Chapter 1
Who was the real Henry Blois?
A remarkable fact about Henry Blois is that relative to the power he held, so
little is known of him. Characters such as Henry have usually left behind
letters such as those of Gilbert Foliot;
or historians have written
biographies about them. Where Henry is concerned there is a dearth of
personal anecdotes from which to compose a portrait of who he really was.
However, from what is gleaned from various accounts he was well
educated, complex and courageous. He was vain and maintained a regal
veneer ostensibly to those he wished to oppose and was also conscious of
his pedigree. He started out as an ardent believer in God having been
brought up an oblate at Clugny and recognised God’s omnipotent force.
Unfortunately, many of his endeavours were clandestine, so he did not
always advocate the truth. He was a prime example of the nobili
ecclesiastici destined for a high position in the church, but these were not
always churchmen of their own volition. One side of his character surely
believed, like his contemporaries, that all events transpired by divine
consequence (his oratorical speeches reflect this) along with judgements
pronounced about his brother in GS. He was an industrious builder and
employer and benevolent to most under his auspices. However, he was
manipulative and a schemer and a pragmatist. He was conscientious in
some respects, compassionate, yet judgemental and wilful. Henry Blois was
a split persona and a contradiction, never openly malicious, but his dark
It is not by accident that no letters exist for Henry Blois as he would purposefully have disposed of all the
evidence which might have betrayed his viewpoints which we now find in his work under pseudonyms.
Ironically, Knowles p.289, while on the subject of Henry Blois’ lack of letters says that they are ‘the best mirror
of a man’s character and mind and motives whether he be a Cicero or a Bernard’. The irony is that Henry left no
letters and looked upon himself as superseding Cicero in craft (which in effect he has attained), albeit under
secreted authorship.
Two biographies on Henry exist. Lena Voss, Heinrich von Blois and Michael .R. Davis’ Henry of Blois.
side was malign. The fact most important to this exposé is that he was a
fabricator of intricately worked tales and worst of all, he was a liar.
Had Henry not lived, there would be no chivalric King Arthur nor Grail
literature, but most importantly the location of Joseph of Arimathea’s burial
site would be lost to the present era. Henry Blois was an able administrator
and knew the value of cultivating a healthy pilgrim trade to both
Glastonbury and Winchester by the appropriation of saint’s relics. Henry
understood how to utilise the gullibility and superstitions of the medieval
mind. Henry translated the relics of the Anglo Saxon saints of Birinus and
Birstan, Haeddi and Aelfneah into the new Norman cathedral at
Oddly enough, the ‘Holy Hole’ dug so that pilgrims could get close to St
Swithun was foreseen as a prophecy by Merlin and was obviously intended
as a work by Henry Blois when the late version of the prophecies were
completed in 1155. The high water table under the New Minster caused
several relics to be moved at the time as related by prior Robert of
Winchester. Adam of Damerham relates many of the gifts donated to
Glastonbury by Henry and his ’gifts to God’ which he refers to on his
Meusan plates were artful objects of value. Henry loved art and precious
objects…. and there is a blatant contradiction in several reports of his
character. On the one hand his avarice is recorded and on the other his
clear generosity in the donation of precious artefacts is demonstrated.
Henry understood the power of religious objects, but it seems obvious he
invented an erroneous provenance and bogus history for many of the relics
he produced. The most outrageous was some of the blessed Mary’s milk and
some of her hair enclosed in a lion made of crystal.
The most ingenious,
which we shall cover in the chapter on the DA, is his miraculous find of the
Sapphire which became part of an altar he had had constructed. Henry
Blois imagination and unabashed willingness to invent, (even often what
might seem blasphemous anecdotes), is the main subject matter of this
present work. But, it is how he gets away with these blatant lies and also
reconciles them to an obvious conscience, which is the most interesting part
of his character and personality. It is as if there is a young cloistered and
John of Glastonbury in his Cronica ch.9, when mentioning Mary’s milk also says a crystal cross which the
Blessed Virgin brought to the Glorious King Arthur must also be derived from some propaganda put out by
Henry Blois.
devout monk paired in the same body with a vain and manipulative
egomaniac. Huntingdon recognised this duality and referred to him as a
The intriguing part of Henry’s character is how he was able to separate this
duality of character in public life. The respect he maintained by most was
partly comprised of deference to his aristocratic breeding but nearly all
recognised his great intelligence. As a bishop, his word would have been
respected and taken as truthful as long as the lies contained in his secret
authorial works were never equated with him. It is plainly seen in
Malmesbury’s HN that Henry could hold an audience on a grand scale and
used his oratorical skill. But some like William of Malmesbury as time went
on, became wise to his guile. Naked men on dragons, as portrayed in the
Merlin prophecies, clearly demonstrates there is no limitation to his muses.
