Chapter 2
Henry Blois at Glastonbury
King Henry Ist wife, Matilda of Scotland died on 1st May 1118. With the
ensuing fiasco on the ‘White Ship’, King Henry’s first attempt at leaving
behind a legitimate heir was to marry Adelicia of Louvain in 1121, just after
the disaster. Adelicia of Louvain was in her late teens and Henry was fifty-
three. This union left no heir and hence the call for the Empress Matilda to
perpetuate the line once her husband the Emperor had died. King Henry
arranged a union between her and Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou. King Henry
also arranged the marriage of his nephew Stephen, to Matilda of Bologne,
who was of the Anglo-Saxon royal house…. her mother Mary being
daughter of King Malcolm III of Scotland. King Henry Ist of England
consolidated his position by strategic marriages of relations in an attempt at
ensuring future harmony after his death, both in Normandy and in
It was Henry Blois who was directly responsible for persuading William
of Corbeil, the archbishop, through subtle reasoning, to crown Stephen. It
was Henry Blois who organized Stephen’s reception by a select group of
clergy and his acceptance as the future King. The powerful Bishop of
Salisbury aided in this endeavour as the foremost baron in the Kingdom.
Pregnancy had prevented Matilda making the journey. In three weeks from
King Henry’s death, the crown was on Stephen’s head. This certainly could
not have been achieved without the manoeuvrings of the Bishop of
Winchester. Henry’s manipulation of events by persuasion is testified by
chroniclers and related in the form of an apologia in Henry’s
retrospectively composed GS (after his brother had died). Henry had
studied Quintillian, yet ran counter to his caution against a ‘practice of
making an evil use of the blessings of eloquence. This trait became more
recognized by chroniclers and was definitely recognized by William of
Malmesbury as related in HN.
Henry Blois transformed from being an obedient servant under his
uncle, to a power manipulator immediately upon his uncle’s death. The fact
that Henry Blois was King Henry Ist nephew, the bishop of Winchester and
had control over Glastonbury estates, gave him more power than any other
bishop in manipulating the crown onto his brother’s head.
His time at Glastonbury before becoming bishop had not been
unproductive. He turned Glastonbury abbey into a rich and healthy
establishment. It was (by his own account), a rundown monastery on his
arrival. Glastonbury had witnessed its lands being appropriated by
deceitful clerks and land grabbing lords before Henry’s arrival. This was
Henry’s immediate concern as soon as he arrived at Glastonbury. Henry’s
seeming innocence and trepidation at reviving a rundown institution may
or may not be genuine as he expresses in his libellus: ‘the monks were
lacking in the necessities of life and the church was devoid of many great
possessions. I confess that upon seeing these things I was pained; deceived by
promised hope, I was ashamed to such extent that my passionate mind
created confusion within me, because I had a preference to be until now a
poor man of Cluny, to be close to the poor, rather than in charge of anything
and elected to such a burden’.
The only reason for doubting this as a genuine sentiment is that much of
the reason for writing the GS (as we shall discover), is to present his own
case for what transpired in the Anarchy rather than leaving his reputation
in the hands of chroniclers, who would not represent his own viewpoint to
posterity. When his time came to receive the bishopric of Winchester, he
did not relinquish his abbacy at Glastonbury which was an unusual
occurrence. Maintaining abbacy of Glastonbury was condoned by King
Henry, the pope, and the monks at Glastonbury, based upon what he had
already achieved for them.
He did however work tirelessly to regain
misappropriated land and to enrich Glastonbury abbey, long after he had
Dom.David Knowles. The Monastic Order in England: Strangely enough, no contemporary was found to blame
explicitly his retention of Glastonbury during his 40 years of Episcopal life, but whatever excuses he may have
found for himself from reasons of expediency, such a practice was un-canonical, contrary to all monastic
principle, and a precedent for the worst abuses.
taken on the Bishopric of Winchester. This can be witnessed in several
charters regaining such lands as Syston, Uffculme and several others and
through his building program at the abbey. Concerning Uffculme in Devon
for example, he worked tirelessly for Glastonbury’s benefit even up to the
Empress Matilda’s short dominance in 1141 where the Uffculme claim is
finally concluded.
Even in Henry Blois’ libellus
he admits that he nearly didn’t bother
concerning himself with reclaiming Uffculme as Robert Fitz Walter
Flandrensis (who possessed it at that time) had previously obtained it from
someone else, yet it was previously known that it was under the jurisdiction
of Glastonbury from old’.
Henry did persevere because this Robert had
sworn fealty to Stephen. Henry confronted him in front of the Curia to
Robert’s shame, and regained the land for the abbey. Strangely enough, one
can see in the Regesta Regum Anglo-Normannorum,
the charter 341
Glastonbury Abbey (1136, at Westminster) regarding the ‘Restoration of
Uffculme which had been taken from the abbey by William …. more than half
the text of the charter (as a whole), bears a strong resemblance to charter
948 restoring the manor of Wargrave to Winchester. So, Henry might have
been producing charters prolifically now his brother was King. Henry is
sure of making any claim he wishes, now Stephen is on the throne.
