Libellus of Henry Blois

I, Henry, unworthy abbot of the church of Glastonbury, assessing carefully that the words or deeds of ancestors are injured at length by detractors and often weakened by descendants, have judged worthy to commit by pen anything which I have earnestly done at Glastonbury to future memory, so that I shall both make distant the words of the detractors and make known to posterity the truth of the matter. In the 1126th year from the incarnation of the Lord, when at God’s assent and the favour of Henry King of the English, I had received the control of the church of Glastonbury, I found the place, once very renowned, mocking the deeds of the priors: in their cottages it was threatening near ruin; and because it was bearing down more in the present, 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 an extent that my passionate mind brought me to chaos, because I had preferred until now to be a poor man of Cluny, to be close with the poor, than to be in charge of anything, selected for such a burden. I was able to not be rich and famous and be deemed rich and famous. Among these and certain other setbacks, which either by their disgrace or overabundance I am ashamed or fail to name in writing, now swelling to such an extent that it was preferable to run away from the proposition, unexpectedly divine compassion extended the hand of its support to me, so that with certainty not doubting anything, I might be lighted on by a little bit of faith, it brought about even a love of the mother of God, to whose protection the said place is known to be assigned, and also whose memory is solemnly delivered for daily use there. It compelled me to not abandon the deference of those serving her, to remove enemies, to bring together the scattered. Therefore, I set out to describe what was promised, so that, just as it must all be prayed for me, the reader and the hearer may decide equally.

A certain knight Odo by name, at the gift of my predecessor abbot Sigrid, for the sake of thanks of a certain relation which Odo had led as a wife, the dapifer of the church, had committed to him three manors of his demesne. He, as I received his homage, asked that I grant the dwellings carefully. Whenever I requested the deed from him, which he had received at a certain tenor from the said abbot with the brothers reluctant, he brought it forward altered: fraudulently changed with many witnesses, so false that he refused to be placed under judicial investigation concerning both these things which he possessed and the false deed. Thus defeated, thus found liable by the lawful examination of those who were present, he parted with what he held wrongly, and for the disgrace of the case, he promised and paid money. In short, at the order of the King (in whose ears the said Odo had instilled some cunning) in sight of many nobles, all these things were reported. Therefore, to those examining the case carefully, Odo was found liable, embarrassed and ashamed; overcome, those things which he held wrongly were given in my hand, and afterward he yielded them up on the altar of St Mary with many witnessing. But it sounded to my ears that, with the rod flourished, he was not to be thoroughly intimidated. At the request of some, I promised him 40 solidates of land and the service of a certain knight of Esseberia. And because he was outstripped by death, what I had promised to the father I paid in full to his son Roger.

On Melnes

Another person, Roger de Mara, just as he reported and his charters grant, at the gift of the Abbot, the grant of the King, yet without the consent of the brothers, possessed the manner which is called Melnes. He, when neither by promising money, nor by mentioning obsequies, nor by speaking suitably, was able to advance; and when the craft of his low birth had travelled from here to there enough, to the great, the neighbours, and the judges, and he had not found refuge or a place for escape, unwilling, he yielded what he had held wrongly to God and the church through my hand. But I would not altogether crush he whom I had weakened, I accepted his homage; I bestowed 20 solidates of land to him. I also entrusted the manors for a time to him so that, by the custom of the country he would pay rent there. And when for certain cases, emerging not much after from the side of the King (whom he had offended) poorly against him, I had received those manners from him; in their stock from the owed rent he owed me a sum of 40 pounds. Meanwhile before the King he positioned me as a guarantor with others and compelled me to pay for 10 marks. All these things he was drawn into the case, when he feared trial, for the absolution of each debt he returned 20 solidates of the land which he had received.

On a land in Brentemaris

One Ralph namely from St Barbara, requested from the Abbot Herluin, my predecessor in Brentemaris, some land adjacent to the River Axe. Which just as he presented, profited the church in no way, nothing could be useful in the present or in the future. He took possession of this, described in such a way, noted likewise in a charter, by a gift of the Abbot. Therefore, when on a certain day he entered the said manor, by wondering through twisted causeways, I scoured my paths, I found a land in circles here, fortified there by a mud wall, surrounded by the depth of the River. In there I saw a crop of reddening with the gold colour, murmuring sweetly to gentle breezes, wide on its surface, displaying and even flatness, so that no surplus could grow out in the opposite direction, nor did anything springing forth underneath on the other side separate the joined branches, with their density picking bundles more than dividing ears of corn. When I asked the name of the land, I learned that he had contracted it from the said knight, “of no profit”. Therefore, when on the established day, such fraud had been eliminated by many assembled men, I guaranteed by their judgement the said land now deserved a changed name. When my predecessor Sigfrid had crossed from Abbot to Bishop, Geoffrey the Chancellor took up the possessions of the church of Glastonbury to be administered. He sold five churches, pulled out by his mother; he transferred them for his role and his use. I seized these, and I did not wish to yield to the promises, threats, or fears blowing against me. Conquered at last by the request of the King, I retained two, three I gave up to him on such a condition that the mother church would not lose whatever among these it had possessed in tithes or others. He, living in that position and condition, presided. However, in dying, he changed into something else and gave them up free to the mother church.

