Then shall bishops bear arms, and armed camps shall be built. Men shall build towers and walls in holy ground, and they shall give to the soldiers what should belong to the needy. Carried away by riches they shall run along on the path of worldly things and shall take from God what the holy bishop shall forbid.
One of the causes of friction between the Church and the barons was that hereditary and aristocratic barons were nearly on a par with bishops in terms of wealth. As lands were donated to the church both by the crown and by those who bequeathed lands booking a place in heaven, the church and monasteries became richer.
It became necessary after Henry Ist died to protect these lands from marauding knights and barons as peace throughout the realm crumbled. Castles were put up in various bishoprics and a transposition took place were those who were supposed to be protectors of the flock became protectors of their own wealth. Even though abbeys and bishoprics were expected to provide knights for the crown, these were now stationed at the vast array of castles that were springing up all over the country.
The bishop of Winchester built castles at Winchester (Wolvesey), Merdon, Farnham, Bishops Waltham, Downton and Taunton.897 Alexander bishop of Lincoln had castles at Newark, Sleaford and Banbury. While plunderers, as has many times been revealed, were everywhere pillaging the property of the churches, some bishops made sluggish and abject by fear of them, either gave way or lukewarmly and feebly passed a sentence of excommunication that was soon revoked; others but it was no task for bishops) filled their castles full of provisions and stocks of arms, knights and archers and though they were supposed to be warding off the evil doers who were plundering the goods of the church showed themselves always more cruel..898
897Annales Monastici ii, 611
898Gesta Stephani, Henry Blois
Henry Blois was one of the worst offenders and thus uses this ploy to state an understood fact as if it were a prophecy written back in the 6th century. At the same time, he alleviates any suspicion of authorship of the Merlin prophecies to himself by implicating such inappropriate behaviour by the church of which he is guilty.
He makes the same complaint in the Gesta Stephani for the same reasoning: likewise the bishops, the bishops themselves, though I am ashamed to say it, not indeed all but a great many out of the whole number, girt with swords and wearing magnificent suits of armour, rode on horseback with the haughtiest destroyers of the country and took their share of the spoil.
The towers in holy ground could be a direct reference to himself building a castle like tower as part of Wolvesey palace near the holy ground of the abbey…. gave orders for a most vigorous investment both of 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.899
There is no doubt as to the tower being in Winchester at the time as Roger of Wendover relates that Matilda ‘besieged the tower of the bishop of Winchester’. One castle which was in the middle of the city900 must have been near the cathedral (holy ground) and the other Wolvesey, (which had a tower also) is not far from the cathedral. At Wolvesey, the garderobe tower is that joining the north-east angle of the keep and the round tower of the ruins and is recorded to have been built by Henry Blois in 1138.
Henry bemoans the state of affairs of which he was very much part of. He at one stage had more knights at his disposal than Robert of Gloucester and paid their wages from ecclesiastical coffers. Henry in the prophecy above is bemoaning the dreadful state of affairs in the Anarchy while relating them as if Merlin had foreseen exactly what his audience understood was transpiring in their own age and fortuitously when the those hearing the prophecies could decipher their meaning. Henry is morose and reminisces and seems to be castigating as an apologist not only his own materialism but that of the whole Anarchy.
He refers to the holy bishop in the prophecy and his audience must have thought that he is one of the culpable. Again, this is Henry’s tactic which avoids suspicion of authorship of the prophecies. Not only does it reflect the views of the GS; it has too much in common with the bishop himself. 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!! What is more astounding, is that any Scholar would even consider that Merlin as a seer; or would just happen upon such insights specific to the first half of the twelfth century.
899Gesta Stephani, Henry Blois
900See appendix 22