Chapter 32
Vera Historia de morte Arthuri
The authority on the Vera Historia is Michael Lapidge who dates the VH by
what he thinks is a connection to the Welsh Princes claim for metropolitan;
specifically Llywelyn the Great 1194-1240. We saw Henry Blois had tried to
assist his friend Bishop Bernard in his campaign for metropolitan status by
including the reinstatement of the Archbishopric of St David’s as a
prophecy of Merlin. Lapidge, not knowing of any relationship between the
writer of the VH and Bernard, dates the VH to an era post 1199-1203 when
pope Innocent III rejected the letter from the Welsh princes: …bishop
Bernard is probably too early to be relevant to the Vera Historia, given that
the text draws on Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britannie, which
was only completed in 1136/7.
If we look at the VH in its original form we can see that it can be most
probably dated to c1144-50. Bishop Bernard died in 1148. I am in no way
implying that Bernard was conscious in any way of what Henry Blois had
tried to do for him. Henry told nobody of his secretive authorship. Henry
and Bernard were friends and both were after the same thing. That is as far
as it goes, but the advantage for Henry Blois in helping Bernard in his
pursuit of metropolitan (as seen in the Merlin prophecies) is that, if
metropolitan status were granted to Bernard at St David’s, it would all the
more be granted to Winchester or London.
There are several factors which would indicate that the VH was written
by Henry Blois. The first is that it must have been written before 1189 as in
its original form it is still unaware of where Arthur’s body is. The second is
that we can understand that it must be written by Henry Blois the instigator
of Insula Avallonis, who is surely the only person who (at one stage) would
have wished to imply Avalon was in Wales. The point in doing this is that
after the presentation of the First Variant at Rome people were starting to
get suspicious. Hence, as we covered earlier, in a time between 1144 and
1155 the First Variant evolved into the Vulgate HRB and the persona of
Geoffrey of Monmouth was invented to replace the author Galfridus Arthur.
The reference to Gwynedd would in effect negate any suspicion falling
upon Henry Blois; if, like Alfred of Beverley believed, the author of HRB was
Welsh.
What I am proposing here is that the VH was in fact written after First
Variant where Avalon is initially introduced and before composition of VM
c.1156-7 where it is entirely clear that Henry Blois has the intention of
situating Avalon at Glastonbury. As we covered earlier, if Huntingdon had
heard the name Avalon while writing his synopsis of the Primary Historia,
he surely would have divulged the name in association with his last
comments that he makes in EAW regarding the ‘hope of the
Bretons/Britons’. Therefore we have witnessed an evolution from no
mention of Avalon, to its inclusion in First Variant. As we covered also,
when Alfred of Beverley describes the passage found in a transitional form
of HRB Vulgate (i.e. undedicated and probably authored by Gaufridis Artur),
where the mortally wounded Arthur is being taken to the island of Avalon
to have his wounds tended, Alfred recycles this passage and here mentions
Avalon, (but not concerning Caliburn) but significantly, omits the
ambiguous word letaliter ‘mortally woundedwhich indicates that, like the
account that Huntingdon saw and summarised, Arthur’s certain death is left
open to accommodate the ‘hope of the Britons’.
What the VH achieves by locating Avalon in Gwynedd, is an apparent
confirmation that HRB was written by a Welsh man. We are set forth an
account of the circumstances by which it is explained how the ‘hope of the
Britons came about. The added gambit for Henry Blois is attaching a
genuine zeitgeist concerning Arthur the warlord directly to Henry’s
chivalric Arthur. The hope of the Briton’s (or Bretons) had never been
entirely connected to Henry Blois’ chivalric Arthur except by Huntingdon in
EAW.
VH in effect connects the genuine traditional messianic hope of the
populace by explanation of how it transpired, interweaving a narrative of
its appearance in the public consciousness with Henry’s fictional chivalric
Arthur. Henry Blois, who is more intent to secret his authorship (and we
have witnessed to what extent he is willing to go) has now convinced the
reader through his insinuation that Avalon is in Gwynedd that the author is
full blooded Welsh. Thus, should there be any discrepancy as to the
author’s nationality; the person who no-one ever met, must be Welsh (thus
confirming the Geoffrey of Monmouth/Galfridus authorship). One must not
forget that the only place where people had heard the name Avallon before
was in connection to a town in the Blois region.
