King Henry Ist wife, Matilda of Scotland died on 1st May 1118. With the ensuing disaster on the ‘White Ship’, King Henry’s first attempt at leaving behind a legitimate heir was to marry Adelicia of Louvain in 1121, just after the unfortunate event. Adelicia of Louvain was in her late teens and Henry was fifty-three. This union left no heir and hence the call for the Empress Matilda to perpetuate the line once Matilda’s husband the Emperor had died. King Henry subsequently arranged a union between her and Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou. King Henry also arranged the marriage of his nephew Stephen, to Matilda of Bologne, who was of the Anglo-Saxon royal house…. her mother Mary being daughter of King Malcolm III of Scotland. King Henry Ist of England consolidated his position by strategic marriages of relations in an attempt at ensuring future harmony after his death, both in Normandy and in England.
It was Henry Blois who was directly responsible for persuading William of Corbeuil, the archbishop, through subtle reasoning, to crown his brother Stephen with such haste after Henry Ist had died. When William of Corbeuil, archbishop of Canterbury, hesitated to perform the coronation rite, Henry Blois offered himself as surety that his brother would preserve the liberty of the church, and so procured him the crown. It was Henry Blois who organised Stephen’s reception by a select group of clergy and his acceptance as the future King. The powerful Bishop of Salisbury aided in this endeavour as the foremost baron in the Kingdom.
Pregnancy had prevented Matilda making the journey to England to accept the crown. In three weeks from King Henry’s death, the crown was on King Stephen’s head. This certainly could not have been achieved without the manoeuvrings of the Bishop of Winchester. Henry Blois’ manipulation of events by persuasion is testified by contemporary chroniclers. It is also related in the form of an apologia in Henry’s retrospectively composed GS (after his brother had died). Henry had studied Quintillian, yet ran counter to his caution against a ‘practice of making an evil use of the blessings of eloquence’. This trait became more recognized by chroniclers and was definitely recognized by William of Malmesbury as is made clear in HN.
Henry Blois transformed from being an obedient servant under his uncle, to a power manipulator immediately upon his uncle’s death. The fact that Henry Blois was King Henry Ist nephew, the bishop of Winchester and had control over Glastonbury estates, gave him more power than any other bishop in manipulating the crown onto his brother’s head.
Henry Blois’ time at Glastonbury before becoming bishop had not been unproductive. He turned Glastonbury abbey into a rich and healthy establishment. It was (by his own account), a rundown monastery on his arrival. Glastonbury had witnessed its lands being appropriated by deceitful clerks and land grabbing lords before Henry’s arrival. This was Henry’s immediate concern as soon as he arrived at Glastonbury. Henry’s seeming innocence and trepidation at reviving a rundown institution may or may not be genuine as he expresses in his libellus: ‘the monks were lacking in the necessities of life and the church was devoid of many great possessions. I confess that upon seeing these things I was pained; deceived by promised hope, I was ashamed to such extent that my passionate mind created confusion within me, because I had a preference to be until now a poor man of Cluny, to be close to the poor, rather than in charge of anything and elected to such a burden’.
The only reason for doubting this as a genuine sentiment is that much of the reason for writing the GS (as we shall discover), is to present his own glossed version of what transpired in the Anarchy rather than leaving his reputation in the hands of chroniclers, who would not represent his own actions favourably to posterity. When Henry’s time came to receive the bishopric of Winchester, he did not relinquish his abbacy at Glastonbury which was an unusual occurrence. Maintaining the abbacy of Glastonbury was condoned by King Henry Ist, the pope, and the monks at Glastonbury, based upon what he had already achieved for them.40
Henry worked tirelessly to regain misappropriated land and to enrich Glastonbury abbey, long after he had taken on the Bishopric of Winchester. This can be witnessed in several charters regaining such lands as Syston, Uffculme and several others and through his building program at the abbey. Concerning Uffculme in Devon for example, he worked tirelessly for Glastonbury’s benefit even up to the Empress Matilda’s short dominance in 1141 where the Uffculme claim is finally concluded.
