Chapter 12
Henry Blois and the Meusan
Plates
There are two enamel plaques in the British Museum which were made
in the Meuse valley in modern day Belgium, with a very high degree of skill,
from copper alloy and enamel. These are semi-circular dished plaques
usually referred to as the Mosan plaques. On one of these plaques, Henry
of Blois is depicted prostrating himself, offering what looks to be a very
large book and underneath described by a Latin inscription as HENRICVS
EPISCOP ('Henry the bishop').
On the other, there are two angels depicted protruding from the clouds,
both swinging fragrant censors indicating the benevolence from heaven
upon mankind. One of the angels is holding a golden chalice. Both have
further inscriptions in Latin running along the borders of the plaques. They
describe a gift to God and a donor on whom England depends for stability
and a statement implying that there is nothing greater than an ‘Author’.
When the plaques came to the British Museum in 1852, the plaques were
joined together, and had been previously sold as an alms dish. However, it
was clear that this was not their original state or intended purpose. Henry
Bloisname is chronicled in connection with four episodes in which crosses
play a large part. It is my belief that these plaques may have been attached
to a cross on or above an altar. The reason for thinking this is that, as seen
in the figure, they are indented in a convex form with fixing holes to mount
top and bottom of an object. It would seem, the most likely place they would
fit is top and bottom on the sculpted ends of a wooden vertical upright of a
cross. There may well have been similar plates made for the horizontal
ends of the crossbeam, but the wording if in the same design would have
been difficult to read as the present ones have the script upright, as long as
one plate is placed at the top and the other at the bottom.
Some commentators have posited that the plates comprise Henry’s own
text for celebrating his time as Legate. What is written does not to me seem
a personal statement regarding his time as ‘papal legate’. The sense of the
words do not correlate to a middle aged Henry as the expiration of Henry's
legatine commission was in September 1143. Nor would it be apparent at
this stage that the peace of England was within his power. This would seem
to me to be an ornament to be affixed to across to remind future
generations of Henry, like a perpetually viewed epitaph.
One might suppose that Henry is depicted holding the Winchester Bible,
presented in supplication…. the largest illustrated Bible ever produced. This
is a huge folio edition standing nearly three feet in height commissioned by
Henry himself and is still on display at Winchester, although it was never
fully finished because of Henry’s death. His production of the Winchester
Psalter, also known as the Blois Psalter is another art work sponsored by
Henry and given the workmanship of the sumptuous decorated initials of
the Bible, it was made at great expense. Henry was an appreciator of art in
all forms and I believe that Henry, as he passed through Flanders,
commissioned these plates on the way to Rome and may well have picked
them up on one of his many journeys through there.
The plates are of a specific artful skill practiced at Meuse and would not
be of Insular origin. Let there be no mistake that such an artful object, so
skilfully made, which refers to Henry in such laudatory terms that I think
they can only have been commissioned by himself to perpetuate a lasting
memory of him. It panders to his innate narcissistic vanity which sees his
place in the world as pivotal. Also as we have seen in the GS apologia Henry
Blois wishes his memorial of himself to be recorded reverentially in
perpetuity as good…. and his contribution to the world as of high worth.
Henry may well have made at least 7-10 trips to Rome, but a particular
trip is documented by letter where Henry seeks clear passage through
Flanders.
1
If one disembarked in Flanders rather than Normandy one
would pass by Meuse on the way to Rome where these particular craftsmen
were found who were adept in enamelling.
However, abbot Suger, (the same as had an early copy of the prophecies
of Merlin) to whom the letter is written, died in 1151, so it might seem a
little premature to be thinking of one’s own epitaph to future generations.
The Meusan plates could have been commissioned on any of the several
trips to Rome. On the first plate, where Henry is prostrate and where
HENRICUS EPISCOP is inscribed within the scene, the border inscription
reads:
+ ARS AVRO GEMMISQ (UE) PRIOR, PRIOR OMNIBVS AVTOR. DONA DAT
HENRICVS VIVVS IN ERE DEO, MENTE PAREM MVSIS (ET) MARCO VOCE
PRIOREM. FAME VIRIS, MORES CONCILIANT SUPERIS.