Whereas, Lapidge assumes, like the rest of the Arthurian scholars, that
the name Avalon was included in the Bec copy of HRB (and the assumption
is that it was a completed Vulgate version at that date), I see a progression
and evolving story line for Henry’s invention of the chivalric Arthur toward
where Arthur was eventually to be buried in the manufactured grave at
Glastonbury. Lapidge is unaware of Henry Blois’ authorship of HRB, but
says that: The author of the VH was a well trained Latin scholar who had
considerable stylistic pretensions. His prose makes use of Latin vocabulary
that is characteristic of verse, and abounds in reminiscences of Vergil and
other Latin poets. Does this not sound just like our ‘Geoffrey’. Does this not
sound like Henry Blois and his known pretentions to become greater than
Cicero. Does not this sound exactly like Potter and Davisdescription of the
author of GS.
My proposition is that the introduction of VH is the product of a stage of
Henry Bloisevolving of the story surrounding Arthur’s final whereabouts.
It is part of his agenda at a certain time after having introduced the name
Avallon and is a reflection of a development before VM was composed 1155-
7. Richard Barber says regarding VH: The most interesting discovery is the
insertion of the text into a copy of the First Variant version of Geoffrey of
Monmouth’s HRB in the previously unrecorded manuscript, Paris
Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal MS982, noticed by Julia Crick and examined by Neil
Wright, who found that it included the VH. As I commented earlier, the text
seems to be distinctly designed to continue Geoffrey’s account of Arthur’s
reign, replacing the last paragraph which sums up the results of the battle,
Arthur’s fate and the handing over of the Kingdom of Cador. In this
manuscript, the piece is simply inserted as a supplement between 178 and 179
of the original text.
VH is simply a later insertion into a particular copy of First Variant. In
one manuscript where the VH is found, Barber also says it is quoted as if it
were by Geoffrey himself. As we have already covered, First Variants were
rare before the full copying and production of Vulgate HRB commenced….
once ‘Geoffrey’ had been consigned to death. Could VH be a part of Henry
Bloisown evolution of what to do with Arthur? Maybe only later it dawns
on him, post 1158, that he is going to inter a set of bones at Glastonbury to
be found in the future. The manufacture of the grave in the cemetery
certainly follows the translocation of Avalon made in VM (as Insula
Pomorum). What must be understood is that VH definitively has Arthur die
in Avalon, It is not by coincidence that on Avalon there is a small chapel
dedicated to St Mary:
they take the corpse of the dead king to a certain small chapel dedicated to
the honour of the holy mother of God, the perpetual Virgin Mary.
I will use Lapidge’s translation:
The True History of the death of Arthur.
Accordingly, when the onslaught of the battle (which was being waged
between Arthur King of the Britons and Mordred….I dare not say his nephew
but rather his betrayer) had ended, and Mordred had been killed, and here
and there numerous warriors had been laid low and many of the enemy had
been left for dead, the king…. even though he had gained the victory….. did not
nevertheless withdraw without some bodily injury. For he had sustained a
wound which, although it was not bringing an immediate death, nevertheless
boded ill for the near future. At length he gave thanks to the Creator of all
things and to his mother the blessed Virgin Mary; he offset the bitterness of
the remorse he had suffered for the loss of his men with his triumphal joy.
