The Narracio de mirabilibus urbis Romae is a strange little book by an unknown author who was from England. He describes a visitor’s account of the marvels he witnessed while visiting Rome. The author is highly educated and has a taste for statues and the architecture of buildings interest him. He is also interested in monuments such as triumphal arches. The mysterious author has taken upon himself to write a short piece in Latin of about 4,500 words of what he witnessed while visiting Rome. Many of the descriptions though, are of artwork pieces not traceable and may never have existed there; and appear to be derived from a pseudo-historical book supposedly written by Bede on the seven wonders of the world, the anonymous De septem miraculis mundi. Some of the accounts describing the Art pieces or buildings have highly original material attributed to them not corroborated elsewhere.
What I have been accused of by scholars who do not contest my theory but who cannot seem to accept that Henry Blois is responsible for writing so many tracts, is that if the tract is not in their area of expertise ‘I have over exaggerated Henry Blois’ output’. Not one comment have I received from any scholar out of the hundreds of emails received which states categorically that a certain manuscript could not have been written by Henry Blois. My thesis is a continuous thesis one evidence leading to the next; it is not a pic and mix take or leave expound as you please alternative take on Geoffrey of Monmouth, Glastonburyalia, or romance material. So I have included this manuscripy as I believe the expressions, the haughty way in which it is written and at times having little regard for the truth, may indeed reflect certain interests of Henry Blois’ experience and his interests.
It would seem as if some accounts found in the Narracio de mirabilibus urbis Romae had been invented by the author ‘Gregorius’ himself. He is a man not unfamiliar in forthrightly adducing a sometimes-bogus historical anecdote to interest his reader. So, the question is whether this Narracio was written by Henry Blois on one of his many trips to Rome. It has startling similarities not only regarding the interests of Henry Blois, but also Gregorius has a fascination with a statue of Marcus Aurelius which he dwells upon more than any other object in his short exposé.
The Narracio was first known through an extract found in Ranulph Higden’s Polychronicon a monk at Chester. A later and more complete copy was then found at Cambridge. Having now seen that Henry Blois is reluctant to put any manuscript to his name, it would seem that ‘Gregorius’ calls himself Magister also, not unlike Galfridus Artur had done when he signed his charters at Oxford with his scribble while Henry Blois was in the scriptorium at Oxford as we covered earlier.
‘Gregorius’ never alludes to where he is from and this anecdotal evidence usually is consciously or subconsciously transmitted in a manuscript except where someone purposefully wishes to hide their authorship. We know Henry Blois is the master at this device.
Henry Blois or rather ‘Gregorius’ is staying at an inn in Rome as a visitor. A few of the historical accounts relating to the objects he describes in Rome, he attributes to information supplied to him by Cardinals. This is certainly no uneducated or unconnected visitor with an interest in casual art, but a man so interested in antiquity, statuary and architecture, who, without ostentation subconsciously portrays his extensive reading by giving quotes or anecdotes arrived from Livy, Lucan, Virgil and Ovid; and these are some of the authors which ‘Geoffrey’ has used as source material for his HRB and VM.
From Dark Age sources, ‘Gregorius’ refers to Isidore of Seville’s Etymologiae798 which as I covered earlier constitutes a large part of the ‘naturist source material’ for the VM supposedly put in the mouths of Taliesin and Merlin. ‘Gregorius’ also quotes from memory a recent Hildebert of Lavardin, who as bishop of Tours Henry Blois might have met in ecclesiastical circles. In 1125 Hildebert was translated unwillingly to the archbishopric of Tours from having been at Le Mans; where he came into conflict with the French King Louis VI about the rights of ecclesiastical patronage, and also with the bishop of Dol about the authority of his see in Brittany.
798Adam of Damerham witnesses that Isidore of Seville’s Etymologiae sive Origines was donated to Glastonbury abbey by Henry Blois.
Certainly, Hildebert sent letters and poetry to Adela of Normandy, Henry Blois’ mother advising her on clemency, and praised her regency of Blois. Hilderert of Lavardin’s poem ‘par tibi Roma’ from which ‘Gregorius’ quotes, from memory, the first two lines (as the sense but not the same words are used), shows that the era was awakening with a new regard for antiquity and the glories of a bygone age i.e. Greek and Roman, much as ‘Geoffrey’ searched back to the roots of the Britons .