Even in Henry Blois’ libellus41 he admits that he nearly didn’t bother concerning himself with reclaiming Uffculme as Robert Fitz Walter Flandrensis (who possessed it at that time) had previously obtained it from someone else, yet it was previously known that it was ’under the jurisdiction of Glastonbury from old’.42 Henry did persevere because this Robert had sworn fealty to Stephen. Henry confronted him in front of the Curia to Robert’s shame, and regained the land for the abbey at Glastonbury. Strangely enough, one can see in the Regesta Regum Anglo-Normannorum,43 the charter 341 Glastonbury Abbey (1136, at Westminster) regarding the ‘Restoration of Uffculme which had been taken from the abbey by William …. more than half the text of the charter (as a whole), bears a strong resemblance to charter 948 restoring the manor of Wargrave to Winchester. So, Henry might have been producing charters prolifically now his brother was King.
40Dom. David Knowles. The Monastic Order in England: “Strangely enough, no contemporary was found to blame explicitly his retention of Glastonbury during his 40 years of Episcopal life, but whatever excuses he may have found for himself from reasons of expediency, such a practice was un-canonical, contrary to all monastic principle, and a precedent for the worst abuses”.
41Translation from M.J. Franklin, English Episcopal Acta VIII, 205-211. See Appendix 1
42This interesting observation shows that the pre-Norman abbey had control over lands in Devon and has a bearing later in the investigation into the 601 charter of Ineswitrin donated by the King of Devon.
43Regesta Regum Anglo-Normanorum 1066-1154, Vol III Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Henry is sure of making any claim he wishes, now King Stephen is on the throne. Uffculme was a fourteen hide manor in east Devon and may have been part of the Glastonbury holdings prior to the invasion. At the time of the conquest a widow called Eadgyth held a life estate in Glastonbury property. She remarried a certain Walter de Douai, a mercenary of William the Conqueror’s, and as a reward from William the Conqueror, he received sixteen manors in England and the land is registered under his name in the Domesday book and no claim had been made. When this same Walter was ill he came for refuge in the abbey infirmary saying he would restore the lands once belonging to Glastonbury. But as soon as he recovered from his illness, he reneged on the deal and record of the incident remained at Glastonbury. But until Henry arrived, the monks had still not filed a claim. Walter died before Henry Blois arrived, and Uffculme then passed to his son Robert of Bampton.
The rebellion of Robert Bampton is the fault of Henry Blois although this point of view is poignantly not conveyed in GS. At Easter court in 1136 Henry Blois had Stephen issue a charter restoring Uffculme to Glastonbury. This angered Robert Bampton as his father had held Uffculme since Domesday survey and Robert felt dispossessed. As we have mentioned, it was Henry Blois who wrote the account of his brother, (the anonymously authored Gesta Stephani), in which Henry describes this same Robert as ‘a knight not of the lowest birth or of small landed estate, but a winebibber and a gourmand and in peacetime devoted to gluttony and drunkenness’.
The Gesta Stephani goes on to say that he ‘changed his love of drunkenness for a spirit of rebellion’ and was summoned to Stephen’s court where he perjured himself. Potter and Davis,44 not knowing who the author of the GS was, remark that it is somewhat ludicrous to find the author of the GS linked with an unknown son of Robert of Bampton. They then go on to say that the only possible explanation is that the author had a special interest in the man.
Attempting to remain anonymous as the author of GS, Henry Blois can’t help himself castigating someone who had rebelled against his brother and with whom Henry himself had had a serious contention. Finally, Bampton was compelled to put his castle at the King’s disposal. Because Henry Blois wrote both the GS and his own Libellus, the sentiments match. In his account in the Libellus Henry says that it was ‘certainly a just provision and a very fitting sentence, that he who from desire of other men’s property had laid hands on what was not his, should by just decision of equity lose what was his own’.
Much later in the Anarchy, when Henry has no option but to side with the Empress against his brother; he again obtains a reaffirmation of the grant of Uffculme for Glastonbury through Matilda in a further updated charter. This was after Matilda’s assurance to Henry Blois to comply in giving him control over all matters of chief account in England, especially gifts of bishoprics and abbacies should be subject to his control.45
44Gesta Stephani. ed. K.R. Potter & R.H.C. Davis Clarendon 1976 p.29.
