A remarkable fact about Henry Blois is that relative to the power he held, so little is known of him. Characters such as Henry have usually left behind letters such as those of Gilbert Foliot;17 or historians have written biographies about them. Where Henry is concerned there is a dearth of personal anecdotes from which to compose a portrait of who he really was.18
However, from what is gleaned from various Medieval accounts, he was well educated, complex and courageous. He was vain and maintained a regal veneer ostensibly to those he wished to oppose and was also conscious of his pedigree. It is this pedigree which defines all the literary compositions in this investigation into the works of Henry Blois because they are all defined by an author that saw himself as an authority.
Hence, commentators on the HRB can’t really understand from where ‘Geoffrey of Monmouth’ gets his imperious ‘authority’ from…. as comes across so clearly in his writing. Nor do researchers into the author of the Gesta Stephani understand the haughty stamp of authority noticed in the author’s account. An anagram of Henry Blois’ name is in the “Elucidation” which is prefixed to the rhymed version of Percival le Gallois under the name of ‘Master Blihis’. Henry Blois prefaces the account of the Grail Quest by a solemn statement of authority concerning the gravity of the subject to be treated:
‘God moveth the High story of the Graal. And all they that hear it ought to understand it, and to forget all the wickednesses that they have in their hearts’. Even though Henry Blois tries to hide his authorship of many manuscripts discussed in the investigation, his imperious authority defined by his lineage is clear between the lines.
Henry Blois started out as an ardent believer in God having been brought up an oblate at Clugny and he recognised God’s omnipotent force. Unfortunately, many of his endeavours were clandestine, so he did not always advocate the truth which we can witness in the ease with which he is able to fabricate and lie.
Henry Blois was a prime example of the nobili ecclesiastici destined for a high position in the church, but these churchmen of the nobility were not always churchmen of their own volition in terms of conscience. One side of Henry Blois’ character surely believed, like his contemporaries, that all events transpired by divine consequence; his oratorical speeches recorded in HN by William of Malmesbury reflect this sentiment. We can witness these thoughts with judgements pronounced about his brother in the Gesta Stephani.
Henry was an industrious builder and employer and benevolent to most under his auspices. However, he was manipulative and a schemer and also a pragmatist. He was conscientious in some respects, compassionate, yet judgemental and wilful. Basically none of his contemporaries really knew of his multi faceted nature because he led a double life carrying out secretive designs and ‘agendas’ while appearing publicly as representing all that contemporaries were able to perceive of his character.
Henry Blois was a split persona and presented a fake persona for much of his life. He was never openly malicious, but his dark side was malign and he was essentially complex. Most contemporaries were unaware of his complexity. The fact about Henry Blois which is most important to this exposé is that he was a fabricator of intricately worked tales and worst of all, he was a liar. There is not one commentator or biographer of Henry Blois who understands that at a very brief period in time while Henry Blois was in self imposed exile at Clugny from 1155 to 1158, that he harboured very malicious designs against King Henry II. He wished to dethrone Henry II through composing malicious prophecies purportedly composed by Merlin which encouraged the Celtic tribes to revolt against Norman domination so that he might become King in his place. The evidence for this is laid out very plainly in the prophecies of Merlin purportedly translated by John of Cornwall but which in reality were all composed by himself. This is explained in the section on John of Cornwall further on.
Had Henry Blois not lived, there would be no ‘chivalric’ King Arthur from the HRB nor Grail literature. But most importantly, without the discovery of the Melkin prophecy at Glastonbury during his tenure as Abbot, the location of Joseph of Arimathea’s burial site would be lost to the present era. Henry Blois was an able administrator and knew the value of cultivating a healthy pilgrim trade to both Glastonbury Abbey and Winchester by the appropriation of saint’s relics. Henry collected them and fabricated them. Henry understood how to utilise the gullibility and superstitions of the medieval mind. Henry translated the relics of the Anglo-Saxon saints of Birinus and Birstan, Haeddi and Aelfneah into the new Norman cathedral at Winchester.
Oddly enough, the ‘Holy Hole’ dug so that pilgrims could get close to St Swithun was foreseen as a prophecy by Merlin and was obviously intended as a work by Henry Blois when the late version of the prophecies were completed in 1155. The high-water table under the New Minster caused several relics to be moved at the time as related by prior Robert of Winchester. Adam of Damerham relates many of the gifts donated to Glastonbury by Henry and his ’gifts to God’ which Henry Blois himself refers to on his Meusan plates, were artful objects of value.
Henry loved art and precious objects…. and there is a blatant contradiction in several reports of his character. On the one hand his avarice is recorded and on the other his clear generosity in the donation of precious artefacts is demonstrated. Henry understood the power of religious objects, but it seems obvious he invented an erroneous provenance and bogus history for many of the relics he produced. The most outrageous was some of the blessed Mary’s milk and some of her hair enclosed in a lion made of crystal.19 The most ingenious, which we shall cover in the examination of Malmesbury’s DA, is his miraculous find of the Sapphire which became part of an altar he had had constructed.
17It is not by accident that no letters exist for Henry Blois as he would purposefully have disposed of all the evidence which might have betrayed his viewpoints which we now find in his work under pseudonyms. Ironically, Knowles p.289, while on the subject of Henry Blois’ lack of letters says that they are ‘the best mirror of a man’s character and mind and motives whether he be a Cicero or a Bernard’. The irony is that Henry left no letters and looked upon himself as superseding Cicero in craft (which in effect he has attained), albeit under secreted authorship.
18Two biographies on Henry exist. Lena Voss, Heinrich von Blois and Michael .R. Davis’ Henry of Blois.
19John of Glastonbury in his Cronica ch.9, when mentioning Mary’s milk also says a crystal cross which the Blessed Virgin brought to the Glorious King Arthur must also be derived from some propaganda put out by Henry Blois.