The usual translation goes: Art comes before gold and gems, the author
before everything. Henry, alive in bronze, gives gifts to god. Henry, whose
fame commends him to men, whose character commends him to the heavens,
a man equal in mind to the muses and in eloquence higher than Marcus.
(Marcus Tullius Cicero.)
2
Art is above gold and gems, but an ‘author’ before everything. The word
author in no way substitutes in meaning for a fabricator of Art but
specifically relates to the composer of a book. We can see the object which
1
Note 4
2
Stratford in Zarnecki, 1984, 261
he presents is a book. Some have translated this as: Art ranks above gold
and gems; the maker ranks above the work. If this were the potential
meaning a host of other words would apply such as fabricator, artificer,
maker etc. If the word AVTOR had the meaning of ‘maker’, why would the
purport of the rest of the epitaph refer to the greatest and most renowned
Roman author? The eloquence referred to is a comparison with the way
Cicero wrote and spoke. Henry is plain in what he says of the enduring
word…. as he has read books of events a thousand years old and it is this
point that he makes. The author is above transitory art and acquired wealth
as his words endure through generations.
Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote on a wide range of subjects, but the
substance of his thoughts on politics, law, philosophy etc. have been
responsible for the attitudes of others which lived subsequently. Henry has
certainly read Cicero’s vast output, but his own vanity states that his work
compares with Cicero’s. Cicero is arguably the most famous thinker of the
ancient world. This is an odd autobiographical statement when no written
work is evident except Henry Blois’s Libellus.
Yet Henry’s work is not so much voluminous in what is ascribed to him.
Scholars will never accept that Henry has written so many manuscripts
assigned to others. This is just the point of him laying bare how he is most
emphatically (in his own eyes) by his output comparable with Cicero. Henry
did author volumes and interpolate texts to build an authorial edifice. The
tales he left behind on the European tapestry of Grail lore, Arthuriana and
Glastonburyana. Henry has had a greater impact on the European stage
than anything Cicero ever wrote. Henry was a scholar and left behind an
array of material in one form or another. I am trying to show as we proceed
through the evidence what may be ascribed to his output. William of
Malmesbury in the unadulterated section of DA writes: This man, of
illustrious birth, is also distinguished in his knowledge of letters…
Henry was very eloquent as several chroniclers attest in different
instances. Henry thought he had a mind equal to the muses and eloquence
greater than Cicero. If Muses are accounted as the inspiration of man’s
thoughts, we need only look at HRB to see Henry’s mind is equal to the
classical muses.
Why would Henry Blois accredit so much that is desirable to the person
of an author? In plain speak, one can see it is the expression of an accolade
or personal self-acclaim an aspiration of worth. More importantly, if
Henry realised that the written word left to posterity is far more desirable
or greater than riches or of higher worth than the manufacture of any kind
of art form, architectural work or Jewels; what evidence is there that he,
likening himself to Cicero, has also left works to posterity?
What works could be accountable in his own mind that ranks him
comparable with Cicero? The HRB was the world’s first best seller’ and
anyone who was anyone had read it. Grail literature has given generations
pleasure.
The Meusan plates were surely commissioned by Henry Blois himself
and transported back to Winchester after a continental journey to Rome.
There is no evidence that anyone else ever suspected Henry’s authorship of
several works. Therefore the very words would be redundant or senseless
in the context of another having designed the epitaph in memoriam of
Henry. Even if his image is that of a venerable statesman at best…. where is
there any connection whatsoever to things literary for a comparison with
Cicero as an author?
Henry Blois eloquence is recorded in GS at the legatine council and
thereafter at the court in Winchester where his sophistry is picked up by
William of Malmesbury, but his greatest speech in HRB is his retort to
Lucius Hiberius’s presumption of tribute to Rome. Henry formulates a great
speech of defiance from the mouth of Arthur in front of his barons. It is this
which inspires Hoel to say: For so exactly hath thy provident forethought
anticipated our desire, and with such Tullian dew of eloquence hast thou
besprinkled it withal.
3
(Marcus Tullius Cicero )
Let there be no question that Henry Blois’ epitaph was written by
himself and the Meusan plates were manufactured by his design. It is the
bold statement that the ‘author is before everything’ which is baffling if
Henry Blois left nothing authored by him. If he wrote nothing, why would
he compare himself with Cicero? More importantly, why if he held this view
that a great literary work has more value than the more commonly
accepted material artefacts which are lusted after by mankind generally….
why would he hold such a view, when it has no basis in reality?