It is not improbable to suggest that Henry is posing as Gregorius. As usual the one place to which Gregorius is said to be returning (presumably in England), is omitted from the Cambridge text and is not mentioned by Higden. In Gregorius’ prologue to the Narracio, similarities are found much like the dedications found in the HRB and Vita Merlini where Henry establishes that he is someone other than Henry Blois, demeaning his composition with self deprecating humility calling it a ‘poorly composed report’ but ‘overcomes his bashfulness’ in setting down his ‘unpolished prose’ by the insistence of a Master Martin and a Lord Thomas.
It is a device so similar to that used in the preamble dedication to Alexander in the Prophecies of Merlin and that dedication to Robert de Chesney in the Vita Merlini. Henry Blois certainly knew Thomas a Becket archbishop of Canterbury, but by picking this name, it may indicate the date of publication to 1162-1170 when ‘Thomas’ was Archbishop.
‘Gregorius’ begins his exposé seeing the city of Rome spread out before him as he descended the slope of Monte Mario. He then includes a list of the city gates before telling us of the marvels found inside the walls. His first subject is that which impressed him most i.e. the Bronze statues. It is interesting that on Henry Blois’ epitaph on the Meusan plates, Henry seems to think at the time he had them fabricated he would also have a bronze effigy of himself on display in Winchester…. otherwise I can see no other sense in the meaning of ‘Henry, alive in bronze, gives gifts to God’.
After a brief account of a bronze bull he gets into the lengthiest account, by comparison with any other piece of interest which he describes, when he describes the equestrian monument of Marcus Aurelius in two chapters with dubious commentaries seemingly designed to explain the background story behind the bronze…. explaining the dwarf beneath the horse’s feet and the tale in explanation of a cuckoo on the horses head. ‘Gregorius’ then attempts various fabrications which are derived from the anonymous ‘seven wonders of the world’ ascribed to Bede whose work is referred to (‘luminous tractae’) by Geoffrey of Monmouth and obviously used as a source for the HRB.
Henry Blois, (our author Gregorius) goes on to identify a head and hand having come from Nero’s Colossus, said in the ‘Seven Wonders’ work ascribed to Bede, to have straddled the harbour of Rhodes. ‘Gregorius’ also picks other items from the work while discussing statuary and other architectural marvels.
The point of all this, much like the HRB, can only be accounted by Henry’s fascination with antiquity. With Henry Blois’ vast reading, he is interconnecting history just as he had done in the HRB basing his accounts from the ancients and bringing them to life…. always with just enough substance to seem credible; but drawing in the interest of his reader, relating accounts about certain objects that formerly were said by him to have been in Rome.
Henry is always conscious of history and is in a way re-writing it for posterity so that they may formulate an impression from his anecdotes. Henry Blois’ accounts act as a shadow of history rather than a mirror i.e. history distorted, not always accurate, but the historical eras are connected for the medieval mind and made more interesting and alive by Henry’s anecdotes. ‘Gregorius’ much like ‘Geoffrey’ is bold in his assertions; the Spinario or Thorn-Plucker is confidently attributed to be Priapus a fertility god because of the size of its genitals. Our author covers marble statues and palaces and the Egyptian obelisk, said to contain the ashes of Julius Caesar. This reminds him of the Pharos of Alexandria, again from Bede’s seven wonders and the ramble seems cut short and ends suddenly without conclusion.
Not surprisingly, the characters in the Narracio are Pompey, Brutus, Cassius, Tiberius, Augustus Marcus Aurelius, Scipio, Nero etc. not a thing about St Peter or Constantine as one would expect a man who mixed with the curia in Rome to be more interested in. Henry Blois has little respect for the papacy (Roman church) although he was legate and used its power to establish his own power in Britain. Cluniacs in general had a deference to the pope but Henry especially because he was cognisant of a British church which stood on a merit equal to Rome, he just could not find evidence for it.
Henry was more remiss than most in his respect for the papal institution to which he often needed to appeal to and yet often had had cause to answer to. Because of his nobility he was bestowed with the legation in a power play; specifically when Stephen had spurned him for the post of Archbishop of Canterbury and handed the post to Theobald of Bec. On several occasions, Henry had been denied his wishes as a supplicant to regain autonomy from Theobald Archbishop of Canterbury once the legation had expired.