However, there are instances of the crossover of these two personalities
where impossible stories, i.e. lies, related by him, have been believed as
credible because of his status…. and these stories are often portrayed as
Henry loved the miraculous to awe his readers or listeners
and hid behind the protection of respectability which the church afforded.
What little is known of Henry Blois is incidental and misunderstood and
no clear picture of his complex character is understood until one can
appreciate more about him from the works he left behind. Differences of
opinion given in the few passages that mention his name by contemporary
historians reflect the change of disposition he underwent from a scholarly
youth; maturing and enduring the trials of conscience and temptations of
power…. until the resignation of the loss of his power in 1158. From that
point onward he fostered the image of a venerable churchman and
statesman, yet it was in this period he instigated the initial stories of the
Grail. Strangely, a point not mentioned by commentators, is Henry’s vanity
which he had inherited from his father. His father at the siege of Antioch in
a letter to Adela his wife had inflated his own importance and in William of
One such example is where John of Hexam relates what he has heard: We have learnt from a truthful source
that as people were hearing mass one day at Windsor, a light had shone into the interior of the church. In
astonishment, some of the men went outside and looking up saw an unusual star shining in the sky. Returning to
the church, they saw that the light from the stellar rays was beaming inside. One wonder was followed by
another. Many saw that the cross on the altar was moving from right to left and left to right in a manner of
people in distress. This happened three times. Then for almost half an hour the whole cross moved and was
bathed in pouring sweat before resuming its former state….I have learnt that Bishop Henry of Winchester
narrated this story.
Malmesbury’s first edition of GR, Stephen count of Blois is accused of
fleeing secretly using lies to turn back new arrivals.
This was written before
William met Henry Blois. William of Malmesbury was much older and it did
not take him long to realise the temerity of the young Henry as shall
become evident in the contention over Eadmer’s letter to the ‘youth’ of
When William of Malmesbury was employed by the monks of
Glastonbury and eventually presented the DA to Henry Blois c.1134, the
dedicatory prologue has only commendations for Henry. After the
usurpation of the English crown by King Stephen and Henry’s part in this
affair, the HN
portrays William’s change of opinion and feelings toward
the Bishop of Winchester. William’s slight toward Henry’s father
and the
deference in which Henry held William (who thought of himself the
successor and equal of the Saxon Bede) also explains why Henry has no
qualms interpolating William’s DA to support his agendas after William’s
death. Henry Bloisprimary and secondary agendas are elucidated later in
this investigation in the chapters concerning William’s GR and DA.
Henry Blois was of noble blood, the Grandson of William the Conqueror
through his mother Adela of Normandy; ‘a powerful woman with a
reputation for her worldly influence’.
Adela’s mother was Matilda of
Flanders. Henry Blois father was Stephen Henry, Count of Blois, Count of
Chartres, and also accounted, Stephen II Count of Troyes. Henry’s parents’
marriage was an arranged match by Adela’s father William the Conqueror.
Henry had two elder brothers of note, Theobald and Stephen. William the
eldest brother does not feature on the historical stage because of mental
disabilities, but Henry also had sisters. His elder brother William had a son
Henry de Sully, Abbot of Fécamp who plays a part later in this expose and
also his sister and brother’s sons have a bearing on the propagation of the
Grail literature. Henry’s brother Theobald had sons who were married to
Marie of France and her sister Alix. This relationship was used as a conduit
in the propagation of Grail literature at the Court of Champagne. It is a
William of Malmesbury GR. Vol I P635. Mynors, Winterbottom, Thompson.
William of Malmesburys Historia Novella current until 1143 when he died.
Henry’s father died in the Crusade at Razes when Henry was about two years of age.
William of Malmesbury GR. Vol I P505. Mynors, Winterbottom, Thompson.
stupidity to think that the person who wrote The Lais of Marie de France
any other than Marie of Champagne, but we shall get to her later
Henry was born in 1098/9 and brought up at the Abbey of Clugny in
Burgundy probably from around the age of 10 years old. Here, he led a
cloistered life and received an extremely good education and by all
accounts was highly intelligent. He was widely read in both the Greek and
Latin writers as becomes evident as the composer of HRB. He would have
had access to a vast library from which his education prospered and would
have studied the Trivium, of which ostensibly, he was an exemplary living
product; a virtuous, knowledgeable, and eloquent person. The study of
grammar, rhetoric, logic, poetry, history, and ethics were the core liberal
arts. Henry was schooled in theology and had interests in philosophy and
the writers of the ancient world, many of whose writings must have existed
in the Library at Clugny.
From the source material used in HRB, I suspect that Henry may have
had a photographic memory to some extent. However, Glastonbury also
had a vast library at the time the bulk of the pseudo-history was being
composed. Peter the venerable was Henry’s mother’s friend and became
much like a mentor to Henry. It can be seen by letters between Henry and
Peter that they fell out over differences.
