Appendix 18
Many commentators on the HRB and the VM are perplexed by ‘Geoffrey’s
beneficial treatment of those from Brittany and by his deprecation of the
Welsh. The HRB links Brittany as the continental deposit of the residue of
the Britons from an early migration. Many have assumed that ‘Geoffrey’s
positive attitude toward Brittany is derived from a Breton association in
Wales, because of the long standing assumption that Geoffrey was Welsh. If
he was, he would hardly have been so derogatory about them. Henry Blois
hatred of the Welsh is rather down to the rebellion of the Welsh against his
brother Stephen, and his time spent in Wales in 1136.
We can see how Henry who created Chivalric Arthurportrays the Britons in
a good light before the Saxon invasion, has to rationalise how it is that the
remaining population who did not flee (who he now sees as the Welsh) are
so barbaric. Henry’s view is that the pocket of people left in Britain from
the once noble Britons are the Welsh. This is partly the reason he sets his
Arthurian epic there. Henry is clear about his favoured Britons. But, they
were no longer recognisable by their residue, the Welsh: as barbarism crept
in, they were no longer called Britons but Welsh.
The contemporary rebellious Welsh who Henry had been engaged with at
were not to be associated as part of the Celtic Christian Briton by
which Geoffrey is so endeared: But the Welsh, degenerating from the
nobility of the Britons’.
Orderic gives a good account of why Henry Blois would loath the Welsh. He
was with his brother when they both thought it propitious to withdraw
from a full frontal battle when Robert of Gloucester brought the Welsh
hoards into England:
Robert of Caen hospitably entertained under his own roof his sister Matilda
after her arrival in England, and calling in the Welsh to his aid, atrocious
villainies were perpetrated in all parts. They say that more than ten thousand
of these barbarians spread themselves over England, and that having no
HRB XII, xix
That Henry spent time in Wales is attested to by many facts which coincide during the course of this exposé.
HRB XII, xix
reverence for religion, they did not even spare the consecrated places, but
gave themselves up to pillage, and burning and bloodshed. It is impossible for
me to describe in detail the great afflictions which the church of God suffered
in the persons of her sons, who were daily butchered like sheep by the knives
of the Welsh.
Since there is nothing in the British annals that would commend the Britons
to ‘Geoffrey’ to form his attitude, I suggest it stems from Henry’s recognition
of an independent Christian Culture (i.e. not Roman) which existed in
Britain prior to the Saxon invasion, the very culture that Gildas bemoans.
Evidence of this lost ancient Briton church Henry found at Glastonbury and
became a part of his case for metropolitan of Southern England. It may just
be that because he invented a Chivalric Arthur that he holds the pretence of
their nobility before the Saxon invasion.
As can be seen throughout the HRB, Henry uses a template or anchor in
the form of location, situation or persona on which to build his narrative
and nearly every instance in his writing can be traced to this method of
composition. I would suggest that it was Melkin himself upon whom
‘Geoffrey’ bases Merlin in the HRB.
Henry transposes Merlin to Rhydderch’s court purely as a backdrop for
the Vita…. in part because of the explosive material that the southern
Merlin divulged in the Vulgate HRB. People might have been searching for
the source of these seditious prophecies and Henry Blois tries to
authenticate Merlin tying him to location and era and personas of the welsh
Henry Blois was not ignorant of the history of pre-Saxon Briton
as he left a copy of the life of the Caesar’s to Glastonbury as Adam of
Damerham records.
The VM has little intrinsic structure. It can be recognised as a composite,
and relies mainly on Taliesin and narrative ideas from Bhuile Suibhne and
‘Geoffrey’s’ Merlin Ambrosius might also be based on Melvas or Melkin, the King who donated Ineswitrin to
Glastonbury. The VM’s Merlin is based on Myrddin Wyllt, Myrddin Emrys, who became Merlinus Caledonensis,
or Merlin Sylvestris by association with such people as Rhydderch.
O.J. Padel’s analysis wrongly questions that VM is written in response to Gaimar rather than Henry Blois’
efforts trying to substantiate Merlin in VM as an historical figure conflating him with Myrrdin: Could Geoffrey’s
decision to write another account of Merlin, following the existing Welsh legend much more closely, have been
an indirect result of this claim by Geoffrey Gaimar? Gaimar’s epilogue was merely composed to substantiate
‘Geoffrey’ is not lying about his source.
Adam of Damerham witnesses that Henry Blois donated books to Glastonbury abbey, Lives of the Caesars,
History of the Britons, History of the English, and History of the Franks amongst many others including St
Isidores Etymologies.
Isidore. Henry’s invention of locating of Arthur’s grandiose court in Wales
in the HRB is based on several factors. His knowledge of Wales and their
oral tradition of Arthur; and the fact that there were archaeological Roman
remains at Caerleon.
The pro-Breton stance in the HRB is evident but the reasons for it are
revealed here in the Vita. Henry Blois affinity with Brittany and Stephen’s
claim to the throne are couched in terms of a right of the Ducal house of
Cornwall which Henry believed gave his brother (and he himself if
opportunity arose) legitimacy to the crown of Brutus.