John of Salisbury relates an account where Henry Blois was before the pope when news of the persecutions of the church in England was mentioned and Henry says: ‘how glad I am that I am not there now or this persecution would be laid at my door’. Smiling the pope retorts with a fable about the devil and a storm arising causing ships to sink, where the Devil claims the same innocence for not being in a place at a certain time. The pope actually says to Henry Blois ‘even if you were not actually on the spot, you have certainly trailed your tail there beforehand’; all aimed against Henry.
Henry Blois must have reviled the pope as the pope continued ‘ask yourself my brother, if you have not been trailing your tail in the English sea’. John of Salisbury relates that Bishop Henry ‘could hope for nothing more than absolution’.
John of Salisbury further says however, Henry ‘obtained permission from the pope before leaving Rome to buy old statues, and had them taken back to Winchester. So when a certain grammarian saw him, conspicuous in the papal court for his long beard and philosophical solemnity, engaged in buying up idols, carefully made by the heathen in the error of their hands rather than their minds he mocked him thus: “buying old busts is Damasippus’ craze”. The same man aimed another jest at the bishop when he had heard his reply to a request for advice during a discussion. He said: ‘for this good counsel Damasippus, may gods and goddesses grant you a barber’.
An insult against Henry’s beard could be connected to the weirdest tale in the HRB where the giant who fights Arthur collects beards799 for his coat. Not by coincidence, the sculptor at Modena must know of ‘Geoffrey’s’ invented giant episode c.1140 and the fact that King Arthur had a beard because in the Modena sculpture Arthur has a beard in the engraving. This is not a random personal detail which a sculptor inserted by his own free will, but one assumes was relayed by the person who commissioned the work, who also would have dictated through description Arthur’s non-Norman garb as seen by comparison with his compatriots or fellow attackers.
799Tatlock p351 asks Why this anecdote? Yet Tatlock innocently states in consequence of the comments about Henry Blois own unruly beard: Barbering of both beards and hair was a burning social matter in Geoffrey’s time…Tatlock’s work is essential to understanding how the contents of HRB were composed, and a truly the work of a genuine scholar. Tatlock could not see who the real author of HRB was mainly because of the same three evidences which still convince modern scholars that ‘Geoffrey’ is real, namely: The insert of material into Orderic’s chronicle, with updated prophecies written by Merlin; The oxford charters signed by ‘Geoffrey’ and of course the evidence of dating by the dedicatees in the several prologues of HRB.
John of Salisbury relates also concerning the statues that Henry Blois was buying in Rome that ’it was this same man who was to reply for the bishop, unprompted but perhaps expressing his point of view: that he had been doing his best to deprive the romans of their gods to prevent them restoring the ancient rites of worship’. The reference; “buying old busts is Damasippus’s craze.” is to Junius Brutus X, who, ‘put to death at Rome several of the most eminent senators of the opposite party.’
Henry Blois is at Rome buying old Roman statues and we know from his building projects at Glastonbury and at Winchester that he was interested in architectural aesthetics to which our English Master Gregorius has similar tastes. Is it a coincidence that our ‘Gregorius’ has a fascination for antiquity and also has the same unfortunate attribute of little regard for the truth; as well as the love of inventing fictitious accounts much like Geoffrey of Monmouth’s episodes in the HRB?
There had always been interest in putting classical objects into buildings and the re-use of Roman materials; but Gregorius’ interest, not only of architecture, but also statuary marbles and their composition, reminds us of Henry’s foray into the commissioning of several pieces of sculptured Purbeck marble stonework in Winchester cathedral. There are works commissioned for various churches in Purbeck marble by Henry and we know he is responsible for the importation of Tournai marble which is evident in several fonts. It can be said that Henry was the initial patron of the infant Purbeck marble industry and Henry is buried in a coffin-shaped tomb in Winchester Cathedral constructed from Purbeck.