I have a strong feeling (but there
is no evidence) that this cooling of relations happened when the power of
Legate went to Henry’s head. However, returning from Rome in 1149, after
his appeal to the pope to grant him metropolitan status for Western
England, he lent Clugny abbey 1000 ounces of gold and 500 ounces to repair
a Golden Cross…. and then later, while in self-imposed exile, bailed out
again the abbey at Clugny.
From a noble family, Henry understood from reading the chronicles of
the ancient world, the importance of History and the provenance it
provides for races and nations. Henry is very conscious of his place in
history and how posterity will perceive him…. as is evident in GS. He vainly
wishes to be remembered well in posterity. Adam of Damerham says Henry
Marie of France is second to ‘Wace’ and Robert to mention the table roȕnd’so one could assume is part of
Henry’s family circle. See Appendix 36
The letters of Peter the Venerable, Giles Constable:Whereupon while I thought a mutual love which we had for
one another was in a small space of time hurt, I was unable to disguise, so that not to cure the same, I would
yield the antidotes of many words.
made provision at Glastonbury that festivals might be observed with more
alacrity and his own name (alive or dead) more gratefully remembered.
The Bibliotheca Cluniacencis relates that this Henry, Bishop of Winchester,
had formerly been a scholar and then a monk in this monastery of Cluny. The
Cluniac movement was the largest religious force in Europe second to the
papacy before its decline in power at the rise of the Cistercians. To Henry,
the Cluniac reforms and views were a part of his way of life. He had regard
for the autonomy of the Church against the material influences of the state
and the corruption of simony. I believe that Henry envisaged a partnership
with his brother Stephen, governing England, church and state. However, as
history tells, events evolved a different relationship between them after
1138 in the electing of Theobald of Bec as archbishop of Canterbury. The
Cluniac reforms were a series of changes taking place in medieval
monasticism which focused on restoring the traditional monastic life,
encouraging art, education and caring for the poor. The driving force
behind the reforms was an action against corruption within the church,
particularly preventing simony and the acceptance of concubines. At the
same time the Papacy wished to gain control of all clergy and wished to stop
the investiture of bishops by secular rulers. The attempt at reform was to
reinforce the rule of St. Benedict which enabled each monastic institution to
choose its own abbot. The feudal system of lords granting lands to religious
institutions and providing protection had bred corruption and ultimately
resulted in a negative secular influence over religious houses across Europe
and Britain. The wealth of the church and monastic institutions grew, so too
did their power through bequeathals; while hereditary barons became
envious of their increasing power. This had extenuated to rulers like Henry
Ist and King Stephen delaying the appointment of bishops while reaping the
reward in the interim. They would reward lucrative Sees and monastic
holdings to their favoured advisors or relations to protect their interests.
The real cause of the Anarchy during Stephen’s reign was caused by
Henry Blois organized usurpation of the Empress Matilda’s throne by
Stephen. However, it was also a consequence of the baron’s allegiances who
wished to counter the growing power of the clerics of these landed religious
institutions and their aristocratic Bishops. If Henry Blois had not installed
his brother on the throne, squabbles over allegiances and power would
never have culminated in the Anarchy, the Civil war in England and
Normandy between 1135 and 1153.
Thus, in contravention to Cluniac values, Henry Blois was elected to be
abbot of Glastonbury by his Uncle King Henry Ist. It is not clear exactly if
Henry came directly to Glastonbury from Cluny in 1126 or if he had spent
time with his uncle in Normandy with his brother Stephen. There are
rumours that he had spent time in Bermondsey as Abbot or had even been
assigned to oversee the building of a Monastery at Montacute which had
been planned by his uncle. Once Henry had been elected bishop of
Winchester, he became a Knight Bishop and he supplied knights to his uncle
from Glastonbury and from Winchester and built a network of castles.
His knowledge of fortification and siege warfare and interest in
architectural battlements is evident in the GS and was probably established
by reading classical literature on wars fought in the ancient world and
through what he had learnt by experience. In the ‘Red Book of the
it lists Henry of Blois as Prior of Montacute. Montacute at this
era was a possession of Glastonbury. It may well be that plans for a new
religious house were in place which were subsequently shelved, but this is
conjecture. Henry’s connection with Montacute will be discussed later,
regarding his authorship of De Inventione concerning Waltham. Father
William Good stated that Joseph’s body was most “carefully hidden” on a hill
near Montacute. I will discuss this later as it pertains to knowledge encoded
in Melkin’s Prophecy which most scholars have misguidedly determined as
a thirteenth/early fourteenth century fabrication. Abbot Seffrid’s elevation
to Bishop of Chichester left Glastonbury vacant and led to Henry’s
appointment to abbot of Glastonbury by his uncle Henry Ist.