Henry Blois’ imagination and unabashed willingness to invent, (even often what might seem blasphemous anecdotes), is a large part of the subject matter of this present work. But it is how he gets away with these blatant lies and also reconciles them to an obvious conscience, which is the most interesting part of his character and personality. It is as if there is a young cloistered and devout monk paired in the same body with a vain and manipulative egomaniac. Henry of Huntingdon recognised this duality and referred to him as a ‘monster’.
The intriguing part of Henry’s character is how he was able to separate this duality of character in public life.
As a bishop, Henry Blois’ word would have been respected and taken as truthful as long as the lies contained in his secret authorial works were never equated with him. It is plainly seen in William of Malmesbury’s HN that Henry could hold an audience on a grand scale and used his oratorical skill. But some, like William of Malmesbury, as time went on, became wise to Henry’s guile. Naked men on dragons, as portrayed in the Merlin prophecies, clearly demonstrates there is no limitation to Henry’s muses.
However, there are instances of the crossover of these two personalities where impossible stories, i.e. lies, related by him, have been believed as credible because of his status…. and these stories are often portrayed as miraculous.20 Henry loved the miraculous to awe his readers or listeners yet hid behind the protection of respectability which the church afforded.
What little is known of Henry Blois is incidental and misunderstood and no clear picture of his complex character is understood until one can appreciate more about him from the works he left behind. Differences of opinion given in the few passages that mention his name by contemporary historians reflect the change of disposition he underwent from a scholarly youth; maturing and enduring the trials of conscience and temptations of power…. until the resignation of the loss of his power in 1158. From that point onward he fostered the image of a venerable churchman and statesman. Yet it was in this period he instigated the initial stories of the Grail.
Strangely, a point not mentioned by commentators, is Henry’s vanity which he had inherited from his father. His father at the siege of Antioch in a letter to Adela his wife had inflated his own importance. In William of Malmesbury’s first edition of GR, Stephen Count of Blois is accused of fleeing secretly using lies to turn back new arrivals.21This was written in GR before William had met and been employed by Henry Blois at Glastonbury. William of Malmesbury was much older than Henry and it did not take him long to realise the temerity of the young Henry as shall become evident in the contention over Eadmer’s letter to the ‘youth’ of Glastonbury.
20One such example is where John of Hexam relates what he has heard: We have learnt from a truthful source that as people were hearing mass one day at Windsor, a light had shone into the interior of the church. In astonishment, some of the men went outside and looking up saw an unusual star shining in the sky. Returning to the church, they saw that the light from the stellar rays was beaming inside. One wonder was followed by another. Many saw that the cross on the altar was moving from right to left and left to right in a manner of people in distress. This happened three times. Then for almost half an hour the whole cross moved and was bathed in pouring sweat before resuming its former state….I have learnt that Bishop Henry of Winchester narrated this story.
21William of Malmesbury GR. Vol I P635. Mynors, Winterbottom, Thompson.
When William of Malmesbury was employed by the monks of Glastonbury and he eventually presented the DA to Henry Blois c.1134, the dedicatory prologue of DA has only commendations for Henry. After the usurpation of the English crown by King Stephen and Henry’s part in this affair, the HN22 portrays William of Malmesbury’s change of opinion and feelings toward the Bishop of Winchester. William’s slight toward Henry’s father23 and the deference in which Henry held William (who thought of himself the successor and equal of the Saxon Bede) also explains why Henry has no qualms interpolating William of Malmesbury’s DA to support his ‘agendas’ after William’s death. Henry Blois’ primary and secondary agendas are elucidated later in this investigation in the chapters concerning William of Malmesbury’s GR and DA.
Henry Blois was of noble blood, the Grandson of William the Conqueror through his mother Adela of Normandy; ‘a powerful woman with a reputation for her worldly influence’.24 Adela’s mother was Matilda of Flanders. Henry Blois’ father was Stephen Henry, Count of Blois, Count of Chartres, and also accounted, Stephen II Count of Troyes.
Henry’s parents’ marriage was an arranged match by Adela’s father William the Conqueror. Henry had two elder brothers of note, Theobald and Stephen. William the eldest brother does not feature on the historical stage because of mental disabilities, but Henry also had sisters. His elder brother William had a son Henry de Sully, Abbot of Fécamp who plays a part later in this expose. The sons of Henry Blois’ sisters and brothers have a huge bearing on the propagation of HRB editions, specifically that seen by Alfred of Beverley, but also his brother Theobald’s sons and their wives had a huge influence on the proliferation of Grail literature.
William, Henry Blois elder brother was married to Agnes De Sully a lady at the court of Adela Blois, William and Henry Blois’ mother. William had threatened to kill Bishop Ivo of Chartres over a dispute. So, Adela of Blois made her second eldest son Theobald, ruler in William’s place. However, in 1140, Henry Blois nominated his nephew Henry de Sully to be Bishop of Salisbury, but the nomination was quashed by the pope. As compensation, Henry of Blois then named Henry de Sully the abbot of Fécamp Abbey in Normandy. Henry Blois afterward then nominated him to become Archbishop of York, but his election was again quashed by the pope. But this is in fact how the copy of HRB came to be widely read in Beverley i.e. by Henry de Sully’s presence there, having received the copy from his uncle Henry Blois, the author of HRB. This is the copy of HRB which was then later recycled by Alfred of Beverley. Anyway, the son of Henry de Sully or another nephew of Henry Blois stemming from the marriage of his elder brother William and Agnes de Sully was later involved with the unearthing of the manufactured grave at Glastonbury in 1189-91, twenty years After Henry Blois’ death.
