Chapter 10
Abbot Suger
Abbot Suger built a church in the nascent Gothic style at St Denis. Suger
wrote extensively on the construction of the abbey in Liber de Rebus in
Administratione sua Gestis, Libellus Alter de Consecratione Ecclesiae Sancti
Dionysii, and Ordinatio and was also a keen historian and moved in
influential circles being a confidant of the French Kings, Louis VI and Louis
VII. Not only was abbot Suger friends with Henry, they had similar
interests, in architecture and history and both were central to power
politics and correspondence between them is shown in note 4. We can only
assume that Henry gave Suger a copy of an early version of his Libellus
Merlini, but Suger’s gullible attitude toward Merlin is noteworthy and may
have been affected by Henry Blois own ‘insightful commendation’ when
presenting the copy to him. While writing about Louis le Gros and Henry Ist,
Suger interjects a few comments on extracts taken from the Libellus Merlini:
‘At that time, it so befell that Henry, King of the English, had come into the
parts of the Normans, a right valiant man renowned alike in peace and war,
whose excellency, admired and famous throughout well-nigh the universal
world, Merlin, that marvellous observer and recorder of the continuous
course of events amongst the English, rustic prophet though he be, doth with
no less elegance than truth extol with exceeding honour; for, bursting forth
abruptly, as hath ever been the wont of seers, in his praise, he thus up-lifteth
his prophetic voice: "The Lion of Justice," saith he, "shall succeed, at whose
roaring shall tremble the towers of Gaul and the Dragons of the Island. In his
days shall gold be wrung from the lily and the nettle, and silver shall flow
from the hooves of them that low. They whose hair is crisped and curled shall
array themselves in parti-coloured fleeces, and the garment without shall
betoken that which is within. The feet of them that bark shall be cropped
short. The wild deer shall have peace, but humanity shall suffer the dole. The
shape of commerce shall be cloven in twain; the half shall become round. The
ravening of kites shall perish, and the teeth of wolves be blunted. The Lion's
whelps shall be transformed into fishes of the sea, and his Eagle shall build
her nest upon (over) the mount Aravium."
Just to indicate to the reader how Henry twisted these prophecies over
time, notice there is no mention of a ‘third’ nesting. Another indication
which would define some of Crick’s eighty five copies of the prophetia as
deriving from the early versions would be to see which omit mention of the
‘third nesting’. Suger’s copy would have been part of Henry’s initial set of
prophecies and we should note they are close to those interpolated into
‘Orderic’s’ section. However, unlike Orderic’s there is no mention of a ‘sixth’
in Ireland. So let us not think that Orderic’s section which purposefully
mirrors the content of the real Libellus Merlini as found in that which Suger
recounts is contemporaneous in content with a prophecy which predicts
Henry II in Ireland. Since the Eagle is included, it dates to around 1139-43
given that there is no mention of material in the Anarchy which is present
in the Vulgate set of updated prophecies and further extended in the VM
and also found in the prophecies supposedly translated by John of
Cornwall.
It is interesting, the amount of fervent support such a sober and
influential man lends to the credibility of Henry’s concoction. One may
speculate Suger’s view may have been influenced by Henry’s
commendation: ‘The whole compass of this prediction, so weighty and so
ancient, fits in so exactly with the strenuous character of the person indicated
and his administration of the realm, that not one single iota, not one single
word can be regarded as inconsistent with the precise applicability thereof.
For even from this which is said at the end about the Lion's whelps it is
abundantly manifest that the prophecy hath proven true, seeing that his sons
and daughters were shipwrecked, and being devoured of the fishes of the sea
were physically transformed into them. The aforesaid King Henry, therefore,
happily succeeding his brother William, as soon as he had by the counsel of
experienced men and upright, ordered the realm of England to their liking
according to the rule of their ancient Kings, and in order to secure their
goodwill had confirmed by oath the ancient customs of the realm, made for
the haven of his Norman duchy, and, relying on the help of the King of the
French, bringeth back order to the land, restoreth the laws and imposeth
peace upon compulsion, promising robbers nought less than the tearing out of
their eyes or stark hanging, gallows-high. Presently, therefore, under the
strokes and stress of these and the like promises, and stricken, moreover, by
their frequent fulfilment, for any man can be profuse in promises, the land is
dumb at sight of him, and the Normans, in whose fierce Dansker blood is no
peace, keep peace against their will, thereby again verifying the words of the
rustic prophet. For the ravening of kites doth perish, and the teeth of wolves
are blunted when neither gentle nor simple durst presume to pillage or
plunder save by stealth. And when he saith that at the roaring of the Lion of
Justice the towers of Gaul and the Dragons of the Island shall tremble, he
intimateth this, that well-nigh all the towers and whatsoever castles were
strongest in Normandy, which is part of Gaul, he did cause to be either
levelled with the ground, or otherwise subdued unto his will either by settling
men of his own therein, or, if they were destroyed, by confiscating their
revenues to his own treasury. The Island Dragons also did tremble when none
of the nobles of England, whosoever they might be, durst even grumble during
his whole administration. In his days was gold wrung by him out of the lily,
that is, from the religious of good odour, and from the nettle, that is from the
stinging seculars; his intent being that as he was a profit unto all, so also
should all do service unto himself. For safer it is that all should have one to
defend them against all, than for all to perish through one man for lack of
such a defender. Silver flowed from the hooves of them that low when the
strength of the castle safeguarded the plenty of the grange, and the plenty of
the grange assured abundance of silver in the well-filled coffers.’
Note that the Abbot does not care to elucidate on Montem Aravium.
Henry’s cryptic allusion to the Empress seems to have been indecipherable
to the contemporary audience. Maybe this is why Henry needed to add the
‘third nesting’ in the Vulgate set to obviate the Eagle was the Empress. Yet
strangely enough Wace knows exactly what it means, but we will get to that
later.
Abbot Suger selects these prophecies as an exemplar bearing directly on the
subject he is writing about i.e. (Henry Ist)…. interpreting some as evidence
that Merlin’s words have come to fruition. The ‘Sixth in Ireland’ prediction
is not part of this block of prophecies but is found in the Vulgate HRB and
VM in the same clump, but naturally that particular prophecy could not be
part of the prophecies before Suger’s death. If only Suger (writing c.1147)
had said by what means or from whom he had received these prophecies or
Robert of Torigni had stated from whom Bec had obtained a copy of the
PrimaryHistoria, we could then probably make one more connection back
to Henry Blois.