I hope not to labour the reader with historical context, but it is necessary
to understand more of Henry Blois’ background if we are to recognise him
as the author of the HRB under the pseudonym of Geoffrey of Monmouth.
So, briefly, William Duke of Normandy (Henry’s grandfather) had invaded
Britain and defeated Harold at Hastings in 1066 and was later crowned King
H. Hal. The Red Book of the Exchequer, vol 2, 752. In a passage ‘ex libro Abbatis de Feversham’, it is stated
that Henry was prior of Montacute previous to his appointment as Abbot of Glastonbury. Lena Voss in her
autobiography of Henry Blois is unaware of this fact. It is here, a pertinent event transpired concerning that
which Father William Good had to say about Joseph of Arimathea’s burial place. This event also becomes
relevant when discussing Henry’s composition of De Inventione Sanctae Crucis Nostrae in Monte Acuto et De
ductione ejusdem, apud Waltham, see William Stubbs 1861 JH & J Parker.
at Westminster (the first of the Norman kings of Western England). William,
subduing rebellion from relations in Normandy and the Capetian King
Philip was injured after attacking the city of Mantes where his horse had
William of Malmesbury gives a descriptive account of how the
corpulent William the Conqueror had ruptured his intestines on the
pommel of his saddle and retired to Rouen with a ruptured gut…. and after
five weeks in agony, he died. His body was then taken for burial to the
abbey he had founded in Caen. The body had been squeezed into a coffin
too small for him and with the obvious travel delay and the putrefying
stomach gasses made worse by the rupture, the body had exploded during
the funeral.
William the conqueror’s eldest son Robert Curthose inherited Normandy
and his younger brother William Rufus became King of England. Their
youngest brother Henry Beauclerc received five thousand pounds of silver
and the three were in constant contention. Robert was stirring rebellion
against William Rufus in England and William retaliating by invading
Normandy taking Bayeux and Caen. Robert Curthose, in the end, financed
his army for the crusade by pawning Normandy to his brother. While
Robert was on crusade, William Rufus was killed by a rogue arrow in a
supposed hunting accident. The younger brother, Henry Beauclerc, did not
delay in taking possession of the throne to become Henry Ist of England.
When Robert returned from the crusade eventually, the two brothers
met at the Battle of Tinchebray where Henry Beauclerc's knights won a
decisive victory, capturing Robert and imprisoning him until Robert's death
in Cardiff Castle in 1134.
King Henry Ist had united Normandy and England, but Robert Curthose
had a legitimate son, William Clito, whose claims to the dukedom of
Normandy led to several rebellions which continued until 1128. However,
in 1120 after staying in Normandy for the summer and autumn, on
November the 25
a dreadful catastrophe happened as many of the nobles
were returning to England. King Henry Ist fleet lay in Barfleur Bay in the
north of Normandy. The King had recently taken into his fleet a vessel
known as the ‘White Ship’, into which many of the nobles, his heir apparent
and his bastard son had boarded. Orderic Vitalis relates that abuses and
drunken insults were shouted to the priests that had come to bless the
voyage across the Channel from inebriated nobles. The port entrance is
lined on both sides by lurking rocks and the ship foundered, drowning
Prince William and many other English and Norman nobles.
King Henry’s only remaining legitimate heir to the throne was his
daughter the Empress Matilda, by his wife Matilda of Scotland, the daughter
of Malcolm III of Scotland. Matilda was the product of a political marriage
uniting a conquered Anglo Saxon England with Scotland. In 1125 the
Empress Matilda’s husband Henry V the Holy Roman Emperor died which
presented King Henry Ist with a solution for succession after losing his son
in the white ship disaster who would have been his natural heir.
King Henry married his daughter the Empress Matilda to Geoffrey V,
Count of Anjou, in a union which he hoped would produce a male heir and
continue the dynasty. King Henry was nervous about the barons accepting a
woman as his heir after his death. He made them swear fealty to the
Empress Matilda as the prospective heir on more than one occasion since
the white ship disaster on 25 November 1120. These unfortunate set of
circumstances would lead to the turmoil that was later termed by
historians: the Anarchy. Matilda or Empress Maud, as she is otherwise
known, had three sons by Geoffrey of Anjou, the eldest of whom eventually
became King Henry II of England upon the death of King Stephen in 1154.
Upon the death of King Henry Ist on December 1
1135, the throne was
usurped by Matilda’s cousin, the said Stephen of Blois organised by the
Machiavellian manoeuvrings of our Henry Blois, Bishop of Winchester.
Given the pervading attitude to women on the throne, it may be that Henry
Blois and Stephen had previously discussed such an action. Stephen was
certainly swift in his travel to England to claim the throne whilst Matilda
was in Normandy. Matilda had just realized she was pregnant again and
after her previous near death experience in childbirth, she was reluctant to
travel by sea to be crowned in England. She assumed her right of heritage
was guaranteed, but there were already apparently rumours that nobles in
France were planning to appoint Theobald to the throne, Henry Blois’ other
elder brother. However, Stephen beat both Matilda and Theobald and was
crowned with the help of his younger brother Henry Blois within three
weeks of King Henry Ist death.