Another coincidence showing Henry’s interest in marble is to do with the statue of Venus, because ‘Gregorius’ was the first to mention this statue in medieval literature as it entranced him so much. He relates that he went ‘back three times to look at it despite the fact that it was two stades distant from my inn’. Gregorius states that the statue is ’made of Parian marble with such wonderful and intricate skill’ and the ‘Capitoline Venus’ which is the same as ‘Gregorius’ describes (as its history can be traced back to the Quirinal hill) is made from Parian marble. An observation by someone who has knowledge of the provenance and texture of marble! Is Henry Blois writing this book not Gregorius?
As I have touched on briefly already, Gregorius covers the statue of a horse man with more interest than any other object. Herein lies one of the fundamentals in establishing Gregorius as Henry Blois, but furthermore…. the author of vulgate HRB and Wace’s Brut are at variance with the First Variant version where certain contradictions concerning the death of Maximianus occur. This, as I have maintained before, is due to Henry having to follow more closely the chronology of the Roman annals because of scrutiny. However, in Vulgate HRB: ‘What cause hast thou, Maximian, to be fearful of Gratian, when the way lieth open unto thee to snatch the empire from him? Come with me into the island of Britain and thou shalt wear the crown of the kingdom.800
800HRB V, ix
Before Henry Blois arrived in Rome, the most likely candidate who was thought to be represented by the horse man near the Vatican was Constantine; yet ‘Gregorius’ is bent on persuading us that this horseman is the image of Marcus Aurelius Mausaeus Valerius Carausius. If no-one knew who the statue represented…. can we see Henry Blois constructing evidence that it was a British commander… so that we see a parallel with First Variant.
Marcus Aurelius died 293 and was a military commander of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century. He was a Menapian from Belgic Gaul, who usurped power in 286, declaring himself emperor in Britain and northern Gaul. He distinguished himself during Maximian’s campaign against the Bagaudae rebels in northern Gaul in 286. This success, and his former occupation as a sea pilot, led to his appointment to command the Classis Britannica, a fleet based in the English Channel, with the responsibility of eliminating Frankish and Saxon pirates who had been raiding the coasts of Armorica and Belgica.
Henry Blois surely knew of Marcus as he ran his fleet from a base near Porchester Castle801 which Henry Blois went on to rebuild (which we see mentioned in VM) and it is no doubt what inspired his purposeful conflation with Arthur. Marcus was suspected of keeping captured treasure for himself, and of allowing pirates to carry out raids and enrich themselves before taking action against them…. and Maximian ordered his execution.
In late 286 or early 287 Marcus learned of this sentence and responded by declaring himself Emperor in Britain and northern Gaul. In HRB we even hear of Maximian: Whilst that they were debating these matters amongst themselves, in came Caradoc, Duke of Cornwall, and gave it as his counsel that they should invite Maximian the Senator and give him the King’s daughter and the kingdom, that so they might enjoy perpetual peace.802
801See Appendix 3
802HRB V, ix
As Geoffrey of Monmouth does throughout the HRB, he changes a historical persona to suit his purpose, the hapless reader conflates to make the connection himself. Thus, Master Gregorius pits Marcus Aurelius against a king of the Miseni in his account of the story behind the statue. Anachronisms are one of Henry Blois’ ploys that he uses in both the HRB and the VM, while feigning ignorance of the connection he himself is leading his audience toward. Henry Blois, the master of conflation, knows his audience will make the connection as he refers to the statue of the rider as being that of Marcus knowing that his Roman audience might think it Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, but a British readership would immediately think it was the British warlord sometimes confused with Arthur conflated through Gildas’s Aurelius Ambrosius at Badon and possibly through a lovely twist of Geoffrey’s into Merlin Ambrosius from Nennius’ boy.
Not to be too blatant in naming the bronze horseman as Marcus Aurelius which might expose him; instead, Henry Blois as Gregorius just refers to a Marcus. He may even wish us to associate the statue with Cadwallo from the HRB as a captured trophy. I would suggest it is from this statue seen at Rome on his first visit that gave him his inspiration for this passage in HRB: within a brazen image cast to the measure of his stature. This image, moreover, in armour of wondrous beauty and craftsmanship, they set upon a brazen horse above the West Gate of London.