Uffculme was a fourteen hide manor in east Devon and may have been part
of the Glastonbury holdings prior to the invasion. At the time of the
conquest a widow called Eadgyth held a life estate in Glastonbury property.
She remarried a certain Walter de Douai, a mercenary of William the
Conqueror’s, and as a reward from William the Conqueror, he received
sixteen manors in England and the land is registered under his name in the
Domesday book and no claim had been made. When this same Walter was
ill he came for refuge in the abbey infirmary saying he would restore the
lands once belonging to Glastonbury. But as soon as he recovered from his
illness, he reneged on the deal and record of the incident remained at
Glastonbury. But until Henry arrived, the monks had still not filed a claim.
Trans from M.J. Franklin, English Episcopal Acta VIII,205-211. See Appendix 1
This interesting observation shows that the pre-Norman abbey had control over lands in Devon and has a
bearing later in the investigation into the 601 charter of Ineswitrin by the King of Devon.
Regesta Regum Anglo-Normanorum 1066-1154, Vol III Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Walter died before Henry Blois arrived, and Uffculme then passed to his
son Robert of Bampton.
The rebellion of Robert Bampton is the fault of Henry Blois although this
is not conveyed in GS. At Easter court in 1136 Henry Blois had Stephen issue
a charter restoring Uffculme to Glastonbury. This angered Robert Bampton
as his father had held Uffculme since Domesday survey and Robert felt
dispossessed. As we have mentioned, it was Henry Blois who wrote the
account of his brother, the anonymously authored Gesta Stephani, in which
Henry describes this same Robert as ‘a knight not of the lowest birth or of
small landed estate, but a winebibber and a gourmand and in peacetime
devoted to gluttony and drunkenness’.
The Gesta Stephani goes on to say that he ‘changed his love of
drunkenness for a spirit of rebellion’ and was summoned to Stephen’s court
where he perjured himself. Potter and Davis,
not knowing the author of the
GS, remark that it is somewhat ludicrous to find the author of the GS linked
with an unknown son of Robert of Bampton. They then go on to say that the
only possible explanation is that the author had a special interest in the
Attempting to remain anonymous as the author of GS, Henry Blois can’t
help himself castigating someone who had rebelled against his brother and
with whom Henry himself had had a serious contention. Finally, Bampton
was compelled to put his castle at the King’s disposal. Because Henry Blois
wrote both the GS and his own Libellus, the sentiments match. In his
account in the Libellus Henry says that it was ‘certainly a just provision and
a very fitting sentence, that he who from desire of other men’s property had
laid hands on what was not his, should by just decision of equity lose what
was his own’.
Much later in the Anarchy, when Henry has no option but to side with
the Empress against his brother; he again obtains a reaffirmation of the
grant of Uffculme for Glastonbury through Matilda in a further updated
charter. This was after Matilda’s assurance to Henry Blois to comply in
giving the bishop control over all matters of chief account in England,
especially gifts of bishoprics and abbacies should be subject to his control.
Gesta Stephani. ed. K.R. Potter & R.H.C. Davis Clarendon 1976 p.29.
William of Malmesbury. Historia Novella
The reaffirmation of the charter which runs contrary to a Matilda ally may
well have been a test of her respect and promise to him, but it shows two
things: his dedication to Glastonbury, and more importantly, that he did
change allegiance, even momentarily. This is a very pertinent point when
we come to analyse the GS. It demonstrates that for a brief period, Henry
thought it fortuitous to side with Matilda as the balance of power had
swung her way and he increasingly perceived no way out of the inevitable
train of events which was leading to her being crowned. since his brother
was imprisoned. It is a position strongly circumvented in the GS where
Henry Blois portrays that the Bishop of Winchester was merely biding his
time until the events turned. GS portrays that Henry had never any thought
of swapping allegiance. Henry Blois in the GS is careful to point out for
posterity that he only feigned a change of allegiance.
Anyway, this particular Uffculme charter refers to her honourable
reception into Winchester. Bernard of St David’s signs the charter and both
he and Henry Blois had flanked the Empress Matilda as she entered
Winchester. This point also becomes relevant later (concerning Henry Blois
as the writer of the HRB) when we look at both Bernard’s and Henry’s
likeminded attempts to create separate metropolitans for both Winchester
and St David’s.
