Chapter 5
Henry Blois and the Gesta
It is an odd occurrence that Winchester is mentioned 16 times in the HRB
and given much prominence, yet Glastonbury is not mentioned once. Many
of the 12th century episodes alluded to in the prophecies in the VM and
Vulgate prophecies in HRB are found similarly referred to as events
recorded in the GS. What I hope to show here, by a short review of the GS, is
that the author of the GS is Henry Blois also. We can then establish a
pattern of deceptive authorship which we can then extend to other texts
partially or wholly authored by Henry Blois and explain why Henry’s self
proclaimed epitaph on the Meusan plates paints himself as another
Cicero…. and an ‘author’ above all things material.
There are too many sentiments which are common to the GS which are
found in the HRB and the Vita. There are too many observations in the GS
which coincide with personal interests that Henry Blois is known to have
had. The GS is the only detailed contemporary history which covers the
whole of Stephen's reign.
What first strikes the reader of the GS is that it appears as a chronicle,
but from the construction, one can see it is written by a diarist reflecting
back on notes made previously and on details supported by memory. One
can discern that episodes are observations of a person close to events from
which a biography on the acts of King Stephen’s reign is constructed. It is
clear that the GS was written by someone who on many occasions gives
accounts which are very detailed. In some instances Henry Blois witnessed
the scenes and some episodes he recounts having heard second hand. There
are certain events where he is known to have been historically at the scene,
witnessed by other chroniclers, where detail in GS could only be from an
eyewitness. Henry might have obtained first-hand accounts with blow by
blow detail from contemporary courtiers at the heart of the affairs. As a
diarist, these events were recorded and used in the construction of the GS
along with his memory. Henry was intimately tied to events concerning
King Stephen.
The GS is written with interested involvement for the subject matter,
affection for Stephen and with retrospective empathy…. understanding the
viewpoint, travails and events to which Stephen reacted in the 19 years of
his reign. It was written after Stephen’s death and there is no animosity or
pique displayed by Henry against Stephen in most of the episodes.
It has been remarked by numerous commentators that the GS was
written by a churchman. The bishop of Bath has been posited as a possible
author. I do not believe Henry’s diary details were in any way meant
specifically for the construction of the GS, but were simply employed
retrospectively as a record of Stephen’s reign because so many episodes
involved and concerned Henry Blois. The reason for thinking the GS is
taken from a diary is that there are no dates throughout and yet the whole
account follows the passage of time.
Our anonymous author, hiding his identity, wishing to present an
apologia for himself in the form of a biography of Stephen, did not concern
himself with dates because nearly all the events followed chronologically in
his own mind.
One event leads to the next from itemized sections in his
own diary record; not forgetting the diary was acting more of a prompt for
memory providing him retrospectively the train of events in time.
Henry passed through several stages in his life; from the bookish pious
cloistered young man to the self-assured high born favoured nephew of
King Henry who arrived at Glastonbury to prove his merit and worth. After
the election to Winchester until the death of Stephen, material rather than
pious concerns take precedent. There are other contemporary historical
chronicles which portray Henry Blois in a non-complimentary light; and
even as a dark force in much of the political manoeuvrings of the Anarchy.
It is with this in mind, we should also consider the benefits of writing such a
dedicated history about his brother. The way the GS is presented distorts
the truth for readers in posterity. It acts at times as an apologia to
Strangely enough, like ‘Geoffrey’s’ work, it is the chronology of events from which we can determine the
approximate date.
accusations and perceptions of Henry Blois’s underhanded role in events
which were held by contemporaries or perceived by chroniclers.
Therefore, the purpose of maintaining anonymity is firstly to present
Henry in a positive light, because Henry Blois wants to be held in high
esteem by posterity. Secondly, Henry is writing a polemic apologia and
therefore; if many of the views are to be accepted as unbiased and credible,
there must be no suspicion of authorship by Henry Blois.
Henry understands history and how it is conveyed through the actions
of kings by chroniclers. Henry wishes to present the saga of the Anarchy to
posterity (retrospectively), by presenting a positive aspect for his part in the
cause of the Anarchy. Henry has a twofold agenda in writing GS: Firstly, to
present his own side of the story so that his character in history is not that
which is left negatively portrayed by other chroniclers. Second, his intent is
to account for his brother’s actions. But, we must not be duped into
thinking anything other than the GS’s main purpose is the aggrandizement
of Henry’s place in history.