45William of Malmesbury. Historia Novella
The reaffirmation of the charter, which runs contrary to a Matilda ally (Bampton), may well have been a test of her respect and promise to him, but it shows two things: Henry’s dedication to Glastonbury, and more importantly, that he did change allegiance from his Brother to Matilda, even momentarily. This is a very pertinent point when we come to analyse the GS. It demonstrates that for a brief period, Henry thought it fortuitous to side with Matilda as the balance of power had swung her way and he increasingly perceived no way out of the inevitable train of events which was leading to her being crowned…. since his brother was imprisoned. It is a position strongly circumvented in the GS where Henry Blois portrays that the Bishop of Winchester was merely biding his time until the events turned. GS portrays that Henry had never any thought of swapping allegiance. Henry Blois in the GS is careful to point out for posterity that he only feigned a change of allegiance.
Anyway, this particular Uffculme charter refers to Matilda’s honourable reception into Winchester. Bernard of St David’s signs the charter and both he and Henry Blois had flanked the Empress Matilda as she entered Winchester. This point also becomes relevant later (concerning Henry Blois as the writer of the HRB) when we look at both Bernard’s and Henry’s like-minded attempts to create separate metropolitans for both Winchester and St David’s.
The continuator of Caradoc’s Brut y Tywysogion seems to also portray Menevia having had some preferment in ecclesiastical terms as he refers to the death of Bernard in 1147: after extreme exertions, upon sea and land, towards procuring for the church of Menevia its ancient liberty. Geoffrey of Monmouth’s supposed uncle Uchtryd, bishop of Llandaff is said by the continuator of HRB…. the Gwentian Brut, to have died in the same year.
The reasoning behind the claim of metropolitan by St David’s is based upon a reference in Asser and also in Rhygyvarch’s Life of St David,46 but certainly the HRB provides supporting evidence for any claim as long as the HRB is deemed credible. Yet the prophecies of Merlin miraculously foretell of St David’s re-instatement as a metropolitan. Bishop Bernard pursued this hope and requested metropolitan status many times to various popes. Henry Blois as the writer of the Merlin prophecies plants this envisioned event as having sprung from Merlin in the hope of spurring on what was predicted and thus fated.
46Rhygyvarch’s Life of St David. ‘and his monastery too is declared the metropolis of the whole country, so that whoever ruled it should be accounted archbishop’.
Henry also requests the same metropolitan from three popes regarding Winchester’s own metropolitan status. Something predicted was more likely to affect a desired action. Essential to understanding the inclusion of the Merlin prophecies into the HRB is that Henry Blois was also a keen admirer of Cicero, as becomes evident as we progress. Quintus47 says: ‘what nation or what state disregards the prophecies of soothsayers, or of interpreters of prodigies’.
Henry Blois understands the impact of prophecies and uses them for political advantage48 while at the same time retro-fitting past historical events to seem as if they were accurate predictions of the future; which (at the time the Merlin prophecies were published) the reader of the prophecy can verify its accuracy. This course of action led the gullible to believe in those prophecies which were clear enough to understand and could be matched with past historical events.
Other prophecies of Merlin which were sometimes oblique in nature were interpreted with different meanings. Tatlock reckons that ‘Geoffrey’ got his idea of stopping halfway through the composition of HRB and inserting the Merlin prophecies from Virgil’s Aeneid, who also similarly employs a marvellous prophecy. However, Tatlock does not realize that the Primary Historia was already a composite work of Henry’s pseudo-history with the added Arthuriana subsequently spliced onto it in 1137.
Tatlock does not understand that the prophecies of Merlin were spliced into the HRB after the Primary Historia’s discovery at Bec, when the book evolved into what is known as the First Variant. Scholars have been led astray in the assumption that the dedicatees of HRB were alive at the time of publication of the Vulgate version.
