Appendix 11
What an unutterable crime that man, whom the Creator of the universe made
worthy of heaven in honourable liberty, should be roped and led to the sale
like a cow! You miserable man, you who turned traitor to your master when
first you came to the throne; you shall yield to God.
When it is understood that Henry Blois is writing the VM in the period
between 1155 and 1157, it is plain that he is twisting some of the prophecies
from a previous version. He is actually referring to events which happened
in the early Anarchy and may well have featured in the early Libellus
Merlinior its update c.1150. We may speculate that Henry Blois is squewing
the meaning here in VM so as to appear consistent with the previous set of
prophecies put out in the Libellus Merlini.
When the King Stephen came to England, he held his council at Oxford;
where he seized the Bishop Roger of Sarum, and Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln,
and the chancellor Roger, his nephew; and threw all into prison till they gave
up their castles. (Anglo-Saxon chronicle 1137)
The prophecy is Henry Blois’ allusion to events in 1139 where the
Bishops Roger of Salisbury and Alexander of Lincoln were seized by
Stephen at the instigation of the Court, whilst Bishop Nigel of Ely fled to
Roger’s castle at Devizes. Roger of Salisbury was dragged to Devizes and
forced to open and surrender the castle. Roger had been ‘the throne’ (or was
in charge of state affairs) while Henry Ist was away in Normandy and was
well trusted by King Henry Ist. Roger may be understood to have abused his
position for his own material gain during this time.
As we can see in the account below written by Henry Blois in the GS,
King Stephen was being led astray on bad advice and Henry Blois was
annoyed at his brother’s naivety. It was probably the Beaumont brothers
who implied that Bishop Roger was planning to join the Angevin cause.
Stephen was led to believe that if he did not act by seizing Roger of
Salisbury and his relations castles…. they may be used against him;
especially if Roger and his relatives joined Matilda.
Henry is at the heart of this decision and advises against such action. The
Beaumont twins again influence the King to his detriment. It is for this
reason Henry Blois posing as Merlin includes this passage in the VM as it
affected him greatly…. that his brother would not listen to his advice as we
can plainly understand in GS.
By the King’s order, the captive bishops were kept apart from each other
in abominable conditions. Roger was contained in the stall of a cowshed,
and Alexander in a vile hovel; they were also kept from obtaining any food.
King Stephen ordered Roger’s son to be brought forward, with a halter
round his neck, threatening to hang him before the gates of the castle,
unless the bishop of Ely surrendered forthwith.
We can see by the next two extracts how much this incident affected
Henry Blois, as he knew it was the beginning of Stephen’s downfall. As I
cover later, in the section on the Gesta Stephani, Henry knows this action
was taken against Stephen’s own better judgement to placate courtiers:
The count of Meulan, and those other adherents of the King who were on
terms of the closest intimacy with him, indignant at this splendid pomp of the
bishops, were inflamed against them and with a furious blaze of envy, and far
from stifling the fire of their malice, once it was a light they made many
shameful and slanderous accusations of them to the King.
For they went on saying that those bishops owned the primacy of the
Kingdom, all the splendour of their wealth, the whole force of men for
personal ostentation and profit, not for the King’s honour; that they had built
castles of great renown, raised up towers and buildings of great strength,
and not put the King in possession of his Kingdom, but to steal his Royal
Majesty from him and plot against the Majesty of his crown; wherefore it
would be judicious and was most expedient for the Kings peace to lay hands
on them, that they might give up to the King for his honour the castles and
whatever else could give rise to strife and wars, but that there should be
yielded to their disposal, in pious and Catholic fashion what pertained to the
church and to the sacred character and rights of the Bishop.
If the King they said, were minded to follow their advice as he relied on
their valour and wisdom, he would arrest those men without formalities and
put them in custody not as bishops but as sinners against the Pacific office of
the Bishop and suspected enemies of his peace and public order, until by the
restoration to Caesar of their castles and those things that belonged to Caesar
C. Florence of Worcester p. 108, says the Bishop of Salisbury was put in a cowshed.
the King was safer from suspicion of rebellion (the charge alleged against the
bishops) and his country was more tranquil.