Henry Blois’ has a known penchant for statuary, and this may have led to his exposure as the author ‘Geoffrey of Monmouth’ if links were made between HRB and Marcus Aurelius. The intended subliminal link is obviously made to Aurelius and then to Arthur in the HRB. Henry Blois’ point is that there is a statue of an Aurelius in Rome. In this instance, is ‘Gregorius’ seen to be constructing a tentative link between two works (both composed by him) by inserting this proposition (given on good authority by Cardinals) of the statue being an image of Marcus Aurelius the British emperor. If he came out and said unequivocally there was a connection, then suspicion would follow that ‘Gregorius’ work was authored by Henry Blois, since prior to writing this book the statue was attributed to Constantine. The only reason for labouring this connection is that HRB indicates that at some inderderminate time Rome according to HRB was defeated by Britons in a fictional era where figures such as Arviragus aid in bridging an entirety of Henry Blois’ fiction
We should not forget Henry was in the business of re-writing History. He always tries to substantiate his authority as he does using Archdeacon Walter, hence the reference to the good authority of the account derived from the Cardinals by Gregorius. It is relevant to my purpose to show how ‘Geoffrey of Monmouth’s’ mind works because if we can establish that this mind is the mind of Henry Blois and Master Gregorius and the mind which authored the GS; then the reader will understand the links discussed previously which show that much Glastonbury material has also been disseminated to correlate and form a cohesive body of historicity which interrelates with other parts of Henry’s specific design.
Why Gregorius found it necessary to find a representative of a mounted horseman at Rome, if this same Gregorius is the Henry Blois who wrote the HRB Ambrosius Aurelianus, Aurelius Ambrosius seems to be a combination of both Arthur and Merlin and ‘Geoffrey’ does not have any particular anchor between the Ambrosius and Aurelius appellation. Ambrosius Aurelianus is one of the few people that Gildas identifies by name in his De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, concerning a war with the Saxons; the survivors gather together under the leadership of Ambrosius, who is described as: “… a gentleman who, perhaps alone of the Romans, had survived the shock of this notable storm. Certainly, his parents, who had worn the purple, were slain by it. His descendants in our day have become greatly inferior to their ancestors’ excellence.”
From Gildas we can conclude that Ambrosius Aurelianus was of high birth, and had Roman ancestry…. a point relevant to Marcus Aurelius referred to by Gregorius especially if what Gildas meant by saying Ambrosius’ family “had worn the purple”. Roman Emperors and Roman males of the senatorial class wore clothes with a purple band. Given that ‘Geoffrey of Monmouth’ relates that Aurelius is born of Roman mother from Constantine it is not hard to see how ‘Gregorius’ would love to have a statue attributed to him in Rome: Thereupon the Britons that afore were scattered flocked unto them from every quarter, and a great council was held at Silchester, where they raised Constantine to be King and set the crown of the realm upon his head. They gave him also unto wife a damsel born of a noble Roman family whom Archbishop Guethelin had brought up, who in due course did bear unto him three sons, whose names were Constans, Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther Pendragon. Constans, the eldest born, he made over to the church of Amphibalus in Winchester, that he might there be admitted into the order of monks.803
803HRB VI, v
Gildas says that Ambrosius, alone, is worthy of praise among his countrymen for his leadership of the British attack against the invading Anglo-Saxons. Gildas refers to him as a “Roman”and goes on to say that the Saxon advance was halted, altogether, by a British victory at Mt. Badon. Gildas does not name Aurelius Ambrosius as the commander, but the implication of association is there from Geoffrey trying to link his hero to a British annal when Gildas never mentions Arthur. Geoffrey of Monmouth also makes this link through Nennius the book which Geoffrey (and laughably Orderic) suspiciously ascribes to Gildas…. and the reader should not forget Henry Blois is the author of Life of Gildas.
The Venerable Bede, an eighth century monk of the monastery of Jarrow, in his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People), refers to an: “Ambrosius Aurelius, a modest man of Roman origin, who was the sole survivor of the catastrophe in which his royal parents had perished.” Bede tells us also that “under his leadership the Britons took up arms, challenged their conquerors to battle, and with God’s help inflicted a defeat upon them.”
Nennius, however, the early 9th century monk of Bangor in his Historia Brittonum, has two different Ambrosius’. Firstly, he refers to a clearly legendary Ambrosius as being a fatherless child who displayed prophetic powers before Vortigern which could well be a Blois interpolation. Then Nennius also says that Ambrosius was a rival whom Vortigern dreaded, and, in a later passage, calls him “the great king of all the kings of the British nation.”