Matilda was at Argentan
in Normandy, where she gave birth to her
third son William on 22 July 1136, after Stephen had been crowned. There
was little or no precedent for a woman to rule at the time which made it
more readily acceptable by the nobility to accept Stephen as the alternative
heir. Matilda was half-sister to the bastard born Robert, Duke of Gloucester,
one of many of King Henry’s illegitimate offspring, who, reluctantly
appeared and paid homage to King Stephen at court. He made a pretence of
loyalty to the King for a short while, but eventually left for Normandy to
join his sister Matilda. When they returned to England in 1138, turmoil
across Britain ensued as the barons sided by loyalty to Matilda and the
Angevin cause or to King Stephen. King Stephen had paid vast amounts
from the treasury at Winchester soon after his crowning to win the barons’
support and fealty…. and to keep them from defecting.
Before Henry Blois joined Clugny, his father was away on Crusade and
his mother was left to manage the family affairs and estates in the region of
Blois in his absence. The Blois region of France was considerable
incorporating Clugny, Blois, Chartres, Langres, Avallon, Autun, Troyes etc. a
large swathe of Burgundy. Henry Blois having witnessed a strong and
competent mother carry on the affairs of an absent crusading father would
inure Henry more readily to the acceptance of a female rule which was
posited by King Henry before his death.
Henry Blois was loyal to his uncle and the King conferred on him the
bishopric of Winchester in 1129 seeing the ability of the young Henry and
what he had achieved at Glastonbury. It may be speculated that Henry Blois
had been in Normandy with his uncle in 1128 because he would seem to be
the ‘someone’, (according to Henry of Huntingdon) who recounted the
hereditary line of all the Kings of the Franks and their heritage from Troy to
King Henry on one occasion in Normandy. I will discuss this later when I
cover Henry of Huntingdon, but I would suggest the elevation to
Winchester in 1129 was based upon Henry Blois having a close relationship
with his uncle and having been with his brother Stephen while with King
Henry Ist in Normandy.
Geoffrey and Matilda had marched into southern Normandy and seized a number of key castles around
Argentan that had formed Matilda's disputed dowry and those had fought on the side of rebels in 1135.
See Image 1
King Henry was known to be fond of both Stephen and Henry Blois. His
Nephew at Glastonbury was responsible for the provision of Knights for the
King’s service. It is with this in mind, we can understand Henry Blois’ wish
to please his uncle and the prospective Queen Matilda.
It is vital to understand the beginnings of the construction of HRB
Henry Blois envisaged writing a book on the History of the Kings (and
Queens) of Britain and their heritage from Troy. What I am suggesting is
that Henry Blois commenced a history of the Britons as a way to seek
favour to the future queen. The entertaining pseudo-history intended for
Matilda remained unfinished, yet posited the Trojan custom of
primogeniture demanding that dignitas hereditatus should go to the first
born. As we shall cover in progression, it is only after Henry’s time in Wales
in 1136 and the initial purpose of his intended book had become redundant,
(in that his brother was now King); that Henry added to his initial creation,
originally intended for his cousin and Uncle. The original format was to
expose that throughout British history there had been Queens and Matilda
was no different.
It was in Normandy in 1137-8 that the Arthuriad was then added to the
pseudo-history which had already been composed between 1129 and 1134-5
but had not reached its initial purpose of design as King Henry II died.
Three years later the Primary Historia is deposited at Bec. The composition
had laid dormant a few years in the interim between 1135-37 until the
Arthuriana was added in 1137-38 after Stephen had gained the throne and
Henry Blois had been to Wales in 1136. Henry Blois was second in the
power structure in all England. In 1137 Henry went to Normandy to deal
with De Redvers and Matilda and in his spare hours in Normandy in 1137
and the early part of 1138, Henry’s muses were at work. It was in this
period Henry Blois extended his initial polemically contrived pseudo-
history and added the tale of the Chivalric Arthur (still not fully expanded
to Vulgate proportions) to an already unfinished (temporarily shelved)
pseudo-history which also aggrandised Gloucester the ducal house held by
Henry I bastard and Matilda’s half brother. This became the edition I have
termed the Primary Historiadiscovered at Bec in January 1139…. of which
As O. J Padel ponders: Another aspect is Geoffrey’s purpose in writing his work, and its overall structure: is it
primarily about Arthur, although he occupies only the final portion of the work; or was it intended as an overall
history of Britain, with Arthur merely its high point
we only have a précis in the form of EAW. It is for this reason there are so
many seeming inconsistencies
amongst many storyline variations, which
scholars of HRB have been at odds to explain.