On hearing these councils, which they goading him perpetually, put before
him with more envy and suspicion than piety and justice, the King was in a
quandary and great in decision of mind, since on the one hand it was a
serious and unlawful step to commit a disrespectful assault on the priestly
order, and on the other it went against the grain and seemed a slight not to
listen to his intimate advisers and the chief men of his court. At length
overcome by their persistent entreaties and the constant and vehement
pressure that they brought to bear, for his own honour and a piece of the
Kingdom he allowed them to do to the bishops as they asked. In this he
certainly yielded to the weight of very foolish or rather mad advice, because
if it is unfitting and forbidden to offend any man, according to the well-known
maxim, ’do not do to another what you do not wish done to yourself’.
It is much baser and less permissible to show disrespectful violence in any
way to the highest of the ministrants at the holy altar. For to do one in the
sight of men is acknowledged to be a great transgression; to bring the other to
pass is considered, and really is, a monstrous sin against God himself. Hence
also the Lord says in the words of the prophet,’ he that touches you touches
the apple of mine eye’. And in the gospel he that despiseth you despiseth me’.
And to inflict dishonour so rashly and recklessly, or dishonourable extortion,
on the ministrants at the holy altar he thus for bids them in the words of the
prophet saying ‘touch not mine anointed’. For my part, I proclaimed firmly
and boldly that God himself cannot be more swiftly or more grievously
offended by anything than by any man's offence, in word or deed, to
those appointed to serve at his table. And indeed the sons of Korah,
because they rose up proudly and haughtily against those set over them, not
only incurred reproach from God but perished by being swallowed up alive.
Saul too, because in imperious and unseemly fashion he rose up against the
priests of the Lord, was not only dispossessed from his Kingdom in the sight
of the Lord but fell by a most cruel death in war. Having set forth these few
words to put straight the insolent despisers of God’s servants, let me
at length return to my subject.
Gesta Stephani. Henry Blois.
William of Malmesbury said that after the three bishop’s humiliation by
King Stephen, the King had been urged to atone for his sin and finally had not
rejected a summons to the church council. It can be seen in the next piece
why this is so close to Henry’s feelings and why it is a Merlin prophecy in
the VM. Henry Blois is recorded by William of Malmesbury on the same
Next he (Henry Blois) made a speech before the council in Latin as he was
addressing educated men on the indignity of arresting the bishops, of whom
the Bishop of Salisbury had been seized in a room at court and the Bishop of
Lincoln in his lodging, while the Bishop of Ely, from fear of such a precedent,
had escaped disaster by a speedy flight to Devizes. It was a lamentable crime
he said, that the King had been so led astray by those who instigated him to
this as to order hands to be laid on his men, especially when they were
bishops, in the peace of his court.
To the King's disgrace he had added a wrong to heaven, in that, under
pretence of the bishops being at fault, churches were robbed of their property.
The King's outrage upon divine law caused him so much grief that he would
sooner suffer great damage to his person and possessions than that the
dignity of bishops should be lowered by such a humiliation. The King
moreover, had often been urged to atone for his sin and finally had not
rejected a summons to the council. Therefore let the Archbishop and others
take counsel together about what should be done; he himself would not fail to
carry out the decision of the Council either out of regard for the King who was
his brother, or philosophy property or even danger to his life.
There can be little doubt as to the author of the Vita Merlini being the
same as the Gesta Stephani. It is interesting to note though, Henry Blois
forgets for a moment his anonymous authorship referring to the Bishop of
Winchester as different from himself or in the third person, when he
interjects; for my part,I proclaimed firmly and boldly that God himself
cannot be more swiftly or more grievously offended by anything.
This obviously was a great offence to Henry. Ganieda prophesy’s again of
the same event at the end of the VM; exposes definitively Henry as both
author of Vita Merlini and GS. Henry understood Stephen’s actions against
HRB Novella, William of Malmesbury.
the three bishops offended God himself. He thought it was the very reason
for the troubles Stephen endured in the Anarchy.
At the capture of Stephen when William of Ypres and the Count of
Meulan had deserted; Henry even has Stephen admit his own fault in the
GS: when at length they disarmed him and he kept on crying out, in a humble
voice of complaint that this mark of ignominy had indeed come upon him
because God avenged his injuries.
Henry Blois is in effect putting words into his brother’s mouth in the
hope that posterity views his brother in a better light. This is in fact a
defining moment in the Anarchy where Henry realised that his advice was
no longer listened to by Stephen and the Beaumonts and other envious
toady courtiers had (by their iniquitous advice), caused Stephen to make a
grave error of judgement that offended Henry greatly…. and other clergy.