Henry’s brother Theobald had sons who were married to Marie of France and her sister Alix. This relationship was used as a conduit in the propagation of Grail literature at the Court of Champagne. It is a stupidity to think that the person who wrote The Lais of Marie de France25is any other than Marie of Champagne, but we shall get to her later.
Henry was born in 1098/9 and brought up at the Abbey of Clugny in Burgundy probably from around the age of 10 years old. Here, he led a cloistered life and received an extremely good education and by all accounts was highly intelligent. He was widely read in both the Greek and Latin writers as becomes evident as the composer of HRB. He would have had access to a vast library from which his education prospered and would have studied the Trivium, of which ostensibly, he was an exemplary living product; a virtuous, knowledgeable, and eloquent person.
The study of grammar, rhetoric, logic, poetry, history, and ethics were the core liberal arts. Henry was schooled in theology and had interests in philosophy and the writers of the ancient world, many of whose writings must have existed in the Library at Clugny.
22William of Malmesbury’s Historia Novella current until 1143 when he died.
23Henry’s father died in the Crusade at Razes when Henry was about two years of age.
24William of Malmesbury GR. Vol I P505. Mynors, Winterbottom, Thompson.
25Marie of France is second chronologically to ‘Wace’ and then Robert de Boron; all who mention the ‘table roȕnd’ and Marie writing c.1165-70 is part of Henry Blois’ family circle. See chapter on Marie of France
From the source material garnered by Henry Blois in HRB, I think that Henry may have had a photographic memory to some extent. However, Glastonbury also had a vast library at the time the bulk of the ‘pseudo-history’ was being composed (this was the first composition of an historical book intended for his uncle Henry Ist.
Peter the Venerable the abbot at Clugny was Henry Blois’ mother’s good friend and he became much like a mentor to Henry. It can be seen by letters between Henry Blois and Peter that they fell out over differences.26 It would appear (but there is only circumstantial evidence) that this cooling of relations happened when the power of Legate went to Henry’s head. However, returning from Rome in 1149, after Henry Blois’ appeal to the pope to grant him metropolitan status for Western England, he lent Clugny abbey (in effect Peter) 1000 ounces of gold and 500 ounces to repair a Golden Cross…. and then later, while in self-imposed exile, bailed out again the abbey at Clugny.
From a noble family, Henry understood from reading the importance of History derived from chronicles of the ancient world, and the provenance it provides for races and nations. Henry is very conscious of his place in history and how posterity will perceive him…. as is evident in GS. He vainly wishes to be remembered well in posterity. Adam of Damerham says Henry made provision at Glastonbury that festivals might be observed with more alacrity and his own name (alive or dead) more gratefully remembered.
The Bibliotheca Cluniacencis relates that: this Henry, Bishop of Winchester, had formerly been a scholar and then a monk in this monastery of Cluny.
The Cluniac movement was the largest religious force in Europe second to the papacy before the Cluniac’s decline in power at the rise of the Cistercians. To Henry, the Cluniac reforms and views were a part of his way of life. He had regard for the autonomy of the Church against the material influences of the state and the corruption of simony. It is evident that Henry initially envisaged a partnership with his brother Stephen, governing England, church and state. However, as history tells, events evolved a different relationship between them after 1138 in the electing of Theobald of Bec as archbishop of Canterbury.
The Cluniac reforms were a series of changes taking place in medieval monasticism which focused on restoring the traditional monastic life, encouraging art, education and caring for the poor. The driving force behind the reforms was an action against corruption within the church, particularly preventing simony and the acceptance of concubines. At the same time the Papacy wished to gain control of all clergy and wished to stop the investiture of bishops by secular rulers.
The attempt at reform was to reinforce the rule of St. Benedict which enabled each monastic institution to choose its own abbot. The feudal system of lords granting lands to religious institutions and providing protection had bred corruption and ultimately resulted in a negative secular influence over religious houses across Europe and Britain. The wealth of the church and monastic institutions grew, so too did their power through bequeathals; while hereditary barons became envious of the monasteries increasing power. This mistrust of ecclesistical power had extenuated to rulers like Henry Ist and King Stephen who, by delaying the appointment of bishops, at times reaped the reward from individual abbeys in the interim. Royalty would reward lucrative Sees and monastic holdings to their favoured advisors or relations to protect their own interests and political positions.
26The letters of Peter the Venerable, Giles Constable: Whereupon while I thought a mutual love which we had for one another was in a small space of time hurt, I was unable to disguise, so that not to cure the same, I would yield the antidotes of many words.
The reality of the Anarchy during Stephen’s reign was caused by Henry Blois’ organised usurpation of the Empress Matilda’s throne by Stephen. However, it was also a consequence of the baron’s allegiances who wished to counter the growing power of the clerics of these landed religious institutions and their aristocratic Bishops. If Henry Blois had not installed his brother Stephen on the throne, squabbles over allegiances and power would never have culminated in the Anarchy; the Civil war in England and Normandy between 1135 and 1153.
However, in contravention to Cluniac values, Henry Blois was elected to be abbot of Glastonbury by his Uncle King Henry Ist. It is not clear exactly if Henry came directly to Glastonbury from Clugny in 1126 or if he had spent time with his uncle in Normandy along with his brother Stephen as part of Henry Ist entourage. There are rumours that Henry Blois had spent time in Bermondsey as Abbot or had even been assigned to oversee the building of a Monastery at Montacute which had been planned by his uncle. Once Henry had been elected bishop of Winchester, he became a Knight Bishop and he supplied knights to his uncle from Glastonbury and from Winchester and built a network of castles.
His knowledge of fortification and siege warfare and his interest in architectural battlements is evident by his comments as author of GS. His interest also would have been established by reading classical literature on wars fought in the ancient world and through what he had learnt by experience.