We should view the inspiration for the beginnings of an embellished
pseudo-history portraying an illustrious heritage from Troy as being
composed in direct contrast with the dower GR of William of Malmesbury.
William’s history bolstered the heritage of the Saxons but Henry had
conceived of a way of ingratiating himself to the future queen and his uncle
by writing a semi-historical book which went further back than any other
insular historian had chronicled. By decorating it with illustrious queens
and setting a precedent for an easier transition to a female on the throne,
we now have a reason why ‘Geoffrey’ appears to introduce so many female
rulers into his HRB.
Even though William of Malmesbury may have thought well of Henry,
(which is debatable), Henry was ambivalent toward the predominantly
Saxon historian. But, by having close contact with William at Glastonbury,
Henry had realized that prior to Gildas’ era, there was a nearly blank
canvas in insular history in the period where Roman annals had left off.
one felt inclined
one could invent an account of history freely without
being tripped up corroboratively by other works…. but, Henry’s method of
construction in HRB is a master-class in conflation.
For Example, as I have mentioned, primogeniture posited as a Trojan custom. For inconsistency we should
look at Mempricus and Malin, Marganus and Cunedagius, Ferreux and Porrex, which Tatlock puts down to
thoughtless embellishment. The pseudo-history was initially composed as a book to be presented to the future
Queen or King Henry I to be read at court as entertainment so that Barons would accept Matilda more readily
since her younger brother, William Adelin had died in the White Ship disaster of 1120. Thus, we have a string of
fictitious Queens presented in HRB, but primogeniture was not a consistent theme for the plan of HRB and was
only really an essential feature of the initial pseudo-history. The fictitious Queens were absorbed in the soup of
transition from pseudo-history to Primary Historia. Ultimately there was a change of use of the original pseudo-
history as it became the Primary Historia.
Gildas states that ‘I shall not follow the writings of my own country, which (if there ever were any of them)
have been consumed in the fires of the enemy.
Henry, writing as Geoffrey, sets out in the dedication of HRB that no one had given a good account of insular
history. So often while turning over in my own mind the many themes which might be subject-matter of a book,
my thoughts would fall upon the plan of writing a history of the Kings of Britain, and in my musings thereupon it
seemed to me a marvel that, beyond such mention as Gildas and Bede have made of them in their luminous
tracts, I could find nothing concerning the kings that had dwelt in Britain before the Incarnation of Christ, or
even concerning Arthur and the many others that succeed him after the Incarnation.
It should not be forgotten though that this is a rationale given for Geoffrey having written the book as no
dedications were attached to the Primary Historia at Bec. The point is that it still reflects Henry’s own view for
the initial construction of the pseudo-history for Matilda.
At the outset then, the initial composition of HRB was instigated as a ploy
to impress and supply entertainment and curry favour. But, part of Henry’s
artifice was to include in this book a precedent which showed that in
Britain there had been many good and highly capable queens who had
ruled in history prior to his Uncle’s daughter’s prospective reign. Henry Ist
designated Matilda as heir in 1127 and the barons were made to swear
fealty as I have said, some more than once.
The bulk of HRB (minus the Arthuriad) was the first intended purpose
for the composition of what might be termed the ‘initial pseudo-historia’.
But, as Henry Blois is the author of HRB it should be understood why a
Welsh ‘Geoffrey’ seemingly undertakes to help the English Kings in their
effort to assert their independence of the Kings of France. Dukes of
Normandy had been Vassals to the French Kings. Although the Saxons are
not well portrayed in HRB, we must not mix up what was intended to be
written and read out in the court of a queen and what was actually written
after Henry’s brother became King and Matilda was no longer the intended
goal of his endeavour. The Saxons as a whole are seen as the enemy, but as
we shall understand, the seeming resentment against the Normans (in the
later Merlin prophecies) is against Henry II himself because Henry Blois
writes prophecies intended to cause sedition. How and why this occurs will
also become apparent as we move to the evidence which shows
categorically that ‘Geoffrey of Monmouth’ never existed.
Matilda was descended from West Saxon Kings, so a flattering glorious
insular history was originally envisaged by Henry at the outset of writing.
William of Malmesbury had written GR partly to flatter King Henry’s Queen
Matilda and her illustrious West Saxon heritage and latterly also dedicated
a copy of his GR to the Empress Matilda confirming her rightful place as
inheritor to the throne. Henry had plans to out shine William’s GR by
producing a book outdoing past and contemporary historians with
interesting and entertaining content, fabricating what could never be
The book’s testimony to female reigns throughout insular history was its
partial purpose of invention and guarantee of success, while portraying the
alluring and illustrious heritage stretching back to Troy. With the first-
hand knowledge of Wales and its topography…. and Caerleon’s
archaeological remains, gleaned on an excursion fighting the Welsh
uprising in 1136….Henry was able to expand (with the Arthuriad) upon an
already composed pseudo-history. We can speculate that this might have
mentioned the Warlord Arthur as a fledgling Arthurian tale, given that the
tales concerning Arthur to which Malmesbury briefly refers were current
among the populace. However, the chivalric Arthurian epic found in the
Primary-Historia was an addition after Henry Blois had been to Wales.