Now there are problems with Nennius804 in that it is an ancient tract probably comprising one or two original sources and compiled to a form which was attributed to Nennius. Some also attribute it to Gildas and this may be down to Henry himself and analysis does show some Arthurian material could have been added. The Arthurian part of Nennius on the whole is tricky to know if our arch-interpolator has been at work. It would appear, however, as I have maintained before, that it was Henry who had copies made with Gildas’ name attached. There is therefore always a suspicion about Nennius.
After the reader has been appraised of the interpolations of Henry Blois exposed in this work, there would be no reason not to ascribe the reworked version of Nennius to Henry Blois as it seems to be Henry (through Geoffrey) that ascribes the adulterated 11th century recension to Gildas in the HRB.
Another reason for suspecting Henry Blois is that Nennius’ Historia Brittonum describes the settlement of Britain by Trojan expatriates and states that Britain took its name after Brutus, a descendant of Aeneas805 just as Geoffrey maintains. The work also was the first source to portray King Arthur, who is described as a dux bellorum (military leader) or miles (soldier) and not as a king so may well be original. It names the twelve battles that Arthur fought, but like ‘Geoffrey’s’ habit in the HRB, none are assigned actual dates.
804“Doubts concerning the British History Attributed to Nennius” article from PMLA, Volume 20. W.W. Newell 1905
805We must not forget that Henry Blois was the ‘somebody’ according to Huntingdon who started his authoritative Trojan descent from Antenor for the Franks in 1128 and it was this same Frankish lineage in the manuscript found with Crick’s HRB manuscript from Bec; which must obviously have been replaced by Henry Blois in his lifetime (the link being the French lineage). Crick’s confusion is the fact that EAW could not have been extracted by Huntingdon to create his synopsis from this manuscript. In January 1139 a manuscript was seen at Bec, a precursor to Crick’s 76&77. The Leiden manuscript from Bec Abbey is a final Vulgate version which superseded the Galfridus Arthur version now lost (which I have termed the Primary Historia). Crick’s version purportedly written by Geoffrey or Gaufridi Monimutensis with a dedication to Rodbertum comitem Claudiocestrie differs from the name given by Henry of Huntingdon as Galfridi Arturi.
Assignation of date would automatically throw up difficulties in confluence concerning much of the HRB, but the earliest known reference to the battle of Camlann is an entry from the 10th-century Annales Cambriae, recording the battle in the year 537 which mentions Mordred (Medraut). The Arthurian part of Nennius is tricky to evaluate. But as I have covered earlier, we just have to accept Nennius as it is.
I would add that often, as we have covered just a changed folio can have a big effect on how a manuscript is viewed historically. William Newell in his ‘Doubts Concerning the British History Attributed to Nennius’ (1905) is no more able to elucidate further and has no suspicions that the author of Chivalric Arthur is culpable of equating Nennius with Gildas.
However, after that brief digression, we can see how Henry Blois melds Aurelius, Ambrosius, with Arthur and Merlin and how these old British annals anchor for him (now posing as Master Gregorius) his Marcus Aurelius into Rome and on such a stunning piece of statue artistry. If we were to follow Henry’s mind, we get from Marcus Aurelius through the three British annals by associating Marcus Aurelius with Aurelius Ambrosius which, by his links to battles, (specifically Badon) against the Saxons and Roman heritage, imply Arthur as the hero.
Gregorius who assigns much of his small exposé to Marcus Aurelius posits an explanation of a marvellous statue of a Roman warlord or emperor, who, if one lived in Henry’s mind, might be construed as Arthur. Aurelius, with the Arthurian connection derived from the British annals, is very important to ‘Geoffrey’ and implies Arthur’s Roman roots following the detail found in the annals and one can see the references in the HRB where the Ambrosius appellation is attached to Merlin as a surname, but both Aurlelian and Ambrosian references are frequent.
1. Aurelius Conan, a youth of wondrous prowess, his nephew, who, as he held the monarchy of the whole island,
2. ‘Uter Pendragon, that is, “Dragon’s head,” a most excellent youth, the son of Aurelius, to wit, brought from Ireland the Dance of Giants which is now called Stanhenges.