We know Henry has delved into history having accomplished the
composition of HRB. He knows that the GS will be studied by posterity.
Without the information found in GS, there would be some Merlin
prophecies in the Vita and HRB which would be difficult to elucidate. Some
views pertaining to events specifically involving Henry or his brother’s
actions are duplicated exactly in GS and the Vita Merlini. A case in point
would be how Henry finds it difficult to understand how his brother makes
a pact with King David for a third time
when David has broken the
previous two. It is an impossibility that the writer of the Merlin prophecies
just happens to hold the exact same view as the author of GS and it is even
less likely that Merlin, the sixth century seer, (if he had ever existed) would
have commented upon what Henry had such a hard time understanding in
his brother’s forgiving nature.
The powerful bishop of Winchester opens himself for criticism if
authorship were claimed, as many of Henry’s deeds are made to appear in a
better light than how contemporaries understood his actions. Henry refers
to himself as Legate before it happens chronologically in the text of GS,
The third time was after the rout of Winchester.
This would infer that that the GS was not written as a chronicle contemporaneous with the passage of time but
was written retrospectively.
this is mere artifice on his behalf to feign third party authorship. He uses
other devices which we will come across in the text, but Henry Blois is a
master of deception. He refers to his nephew with the wrong name as if a
chronicler was misinformed. It is virtually the only factual mistake in the
manuscript apart from the glaring truth that Henry did momentarily swap
allegiance to the Empress Matilda, but this is never admitted in GS. Henry
Blois sister Agnes has a son Hugh de Puiset who he purposely names as
Henry ‘whom we have since seen become Bishop of Durham’.
Henry Blois is a master of deception and his reference to Henry of Anjou
as ‘the lawful heir’ (the future Henry II) is also artful deception. It is evident
by the tone of the text that Henry Blois set out to give the impression to his
readers that his sympathies or allegiance as the anonymous author has
shifted to the Angevin cause.
In Henry’s case his allegiance never shifted after the rout at Winchester.
It was always Henry’s hope that Eustace (Stephen’s son) until his death in
1153 would inherit the crown and Henry had fostered his relationship with
Eustace as a loving uncle in prospect of him becoming King. Yet the ‘lawful
heir’ gambit is posited as if our author held this view in 1147 about the
future Henry II.
Henry Blois was certainly involved with the events preceding the
Anarchy in Bristol and Bath. His contempt for the Bristolians and the duke
of Gloucester’s stronghold is evident, referring to it as the pit of perdition
and of the people, ‘unrestrained in the commission of every crime had by
open robbery and stealthy thefts thrown the country into confusion’. It was
probably Henry’s engineering prowess that hatched the plan to build a dam
across the harbour mouth and flood the city…. which is recounted at this
time in GS.
The reason we can assume the GS is transcribed from detail supplied by
his diary is that Henry, when writing, anticipates events in the future i.e. he
references the diary which when written he was unaware of the future
outcome of the event and often refers futuristically to peoples demise or the
conclusion of the event he is referencing. When giving account of how his
brother came to the crown he gives himself a glowing reference, and
already accounts himself as legate of all England: then rapidly gathering a
strong body of knights, who had flocked altogether from every quarter, he
(Stephen) hastened to Bishop Henry, on whom his enterprise entirely
depended. For that man was his brother by both parents, a man of
inexpressible eloquence as well as wonderful wisdom; with fortune smiling
favourably on his wishes he became Abbot of Glastonbury and Bishop of
Winchester and was enthroned in the Kingdom by the apostolic see as legate
of all England.
The position of papal Legate did not transpire until 1139. Also, when
speaking of Miles of Gloucester, in reference to events in 1136, Henry
already knows of his death in 1143 and says he will expound more fully in
what follows…. which means, when he gets to that point chronologically in
his diary he will deal with Milesdeath. These are not the only examples of
anticipation, but there are several more. To take into account that GS is
written after the fact and not as a record of current events, we should
consider who is in the King’s company…. or at least would have such in
depth knowledge of affairs for the length of time spanning nineteen years.
