…and men shall admire the shepherd’s tower reared on high, and he shall be forced to open it to no purpose and to his own injury. Or translated slightly differently: and men shall admire the shepherd’s high battlements of his castle and he will be forced to unlock it without advantage and to his own hurt.
This follows immediately the prophecy concerning the arrest of the three bishops. It could just refer to the castle at Devises which we know through Henry Blois as author of GS; that he is very impressed with its construction. It could also be a prophetical allusion to Winchester.
The Shepherd’s tower may be at Winchester and this could be a reference to Henry himself being forced by Matilda to surrender it. It seems the architectural reference is not to Bishop Henry’s castle, Wolvesey Palace at Winchester which had a fortified tower but to another tower he had built in the place where the old Anglo-Saxon royal palace once stood (in the centre of the town).938 The old Anglo-Saxon royal Palace was immediately North West of the cathedral. Wolvesey Palace is in the south east corner of Winchester, not in the middle of the city.
The royal palace which Matilda had occupied was built at the time of the Norman Conquest and was in the south west corner of the city and was not built by Henry but could be the building with Tower to which he refers. Henry had a passion for architecture and he engineered hundreds of projects, including villages and canals, abbeys and smaller churches throughout his life. His greatest project was at Glastonbury Abbey before the destructive fire of 1184 which destroyed his creation.
Henry also designed and built additions to many palaces and large houses including the castle of Farnham and began the construction of the Hospital of St Cross at Winchester before he died. In London he built Winchester Palace as a residence for the bishops of Winchester. He built the final additions to Winchester Cathedral and Wolvesey Castle within Winchester’s medieval walls including a tourist tunnel under the cathedral to make it easier for pilgrims to view relics and even made a prophecy about the ‘holy hole’.
It might be suggested he had greater plans in mind when he wrote the prophecies of Merlin in the Libellus, where Merlin prophesy’s about Winchester: say unto Winchester: ‘The earth shall swallow thee: transfer the see of the shepherd thither where ships do come to haven, and let the rest of the members follow the head.’
He refers to himself as the hedgehog amongst other things as we have covered: The Hedgehog that is loaden with apples shall rebuild her….. He shall add thereunto a mighty palace, and wall it around with six hundred towers…. Within her shall the Hedgehog (hericus) hide his apples and shall devise ways underground i.e. the holy hole. The last sentence referring to the tunnel under the Cathedral that Henry Blois constructed. It is unclear where Henry Blois wanted to establish his own Metropolitan…. either in London or Winchester as both, in the squewing of the prophecy are mentioned but in reality, it was Winchester
Henry Blois was a keen observer of architecture. Building fortifications and structure are frequently commented upon sub-consciously in the GS even though it betrays his authorship unknowingly. He even refers to it himself in the Gesta Stephani as the bishop’s castle, which he had built in very elegant style in the middle of the town and of his palace, which he had fortified strongly and impregnably just like a castle. Henry refers to this structure which appears to have disappeared in Winchester. It must have been irreparably damaged or burnt in the fire in the siege as he himself as the author of the GS distinguishes it from his own fortified palace.
It is used as one of Henry Blois rationales at his speech at Winchester939 when he was noting the state of affairs of which the bishops were culpable (and himself included) when he said: 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.
Earlier in the VM in another prophecy he makes the very same observation as those in his speech to the bishops, except this time it is through the mouth of Merlin: Bishops will then bear arms, will then follow the military life, will set up towers and walls on sacred ground and give to soldiers what should go to the poor.
938See appendix 10
939See appendix 10