3. Their names and acts are to be found recorded in the book that Gildas wrote as concerning the victory of Aurelius Ambrosius,
4. They gave him also unto wife a damsel born of a noble Roman family whom Archbishop Guethelin had brought up, who in due course did bear unto him three sons, whose names were Constans, Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther Pendragon. Constans, the eldest born, he made over to the church of Amphibalus in Winchester, that he might there be admitted into the order of monks. The other twain, Aurelius, to wit, and Uther, he gave in charge to Guethelin
5. On the death of Constantine a dissension arose among the barons whom they should raise to the throne. Some were for Aurelius Ambrosius, others for Uther Pendragon, and others for others of the blood royal
6. His brethren, moreover, the two children, to wit, Uther Pendragon and Aurelius Ambrosius, were not yet out of the cradle, and incapable of the rule of the kingdom
7. Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther Pendragon, fled away with them into Little Britain,
8. Aurelius Ambrosius and his brother Uther Pendragon,
9. They all do threaten thee and say that they will bring in hither thy brother Aurelius Ambrosius from the shores of Armorica,
10. The two brethren Aurelius and Uther Pendragon will enter into thy land seeking to revenge their father’s death upon thee
11. The faces of the Saxons shall be red with blood: Hengist shall be slain, and thereafter shall Aurelius Ambrosius be crowned King
12. Straightway, when the morrow dawned, came Aurelius Ambrosius with his brother unto land with ten thousand warriors in their company
13. They called the clergy together, anointed Aurelius as King
14. When the report of this reached Hengist and his Saxons he was smitten with dread, for he was afeard of the prowess of Aurelius
15. So when this was told unto Aurelius, he took fresh hardihood and had good hope of a victory.
16. …exhorting each of them to stand their ground like men and to be nowise in dread in fighting against Aurelius.
17. And when he had thus spirited up all of them and put them in stomach to fight, he advanced towards Aurelius as far as a field that was called Maesbeli, through which Aurelius would have to pass
18. Howbeit Aurelius got wind of the design
19. Thus spake Eldol, and Aurelius
20. Aurelius cheereth on his Christians
21. Aurelius pursueth him
22. Hengist perceived that he was being hunted down of Aurelius
23 … that the castle could in no wise withstand Aurelius,
24. At last, when Aurelius had overtaken him
25. For Aurelius had stationed them apart as he had done in the first battle
26. Nor did Aurelius stint to cheer on his men
27 .After that Aurelius had thus won the day
28. Then Aurelius led his army unto York
29. Aurelius was thereby moved to pity
30. When Aurelius had asked many questions about him
31. At these words of Merlin, Aurelius burst out laughing,
32. When this was reported unto Aurelius, he sent messengers throughout the countries of Britain,
33. …called out every knight in arms of that kingdom against Aurelius Ambrosius
34. …complaint of the injury that Uther, the brother of Aurelius, had done him when he came in quest of the Giants’ Dance
35. …for his brother Aurelius lay sick at Winchester
36. …What boon wilt thou bestow upon the man that shall slay Aurelius for thee
37. …When Aurelius had taken and drunk it,
38. …O, departure of a most noble King! Dead is the renowned King of the Britons, Aurelius Ambrosius,
39. …now that they were quit of the covenant they had made with Aurelius Ambrosius,
40. …and laid it in the ground after kingly wise by the side of Aurelius Ambrosius within the Giants’ Dance.
41. …Howbeit, Lot, who in the days of Aurelius Ambrosius had married Arthur’s own sister,
42. Unto Him succeeded Aurelius Conan
43. Next they did betray Aurelius Ambrosius
The Vita Merlini however only provides the Ambrosian nomenclature.
1. And I remember the crime when Constans was betrayed and the small brothers Uther and Ambrosius fled across the water.
2. While these things were happening Uther and Ambrosius were in Breton territory with King Biducus
3. After these things had been done, the kingdom and its crown were with the approval of clergy and laity given to Ambrosius,
‘Geoffrey’ has specifically apportioned the Ambrosius appellation from the initial Aurelius Ambrosius from the annals and has assigned it to Merlin and one can only assume for purposes of conflation.