Our author is obviously a churchman and the only person eligible (as
possible author) at the centre of events is Theobald of Bec. but GS starts
three years before his election. In any event, Theobald is hardly likely to
write such an empathetic biography.
Some episodes at the beginning of the GS and at the end are in such
detail (as I have said)…. chronological order is being recounted as an
account from previous record and memory. The Bishop of Bath was not on
hand for the length of time and would probably not provide detail in such
minutiae from start to finish retrospectively. Especially, at times with such
intricate eyewitness detail of the scenes described. Our author, on many
occasions is next to his King Stephen. It is on these days that the diarist’s
record comes alive. Also, if we look at the detail in the GS account and
match it to the movements of Henry Blois, there are four or five periods in
the account where the detail is lacking. For instance there are 17 pages
covering the year 1136. The period in 1137 for instance has half a page
because Henry Blois was in Normandy for a large part of the year. This is in
fact where he composed his Primary Historia which he then deposited at
Bec. We can see then that as an account constructed by a diarist, the gaps
in GS would make sense as a diarist records his own daily events. For a
chronicler the gaps would not be accountable.
Henry was in Normandy for quite a time. Apparently, according to
Gervaise of Canterbury he left England in Advent 1136 to do his brother’s
bidding abroad as vice regent of Normandy since Geoffrey of Anjou had
raided in September. Orderic Vitalis gives account of what Henry Blois
deals with
until his brother Stephen lands in Normandy in March 1137.
Stephen arrived in Normandy briefly in 1137, where he met with Louis VI
and Theobald (Henry’s other elder brother) to agree to an informal alliance
against ‘Handsome’ Geoffrey
and Matilda, to counter the growing Angevin
power in the region. Stephen probably also attended their mother’s funeral
near Clugny. However, Henry for this period is not recording events
concerning Stephen in England hence the gap in the GS. For the other
periods mentioned where detail on Stephen is scant, Henry is either at
Rome or Cluny.
The GS account is mainly centred on what transpires in Britain but we
know Stephen and Henry both concern themselves with actions on the
continent. Henry is feigning the appearance of authorship by an insular
In 1137, Stephen attests a charter at Rouen with his brother Henry
renewing a grant to St Mary de Fontrevault. It is possible Henry Blois went
to Rome sometime from March through to December to try to secure the job
of Archbishop of Canterbury since he was acting incumbent as Archbishop
Corbeil had died. Another blank period of the GS is late in 1138 where
Henry heard of Theobald of Becs elevation to Canterbury and may have
visited Rome again.
He was however, present at Theobald’s of Bec’s inauguration according
to Gervaise on the 8
of January 1139. Some chronicler’s dispute Henry was
present. It was just after this event that Henry of Huntingdon,
accompanying Theobald of Bec to Rome, discovers the Primary Historia
while tiding over at Bec en route. The GS picks up on June 24
where the
Bishops are arrested and Henry has out-manoeuvred Theobald. It is
possible he arranged to receive the Legation at Rome before Theobald of
Bec receives his pallium. William of Malmesbury thinks it was March 1
that Henry Blois was appointed Legate. So, this may put Henry in Rome and
therefore explains the gap in recorded events in England and of Stephen’s
exploits. The first anybody hears of Henry’s appointment is on the very day
Oderic Vitalis, VI,xiii, 479
Geoffrey V, le Bel known as Geoffrey Plantagenet was the Count of Anjou, Touraine, and Maine by inheritance
from 1129 when he married the Empress and then Duke of Normandy by conquest from 1144
where events relevant to Stephen start again in the GS as he returns back
from Rome as Legate.