In the ‘Red Book of the Exchequer’, 27it lists Henry of Blois as Prior of Montacute. Montacute at this era was a possession of Glastonbury. It may well be that plans for a new religious house were in place which were subsequently shelved, but this is conjecture. Henry’s connection with Montacute will be discussed later, regarding his authorship of De Inventione concerning Waltham and Montacute. Father William Good stated that Joseph of Arimathea’s body was most “carefully hidden” on a hill near Montacute. I will discuss this later as it pertains to knowledge encoded in Melkin’s Prophecy which most scholars have misguidedly determined as a thirteenth/early fourteenth century fabrication.
Abbot Seffrid’s elevation to Bishop of Chichester left Glastonbury vacant and led to Henry’s appointment to abbot of Glastonbury by his uncle Henry Ist.
I hope not to labour the reader with historical context, but it is necessary to understand more of Henry Blois’ background if we are to recognise him as the author of the HRB under the pseudonym of Geoffrey of Monmouth.
So, briefly, William Duke of Normandy (Henry’s grandfather) had invaded Britain and defeated Harold at Hastings in 1066 and was later crowned King at Westminster (the first of the Norman kings of Western England). William, subduing rebellion from relations in Normandy and the Capetian King Philip was injured after attacking the city of Mantes where his horse had stumbled.
William of Malmesbury gives a descriptive account of how a corpulent William the Conqueror had ruptured his intestines on the pommel of his saddle and then retired to Rouen with a ruptured gut. After five weeks in agony, the King died. His body was then taken for burial to the abbey he had founded in Caen. The body had been squeezed into a coffin too small for him and with the obvious travel delay and the putrefying stomach gasses made worse by the rupture, the body had exploded during the funeral.
27H. Hal. The Red Book of the Exchequer, vol 2, 752. In a passage ‘ex libro Abbatis de Feversham’, it is stated that Henry was prior of Montacute previous to his appointment as Abbot of Glastonbury. It is at Montacute, a pertinent event transpired concerning that which Father William Good had to say about Joseph of Arimathea’s burial place. This event also becomes relevant when discussing Henry’s composition of De Inventione Sanctae Crucis Nostrae in Monte Acuto et De ductione ejusdem, apud Waltham, see William Stubbs 1861 JH & J Parker.
William the conqueror’s eldest son Robert Curthose inherited Normandy and his younger brother William Rufus became King of England. Their youngest brother Henry Beauclerc received five thousand pounds of silver and the three brothers were in constant contention. Robert was stirring rebellion against William Rufus in England and William retaliating by invading Normandy taking Bayeux and Caen. Robert Curthose, in the end, financed his army for the crusade by pawning Normandy to his brother. While Robert was on crusade, William Rufus was killed by a rogue arrow in a supposed hunting accident. The younger brother, Henry Beauclerc, did not delay in taking possession of the throne to become Henry Ist of England.
When Robert returned from the crusade eventually, the two brothers met at the Battle of Tinchebray where Henry Beauclerc’s knights won a decisive victory, capturing Robert and imprisoning him until Robert’s death in Cardiff Castle in 1134.
King Henry Ist had united Normandy and England, but Robert Curthose had a legitimate son, William Clito, whose claims to the dukedom of Normandy led to several rebellions which continued until 1128. However, in 1120 after staying in Normandy for the summer and autumn, on November the 25th a dreadful catastrophe happened as many of the nobles were returning to England. King Henry Ist fleet lay in Barfleur Bay in the north of Normandy. The King had recently taken into his fleet a vessel known as the ‘White Ship’, into which many of the nobles, his heir apparent and his bastard son had boarded. Orderic Vitalis relates that abuses and drunken insults were shouted to the priests that had come to bless the voyage across the Channel from inebriated nobles. The port entrance is lined on both sides by lurking rocks and the ship foundered, drowning Prince William and many other English and Norman nobles.
King Henry’s only remaining legitimate heir to the throne was his daughter the Empress Matilda, by his wife Matilda of Scotland, the daughter of Malcolm III of Scotland. Matilda was the product of a political marriage uniting a conquered Anglo Saxon England with Scotland. In 1125 the Empress Matilda’s husband Henry V the Holy Roman Emperor died which presented King Henry Ist with a solution for succession after losing his son (who would have been his natural heir) in the ‘White Ship’ disaster.
Being driven by events, King Henry Ist married his daughter the Empress Matilda to Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou, in a union which he hoped would produce a male heir and continue the dynasty. King Henry was nervous about the barons accepting a woman as his heir after his death. He made them swear fealty to the Empress Matilda as the prospective heir on more than one occasion since the white ship disaster on 25 November 1120. These unfortunate set of circumstances would lead to the turmoil that was later termed by historians: ‘The Anarchy’. Matilda or Empress Maud, as she is otherwise known, had three sons by Geoffrey of Anjou, the eldest of whom eventually became King Henry II of England upon the death of King Stephen in 1154.
Upon the death of King Henry Ist on December 1st 1135, the throne was usurped by Matilda’s cousin, the said Stephen of Blois organised by the Machiavellian manoeuvrings of our Henry Blois, Bishop of Winchester. Given the pervading attitude to women on the throne, it may be that Henry Blois and Stephen had previously discussed such an action. Stephen was certainly swift in his travel to England to claim the throne whilst Matilda was in Normandy.
Matilda had just realised she was pregnant again and after her previous near-death experience in childbirth, she was reluctant to travel immediately by sea to be crowned in England. She assumed her right of heritage was guaranteed, but there were already apparently rumours that nobles in France were planning to appoint Theobald of Blois to the throne, Henry Blois’ other elder brother. However, Stephen beat both Matilda and Theobald to take the crown and was crowned with the help of his younger brother Henry Blois within three weeks of King Henry Ist death.