1. Then saith Merlin, that is also called Ambrosius:
2. Then Ambrosius Merlin again came nigh unto the wizards and saith:
3. King bade Ambrosius Merlin
4. When Ambrosius had come thereunto, remembering the treason wrought against his father and brother
5. …and when all were met together on the day appointed, Ambrosius set the crown upon his own head
6. When Aurelius had taken and drunk it, the accursed Ambron straightway bade him cover him up under the coverlid and go to sleep.
‘Gregorius’ has not only written his short tract to perpetuate Henry’s design which substantiates the Arthur-Roman connection which readers of the HRB will undoubtedly make; but Henry is genuinely interested in antiquity, architecture and Roman art and thus the book takes the form it does. Gregorius says that pilgrims to Rome think the Horseman statue is that of Theodoric or Constantine, however the ‘Cardinals’ say the bronze horse-rider is Marcus (meaning Marcus Aurelius) or Quintus Quirinius. Gregorius explains how the statue once ‘stood on four bronze columns in front of Jupiter on the Capitoline but blessed Gregory took the rider down’ and set it up outside the Papal palace. Gregorius then goes on to say that he is going to ‘give a wide berth to the worthless stories of the pilgrims and Romans in this regard, and shall record what I have been told by the elders, the cardinals and men of greatest learning’ before launching into his own description of a dwarf king of the Miseni, more skilful than any other man in the perverse art of magic’ who this Marcus (the horse-rider) on the statue overcame. Because of his bravery ‘supposedly’ the statue was erected.
The second possibility that Gregorius provides in explanation which accounts for the statue in Rome involves Quintus Quirinius who supposedly jumped into a chasm in Rome from his horse to save the citizens of Rome. Strangely enough another account of similar date known as the Graphia aureae urbis Romae, or the Mirabilia states that the horseman is a Marcus Curtius whose story is also told by the Roman historian Livy with similar details.
The name given by Gregorius in the Narracio is, as we have said, alternatively, Quintus Quirinus which has puzzled most commentators until we realise this tract is probably written by Henry Blois who employs the same artifices of associating people to historical events; because we have on the Roman ranks pitted against Arthur in Gaul a certain Quintus Carutius.806 Of course the wholly fictional ‘Lucius Hiberius’ Procurator of the Republic of Gaul in the HRB against Arthur had a nephew Caius Quintilianus807 who had his head cut off by Gwain and may be the reason for Henry introducing this possibility, but all these possibilities are highly tentative and conjectural on my part.
The only other medieval writer to refer to the Narracio as we have said is Ranulf Higden in his introduction to the Polychronium who gives the Horse-riders name as Quintus Curtius. Given Henry Blois’ record in conflating and providing confusing accounts of personages in the HRB; it is slightly coincidental that both of these explanations of who the rider might be, given by Gregorius, (a Magister from England), tentatively tie back to fictional characters in the HRB. Given that Henry Blois was often in Rome in the era the book was written, and Henry has an indisputable interest in statuary and architecture; it is not ridiculous to suggest that this small book has many coincidental factors where Henry Blois could be the author.
Henry Blois speaks of a Bronze horse in the HRB: The Britons embalmed his body with balsams and sweet-scented condiments and set it with marvellous art within a brazen image cast to the measure of his stature. This image, moreover, in armour of wondrous beauty and craftsmanship, they set upon a brazen horse above the West Gate of London in token of the victory I have spoken of, and as a terror unto the Saxons. They did likewise build beneath it a church in honour of St. Martin, wherein are divine services celebrated for him and the faithful departed. Coincidentally, Henry Blois, always keen to promote those institutions he has control over, is Dean of St Martin’s. Henry Blois writes a letter to Robert Neufbourg while papal legate stating: Know that the church of St Martin of London and all things pertaining to it are mine.
It is my suggestion that Henry Blois is trying to imply the bronze horseman in Rome came from London as a prize like many of the other trophies found in Rome. When we throw the same bronze rider into the soup from the prophecies it is not silly to suggest that Henry is implying the Horse rider in Rome was the Marcus Auraelius from Britain: He that shall do these things shall clothe him in the brazen man, and throughout many ages shall keep guard over the gates of London sitting upon a brazen horse.
806HRB X, i and v
807HRB X, iv