When these things had been done, and, suffering from exhaustion, he was
leaning on his shield, he sat down on the ground for the sake of recuperating;
and while sitting there he summoned four of the leaders of his people; and
when they had been summoned he ordered them to disarm him carefully, lest
perchance in proceeding carelessly they might increase the anguish of the
pain of his wounds. When the king had been disarmed, suddenly a certain
youth, handsome in appearance, tall in stature, evoking by the shape of his
limbs a strength of immense power…. took to the road, sitting on the back of a
mare, with his right hand armed by a shaft of Elm. This shaft was stiff, not
twisted or knotted but straight, and sharpened to a point in the manner of a
lance (yet sharper for inflicting injury than any lance), since indeed in times
gone by it had been fired to make it hard (and its hardness had been tempered
with equal care by plunging it in water), and it had been daubed with adders’
venom so that, what it might perhaps harm less when cast as a result of a
deficiency in strength in the person casting it, the poison would make up for.
This audacious youth, proceeding straight at the King but staying his course
immediately in front of him, hurled the aforementioned missile into the King
and so added a more serious wound to his already serious wounds. Having
done this he flees quickly: but does not escape for long, inasmuch as the King,
brooking no delay, like an active soldier fixes the quivering spear in the back
of the fleeing youth and pierces his innermost heart. Thus transfixed the youth
immediately breathed out his last breath. Accordingly, when the author of the
King’s death had himself received the death sentence, a pallor immediately
crept over the King’s visage, and he explained to those people carefully
attending him that he was not to enjoy the breath of life for much longer.
When this was disclosed, a wash of tears flowed down the faces of those who
loved him dearly and lamentation disheartened everyone, because they
despaired that anyone could safeguard Britain’s liberty like him- since, in fact,
if according to the common proverb, a better man rarely succeeds a good
man’, much more rarely does an even better man succeed the one who is best.
2) At length the King, slightly restored by an improvement in his condition,
gives orders to be taken to Gwynedd, since he had decided to sojourn in the
delightful Isle of Avallon because of the beauty of the place (both for the sake
of peace as well as for easing the pain of his wounds). When he had arrived
there, the physicians concerned themselves with the King’s wounds with all
the diligence of their art; but the King experienced no restorative remedy from
their efforts. Because of this he despaired of any cure in this life, and he
commanded the Archbishop of London to come to him. The Archbishop, with
the additional company of two bishops- namely Urien of Bangor and Urbregen
of Glamorgan- presented the fulfilment of the mandate to him who had
directed it. (St David, the Archbishop of Menevia (St David’s) would also have
been present if he had not been prevented by a serious bodily affliction). With
these prelates present therefore, the King confessed his deviations from the
Christian faith, and rendered himself answerable to his Creator’s
complaisance. Then with the generosity of Royal munificence, he rewarded his
followers for their service; and he settled the rule of Britain on Constantine,
son of Duke Cador. When these things had been done, in the manner of the
church (following the Divine sacraments) he bid his last farewell to this
wicked world. And (as the story relates), extended full-length on his hair
shirt in the manner of those doing real penance, with his hands stretched
towards heaven he commended his spirit into the hands of his Redeemer. Oh
how sad was this day, how worthy of mourning, how charged with
lamentation, nor ever to be remembered by inhabitants of Britain without
cries of distress! Not undeservedly: for on this day the rigour of justice grew
slack, all servants of the laws became a rarity, the calmness of peace was
shattered, the excellency of liberty was taken captive; because, when glorious
Arthur was taken from her midst, Britain was deprived of its unique claim to
victory- in so far as she who held dominion is now totally enslaved. But lest I
seem to wonder too far from the sequence of my narrative, my pen ought to be
turned back to the funeral rites of the deceased king.
3) Therefore, the three aforementioned bishops commended the soul
returning to him who bestowed it with deepest prayer through the sweetness
of orisons and devotions; the others lay out the royal corpse in a royal
manner: they embalm it with balsam and myrrh and prepare it to be
committed to burial. On the following day they take the corpse of the dead
king to a certain small chapel dedicated to the honour of the holy mother of
God, the perpetual Virgin Mary- just as the King himself had appointed (so
that no other earth would receive his earthly remains). For in that place
wished to be enclosed in the earth; there he wished his flesh to return to its
origin, there he commended his dead self to the vigilance of her whom he
venerated with the deepest devotion while living. But after the cortege arrived
at the door of the aforementioned chapel, the small and narrow opening
prevented the entry of the corpse’s bulk; for that reason it was fated to a
resting place outside adjacent to the wall, placed on its bier-the force of
necessity deciding this: for the entrance of the oft mentioned chapel was so
small and narrow that no one could enter it unless, having wedged one
shoulder in, he drew in the other with a great effort of strength and ingenuity.