Matilda was still at Argentan28 in Normandy, where she gave birth to her third son William on 22 July 1136, after Stephen Blois had been crowned King Stephen of England. There was little or no precedent for a woman to rule at the time, which made it more readily acceptable by the nobility to accept Stephen as the alternative heir. Matilda was half-sister to the bastard born Robert, Duke of Gloucester, one of many of King Henry’s illegitimate offspring; who, reluctantly appeared and paid homage to King Stephen at court. He made a pretence of loyalty to the King for a short while, but eventually left for Normandy to join his sister Matilda. When Matilda and the Duke of Gloucester returned to England in 1138, turmoil across Britain ensued as the barons sided by loyalty to Matilda and the Angevin cause or to King Stephen. King Stephen had paid vast amounts from the treasury at Winchester soon after his crowning to win the barons’ support and fealty…. and to keep them from defecting.
Before Henry Blois joined the monastery at Clugny, his father was away on Crusade and his mother was left to manage the family affairs and estates in the region of Blois in his absence. The Blois region of France was considerable29 incorporating Clugny, Blois, Chartres, Langres, Avallon, Autun, Troyes etc. a large swathe of Burgundy. Henry Blois having witnessed a strong and competent mother carry on the affairs of an absent crusading father would inure Henry more readily to the acceptance of a female rule which was posited by King Henry before his death.
Henry Blois was loyal to his uncle and the King conferred on him the bishopric of Winchester in 1129 seeing the ability of the young Henry and what he had achieved at Glastonbury. It may be speculated that Henry Blois had been in Normandy with his uncle in 1128 because he would seem to be the ‘someone’, (according to Henry of Huntingdon) who recounted the hereditary line of all the Kings of the Franks and their heritage from Troy to King Henry on one occasion in Normandy. I will discuss this later when I cover Henry of Huntingdon; but I would suggest the elevation to Bishop of Winchester in 1129 was based upon Henry Blois having a close relationship with his uncle and having been present with his brother Stephen while with King Henry Ist in Normandy.
King Henry was known to be fond of both Stephen and Henry Blois. Henry Blois as the King’s Nephew at Glastonbury was responsible for the provision of Knights for the King’s service. It is with this fact in mind, we can understand Henry Blois’ wish to please his uncle and the prospective Queen Matilda as all the Barons were being prepared to accept the King’s will.
28Geoffrey of Anjou and Matilda had marched into southern Normandy and seized a number of key castles around Argentan that had formed Matilda’s disputed dowry and those had fought on the side of rebels in 1135.
29See Image 1
It is vital to understand the reasoning behind the initial stages of the construction of HRB because Henry Blois had envisaged writing a book on the History of the Kings (and Queens) of Britain and their heritage from Troy. This is how the germ of the idea and fomat of HRB30 originally came into being.
What I am suggesting is that Henry Blois commenced a history of the Britons as a way to seek favour to the future queen and his uncle the King; by providing an illustrious history for the Britons and specifically an historical underpinning in history for the acceptance of a new Queen by the Barons. A historical narrative creating a precedent supposedly of Queens which had preceded her, according to Henry Blois’ fabricated account of the history of the Britons. The entertaining pseudo-history intended for Matilda remained unfinished, unpublished and kept in Henry’s possession, yet posited the Trojan custom of primogeniture demanding that dignitas hereditatus should go to the first born.
As we shall cover in progression, it is only after Henry’ Blois’ time in Wales in 1136 and the initial purpose of his intended book had become redundant, (in that his brother was now King); that Henry added to his initial creation i.e. the primordial faux history, originally intended for his cousin Matilda and Uncle. The original format was to expose that throughout British history there had been Queens; and Matilda was in effect no different by inheriting the throne after King Henry Ist as history supposedly recorded. Henry Blois wring as ‘Geoffrey’ is often misunderstood about his attitudes to feminism. Henry of Blois had a secretive love for a woman who was a nun as is evident in his Merlinian prophecies recounted in the alternative version supposedly translated by John Of Cornwall. However much of what I will term Femine negative angst in the portrayal of Guinevere is derived from his utter hate of the Empress Matilda when the Arthurian section of HRB was added to the initial psuedo-history (ironically composed to please her in its initial content). Obviously, commentators such as Fiona Tolhurst, whose ‘Femenist-Historicist’ approach to Geoffrey’s work is often misdirected in her conclusions. Without the knowledge of the who composed the HRB and the reasons for its composition, it is essentially nonsense to discuss the feminine themes in Arthurian literature without understanding the influences of females close to Henry such as his mother or the Empress Matilda or how these influences were expanded upon by his Nephew’s wife Marie of France i.e. Marie of Champagne.
During Henry Blois’ sojourn in Normandy in 1137-8 as King Stephen’s representative quelling Angevin incursions into Normandy, the inception of the Arthuriad was, at this period, added to Henry Blois’ already composed pseudo-history which had become redundant since King Stephen’s coronation. The initial psuedo-history (without the Welsh-centric Arthuriad) had already been composed between 1129 and 1134-5, but had not reached its initial purpose of design in persuading the readership of British past queens, because King Henry Ist had died before it had been presented to him. After all this initial research work in the composition of the psuedo-history; Henry decided this historical endeavour in creating a history for the Britons was not going to be wasted. Three years later a reworked the Primary Historia is deposited at Bec. The composition of the faux history had laid dormant a few years in the interim between 1135-37 until the (Wales-centric) Arthuriana was added in 1137-38; after King Stephen had gained the throne and Henry Blois had been to Wales in 1136 to help fight the Welsh rebellion. What may seem to scholars conflicting views from Geoffrey about the Welsh is due to the fact that Henry Blois as a Norman detested the Welsh yet as Geoffrey lauded their history as being the essence of the anti-Roman Arthuriad.