Crick notes that the rubrics of the Robert-Waleran manuscripts demonstrate no coherence but neither any strong affinity with others bearing different dedications. No study of Rubrics is going to uncover Henry Blois’ methodology since scripts were turned out indiscriminately with different dedicatees because as I have made plain, the dedicatee was dead when named in HRB and future copyists have mixed up editions along with Henry interchanging editions in various scriptoriums.
Henry Blois’ reputation diminished with the advent of the Anarchy, after his management of affairs to ensure his brother’s crowning. When relating about previous bishops of Winchester which had passed away, Henry of Huntingdon in his letter to Walter comments: now there sits in their place Henry, (of Blois), nephew of King Henry, who will be a new kind of monster, composed part pure and part corrupt, I mean part monk and part knight.”
The Cistercian monk Bernard of Clairvaux who detested Henry called him the “Whore of Winchester”. Yet he was highly esteemed by such men as Archbishop Becket and John of Salisbury speaks well of his universal liberality towards the church, but these are views of Henry in his later guise as venerable churchman post 1158.
47Cicero, p223 Book I, On Divination
48‘For wishes fathering thought’s’ as Tatlock puts it, ‘we might look at the glorification given to the quasi-primatial see of Winchester’. As an overall effect of having written HRB and as a direct result of the ‘hope of the Britons’ and the Merlin prophecies, Henry II son Geoffrey and count Conan IV’s daughter Constance gave their son the name Arturus. According to William of Newburgh, those who were said to have long awaited the Arthur of tradition cherished high hopes of an actual Arthur.
What can be established in Henry’s transition in character is that between 1129-1158, Henry Blois could be considered a power-hungry egotist who held power in his own right and vicariously through his brother and family heritage. From 1158 onward and his return to England, as time went by, Henry procured the image of a venerable old man, who, by his generous deeds to Becket and his family for example, and the high moral standpoint he took on religious issues, he became regarded as a trustworthy protector of the church. In his secret authorial works, there is a completely different character at work.
After finishing the VM Henry Blois posed as Wace to provide a vernacular Old Norman dialect version of the HRB in verse, adding more references and elaborations into the work such as the ‘round table’…. also mentioned in DA (although not in the T manuscript of DA) and in Chrétien’s Erec and Perceval and more importantly Robert de Boron’s work.
Geoffrey of Monmouth’s stated reason behind writing the HRB was finding no complete history of the Britons available. William of Malmesbury had travelled around Britain’s monasteries collecting material for his Gesta Regum (which he had finished by 1125) and his Gesta pontificum Anglorum before Henry had arrived at Glastonbury. William of Malmesbury will have discussed William’s sources or lack of them, and I believe this is partly what galvanised Henry Blois into composing the faux-history which evolved into Vulgate HRB.
Apart from Bede, Gildas, and the Anglo-Saxon chronicle, there was little to confute Henry’s interest in establishing a bogus heritage of the Britons from Troy. Nennius has this tradition also but as I shall cover later in progression that Henry Blois is directly responsible for promoting Nennius’ work as that authored by Gildas and may well have added the Trojan lore. As Newell suggests there are problems with Nennius once it is understood that it alone underpins the Arthur presented in HRB.
The Roman annals were scarce in Britain for obvious reasons. While Henry Blois had been at Clugny, he had read Gregory of Tour’s History of the Franks and it would appear to have been a young Henry Blois while in Normandy in 1128 with his uncle, who had reiterated the Franks’ provenance from Troy. This point should be noted because it becomes highly relevant that Henry of Huntingdon records a certain ‘someone’ as having told the Franks history to King Henry Ist. The Franks history commencing with Antenor and yet ‘Geoffrey’s’ Brutus is supposedly great Grandson of Aeneas obviously lifted from Virgil’s Aeneid. The same ‘someone’ in 1128 recounting the history of the Franks to his Uncle then goes on to compose HRB.
In the preface of the Antiquities (DA)49 William of Malmesbury refers to Henry Blois as someone who ’deserves to be cherished and honoured in the deep embrace of Christ’ ……’ A remarkable man besides his splendid birth, for his literary skill, and for the friendliness of his address, and for his kind hearted liberality’. This is in stark contrast to William of Newburgh’s assessment of Henry’s character, ‘He was a man of great power in the Kingdom, and was crafty and inordinately fond of money’. The difference of opinion just highlights the slide of Henry Blois’ reputation from the early days of King Henry Ist.