Bertha of Blois was a Duchess consort of Brittany and a countess consort
of Maine who was married in 1018 to Alain III, Duke of Brittany and in 1046
to Hugh IV, Count of Maine. She was the daughter of Odo II, Count of Blois
and Ermengarde of Auvergne. Conan II of Rennes (c. 1033-1066) was Duke
of Brittany from 1040 to his death. Conan was the eldest child and heir of
Alan III, Duke of Brittany by his wife Bertha of Blois. He was the elder
brother of Hawise, who succeeded him as suo jure duchess. Conan II died
leaving no issue so he was succeeded by his sister Hawise, Duchess of
Brittany who married Hoel, Count of Cornouaille with offspring of Alan IV.
Alan IV married Constance, Princess of England and gave issue to Conan III.
Conan III married an illegitimate daughter of Henry Ist, whose daughter
was Bertha of Brittany. She Married Alan the Black giving rise to Conan IV.
It is this Conan IV who Henry Blois fixates upon as he incites rebellion
as the inheritor of the ‘Crown of Brutus’ in VM; the returning royal strain
and the reason he is trying to incite the Bretons, the Cornish, the Welsh and
the Scottish to insurrection against Henry II. Conan had inherited the title
Earl of Richmond from his father Alan the Black and became duke of
Brittany when his mother died in 1156. How Henry Blois could conceive of
such an uprising and the hope of spurring Conan into rebellion is because
he had been commanded by Henry II to surrender his castles in 1155.
Between 1155 and 1158 Henry Blois, the Machiavellian plotter, is at
Clungy having had his castles seized by Henry II and fears for his life,
should he return to England. Archbishop Theobald is wrote threatening
letters saying he had better return.
He, on the other hand was planning to
Galfridus Arthur did not become a Welsh Geoffrey of Monmouth until the Vulgate HRB was published.
See note 1
stay on the pretence of the popes instructions to re-organize Clugny, which
had hit financial difficulties.
But here is Henry Blois’ Machiavellian hand at work provoking through
his latest updated prophecies the precept…. (thought being the father of
deed): It is the will of the most high Judge that the British shall be without
their Kingdom for many years and remain weak, until Conan in his chariot
arrive from Brittany, and that revered leader of the Welsh, Cadwalader. They
will create an alliance, a firm league of the Scots, the Welsh, the Cornish and
the men of Brittany. Then they will restore to the natives the crown that had
been lost. The enemy will be driven out and the time of Brutus will be back
once more.
The Prophecy was supposed to inspire the warring Celts to overthrow
Henry II based upon a conflation with Armes Prydein. Henry’s plan failed,
but this is the reason for the inspired return of Conan which fortuitously is
mirrored in the Armes Prydein through Myrddin in the book of Taliesin
which relates to Cadwaladyr and Cynan (not Conan from Brittany).
It is upon this conflation Henry incites the rebellion; except, in the
present era of 1155-1157, he includes the Scots and the Cornish as the Celts
against ‘foreign’ invaders i.e. the Normans. The reader might think this
fantastic that Henry Blois would instigate a war against his own people, but
once we cover the Merlin prophecies supposedly put out by John of
Cornwall the reader will understand that Henry Blois has every intention of
returning as the leader of the fractious Celts as he sees himself to be ‘an
adopted sonwhen the rebellion is successful.
In 1158, Henry II was at Avranches and finally received the submission,
of Conan of Brittany as Robert of Torigni relates. Henry’s attempt at sedition
had failed and he returned to Winchester.‘Conan in his chariot’ from
Brittany, and that ‘reveredleader of the Welsh, Cadwalader
together were
supposed to depose Henry II. Supposedly Merlin the seer had predicted
such a re-emergence of the Celts driving out the ‘foreigners’ and re-
installing the inheritors of Brutus.
Henry’s pro-Breton stance existed already in the HRB and thus the
prophecy, although appearing to support the return of a utopian Britain,
has less to do with Henry’s romantic Celtic vision (the hope of the Britons)
See appendix 19
expressed in the Zeitgeist of the populace,but more of a hoped for
vengeance in the present. Henry Blois returns to England slightly sidelined
yet still involved politically to his death.
For the last 13 years of Henry Blois life there is a mutual but guarded
respect between Henry II and Henry Blois. Henry takes on the guise of the
venerated bishop and statesman in the period between 1158 and his death
in 1171. But, as we shall cover, he is (all the while) propagating Grail
literature…. and also in this period manufactured the grave of Arthur and
Guinevere at Glastonbury.
Henry II attempted to obtain control of the Duchy of Brittany which
neighboured his lands. King Henry had claimed to be the overlord of
Brittany on the basis that the Duchy had owed loyalty to his Grandfather,
King Henry Ist. A state of civil war had existed amongst the barons in the
region since Conan III died. Conan's uncle Hoel continued to control the
county of Nantes to the east until he was deposed in 1156 by Henry II’s
brother, Geoffrey.
Conan resisted the King’s brother and Henry II responded by seizing
Conan’s English Earldom of Richmond. This was the state of affairs at the
time Henry Blois was writing the Vita Merlini. Events did not transpire as
Henry Blois had hoped or even prophesied. History relates that to put down
the civil unrest in Brittany, Conan, in the end appealed to Henry II for aid.
King Henry, in return, demanded the betrothal of Conan’s only daughter
and heiress Constance, to Henry's son Geoffrey Plantagenet. So the
prophecy had no hope of becoming true, but the Vita prophecies had been
written in this era.