Henry Blois was second in the power structure in England at the time of the appearance of the Primary Historia at the Abbey of Bec. In 1137 Henry Blois went to Normandy to deal with De Redvers and his enraged Cousin Matilda. In Henry Blois’ spare hours in Normandy in 1137 and the early part of 1138, Henry’s muses were at work expanding upon his already composed but redundant faux-history. In this period Henry Blois extended his initial polemically contrived pseudo-history and added the tale of the Chivalric Arthur (still not fully expanded to Vulgate proportions) to an already unfinished (temporarily shelved) pseudo-history which also aggrandised Gloucester the ducal house held by Henry Ist bastard i.e. Matilda’s half brother.
This updated volume became the edition I have termed the Primary Historia which was first discovered at Bec in January 1139…. of which we only have a précis in the form of EAW. It is for this reason there are so many seeming inconsistencies31 amongst many story-line variations, which scholars of HRB have been at odds to explain. Neil Wright’s analysis of the EAW published in his 1991 article assumes that Henry of Huntingdon played fast and loose fwith the abbreviation of the HRB rather than understanding that Huntingdon did not alter the story line. Huntingdon was merely abbreviating a different manuscript from what Wright assumes he was using as a template. This was the Primary Historia.
30As O. J Padel ponders: Another aspect is Geoffrey’s purpose in writing his work, and its overall structure: is it primarily about Arthur, although he occupies only the final portion of the work; or was it intended as an overall history of Britain, with Arthur merely its high point. Although a King Arthur may have featured in the initial psuedo-history, certainly the expansion of his Norman values and his Chivalric nature welded to a Welsh backdrop are later developments in the Primary Historia which evolves toward an Avalon inclusive relationship in the Vulgate version of HRB.
31For Example, as I have mentioned, primogeniture posited as a Trojan custom. For inconsistency we should look at Mempricus and Malin, Marganus and Cunedagius, Ferreux and Porrex, which Tatlock puts down to thoughtless embellishment. The pseudo-history was initially composed as a book to be presented to the future Queen or King Henry I to be read at court as entertainment so that Barons would accept Matilda more readily since her younger brother, William Adelin had died in the White Ship disaster of 1120. Thus, we have a string of fictitious Queens presented in HRB, but primogeniture was not a consistent theme for the plan of HRB and was only really an essential feature of the initial pseudo-history. The fictitious Queens were absorbed in the soup of transition from pseudo-history to Primary Historia. Ultimately there was a change of use of the original pseudo-history as it became the Primary Historia.
We should view the inspiration for the beginnings of an embellished pseudo-history portraying an illustrious heritage from Troy as being composed in direct contrast with the sedentary GR of William of Malmesbury. William’s history bolstered the heritage of the Saxons but Henry had conceived of a way of ingratiating himself to the future queen and his uncle by writing a semi-historical book which went further back than any other insular historian had chronicled. By decorating it with illustrious queens and setting a precedent for an easier transition to a female on the throne, we now have a reason why ‘Geoffrey’ appears to introduce so many female rulers into his HRB.
Even though William of Malmesbury may have thought well of Henry Blois, (which is debatable), Henry was ambivalent toward the predominantly Saxon historian. But, by having close contact with William at Glastonbury in William’s research for the De Antiquitate Glastoniensis Ecclesiae, Henry Blois had realised that prior to Gildas’ era, there was an all but blank canvas for insular British history in the period where Roman annals had left off.32 If one felt inclined,33 one could invent an account of history freely without being tripped up corroboratively by other works…. but, Henry’s method of construction in HRB is a master-class in conflation. The one clear diversion of recorded history being Arthur’s battle with the Romans at Autun in the geographically well known County of Blois.
At the outset then, the initial composition of HRB was instigated as a ploy to impress and supply entertainment and curry favour with Henry Blois Daughter as future Queen and with his uncle Henry Ist. But, part of Henry’s artifice was to include in this book a precedent which showed that in Britain there had been many good and highly capable queens who had ruled in history prior to his Uncle’s daughter’s prospective reign. Henry Ist designated Matilda as heir in 1127 and the barons were made to swear fealty some more than once as King Henry aged. Until it is understood by modern scholars that the initial psuedo-history became part of the unedited version of the evolving HRB, several contradictory perspectives seem to emanate from an inconsistent Geoffrey.
The bulk of HRB (minus the Arthuriad) was the first intended purpose for the composition of what might be termed the ‘initial pseudo-historia’. But, as Henry Blois is the author of HRB it should be understood why a Welsh ‘Geoffrey’ seemingly undertakes to help the English Kings in their effort to assert their independence of the Kings of France. Dukes of Normandy had been Vassals to the French Kings.
Although the Saxons are not well portrayed in HRB, we must not mix up what was intended to be written and read out in the court of a queen and what was actually written after Henry’s brother became King and Matilda was no longer the intended goal of his authorial endeavour. The Saxons as a whole are seen as the enemy, but as we shall understand, the seeming resentment against the Normans (in the later updated Merlin prophecies) is against Henry II himself, because Henry Blois writes prophecies intended to cause sedition and rebellion by the Celts. How and why this occurs will also become apparent as we move to the evidence which shows categorically that ‘Geoffrey of Monmouth’ never existed.
32Gildas states that ‘I shall not follow the writings of my own country, which (if there ever were any of them) have been consumed in the fires of the enemy’.