The creation of a chivalric Briton based on the persona of the warlord
Arthur, presented an interesting and entertaining read. The unpublished
‘initial pseudo-history’, originally destined for Matilda was now spliced onto
an epic about Arthur in the year Henry was based in Normandy in 1137-8.
Arthur’s crown wearing and feast days where foreign dignitaries attend are
largely based upon his uncle’s costly feasts of splendid luxury at Whitsun,
Christmas and Easter where foreign envoys could witness the brilliant
company of Henry Blois’ Uncle.
King Henry in William of Malmesbury’s words absorbed the honeyed
sweet of books and would have been the first to appreciate the ‘initial
pseudo-history’ if he had lived long enough. King Henry had repeated from
youth that a King unlettered is a Donkey crowned. There was certainly
enough in HRB to please his scholarly uncle. What must be made clear to
the reader about the evolution and transition of the Primary Historia
discovered at Bec is that it still had further developments to go. It was
definitively an altogether different book than the Vulgate version which
modern scholars believe was the version found at Bec. As political
situations in the life of Henry Blois changed, the book evolved, through the
First Variant stage in 1144 to its completion as the Vulgate edition in 1155….
with its edition of updated prophecies.
The mention of many Queens in Briton is part of the reasoning behind
much of the first part of the HRB; inventing a precedent for female rulers in
the antiquity of the Britons. There is Guendoloena who had married Brutus’
son and she reigned 15 years. There was Cordeilla the daughter of Leir.
Marcia succeeded her husband Guithelinus and there was the daughter of
King Octavianus and lastly of course Helena. For obvious reasons Boudicca
Unfortunately no chronicler makes a direct reference to Henrys brief excursion into Wales and again
unfortunately just as we are about to get a description of Wales from the author of GS the folios are missing.
However, we shall see that the author of GS is Henry Blois and also he was at the defeat of the Welsh at
in Tacitus’s description of events could not be a part of Henry’s history bias
in that she was defeated AD 60 or 61, by the Roman governor Gaius
Suetonius Paulinus. Boudica led the Iceni as well as the Trinovantes and
others in revolt and her daughter’s were raped. To think that ‘Geoffrey’ has
not read Tacitus is unreal. ‘Geoffrey’ converts his Troia Nova into
Trinovantum as an eponyn based on Tacitus.
Henry’s mother acted much like a queen in her own region. It was
however, Margan and Cunedag in HRB who objected that Britain should be
subject to the rule of a woman and so the sentiment against the Empress
Matilda was not new. It was partly the reason that many of the Barons
supported Stephen as patrimony not primogeniture was the norm.
Boadicea was hardly a reigning queen and even though Henry Blois writing
as ‘Geoffrey’ cannot be seen to draw on Tacitus,
it is likely that Henry will
have read the account of Tacitus’s father in law in Britain…in his youth
while Henry was in the library at Clugny. Henry was not about
aggrandizing Roman achievements in Britain but was certainly conscious of
what was in the Roman annals which recorded the invasions.
We can speculate that the Trojan ‘initial pseudo-history’ was started by
Henry Blois at the time when William of Malmesbury was writing the
history of Glastonbury Abbey when William’s GR had been completed.
However, everything did not go according to plan, as fortune turned
against the two intended recipients of the book. King Henry Ist died and
Matilda became Henry (and his brother Stephen’s) nemesis. Rather than let
his authorial efforts go to waste, Henry finished his book adding the
Arthuriana by inventing the Welsh court at the city of Legions.
What must
be understood and accepted by scholars is that there were no prophecies
and there was no Merlin mentioned in the Primary Historia left at Bec in
1138. While King Stephen expended his efforts in the North, Henry was in
There is not much in Tacitus which would concur with Henrys set of events.
In Huntingdon’s letter to Warin, even though it is a précis of HRB, it seems odd that the very brief account
covering all the Arthuriad…. only supplies the skeletal outline of the expanded form found in the Fir st Variant
and Vulgate HRB. We might expect a certain amount of expansion on Arthuriana in the period between the
finalisation of the Primary Historia finished in 1138 and the appearance of the First Variant version published
in 1144. It is not a certainty that the whole chivalric court ideal in an expanded form found in the Vulgate HRB
was initially part of the Primary Historia….the original Historia Brittonum as Huntingdon referred to it. Other
storyline details vary from EAW to First Variant, but these additions cannot be explained by Henry’s
polemically motivated insertions such as the three Archbishops etc in the later First Variant.