If Orderic vitalis’ portrayal is more accurate in reality, he then confirms
the Beaumont’s suspicions were in fact real. The fact that Orderic implies
Roger of Salisbury as a pending turncoat, might be more accurate than
Henry’s tarnished view (against church) in hindsight. Looking back, Henry
sees this as the defining moment of Stephen’s downfall, but if the bishops
had gone over to the Angevin cause, it would have been the end of the Blois
Orderic relates that Bishop Roger had: usefulconnexions, and strong
castles, as he had been at the head of affairs throughout all England during
the whole of King Henry's lifetime, obtained a bad reputation above all the
great men of the realm for being disloyal to his King and lord, Stephen, and
favouring the party of Anjou. He had accomplices intimately attached to him,
in a son who was the King's chancellor, and two nephews of great influence,
one of whom was bishop of Lincoln, and the other bishop of Ely. Emboldened
by their vast wealth, these men presumed to harass the lords of their
neighbourhood with various outrages.
Roused by these sharp attacks, many of them formed a league against the
bishops, and when an opportunity offered, took arms by common agreement,
and tried to obtain satisfaction for the wrongs which they had suffered. The
two brothers, Waleran and Robert, with Alain of Dinan, and several others,
raised a quarrel at the city of Oxford with the retainers of the bishops, and
falling on them, several men were slain on both sides, and the bishops Roger
and Alexander were arrested.
But the bishop of Ely, who was not yet come to the King's court, being
lodged with his attendants in a vill outside the city, had no sooner heard the
dreadful news than, moved by his evil conscience, he fled with all haste to the
strong castle of Devizes. He then, having laid waste with fire the whole
country round, put the castle in a posture of defence, and determined to
defend himself in it against the King with all the force he could muster. The
King, much incensed on hearing this, marched an army towards the place,
and, sending forward William d' Ypres, charged with severe threats, swore
that bishop Roger should be kept without food till the hostile castle was given
up to him.
He also seized Roger, surnamed ‘the Poor’, the bishop's son, and gave
orders that he should be hung before the castle gates in sight of the rebels ; for
his mother, Maud of Rimsbury, the bishop's concubine, kept possession of the
main building of the fortress. At last, the bishop of Salisbury, by the King's
leave, had a conference with his nephew, and much blamed him for not
retiring to his own diocese, but stealing away in a rage to a place belonging to
another, when he found that the peace was broken; and reducing thousands
to want by the devouring flames. But his arrogant nephew, with his followers,
persisting in their rebellion, and the incensed King having commanded that
Roger should be immediately hung on a gallows, his trembling mother being
informed of the lamentable condition of her son, in her anxiety for him leapt
up and said: "It was I that bore him, and I ought not to lend a helping hand to
his destruction. Yea, rather I ought to lay down my own life to save his."
Accordingly she immediately sent a message to the King, offering him the
strong fortress …..
Henry of Huntingdon has a similar take on the events: For, after
receiving amicably Roger, bishop of Salisbury; and his nephew Alexander,
bishop of Lincoln; he (Stephen) violently arrested them in his own palace,
though they refused nothing which justice demanded, and earnestly appealed
to it. The King threw Bishop Alexander into prison and carried the bishop of
Salisbury with him to his own castle of Devizes, one of the stateliest in all
Europe. Therefore he tormented him by starvation, and put to the torture his
son, the King's chancellor who had a rope fastened round his neck, and was
led to the gallows. Thus he extorted from him the surrender of his castle.
Unmindful of the services which the bishop had rendered him, more than all
others, in the beginning of his reign. Such was the return for his devotedness.
In a similar manner he obtained possession of Sherborne Castle, which was
little inferior to Devizes. Having got hold of the bishop's treasures, he used
them to obtain in marriage for his son Eustace the hand of Constance Lewis
the French King's sister. Returning thence, the King took with him to Newark,
Alexander, bishop of Lincoln, whom he had before thrown into prison at
It is something that obviously struck Henry from personally witnessing a
starving Roger in that awful situation.
One observation which strikes me is that if it had not been for Florence
of Worcester, the relevance of the Cowshed and Henry’s allusion to being
led like a cow for sale from it; the prophecy would have less relevance. In
fact without the GS we would not have the insight on Ganieda’s prophecies.
These Freudian slips of similar attitude from opinion in GS; becoming
opinioned prophecy by Merlin, gives away Henry’s authorship of the Merlin
prophecies.Don’t forget the consensus of scholars is that whoever wrote the
Merlin prophecies wrote HRB because they discovered the prophecies add
to the historicity of HRB as a device.