The sixth shall overthrow the Irish and their walls, and pious and prudent shall renew the people and the cities.
In September 1155, just before Henry Blois secreted his transportable wealth with Peter the Venerable and asked him to carriage it to Clugny, King Henry II held a council at Winchester. This was the last appearance of Henry Blois before self-imposed exile at Clugny.
King Henry II enthusiastically considered invading Ireland and discussed this amongst the bishops; one of which was Henry Blois. As a generous brother, King Henry II was hoping to give Ireland to William his younger brother, making him King. The plans were abandoned when their mother, the Empress Matilda, objected. She did not consider Ireland worth conquering. King Henry II, instead, made William one of the richest men in England, granting him seven manors.
Now, the real question is: did Henry Blois shoot himself in the foot? Henry’s thought was, if Henry II believes in the prophecy, he will go to invade Ireland. But the problem was Henry Blois as Merlin also had written the Celts would gather together to oust King Henry II and the Normans in general, because as we can see in the John of Cornwall prophecies Henry Blois sees himself as the seventh King. The plan was that While Henry II was in Ireland Henry would return after the Celts had over-run the barons.
So, it looks as if Matilda told her son not to go to Ireland in lieu of holding onto his crown because of the Merlin prophecy; the reverse of what Henry Blois intended. It is a fact, that Henry II knew of this prophecy which incited the Celts to rebellion, and it is born out by chroniclers that this threat foreseen by Merlin as a fait accomli determined the outcome of certain subsequent events which in effect prevented it becoming true (the very principle on which the prophecies in part were based). This is why Henry II was quick to make peace with Conan and Cadwallader the two named in the prophecy.
The council at which the invasion of Ireland was discussed is corroborated in the Chronicle of Clugny910 (as Peter the Venerable attended also) which supports Henry Blois’ knowledge of the proposed Irish invasion as a plan. Henry Blois writing the updated Vulgate version of prophecies, which one must assume he supposed would be acted upon while he was abroad in Clugny…. instigated the prophecy so that Merlin would be found to be a real prophet when the invasion took place. At Winchester about the time of Michaelmas in 1155 Henry II holds a council with his nobles to discuss the conquest of Ireland which he seems to have desired to give his younger brother William on terms of homage.911
910Chronicle of Clugnyxxxviii
911Robert of Torigni.
It was straight after this council in which the discussion took place about the various castles held by bishops and barons was discussed. King Henry saw these castles which had grown up throughout the land in the Anarchy as an obstacle of peace in his realm. The only problem was that without them the powerbase of any baron or bishop was potentially removed. Henry Blois had several castles and thus King Henry looked on the powerful bishop as a threat. Don’t forget Henry Blois had been fighting the Angevin cause for years and without doubt everyone knew Henry Blois was the manipulator behing the scenes which had in fact denied Henry II mother the crown of England in the first place. At this meeting in Winchester it was requested that bishop Henry hand all his castles over to the King. Straight afterward Henry Blois left the country secretly without license from the king, probably leaving the country from a port in the very south of England. You have to understand the mindset of Henry Blois having this upstart new King removing Henry’s powerbase when Henry had thought Eustace, who he was grooming for his own vicarious power, was going to take power after Stephen died. It is this mindset of depression and reflection which dictates the storyline of the madness of Merlin in VM written just after his arrival in Clugny i.e. the nineteen fruit trees.
One of the reasons for the Irish invasion was in 1155, three years after the Synod of Kells, Adrian IV published the Papal Bull Laudabiliter, which was addressed to Henry II. The Laudabiliter was issued in 1155 whereby the English pope Adrian IV gave King Henry the right to assume control over Ireland and apply the Gregorian reforms. He urged Henry II to invade Ireland to bring its Celtic Christian Church under Roman Catholic rule and to conduct a general reform of governance and society in Ireland. In Irish records, they seem to have known nothing of the plans of the prospect of an Angevin Norman invasion and many commentators mistrust whether the Papal bull was genuine. With Henry Blois’ prediction found here in the Vita Merlini it would seem to substantiate that there was such a bull.
The Normans did in fact invade Ireland, beginning with a small landing of Norman knights, but not until 1 May 1169 long after the Vita Merlini was written. A force of loosely associated Norman knights landed near Bannow, County Wexford at the request of Diarmait Mac Murchada, the ousted King of Leinster, who sought their help in regaining his Kingdom. It was not until the 18 October 1171, however (two months after Henry Blois’ death) that Henry II landed a much bigger army in Waterford to ensure his continuing control over the preceding Norman force. In the process King Henry II took Dublin and had accepted the fealty of the Irish Kings and bishops by 1172; thus creating the Lordship of Ireland, which formed part of his Angevin Empire.
Henry Blois had to wait four years from the time he wrote the prophecy in the Vita concerning the ‘Sixth and the Irish invasion’ until a partial realisation of Merlin’s prediction, which became fact with the small band of Norman Knight’s arriving in 1161. However, the vaticinatory vision ‘and pious and prudent shall renew the people and the cities’, was based upon what he understood were going to be the implementations of Gregorian reform within Ireland which were proposed at Winchester in 1155.