3
HRB IX xvii
It is this logical sequence of questions and suppositions which point to
the authorship of a great work paralleled or surpassing that of any of the
works of Cicero in the mind of the ‘author’ who commissioned the epitaph.
Certainly HRB is a work which aspires to such greatness and to the ignorant
has the stamp of authority…. without pretension, which is the mark of a
great work. No other person could be responsible for the wording on the
Meusan plates. No-one else has any idea of Henry Blois authorship of a
hugely successful work or who was the primordial promulgator of Grail
Literature in the Guise of Master Blehis but he himself; and no-one else
would know of his aspirations.
Henry has two founts for his self-image and vanity; one which is
witnessed here, stems from his immense learning, the other from his high
birth. Not only is he seeking his place in history, but he actually attempts to
establish his own version of it. What must be understood about Henry Blois
is how he wishes to be perceived by posterity and his understanding of how
history is transferred into posterity; but did he really think his fame and
character would commend him to the heavens?
Henry has vainly composed his own ‘living epitaph. Much like the GS
acts as an apologia for his actions, couched as a memorial to his brother he
is already adorning the memory of himself to posterity. The GS’s ulterior
motive is to paint a glossed image of himself for posterity. The HRB
however, changes the way posterity sees or understands itself. The
composition of HRB is a vain action, although unpretentious in its high
Latin style it pretends to pass itself off as credible history. Henry through
his learning has understood how a place in history is attained by great men
and is passed down by chroniclers.
History usually only records the deeds of Kings; and therefore Henry
uses Stephen’s acts (GS) to implant a record of his own deeds. This is so that
History may account him as a great and influential man and his own name
is recorded in the dust of History. The substance of man is conveyed into
posterity through forms such as buildings or artworks and it is Henry’s
preoccupation with making his mark in history (which is dictated by his
own vanity) which ultimately led him to construct the Vulgate HRB.
I cannot think of any literary work which has had such an enduring
effect on any nation (disregarding the religions), than the ‘History of the
Kings of Britain’; its Arthuriana and the subsequent Grail legends. all
derived from Henry. This man has studied the classical philosophers and
orators which is evident from the sources used in the construction of HRB.
His rousing speeches put in the mouths of others, polished in style,
rhetorical with their balance and oratorical questions are highly
sophisticated. reworking the speeches of great men from antiquity and
grafting them into the mouths of the heroes of the HRB. When Arthur has
given his reply to the Romans regarding the non-payment of tribute, Hoel
commends Arthur’s speech with the words ‘your speech, adorned as it was
with Ciceronian eloquence, has anticipated exactly what we all think”.
If the reader now understands that the GS was written as an apologia
for Henry’s actions and understands Henry’s vanity; portraying himself as a
pious and venerable man who did great deeds for England…. one should
understand that a poem written about him was written by himself for
posterity, (See note 5). In this same poem we can understand from a small
extract how he perceives himself: He was the Cicero of our time, son of the
generous stock of Kings, gem of parents and he was a glory of the world, the
summit of religion. The guide of the Kingdom, the defence and hope of the
powerful; staff of the weak and lover of covenants of peace. Rome, head of the
world, rich in foreign treasures has been made wealthier by his gift.
Rome was certainly rich in treasure and Henry Blois itemizes some of
these in his book written under the pseudonym of Master Gregorius which I
shall cover shortly, but how it has been made richer by him is debatable.
Anyway, there is little doubt that another would have written such
flattering words about Henry and we can assume, like the epitaph on the
Meusan plates, the words are his own.
In Greek Mythology, poetry and literature, Muses were thought to be the
goddesses of the inspiration of that literature. A mountain in the region in
Boeotia, celebrated in Greek mythology, where two springs sacred to the
Muses were located are reminiscent of the Vita Merlini’s land of Boeotia
where it is said to have two fountains; the one makes the drinker forgetful,
the other makes them remember. However in the Vita Merlini we have an
example of where both Cicero and the Muses, (or at least the land of
Boeotia) betray Henry’s mental associations as both muses and Cicero are
mentioned on the plaque by Henry Blois together. Henry’s underlying
considerations and ponderings likewise are derived from insight and
inspiration which is a necessary precursor to eloquence, which he himself
was blessed with like Cicero.