When pope Innocent died on Sept 24
1143 Henry again went to Rome. A
year later after Celestine died he was back in Rome in 1144 requesting the
legateship once more. It was at this time Henry Blois uses an interpolated
DA along with a First Variant version of the Historia to make a case to
obtain metropolitan status over south west England. In 1145 John of Hexam
relates that Henry, Bishop of Winchester, on his way to Rome again tarried
at Clugny as pope Innocent had died. In 1149 Henry travelled to Rome again
to request Winchester be made a metropolitan as foreseen in the Merlin
In 1151 there is only half a page in the GS and the Winchester annals say
Henry went to Rome to refute the charges of the monks of Hyde abbey. If
Henry Blois was not in the country and not being fed detail at court (about
Stephen and its relevance to GS), this would account for the lack of material
and eyewitness detail concerning Stephen. If Bishop Henry had missed
current events because he is known to be elsewhere there is usually a
corresponding gap in detail regarding Stephen in GS.
The first thing to realize about the GS is that it is in part an apologist’s
view. In effect it conveys a sentiment which makes Henry Blois appear in a
better light historically. Considering it took only 22 days from the death of
Henry Ist until Stephen was crowned…. we should look at the introduction
in GS to identify the principles of Henry’s polemic.
The GS starts off by saying when King Henry was alive peace pervaded
the country. But then it tries to maintain that throughout the country it was
heard that the King had died and general anarchy reigned. It also goes on to
say that the animals that had been carefully nurtured before were now
extremely rare. Henry Blois is trying to create an appearance of a
shambolic state of affairs so that the reader can accept the reasoning’s
behind the rushed crowning. It seems fair to posit that Henry and his
brother had previously hatched such a plan knowing that few of the barons,
(even though having sworn allegiance), were keen on a queen Matilda and
reticent about a female as ruler.
The GS establishes the rationale and makes excuse (as an apologia) for
the train of events running contrary to those pre-planned by King Henry
before his death. The GS supplies contrary evidence against the accusation
of usurpation to make it seem as if all actions were considered for the good
of England…. rather than the train of events occurring by Henry’s
manipulation. Contemporary historians had the correct view as Henry of
Huntingdon makes clear: Henry, bishop of Winchester, who had taken the
lead in disturbing the Kingdom, by giving the crown to his brother Stephen.
The GS provides sound reasoning in apologetic terms for what many
considered an underhanded and rushed crowning by a small elite.
Whether the barons and the rest of the clergy would have supported
Matilda’s election or not made no difference…. the coronation was now an
irreversible fact, consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The GS
pretends a state of disorder and maintains that in the short period between
King Henry Ist death and that which Stephen had managed to cross the
channel, the countryside had suddenly become barren: it was wonderful
how so many myriads of wild animals, which in large herds before plentifully
stocked the country, suddenly disappeared, so that out of this vast number
scarcely two could now be found together. They seemed to be entirely
extirpated, insomuch that it is reported a single bird was a rare sight, and a
stag was nowhere to be seen.
This is not to deny, as most chroniclers recount, an animal plague hit
Britain in 1131…. as the Anglo Saxon chronicle for example relates: This
same year was so great a murrain of cattle as never was before in the
memory of man over all England. That was in neat cattle and in swine; so that
in a town where there were ten ploughs going, or twelve, there was not left
one: and the man that had two hundred or three hundred swine, had not one
This is entirely different from a state of peace to Anarchy in three weeks,
since most of the country would not have heard of the King’s death before
Stephen’s arrival. We are presented with a scene that represented the
British countryside during the Anarchy and shortly after; not as it is
portrayed here, pretending that all had been plundered and pillaged and all
the people plotted against each other. The author purposely conflates two
issues to portray a bleak scene which in the author’s mind presents a good
rationale behind the solution found to overcome the circumstances i.e. to
inaugurate a good strong leader as soon as possible.
The GS continues with this pretence, ‘one man pitilessly assailed another
each his neighbour’, presenting a scene of Anarchy before it happened.
Events are thus presented so that Stephens crowning appears as
expediency, providing national stability. The GS is used as a vehicle to
present the rationale behind the alacritous anointing, which most in the
Kingdom believed to be caused by the manipulations and machinations of
Henry Blois.