At this time Henry Blois was expecting to become archbishop of
Canterbury on his return. He may (later in life) have had a longer term
vision of becoming Pope.
Although the Primary Historia was intended in
part to entertain; the history presented for the most part was fabricated
within a broad chronological outline of known insular history.
It was certainly not conducive for a bishop to be witnessed embellishing
tales and passing them off as history. It was thus prudent not to attach his
name to the manuscript. Henry Blois signed off with the (unlikely) authorial
name Galfridus Arturus as Henry of Huntingdon related in his letter to
Warin. This will of course appear incredible to the entrenched scholar
studying Geoffrey of Monmouth, especially since the evidence has been
ploughed over by many commentators in the past seeing no reason to deny
his existence.
The one thing I would caution the reader upon is that at no point has
deception and fraud on such a grand scale been suspected…. and thus the
position and persona presented by Henry Blois concerning Geoffrey of
Monmouth has never been contested. What I will show is that the flimsy
biographical details could easily have been (and were) planted by a
manipulative Henry Blois intent on hiding his authorship. But, by the works
we intend to cover, there can be no doubt that the author of the prophecies
of Merlin is Henry Blois and we can easily deduce this from the material
also found in the narrative of HRB that Henry is the author of both.
However, we shall discuss the sequence of how Henry carried out his
deception later when we analyze the events regarding the prophecies and
when they were attached to the final edition of the HRB. For the moment
we should realize that the Primary Historia has as its base a pseudo-history
initially written for Matilda, which (when it was written), was in no way
contrary to the acceptance of Matilda as a future heir. This became the
Primary Historia and (most definitively) there were no Merlin prophecies
attached to this version. The fact that ‘Geoffrey’ tells us that he is merely
translating verbatim a very ancient book from ‘old Briton’ into Latin, to
render our present vulgate HRB (and he was commissioned to translate the
prophecies) can be dismissed immediately. I will show in progression,
Archdeacon Walter was dead when the Vulgate HRB (as we know it today)
Speculum, VI 222
was published; and so were all the other dedicatees mentioned in other
Vulgate versions.
Henry Blois’ personal attributes as a scholar were nurtured while at
Clugny. Clugny was second to Rome as a religious institution and at that
time was favoured by the papacy. Since its inception in 910 by the Duke of
Aquitaine, Clugny had given birth to hundreds of satellite houses across
Europe and many in Britain. The Cluniac’s main regard was for its
adherence to Gregorian reform and ritualized liturgy. An increasingly rich
liturgy stimulated demand for altar vessels of gold, fine tapestries and
fabrics, stained glass, and the art of choral music. However, it was the
Cluniac’s strict adherence to the liturgy which spawned a more materialist
necessity which was to bring critics like Anselm of Bec and the austere
Bernard of Clairvaux to oppose them later.
Abbe Bernard of Clairvaux
despised Henry Blois and contention
between the two was often appealed at Rome with the pope as arbitrator.
While Henry Blois was young at Clugny, the huge abbey was under
construction and undoubtedly led to his interest in architecture which we
can see evidenced in later life. His interest in architecture was spurred on
seeing the vaulted ceilings, radiating chapels and the statues of saints
carved and painted that adorned the huge proportioned Romanesque
church. His inability to hide subconsciously his inner interests when he
comments on architecture
and fortifications in the Gesta Stephani is only
one of his traits which betray his anonymity as the writer of that
manuscript. Henry of Blois witnessed the Romanesque abbey church, the
largest in Christendom being built, as he grew up at Cluny, even though it
was not completed until the year after his election to the Bishopric of
Winchester. One of the main patrons to the arts in the eleventh century was
Henry Blois.
It is not by accident that one of the 40 or so books donated by Henry Blois to Glastonbury noted by Adam of
Damerham is by Bernard of Clairvaux (on loving God) and no doubt will have been used to confound Bernard in
Henry could be said to be a connoisseur of Architecture. Nicholas Riall, posits that Henry had a lifelong
fascination for buildings and architectural innovation. Quite probably the work undertaken at Glastonbury, St
Cross, the hospital of St Mary at Winchester and Wolvesey Palace was influenced by what Henry saw of the
development by Abbot Suger of the Monastic buildings at St Denis. We should not forget the edifice at Clugny
Abbot Hugh died at Cluny about the time that the young Henry entered the
monastery and Hugh’s elected successor Pons of Melgueil was to become the
downfall of what was a prestigious institution; and probably, through
Henry’s intervention, there were several grants made to that house during
King Stephen’s reign. Much later, after the death of his brother, Henry Blois
bailed out the Abbey financially when he sojourned there in deep reflection
while distancing himself from the carnage which had transpired in England
throughout the Anarchy. Henry spent most of his early time at Clugny
under Abbot Pons until such time as Peter the Venerable took over after
Pons had left the institution in a dreadful state.