33Henry, writing as Geoffrey, sets out in the dedication of HRB that no one had given a good account of insular history. So often while turning over in my own mind the many themes which might be subject-matter of a book, my thoughts would fall upon the plan of writing a history of the Kings of Britain, and in my musings thereupon it seemed to me a marvel that, beyond such mention as Gildas and Bede have made of them in their luminous tracts, I could find nothing concerning the kings that had dwelt in Britain before the Incarnation of Christ, or even concerning Arthur and the many others that succeed him after the Incarnation.
It should not be forgotten that this is a rationale given for Geoffrey having written the book as no dedications were attached to the Primary Historia at Bec. The point is that, it still reflects Henry’s own view for the initial construction of the pseudo-history for Matilda. Unfortunately this contradiction is unveiled when Henry Blois starts to get worried he might be discovered as author of HRB and subsequently advocates the HRB is only a ‘translation’ of a book ex-brittaniae.
Matilda was descended from West Saxon Kings through her Mother who was of Scottish Heritage… a mix of Gaels, Britons, Picts and Anglo–Saxons. So, a flattering glorious insular history was originally envisaged by Henry Blois at the outset of writing the initial psuedo-history to reflect the ready acceptance of female rulers in British History. William of Malmesbury had written GR partly to flatter King Henry’s Queen Matilda and her illustrious West Saxon heritage and latterly also dedicated a copy of his GR to the Empress Matilda confirming her rightful place as inheritor to the throne. Henry Blois had plans to out shine William’s GR by producing an historical book outdoing past and contemporary historians with interesting and entertaining content, fabricating what could never be verified. He is also found to be doing this to Henry of Huntingdon in several instances also which I shall cover later.
The initial plan for the book’s testimony to female reigns throughout insular history was its partial purpose of invention and guarantee of success, while portraying the alluring and illustrious heritage of the British stretching back to Troy. With the first-hand knowledge of Wales and its topography…. and Caerleon’s archaeological remains, gleaned on an excursion fighting the Welsh uprising in 1136; Henry was able to expand (with the Arthuriad) upon an already composed pseudo-history. We can speculate that this might have mentioned the Warlord Arthur as a fledgling Arthurian tale, given that the tales concerning Arthur to which Malmesbury briefly refers were current among the populace. However, certainly the chivalric Arthurian epic found in the Primary-Historia was an addition after Henry Blois had been to Wales.34
The creation of a chivalric Briton based on the persona of the warlord Arthur, presented an interesting and entertaining read. Arthur’s crown wearing and feast days where foreign dignitaries attend are largely based upon Henry Blois’ uncle’s costly feasts of splendid luxury at Whitsun, Christmas and Easter where foreign envoys could witness the brilliant company of Henry Ist regailed at court. It is certainly no Coincidence King Arthur held the same court at Caerleon at Whitsun also.
King Henry in William of Malmesbury’s words absorbed the honeyed sweet of books and would have been the first to appreciate the ‘initial pseudo-history’ if he had lived long enough. King Henry had repeated from youth that a King unlettered is a Donkey crowned. There was certainly enough in HRB to please his scholarly uncle. What must be made clear to the reader about the evolution and transition of the Primary Historia discovered at Bec is that it still had further developments to go in evolving toward a finalised 1155 Vulgate Version . At the outset, the Primary Historia was definitively an altogether different book than the Vulgate version which modern scholars mistakenly believe was the version found at Bec. As political situations in the life of Henry Blois changed, the book evolved, through the First Variant stage in 1144 through its evolved Variant form which included the prophecies within the text; to completion as the Vulgate edition, (now made public) in 1155…. with its edition of updated prophecies.
34Unfortunately no chronicler makes a direct reference to Henry’s brief excursion into Wales and again unfortunately just as we are about to get a description of Wales from the author of GS i.e. Henry Blois, the folios are missing. However, we shall see that the author of GS is Henry Blois and also he was definitively at the defeat of the Welsh at Kidwelly and the death of Gwenlian.
The mention of many Queens in Briton is part of the reasoning behind much of the first part of the HRB; inventing a precedent for female rulers in the antiquity of the Britons. There is Guendoloena who had married Brutus’ son and she reigned 15 years. There was Cordeilla the daughter of Leir. Marcia succeeded her husband Guithelinus and there was the daughter of King Octavianus and lastly of course Helena. For obvious reasons Boudicca in Tacitus’s description of events could not be a part of Henry’s history bias, in that she was defeated AD 60 or 61, by the Roman governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus. Boudica led the Iceni as well as the Trinovantes and others in revolt and her daughters were raped. To think that ‘Geoffrey’ has not read Tacitus is unreal. ‘Geoffrey’ converts his Troia Nova into Trinovantum as an eponyn based on Tacitus.
Henry’s mother acted much like a queen in her own region of Blois. It was however, Margan and Cunedag in HRB who objected that Britain should be subject to the rule of a woman and so the sentiment against the Empress Matilda was not new. It was partly the reason that many of the Barons supported King Stephen as ‘patrimony’ not primogeniture was the norm. Boadicea was hardly a reigning queen and even though Henry Blois writing as ‘Geoffrey’ cannot be seen to draw on Tacitus,35 it is likely that Henry will have read the account of Tacitus’s father in law in Britain in his youth while Henry was in the library at Clugny. Henry was not about aggrandising Roman achievements in Britain but was certainly conscious of what was in the Roman annals which recorded the invasions.
We can speculate that the ‘initial pseudo-history’ beginning with a heritage from Troy was started by Henry Blois at the time when William of Malmesbury was writing the history of Glastonbury Abbey; when William’s GR had been completed.
However, everything did not go according to plan, as fortune turned against the two intended recipients of the book. King Henry Ist died, and the Empress Matilda became Henry (and his brother Stephen’s) nemesis. Rather than let his authorial efforts go to waste, Henry finished his book adding the Arthuriana by inventing the Welsh court at the city of Legions.36 What must be understood and accepted by scholars is that there were no prophecies and there was no Merlin mentioned in the Primary Historia deposited at Bec in 1138 by Henry Blois. While King Stephen expended his efforts in the North of England, Henry was in Normandy composing the Primary Historia while suppressing the Empress Matilda’s forces in Normandy .
