Alas what dire famine shall come, so that the north shall inflame her vitals and empty them of the strength of her people. It begins with the Welsh and goes through the chief parts of the Kingdom, and forces the wretched people to cross the water. The calves accustomed to live on the milk of the Scottish cows that are dying from the pestilence shall flee.
Henry Blois is referring to the north as both northern Wales and Scotland. As we have discussed previously, a portion of the Gesta Stephani is missing about the wars in Scotland. I feel sure the missing folios would have corroborated his assertion of the depletion of inhabitants through constant feuding leading to famine. At the place in the Gesta Stephani Henry Blois is about to describe the effect of the wars in Scotland we are missing his account: Then, organising squadrons and battalions against all the land which was large and rich… [missing folios].
However, if the description of Scotland and the Scots takes the same format as that when Henry Blois describes the Welsh in the GS, I feel confident that if the pages were still extant, it would also describe similar circumstances of famine.
After starting the Welsh account, in the same fashion as that which he describes Scotland…. full of abundance etc…. he then launches into why the Welsh also are in famine:
Therefore, when the Welsh were troubling the land in this fashion, it seemed to the King (Stephen) that he was striving in vain, in vain pouring out his last treasure to reduce them to peace; and so, advised by more judicious council (probably Henry Blois), he preferred to endure their insolent rebellion for a time, in order that, with fighting at a standstill and disagreement setting them all at variance, they might either suffer a famine or turn on each other and be exterminated by mutual slaughter. And indeed we have seen this happen in a short while. For being continually occupied in slaughter and plunder they left the whole land so untouched by the plough and so empty of men that no hope at all of the future livelihood remained, but worn out with plague and hunger, after the death of the animals which followed on the plundering of them, they themselves shared the same fate, since the air became pestilential from the rotting bodies. These things, happened in Wales at different times, I have brought together and dealt with briefly that I might not have to stray from the calls of my narrative whenever some conspicuous event required more adequate treatment in its proper place.
Unless Henry Blois has changed tack, the next line seems to be part of a whole lamentation of the destruction of people and landscape to the north…. as the next lines in VM also refer to the pestilence of dying cattle in Scotland: The calves accustomed to live on the milk of the Scottish cows that are dying from the pestilence shall flee.
It begins with the Welsh and goes through the chief parts of the Kingdom, and forces the wretched people to cross the water. What has often confused commentators on the HRB, is how could a man supposedly from Wales, have such low opinion of the Welsh? Henry’s conception, I believe is that the Welsh are the residue of the Britons…. which he presented as utopian Arthurian society. If this is the case, the meaning of the above prophecy might be about the early migration of the Britons across the channel.
Orderic relates that:
In the same week, a like good fortune smiled on King Stephen in another part of the Kingdom. For the earl of Albemarle and Roger de Mowbray had an engagement with the King of Scotland,’ and having put to the sword a multitude of the Scots, avenged the cruel slaughter which these people had made of the English without any respect for the Christian religion. The Scots, it appears, fearing the sword which threatened them, fled towards the water, and rushing into the river Tweed where there was no ford, in their attempt to escape death, met it by drowning.