The continuator of Caradoc’s Brut y Tywysogion seems to also portray
Menevia having had some preferment in ecclesiastical terms as he refers to
the death of Bernard in 1147: after extreme exertions, upon sea and land,
towards procuring for the church of Menevia its ancient liberty. Geoffrey of
Monmouth’s supposed uncle Uchtryd, bishop of Llandaff is said by the
continuator of HRB…. the Gwentian Brut, to have died in the same year.
The reasoning behind the claim of metropolitan by St David’s is based
upon a reference in Asser and also in Rhygyvarch's Life of St David,
certainly the HRB provides supporting evidence for any claim as long as the
HRB is deemed credible. Yet the prophecies of Merlin miraculously foretell
of St David’s re-instatement as a metropolitan. Bishop Bernard pursued this
hope and requested metropolitan status many times to various popes.
Henry Blois as the writer of the Merlin prophecies plants this envisioned
Rhygyvarch's Life of St David. and his monastery too is declared the metropolis of the whole country, so that
whoever ruled it should be accounted archbishop’.
event as having sprung from Merlin in the hope of spurring on what was
predicted and thus fated.
Henry also requests the same from three popes regarding Winchester’s
own metropolitan status. Something predicted was more likely to effect a
desired action. Essential to understanding the inclusion of the Merlin
prophecies into the HRB is that Henry Blois was also a keen admirer of
Cicero, as becomes evident as we progress. Quintus
says: what nation or
what state disregards the prophecies of soothsayers, or of interpreters of
prodigies’. Henry Blois understands the impact of prophecies and uses them
for political advantage
while at the same time retro-fitting past historical
events to seem as if they were accurate predictions of the future; which (at
the time the prophecies were published) the reader of the prophecy can
verify its accuracy. This course of action led the gullible to believe in those
prophecies which were clear enough to understand and could be matched
with past historical events.
Other prophecies of Merlin which were sometimes oblique in nature
were interpreted with different meanings. Tatlock reckons that ‘Geoffrey’
got his idea of stopping halfway through HRB from Virgil’s Aeneid, who also
similarly employs a marvellous prophecy. However, Tatlock does not
realize that the Primary Historia was already a composite work of Henry’s
pseudo-history with the added Arthuriana subsequently spliced onto it in
1137. He has no idea that the prophecies of Merlin were then spliced in
after the Primary Historia’s discovery at Bec when the book evolved into
what is known as the First Variant. Scholars have been led astray in the
assumption that the dedicatees were alive at the time of publication of the
Vulgate version.
Henry Blois’ reputation diminished with the advent of the Anarchy, after
his management of affairs to ensure his brother’s crowning. When relating
about previous bishops of Winchester which had passed away, Henry of
Huntingdon in his letter to Walter comments: now there sits in their place
Cicero, p223 Book I, On Divination
‘For wishes fathering thought’s’ as Tatlock puts it, ‘we might look at the glorification given to the quasi-
primatial see of Winchester’. As an overall effect of having written HRB and as a direct result of the hope of
the Britons and the Merlin prophecies, Henry II son Geoffrey and count Conan IV daughter Constance gave
their son the name Arturus. According to William of Newburgh, those who were said to have long awaited the
Arthur of tradition cherished high hopes of an actual Arthur.
Henry, (of Blois), nephew of King Henry, who will be a new kind of monster,
composed part pure and part corrupt, I mean part monk and part knight.”
The Cistercian monk Bernard of Clairvaux who detested Henry called
him the “Whore of Winchester”. Yet he was highly esteemed by such men as
Archbishop Becket and John of Salisbury speaks well of his universal
liberality towards the church, but these are views of Henry in his later guise
as venerable churchman post 1158. What can be established in Henry’s
transition in character is that between 1129-1158, Henry Blois could be
considered a power hungry egoist who held power in his own right and
vicariously through his brother and family heritage. From 1158 onward and
his return to England, as time went by, Henry procured the image of a
venerable old man, who, by his generous deeds to Becket and his family for
example, and the high moral standpoint he took on religious issues, he
became regarded as a trustworthy protector of the church. In his secret
authorial works there is a completely different character at work.
After finishing the VM he posed as Wace to provide a vernacular Old
Norman dialect version of the HRB adding more references and
elaborations into the work like the ‘round table’…. also mentioned in DA
(although not in the T manuscript) and in Chrétien’s Erec and Perceval and
more importantly Robert de Boron’s work.
Geoffrey of Monmouth’s stated reason behind writing the HRB was
finding no complete history of the Britons available. William of
Malmesbury had travelled around Britain’s monasteries collecting material
for his Gesta Regum (which he had finished by 1125) and his Gesta
pontificum Anglorum before Henry had arrived at Glastonbury. William of
Malmesbury will have discussed his sources or lack of them, and I believe
this is partly what galvanised Henry into composing the faux-history which
evolved into Vulgate HRB. Apart from Bede, Gildas, and the Anglo-Saxon
chronicle, there was little to confute his interest in establishing a bogus
heritage of the Britons from Troy. Nennius has this tradition also but as I
shall cover later Henry Blois is directly responsible for promoting Nennius’
work as that authored by Gildas. As Newell suggests there are problems
with Nennius once it is understood that it alone underpins the Arthur
presented in HRB.