On some land in Moorlinch restored and given to the estate.

At the permission of Thurston, the Abbot, a certain Ansketill, his brother seized upon two and a half hides of land in the manner of Moorlinch, from the demesne of the Abbey from before. And he, when he made a border of the fief opposite me, because he held it by right of the knight of that Abbey, he publicly returned that land of the demesne, unreasonably taken from the church, through me, at the favour of God, deraigned, and conceding it for the supplement of the estate of the monks, lest any of my descendants at any time should presume to corrupt my grant, offering through the text of the gospel, upon the altar of Glastonbury, in common presence I confirmed it.

On the church of Pucklechurch, given to the sacristy.

I also granted, on the same day by similar confirmation, the church of Pucklechurch, so that from their revenue the candlelight be had continually in the church of St Mary, which on account of its age the ancient church is called Ealde Chirche by the people. And on this conclusion; that Edward the clerk, to whom as long as he lives, I had granted the church of Pucklechurch, he would yield 20 shillings to the sacristy, just as he used to give me. And as long as Edward himself completes that, in addition, the sacristy has 20 shillings from my estate; so that would be 40 shillings. Also, with Edward completing it, it shall remain entirely to the consideration of the sacristy for the said light.

Likewise, on some land in Moorlinch.

Hugh de G. brother of Odo had claimed for himself 3 1/2 hides in the manor of Moorlinch at the consent of Abbot Thurstan, with the convent un-consulted and unknowing, from the demesne of the monks. Which, when it reached my notice, H. now dead, I met with William, his son and successor in inheritance, concerning that land. And he, acquiescing to my just request, at the Council of his friends, gave that land without claim for the future; this was also Matilda’s, wife of the said Hugh. But, lest I be no one for cruelty and greed I granted one hide in the manner of Middleton to her, so long as she lives, for her keep and for the mercy of God. The witness of this matter are a coulter upon the altar, cantors, and a shepherd.

On Uffculme.

In addition, when I had perceived the manor of Uffculme, which Robert fitz Walter Flandrensis possessed then, but was under the jurisdiction of Glastonbury from old, had crossed into the jurisdiction of another, I confess I was of two minds by the age of the matter. Equally, I considered on behalf of the time, I put off the charge. Then with King Henry my uncle dying, my brother Stephen succeeding in the reign, the said Robert paid homage, in addition swore fealty, with other nobleman of the country because of custom; but not much afterwards, with all duty of fidelity and legality thoroughly neglected, he became wilful and rebellious against the law and the King, and with some accomplices of his negligence, he was compelled to repudiate not only his own duties but also all of England, with justice prevailing. Then, when the place was considered; the opportunity had, because it was of the jurisdiction of the church; and had been carried off from the church together with violence and fraudulence for a long time, I accused him publicly. I put forth the charge in front of the entire Curia. And by their consent (not custom) with the authority of God in all things, the King, satisfying the holy Church, a member to the mother, liberally restored the said manner to Glastonbury through me.

On Syston

A certain matron by the name of Ratsenda freely present possessed a vill of Syston, bordering upon the manner of Pucklechurch. She, from the beginning of my arrival coming to pray at Glastonbury, then sought my conversation. And speaking with her among other things, when the said possession was away from the charges of anyone else, I learned the vill was hers. By the aid of God and my council it was done so that she herself promised it to the jurisdiction of Glastonbury, whether alive or dead, with her own possession, suitable witnesses have been summoned. And then, at the passing of a moderate amount of years, when I felt that she, death imminent, was greatly ill, I sent some men of mind to see that she was ill and urge the memory of the said promise at my succession. Further on, when my men arrived, there arrived certain other monks (cenobites), whom, so they said, the grace of that matron had invited, pleading to both her funeral processions, and the investiture of the possession promised to them. Here, they put forward my charge openly to me, and forbade the trifling of others of any sort. To others passing the charge was heard (and not the obstacle), hence the case was industriously pursued. For the second time, I sent monks and knights from my own men, who urged the matron to correct her error and satisfy the previous promise, indeed the truth. Which, finally, returned to memory, the error was recognised, she confessed her negligence. Pardon too, when she was able to try, was humbly requested. She satisfied my arbitration, naming herself with her possession of Glastonbury especially. And these have been related to me, 40 marks of silver to herself, with which she paid debts, and a share was given and bestowed to the church where she prayed, for the remedy of her soul, I saw that they were granted. And at last, she concluded her life in a catholic manner; her body was honourably taken and buried in Glastonbury. Then I granted entirely the vill of Syston, determined by the disposition of the matron of Glastonbury, for the demesne of the mother of God, and confirmed by the seal of the patroness of the principal church and royal authority.

On Camerton and Certain Others.