Henry betrays himself as the author of the VM through this previous
thought pattern i.e. through his association of muses and Boeotia, with
Cicero. In the dedication of the Vita Merlini, Geoffrey calls upon the Muses
and compares himself (in false self-deprecation) to Orpheus and a group of
Augustan epic poets: Thus I should wish to embrace you with a worthy song,
but I am not able to, even if Orpheus and Camerinus and Macer and Marius
and Rabirius of the great voice altogether would sing with my mouth while
the Muses accompanied me.
The reference to the poets Camerinus and Rabirius could be derived
from a passage in Ovid’s ‘Letters from Pontus’, (mostly unknown) but for
Ovid’s mention of them. Henry, as we will discover in a discussion of the
HRB itself, must have a photographic memory, as many of the classical
tracts which he quotes from, or from which he draws inspiration, would
have been found on the continent while he was at Clugny,
4
but certainly not
at Glastonbury, where his pseudo-history was initially started. Henry’s
mind needed classical manuscripts to feed it along with chronicles to
provide the epic ‘literature of British history’ that we have in the Vulgate
HRB today.
Griscom makes a certain point which involves ‘Geoffrey’s’ photographic
memory and concerns information found at Glastonbury that he could not
understand its provenance: Geoffrey could not have invented such a mass of
material. Nor have ‘expanded’ the meagre entries of nennius, the AC , or
Gildas and Bede into stories, incidents of which are found nowhere else, but
which are substantiated by archealogical research. Griscom then gives the
example of ‘Pascentius’ son of Vortigern who invited the Saxons into
England as allies against the Picts and the Scots and how ‘Geoffrey relates
the he went to Ireland to obtain assistance where he was well received.
Griscom is fascinated that six miles north of Cork at Ballybank there is a
stone inscribed in ogham characters, which is deciphered to read ‘Ailella
maqi Vorrtigurn’, while another at Knockaboy, county Waterford bears the
single ogham name Vortigurn. Then Griscom says ‘No other record of this
King having any connection with Ireland outside of Geoffrey’s account is
4
We do not know where Henry stayed in Normandy in 1137-8 but it is likely he resided at times in a monastic
house and possibly even Bec.
known’. Griscom then says Geoffrey must have had some native account
behind it. What Griscom does not realise is that the muniments of
Glastonbury that William of Malmesbury and obviously Henry Blois
perused were extensive c.1126-33. This fact which ‘Geoffrey’ expands upon
with his muses would obviously have derived from Irish pilgrims as seen in
author ‘B’s Life of Dunstan’‘that Irish pilgrims as well as other crowds of the
faithful had a great veneration for Glastonbury. It should also never be
forgotten that in this period at Glastonbury in Henry’s youth while
constructing the pseudo-historia Henry was very personable (as William
confirms) with all the monks and they would have been Irish and Welsh
and Breton amongst others.
It is examples like this and the fact that Welsh bardic material is also
known by ‘Geoffrey’ that leads scholars to add credence to a source book
especially after Henry Blois interpolation known as Gaimar’s Epilogue.
Essentially all researchers have underestimated Henry Blois’ genius and the
fact he had a photographic memory.
One last comment on this first plaque is about the inscription: Henry,
alive in bronze, gives gifts to god.
The plates were a copper alloy but different from bronze, but how is the
word ‘alive relevant? It is my belief, (which is purely conjecture), Henry
had planned some brass effigy of himself so that posterity would be
reminded of him. I would even hazard that it was along the lines of
Cadwallo’s bronze. This image, (unlike most episodes or icons of the HRB
which can be traced to a previous source), came directly from Henry’s
mind…. as there is no reference to any such embalming within brass
elsewhere in classical literature: The Britons embalmed his body with
balsams and sweet-scented condiments, and set it with marvellous art within
a brazen image cast to the measure of his stature. This image, moreover, in
armour of wondrous beauty and craftsmanship, they set upon a brazen horse
above the West Gate of London in token of the victory I have spoken of, and as
a terror unto the Saxons.