4) The inhabitant of this chapel was a certain hermit who, the more he had
been remote from the squalor of sins, the more did he taste how sweet is the
Lord. Why do I delay? The bishops enter; the holy services are performed for
the soul of the King; and outside, so it is said the dead man’s body remained.
Meanwhile, while the bishops are performing the last rites, the air thunders,
the earthquakes, storms pour down relentlessly from on high, lightning
flashes, and the various winds blow in terms from their several quarters.
Thereupon, after a short interval of the briefest space of time, a mist followed
which absorbed the brightness of the lightning, and obscured the attendance
of the royal corpse with such blindness that they saw nothing, though their
eyes were wide open. The mist continued uninterrupted from nine in the
morning until three in the afternoon. And at no point did the atmosphere,
with the frequent passage of the hours, grow quiet from the crash of thunder.
And finally, when the mist is dispersed and clear air is restored, they find no
trace of the royal corpse; for the King had been transported to an abode
especially prepared for him; and they look on the bier deprived of that which
had been committed to it. They are seized by annoyance as a result of the
Kings removal, to such an extent that great doubt concerning the truth arises
among them:’ whence will this mighty power have come? Through whose
violence was he carried off?-And even up to the present time they have
detained under shadows of ignorance, as to where King Arthur was
destined to find his place of rest. Wherefore certain people say that he is
still alive; both sound and well, since he was carried off without their
knowledge. Others contradict their audacious conjecture, affirming without
the slightest scruple of doubt that he paid the deaths of death, relying on
argument of this sort, that, when the aforementioned mist had been dispersed
and visibility had returned, the sealed tomb appeared to the gaze of those
present to be both solidly closed and of one piece, such that it rather seen to
be one single stone, whole and solid as if fashioned with the mortar and craft
of a builder, one after the other. They think that the king is enclosed in its
recesses, since they had discovered it already sealed and closed. And since this
discovery has been made there is no small disagreement among them.
5) He governed the realm of Britain for 39 years in the power of his
strength, the wisdom of his mind, the acuteness of his judgement, and through
his renown in battle. In the 40
th
year of his reign, he was destined to the end of
the human lot. Therefore with Arthur dead Constantine, the son of Duke
Cador, acceded to the British realm; and so on.
The VH may have been inserted into the First Variant into a manuscript
which did not get copied much. This may indicate a transitional stage of
Henry’s development of the outcome of Arthur’s remains. We can see that
the VM’s Morgan has not been developed as yet and when King Arthur had
arrived at Avalon, ‘the physicians’ concerned themselves with the King’s
wounds. The author of VH is fully aware of the state of affairs in HRB and
we can see Henry’s purposeful artifice in making slight inaccuracies in that
David is ill not dead and the bishop’s names are changed. But since we
know that the bishops attending Arthur and the island of Avalon itself are
concocted fictions; we can say the author of VH is Henry Blois. Henry brings
the VH account into line to coincide with making both ‘Geoffrey’s’ accounts
seem to corroborate each other, but not too obviously as we see here in the
section in Vulgate: Even the renowned King Arthur himself was wounded
deadly, and was borne thence unto the island of Avalon for the healing of his
wounds, where he gave up the crown of Britain unto his kinsman Constantine,
son of Cador, Duke of Cornwall, in the year of the Incarnation of Our Lord five
hundred and forty-two. When Constantine was crowned King, the Saxons and
the two sons of Mordred raised an insurrection against him; but could nought
prevail, and after fighting many battles, the one fled to London and the other
to Winchester, and did enter and take possession of those cities. At that time
died the holy Daniel, that most devout prelate of the church of Bangor, and
Thomas, Bishop of Gloucester, was elected unto the archbishopric of London.