35There is not much in Tacitus which would concur with Henry’s set of events set out in HRB.
36In Huntingdon’s letter to Warin, (even though it is a précis of the Primary Historia), it seems odd that the very brief account covering the Arthuriad…. only supplies the skeletal outline of the expanded form found in the First Variant and the further expanded Vulgate HRB. We might expect a certain amount of expansion on Arthuriana in the period between the finalisation of the Primary Historia finished in 1138 and the appearance of the First Variant version published in 1144. It is not a certainty that the whole chivalric court ideal as witnessed in an expanded form found in the Vulgate HRB, was initially part of the Primary Historia….the original Historia Brittonum as Huntingdon referred to it. Other story-line details vary from EAW to First Variant, but these additions cannot be explained by Henry’s polemically motivated insertions such as the three Archbishops etc in the later First Variant.
At this time in Normandy in early 1138, Henry Blois was expecting to become archbishop of Canterbury on his return to England. He may (later in life) have had a longer term vision of becoming Pope.37 Although the Primary Historia was intended in part to entertain its readers; the history presented for the most part was fabricated within a broad chronological outline of known insular history.
It was certainly not conducive for a bishop to be witnessed embellishing tales and passing them off as history. It was thus prudent not to attach his name to the manuscript. Henry Blois signed off the Primary Historia with the (unlikely) authorial name Galfridus Arturus as Henry of Huntingdon related in his letter to Warin.
The one thing I would caution the reader upon is that at no point has deception and fraud on such a grand scale been suspected by modern scholars…. and thus the position and persona presented by Henry Blois concerning Geoffrey of Monmouth has never been contested. What I will show is that the flimsy biographical details could easily have been (and were) planted by a manipulative Henry Blois intent on hiding his authorship. There can be no doubt that the author of the prophecies of Merlin is Henry Blois and we can easily deduce this from the material also found in the narrative of HRB; which also plainly indicates that Henry is the author of both.
However, we shall discuss the sequence of how Henry carried out his deception later when we analyse the events regarding the Merlin prophecies and when the prophecies themselves were attached to the HRB. For the moment we should realize that the Primary Historia has as its base a pseudo-history initially written for Matilda, which (when it was written), was in no way contrary to the acceptance of Matilda as a future heir. This became the Primary Historia and (most definitively) there were no Merlin prophecies attached to this version.
The fact that ‘Geoffrey’ tells us that he is merely translating verbatim a very ancient book from ‘old Briton’ into Latin, to render our present Vulgate HRB (and he was commissioned to translate the prophecies) can be dismissed immediately. I will show in progression; Archdeacon Walter was dead when the Vulgate HRB (as we know it today) was published; and so were all the other dedicatees mentioned in other Vulgate versions.
Henry Blois’ personal attributes as a scholar were nurtured while at Clugny. Clugny was second to Rome as a religious institution and at that time was favoured by the papacy. Since its inception in 910 by the Duke of Aquitaine, Clugny had given birth to hundreds of satellite houses across Europe and many in Britain. The Cluniac’s main regard was for its adherence to Gregorian reform and ritualised liturgy. An increasingly rich liturgy stimulated demand for altar vessels of gold, fine tapestries and fabrics, stained glass, and the art of choral music. However, it was the Cluniac’s strict adherence to the liturgy which spawned a more materialist necessity which was to bring critics like Anselm of Bec and the austere Bernard of Clairvaux to oppose them later.
37Speculum, VI 222
Abbe’ Bernard of Clairvaux38 despised Henry Blois and contention between the two was often appealed at Rome with the pope as arbitrator. While Henry Blois was young at Clugny, the huge abbey was under construction and undoubtedly led to his interest in architecture39 which we can see evidenced in his later life. Henry’s interest in architecture was spurred on seeing the vaulted ceilings, radiating chapels and the statues of saints carved and painted that adorned the huge proportioned Romanesque church under construction. His inability to hide subconsciously his inner interests when he comments on architecture and fortifications in the Gesta Stephani is only one of his traits which betray his anonymity as the writer of that manuscript. Henry of Blois witnessed the Romanesque abbey church, the largest in Christendom being built, as he grew up at Cluny, even though it was not completed until the year after his election to the Bishopric of Winchester. One of the main patrons to the arts in the eleventh century was Henry Blois.
Abbot Hugh died at Cluny about the time that the young Henry entered the monastery and Hugh’s elected successor Pons of Melgueil was to become the downfall of what was a prestigious institution; and probably, through Henry’s intervention, there were several grants made to that house during King Stephen’s reign. Much later, after the death of his brother, Henry Blois bailed out the Abbey financially when he sojourned there in deep reflection while distancing himself from the carnage which had transpired in England throughout the Anarchy. Henry spent most of his early time at Clugny under Abbot Pons until such time as Peter the Venerable took over after Pons had left the institution in a dreadful state.
38It is not by accident that one of the 40 or so books donated by Henry Blois to Glastonbury noted by Adam of Damerham is by Bernard of Clairvaux (on loving God) and no doubt will have been used to confound Bernard in disputation.
39Henry could be said to be a connoisseur of Architecture. Nicholas Riall, posits that ‘Henry had a lifelong fascination for buildings and architectural innovation. Quite probably the work undertaken at Glastonbury, St Cross, the hospital of St Mary at Winchester and Wolvesey Palace was influenced by what Henry saw of the development by Abbot Suger of the Monastic buildings at St Denis’. We should not forget the edifice at Clugny either.