5
This bronze statue will become more relevant to
the reader when we cover Gregorius’ study of the bronze horseman Marcus
Aurelius in Rome. It is my belief also that on Henry’s first trip to Rome to
5
HRB XI,xiii
pick up his pallium, he was so struck by the Horseman (supposedly Marcus
Aurelius) outside the Vatican that it was the inspiration for Cadwallo’s
embalmed bronze.
What with the Anarchy followed by his self-imposed exile, I expect
Henry envisaged many projects that never came to fruition. I have a strong
belief that Henry was going to produce one of the pair of Dragons
(banners
6
) which Arthur used and it was going to appear at Winchester just
as David’s sapphire appeared at Glastonbury. We might suggest that as an
heirloom Harold’s dragon banner became the fictional other half of the
Arthur banners.
7
On the second plaque, where two censing angels are emerging from the
clouds, the border has inscribed on it: + MVNERA GRATA DEO PREMISSVS
VERNA FIGVRAT. ANGELVS AD CELVM RAPIAT POST DONA DATOREM; NE
TAMEN ACCELERET NE SVSCITET ANGLIA LVCTVS, CVI PXA VEL BELLVM
MOTVSVE QVIESVE PER ILLUM.
The aforementioned slave shapes gifts pleasing to God. May the angel
take the giver to Heaven after his gifts, but not just yet, lest England groan
for it, since on him it depends for peace or war, agitation or rest.
The aforementioned is ‘Henricus episcop’. ‘May the Angels take him to
Heaven after he has given his gifts’, indicates that Henry firmly believes he
is part of the divine plan, and his part is important. The angels sprinkling
their heavenly aroma upon men, is how Henry Blois sees the world; all of
mankind in a giant drama coordinated in a heavenly script. Henry hopes
his actions on earth are in accordance with those in heaven and asks a little
more time to sort things out.
6
The Legendary history of Britain J. S. P. Tatlock p. 38 seems to think that Harold’s Dragon may be at
Winchester and this is what ‘Geoffrey’ is constructing his storyline upon i.e. about the two dragons fabricari by
Arthur. It is not beyond reasonable conjecture that William the conqueror, Henry Blois Grandfather, put the
captured dragon portrayed in the Bayeaux tapestry at Winchester. Tatlock posits that ‘Geoffreymight have seen
it there. It seems relatively certain that Henry Blois would not incorporate it in the storyline of First Variant if it
did not exist in his day.
7
In the seventeenth century Henry Blois’ unadorned slab of Purbeck marble was removed to expose his bones
buried before the high altar in Winchester Cathedral. It is reported that a chalice was discovered along with some
fragments of textiles including fine silks and braids with brocading of a very high quality. It would not surprise
me if indeed this was the cup which was promulgated as the Grail cup and the textile was the remains of a
disintegrated banner, considering that Henry was well accustomed and could foresee the opening of graves by
posterity!!!
I hope now the reader sees how complex Henry Blois is; vain enough to
think it is through him that England’s war or peace depends. The
contradiction is that he is a resolute believer and yet a manipulative liar i.e.
a split personality.
8
If I am correct in my interpretation of the prophecies in
the VM concerning Cadwalladr and Conan we can see why at this later stage
in life he still thinks the state of war and peace in England are dependent
upon his actions.
Henry hopes in the inscription (which is indicative it was written by
him) for a longer sojourn on earth and hopes his lifespan is extended before
death arrives; but not too quickly, not before England is roused up from its
struggle, since on him it depends for peace or war, agitation or rest.
In the wording on the Meusan plaques, there is a correlation to authorship.
These plates are commissioned so that in memoriam his ‘persona’ does not
slip into obscurity. The Meusan plates must have been made after Stephen’s
death to even consider an epitaph. But at this stage the interpretation of
certain prophecies that incite rebellion ring true in the plaques prophetic
overtones in that war and peace in England are dependent upon him.
8
Dom David Knowles, The Monastic Order in England: Henry of Blois, though not precisely a complex
character…. for throughout all his activities there is the same stamp of energy and directness of purpose… was
certainly a man of many sided qualities. Without knowledge of Henry’s authorship of HRB few scholars have
any real idea of Henry Blois’ true character. Voss’s montage of his character of course omits his authorial
prowess and split personality.