At that time also died David, that most holy Archbishop of Caerleon, in the
city of Menevia, within his own abbey, which he loved above all the other
monasteries of his diocese, for that it was founded by the blessed Patrick who
had foretold his nativity.
The author of VH like ‘Geoffrey’ assumes a total dominance of an empire
in Arthur’s era, which, corroborates HRB, but is absolute fiction. Arthur was
taken from her midst, Britain was deprived of its unique claim to victory- in
so far as she who held dominion is now totally enslaved.
Henry Blois is one of the main proponents of furthering the cult of the
Virgin Mary at Glastonbury and an association with Arthur. Henry’s craft is
that already King Arthur is associated to Glastonbury by ‘Caradoc’.
Regardless of the fact that Gwynedd is mentioned as Avalon’s geographical
location, (to deflect suspicion of the name having been picked from the
same region where Arthur fought his continental battle), we are still led to
believe this might be a mistake because the small chapel of the Virgin Mary
is at Glastonbury: they take the corpse of the dead king to a certain small
chapel dedicated to the honour of the holy mother of God, the perpetual Virgin
Mary- just as the King himself had appointed (so that no other earth would
receive his earthly remains). Strangely enough…. no other earth except
Glastonbury was where Arthur ended up.
The VH is leading toward providing the explanation of how the rumours
started regarding Arthur’s death, non-death or return as was the hope of
the Britons. Conveniently therefore there is the rationalisation of the
zeitgeist in the VH’s insert into First Variant: and outside, so it is said the
dead man’s body remained. This last sentence is vital in that it is the starting
point of how such a rumour of the hope of the Britons prevailed amongst
the populace: they find no trace of the royal corpse; for the King had been
transported to an abode especially prepared for him; and they look on the bier
deprived of that which had been committed to it. They are seized by
annoyance as a result of the Kings removal, to such an extent that great doubt
concerning the truth arises among them:’ whence will this mighty power have
come? Through whose violence was he carried off?-And even up to the present
time they have detained under shadows of ignorance, as to where King Arthur
was destined to find his place of rest.
In my opinion, the author is again our Henry Blois, as even to the time
of writing of VH, Arthur has not been discovered. The two salient points are
that Arthur is in Avalon and he is not unearthed as yet. The fact that this is
in the transitional First Variant would indicate ‘Geoffrey’ at this stage has
decided to make it known that Arthur did die. The fact that all this is at the
St Mary church does indicate ‘Geoffrey’ already has a plan as we know
eventually Avalon becomes Glastonbury. So the Gwynedd connection for
Avalon could just be another way of convincing all and sundry that the First
Variant version they are reading is composed by a Welshman.
All the ridiculous detail of the storm and that it went on from 9 to 3 is
supposed to make us believe that all these eyewitness details came from
people at the event and over time discrepancies have crept into the
accounts. Firstly, the body is gone and then the tomb is sealed; and none are
sure if the body is inside etc. So, Henry Blois imitates the confusion of the
tattle by inventing his own confusion: Wherefore certain people say that he
is still alive; both sound and well, since he was carried off without their
knowledge. Others contradict their audacious conjecture, affirming without
the slightest scruple of doubt that he paid the deaths of death, relying on
argument of this sort, that, when the aforementioned mist had been dispersed
and visibility had returned, the sealed tomb appeared to the gaze of those
present to be both solidly closed and of one piece, such that it rather seen to
be one single stone, whole and solid as if fashioned with the mortar and craft
of a builder, one after the other. They think that the king is enclosed in its
recesses, since they had found it already sealed and closed. And since then
discovery of the facts are uncertain and there is no small
disagreement among them.
The last sentence highlighted has been changed in one version of VH to:
cuius sepulchrum apud Glastoniam ubi (ut dictum est) sepeliebatur tempore
regis Ricardi cruce plumbea super pectus, nomen eius inscriptum declarante
repertum est…. which has obviously been inserted after the discovery in
1189-91.