For a man that played such a pivotal role in state affairs, we have only a few inconsequential notes that were written by Henry to the pope; one in 1139 and the other in 1160 and a few other random letters along with his Libellus. Is it not strange that a man of such attested literary skill and who accounts the authorship of books higher than all material wealth and art, should only leave behind his simplistic Libellus? (See appendix 1)
The Libellus is a brief tract written by Henry Blois that undoes any attempt to associate his hand in any of the works that he produced. In any kind of authorship, one inevitably bears one’s heart on one’s sleeve and it is near impossible not to betray any prejudices or interests. It is inevitable that one betrays opinion and personal preferences and makes statements which would leave Henry open to accusation at a later date…. if for instance HRB was suspected to have been authored by himself.
49William of Malmesbury. De Antiquitate Glastonie Ecclesie.
Who could honestly look at the Libellus and the HRB together and suspect they were written by the same man?
Henry says he has: judged worthy to commit by pen anything which I have earnestly done at Glastonbury to future memory. Henry is conscious of his place in history and for this reason (in part) he writes the GS.
Henry was conscious of the fact that history records Kings, but he was adamant that he was going to be remembered well in history. As the King’s brother, this point is further established by the epitaph on the Mosan plates.50
Henry composed his Libellus not to witness his good deeds or confirm land ownership, but to misdirect any suspicious inquirer. The reader may think now this sounds a little like a conspiracy theory, but by the end of this exposé the true Henry Blois is exposed. The Libellus also acts alongside the GS as a glossed character reference and apologia against his manipulation of affairs in the ‘Anarchy’, the civil war which contemporaries thought he was largely responsible for.
Henry’s Libellus also counteracts any suspicion of his hand in the interpolation of DA. The whole account in the Libellus is doubly devious as by this stage in his life when it was written, he had already composed HRB and written Perlesvaus and Robert de Boron’s work in verse.
The Libellus, however, comes across as a heartfelt document; not devoid of Henry’s genuine achievements at Glastonbury, but we must not be fooled by Henry’s secondary motive for writing it. He complains of being deceived by a promised hope and recalling the awful state in which he found Glastonbury on Sigfrid’s elevation to Bishop. He wondered how circumstances had transpired to leave him such a huge task and recalls his steadfast purpose was the result of faith which overcame doubt in his ability to find a solution.
King Henry Ist counsellor had been given custody of Glastonbury abbey when Sigfrid was elevated to Bishop of Chichester. In the short period before Henry Blois was elected, abbot Geoffrey Rufus took control of five churches belonging to the abbey. Henry used his influence as the King’s nephew to reinstate these against an influential courtier: conquered at last by the request of the King, I retained two, three I gave up to him. But, the three churches Henry had been constrained to leave with Geoffrey, reverted back to Glastonbury abbey upon Geoffrey’s death.
As history relates, Henry Blois was an able administrator and it was not until he had attained power upon being appointed bishop of Winchester that desire for greater power ensued. In 1138 when King Stephen snubbed Henry Blois’ wish to be archbishop of Canterbury, Innocent refused his consent, and Theobald was elected in December 1138. Henry was deeply annoyed at his brother. It is said that the pope’s refusal was due to the influence of Stephen and his queen being influenced by the Beaumont brothers, and that Henry’s later desertion of his brother’s cause was due to his anger at their interference. It is probable that Stephen was unwilling to see him acquire greater power. Soon after that betrayal Henry Blois obtained the papal legation instead. This in effect gave him as much power as the King himself, and certainly mote than the archbishop of Canterbury; but it inevitably led to the destruction of any pious purity and innocence which had been part of his youth at Clugny: I was able to not be rich and famous and be deemed rich and famous. Henry was at the centre of political life when his brother became King until he finds himself at Clugny in self-imposed exile in 1155.
50See chapter, Henry Blois and the Meusan plates.