Augustinian Monks of Normandy: This Charter, ‘Granted to God, and the Church of the Blessed Mary of Portcestre, and to the Canons regularly serving there, the Church of St. Mary, there founded by him, with the land and titles belonging to the Church, for the benefit of the souls of his father and mother and William, his brother, his ancestors and successors, and for the prosperity and safety of his Kingdom. Dated at Burnham on our passage overseas, 1133.
It seems that the church was already erected and functioning in 1133 with the monks in possession. The Church is one of the finest Romanesque churches in Wessex and the most precisely dated. The Canons did not stay long at Portchester, for they were moved away between 1145 and 1153, to a more spacious house at Southwick and there built a new Priory by Henry Blois who controlled Southwick and its brothels. Papal Bulls issued by Pope Eugenius II in 1145 and 1153 were addressed to the Priors of Portchester and Southwick respectively, setting forth that the Pope received the Churches and the Priories under his protection.
After the Norman Invasion the manor of Portchester was granted to William Maudit, a powerful magnate, and it was probably he who built Portchester Castle. At this time, it would probably have been defended by a wooden palisade and a moat, with the original Roman stone walls of the fort acting as the defence of the outer bailey. Maudit died in about 1100, and his property passed onto his son, Robert Maudit. He died in 1120, and a few years later the family estates came into the hands of William Pont de l’Arche through marriage to Robert Maudit’s daughter. This same William Pont de l’Arche was also the man who refused to give Henry Blois the keys to Henry Ist coffers at Winchester just after King Stephen’s arrival on the throne mentioned in the GS.
The evidence for building at this time is that the stonework of the castle is similar to that of St Mary’s parish church, which was built in the 1130s in the outer bailey. The church was built for an Augustinian priory which Pont de l’Arche established within the castle in 1128. Given the exchange between Henry Blois and the belligerent William in December 1135 spoken of in the Gesta Stepani, We know why we have this Merlin Prophecy. Since the cannons were moved to Southwick, after the death of William Pont de l’Arche in 1148, one the castle was taken over by Henry Blois. Although who inherited it is uncertain.
However, when the Henry Blois supported the Empress Matilda (for a short time while his brother was imprisoned) in 1141, William Pont de l’Arche handed the royal castle over to the Empress for he was still Castellan. After the rout at Winchester when Henry Blois’ allegiance reverted back to his brother and after the Angevin victory at Wilton, William Pont de l’Arche, picked a very serious quarrel with the King’s brother, the bishop of Winchester871and was sent reinforcements in the person of Robert son of Hildebrand a person of low birth as we hear in GS.
However, while holed up with the Castellan Hildebrand seduced William Pont de l’Arche’ wife and locked William in his own dungeon in Portchester castle. Henry Blois as the writer of the Gesta Stephani takes great pleasure in describing Robert’s downfall from what sounds like syphilis: the traitorous corrupter lay in the unchaste bosom of the adulteress and crept through his vitals, and slowly eating away his entrails it gradually consumed the scoundrel.
There is little doubt that William Pont de l’Arche would have been released after starting the very serious quarrel with Henry Blois; so, one must assume since the cannons were moved to Southwick, that Henry had appropriated Porchester castle in 1143 in the episode described in the GS before a grant reinstating it to Henry Maudit.
The earliest extant reference to the castle is in a grant from 1153 in which Henry II granted the castle to Henry Maudit even though Henry II ascended to the throne in 1154 and Stephen was not even dead. The main reason for Portchester castle’s inclusion in the updated and expanded Merlin prophecies in the Vita Merlini is no doubt the connection to Marcus Aurelius Carausius; a one-time self-appointed Emperor of Britain.872 ‘Geoffrey’ refers to Portchester as Kaerperis so as to conflate it with one of Nennius’ unidentified cities and is then borrowed as such by Henry of Huntingdon.
871Gesta Stephani- Henry Blois
872See chapter on Henry Blois and Magister Gregorius, De mirabilibus urbis Romae
One would suppose the rich man in the prophecy is a reference to Henry Blois himself, even though history does not record his involvement in any rebuilding of walls; we might assume this is autobiographical. His reference to himself as the ‘fang of a wolf’ is part of his camouflage. When we understand that it is Henry writing Porchester shall see its broken walls in its harbour until a rich man with the tooth of a wolf shall restore it… one assumes he is alluding to himself. The wolf is derived from the association of ‘Wulf Island’, the old bishop of Winchester’s residence and this is why it is termed ‘Wolvesey Palace’, Henry Blois’ residence of splendour. My guess is that Henry organized the rebuilding of the wall’s and ‘Merlin’ just happened to see into the future way back in the sixth century, a wealthy person (with a connection to a wolf) doing the same.