But I shall not omit through forgetfulness what must certainly be recalled especially. A certain knight Robert, by the name of Cotele, adequately and in addition grateful to Herluin, at the consent and (as it was said) the imprest of the Abbot, had claimed for himself portions for some of the manors of the Abbey. Meanwhile the Abbot died, he claimed several things from the gift of the Abbot. And not much later, Robert himself dying, gave up the said parts to his wife and children, as if they were of hereditary right, namely the manor of Camerton, the manner of Ure, two hides or more of Pucklechurch, likewise of Dulting, one hide of Damerham, likewise of Deverel, and very many others. After this, Sigfrid, succeeding Herluin into the Abbey, claimed Camerton for the demesne of the church, but he instantly relinquished it to Roger Bishop of Salisbury for thanks. When I succeeded Sigfrid, since I had investigated these things, said and by the beginning of my control (except Camerton, regarding which it must be yielded to the reverence and diligence of Bishop Roger, and I determined it to be supported in accordance with his discretion) all the rest I restored to ecclesiastical freedom from occupation. Longer after this and not, however, calmly putting up with the ownership of Camerton, when the Bishop died, I did not delay in restoring that manor to the demesne of Glastonbury.  Also in addition to this, I had seized another vill (concerning which the service of one knight was owed to the church, which the said Sigfrid yielded to the said Bishop as well) just as the demesne, until he, who possessed it before by military right, requited me, and when at last from him homage for fealty to the church was accepted, I yielded so that he would pay the right of the Knight to the church. The name of that vill is Pillesdone.

On Damerham

And I shall not omit that I found in the manner of Damerham (which seemed especially to be under the jurisdiction of Glastonbury,) I found six who were called canons, possessing individual prebends. On account of this the demesne was not occupied reasonably. Although I made light of it, I nonetheless wished to recover nothing recklessly. What more? With each of the canons departing by dying in turn, I did not wish to be defeated or softened by prayer or pay. Whereby, I granted them conditions as something other than one and the same demesne. Thus, each of the college had their own. And now, I suitably placed the chaplain, who would carry out the rights of the church in that very place. Through me by the grace of God, the church was renewed and ecclesiastical decorations were customarily repaired better in every respect. Thus, in truth, I also made the manor, which I spoke of especially before. In addition, suitable buildings were founded not unsuitably.

On Ashcott and Pedwelle.

Then in advancing cases, when I exacted the service of two Knights for the service of the King from a certain Ivan who possessed two vills, Ashcott and Pedwelle, by right of a knight (for I had learned as much was formally owed there from fellow knights), he resisted with every effort, imploring that he was liable for the service of merely one knight. Whereupon, (so as to make much short by abridgement) at last we met, when considered publicly, he fell into an opinion of disinheriting. And for this redemption he owed much more than he was able to pay. Moderate in my mercy, so that I would acquiesce to some circumstances, both because I had accepted his homage, and because it seemed unfeeling, with his father dead, I gave the man up entirely free. Moved by humanity, thus I sensibly exercised moderacy, so that I would neither thoroughly disregard my own benefit, which was evident, nor completely keep disaster or ruin on Ivan. Then Council was held. I gave up the vill of Milton (near Givelcestriburgo) to Ivan for his keep; however, the church of his vill and its appurtenances were taken for the demesne of Glastonbury. Also, of such a tenor that Ivan, who will at first be burdened for the service of the two Knights for the said two vills, content with this vill, thereupon he will be acquitted of one knight. Hence it was done on both sides so that Ivan is discharged and the demesne of the church is increased. And not to be made light of is the nearness of the said two vills, and not to be undervalued is the opportuneness of the use, when seen as though in view of a door. These things were done in the presence of Robert Bishop of Bath, with the present and favouring convent of Glastonbury.

On Andersea, gained and given to the sacristy.

Godwin son of Edwin of Scipam, offering his son to be given instruction in monastic disciplines, gave to God St Mary and me the land of Andersea, which he possessed before by hereditary right from that same church through the time of three Kings (namely William senior and his son William Junior and Henry their successor), in the time so long as he wished, at their consent and authority, retaining only half a hide from there; on the tenor that he give up another virgate after his death to the church, and another for the key of his wife and children, which they also would recognise as from the demesne of that church. These were done and confirmed in the presence of very many suitable witnesses, with me standing before the altar with vestment and crosier, and with the communion of the holy Church excommunicating all those who strive to stay away, by any means or trick, the said land from the church’s demesne. I also granted on that same hour, the land of the church to the sacristy for administration of the lights of the church.

The point in composing this is to show that Henry is concerned with the rights and wrongs of the mundane and has no affiliation with the construction of HRB, the burial of Arthur, the invention of Joseph at Glastonbury, the invention of the St Patrick charter, the composition of the Life of Gildas, the interpolations in William of Malmesbury’s DA and GR, and the invention of Grail literature. Who would associate such a mundane composition on par with any of the above works which we have covered which have Henry’s hand upon them? Is it not astounding that this is the only composition from a man who likens himself to Cicero and puts the work of an author above all things worldly? Henry’s Libellus is the most artful ruse even though it reflects the truth of what transpired at Glastonbury.

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