The Roman annals were scarce in Britain for obvious reasons. While
Henry Blois had been at Clugny, he had read Gregory of Tour's History of
the Franks and it would appear to have been a young Henry Blois while in
Normandy in 1128 with his uncle, who had reiterated the Franks’
provenance from Troy. Henry of Huntingdon records ‘someone’ as having
told their history to King Henry Ist.
In the preface of the Antiquities (DA)
William of Malmesbury refers to
Henry Blois as someone who ’deserves to be cherished and honoured in the
deep embrace of Christ’ ……’ A remarkable man besides his splendid birth, for
his literary skill, and for the friendliness of his address, and for his kind
hearted liberality’. This is a stark contrast to William of Newburgh’s
assessment of Henry’s character, ‘He was a man of great power in the
Kingdom, and was crafty and inordinately fond of money. The difference of
opinion just highlights the slide of Henry Blois’ reputation from the early
days of King Henry Ist.
For a man that played such a pivotal role in state affairs, we have only
have a few inconsequential notes that were written by him to the pope; one
in 1139 and the other in 1160 and a few other random letters along with his
Libellus. Is it not strange that a man of such attested literary skill and who
accounts the authorship of books higher than all material wealth and art,
should only leave behind his simplistic Libellus? (See appendix 1)
The Libellus is a brief tract written by Henry Blois that undoes any
attempt to associate his hand in any of the works that he produced. In any
kind of authorship one inevitably bears ones heart on one’s sleeve and it is
near impossible not to betray any prejudices or interests. It is inevitable
that one betrays opinion and personal preferences and makes statements
which would leave Henry open to accusation at a later date…. if for instance
HRB was suspected to have been authored by himself.
Who could honestly look at the Libellus and the HRB together and
suspect they were written by the same man?
Henry says he has: judged worthy to commit by pen anything which I have
earnestly done at Glastonbury to future memory. Henry is conscious of his
place in history and for this reason (in part) he writes the GS.
Henry was conscious of the fact that history records Kings, but he was
adamant that he was going to be remembered well in history. As the King’s
William of Malmesbury. De Antiquitate Glastonie Ecclesie.
brother, this point is further established by the epitaph on the Mosan
The cause of leaving behind his uninspired Libellus was not to spell out
or witness his good deeds or confirm land ownership, but to misdirect any
suspicious inquirer. The reader may think at the moment this sounds a little
like a conspiracy theory, but by the end of this exposé the true Henry Blois
is exposed. The Libellus also acts alongside the GS as a glossed character
reference and apologia against his manipulation of affairs in the ‘Anarchy’,
the civil war which contemporaries thought he was largely responsible for.
Henry’s Libellus also counteracts any suspicion of his hand in the
interpolation of DA. The whole account in the Libellus is doubly devious as
by this stage in his life when it was written, he had already composed HRB
and written Perlesvaus and Robert de Borons work in Verse.
The Libellus, however, comes across as a heartfelt document; not devoid
of Henry’s genuine achievements at Glastonbury, but we must not be fooled
by Henry’s secondary motive for writing it. He complains of being deceived
by a promised hope and recalling the awful state in which he found
Glastonbury on Sigfrid’s elevation to Bishop. He wondered how
circumstances had transpired to leave him such a huge task and recalls his
steadfast purpose was the result of faith which overcame doubt in his
ability to find a solution.
King Henry’s counsellor had been given custody of Glastonbury abbey
when Sigfrid was elevated to Bishop of Chichester. In the short period
before Henry Blois was elected, abbot Geoffrey Rufus took control of five
churches belonging to the abbey. Henry used his influence as the King’s
nephew to reinstate these against an influential courtier: conquered at last
by the request of the King, I retained two, three I gave up to him. But, the
three churches Henry had been constrained to leave with Geoffrey,
reverted back to Glastonbury abbey upon Geoffrey’s death.
As history relates, Henry was an able administrator and it was not until
he had witnessed power upon being appointed bishop of Winchester that
desire for greater power ensued. In 1138 when King Stephen snubbed
Henry Blois’ wish to be archbishop of Canterbury….soon after that betrayal
Henry obtained the papal legation instead. This in effect gave him as much
See chapter, Henry Blois and the Meusan plates.
power as the King himself, but it inevitably led to the destruction of any
pious purity and innocence which had been part of his youth at Clugny: I
was able to not be rich and famous and be deemed rich and famous. Henry
was at the centre of political life when his brother became King until such
time he finds himself at Clugny in self-imposed exile in 1155.