The GS presents a scene of complete breakdown in civil society in the
space of two weeks. Henry starts by saying ‘when the English were
conducting themselves in so disorderly and disastrous fashion and, loosening
the restraints of justice, Stephen count of Boulogne a man distinguished by his
illustrious descent landed in England with a few companions’. We are then
told that Stephen is the dearest of all the nephews of King Henry Ist, the
peacemaker; and the GS states that after landing, he journeyed hastily to
The GS goes on to tell us that ‘those shrewd in Council summoned an
assembly and taking prudent forethought for the state of the Kingdom on
their own initiative they agreed unanimously to choose the King’. This of
course, made necessary because in the preceding paragraph there had been
anarchy. The GS presents the account as a response to the march of events
rather than its real purpose of providing an apologist view: For this they
said every Kingdom was exposed to calamities from ill fortune when a
representative of the whole government and the fount of justice was lacking’.
Notice the all-inclusive and cohesively concordant ‘they’, rather than any
hint of a singular manipulator.
Henry Blois has just supplied himself the excuse for the rapid crowning.
He goes on to say ‘it was therefore worth their while to appoint as soon as
possible a King who, with a view to re-establishing peace for the common
benefit, would meet the insurgents of the Kingdom in arms’. The apologist
view-point is continued when referring to the Londoners, ‘it was their own
right and peculiar privilege that if their King died from any cause a successor
should immediately be appointed by their own choice; and they had no one at
hand who could take the King’s place and put an end to the great dangers
threatening the Kingdom except Stephen, who they thought had been brought
among them by Providence. The Londoners had no such prerogative or
precedent, but the GS presents the evidence as if it was the Londoner’s will
that was duly carried out, and not that of Henry Blois.
We are then led to believe that when these arguments had been heard
in the general assembly and had been favourably received by all, without
any open objection, they all universally approved Stephen as King. In
confirmation of the point that his brother had been crowned to prevent the
apparent breakdown of society, Henry Blois goes on to say, ‘so Stephen,
having with such good fortune obtained both the title of King and the Royal
crown, armed himself like a man to establish peace in the Kingdom’.
Our supposed anonymous author then launches into how ‘Stephen
rapidly gathering a strong body of Knights, who had flocked together from
every quarter, he hastened to Bishop Henry, on whom his entire enterprise
depended’. Henry would not deny what is reliably known, but downplays
his part as matter of fact. Now, this may seem a diversionary point to make
at the present juncture, but Henry’s vanity is never too far away as we shall
see when I cover the Perlesvaus and Grail literature by a certain Master
Blihis (Monseigneur Blois) concerning Gawain who overcame Blihos-
Bliheris, whom no man at Arthur's court knew’.
Likewise, in the GS, Henry can't suppress his own vanity when he
expresses: ‘for that man was his brother by both parents a man of
inexpressible eloquence as well as wonderful wisdom; with fortune smiling
favourably on his wishes he became Abbot of Glastonbury and Bishop of
Winchester and was enthroned in the Kingdom by the apostolic see as legate
of all England. He then, overjoyed at his brother's success, came to meet him
with the Winchester Citizens of chief consequence, and after they had had a
short communal conference escorted him respectfully into the town, the
second place in the Kingdom’.
The point is, once one establishes the deception, it becomes easier to
identify the methods employed in the extensive fraud of Henry Blois which
utilizes many more means of transmission than the GS, HRB and VM.
Firstly, in the GS he refers back to himself as legate at the time of
Stephen's crowning which he knows to be inaccurate. He refers to himself
as a third party ‘Bishop of Winchester’ and imbues the sense of a recorder
of events…. i.e. anyone could be the author, but one is led to believe it could
not be Henry Blois. For instance the chronicler refers to the ‘Bishop of
Winchester's brother's success. The dupery must be pointed out, as Henry
goes out of his way to make sure that his authorship is not suspected. On
the subject of authorship and before we move on to analyze several points
in the GS, it is necessary to clear any doubt that Henry Blois is the author.
Amazingly, Potter and Davis are duped by Henrys devices saying: if we
proceed to the question of the author’s political affiliations, there can be no
doubt that he belonged to a party of the Kings brother, Henry of Blois, Bishop
of Winchester, whom he describes as ’a man of inexpressible eloquence as
well as wonderful wisdom’. He explains not only his activities, but also his
motives, defends his conduct in the crises of 1139 and 1141 and disparages
the members of the Beaumont family.
Howlett’s theory is that the author was Henry Blois’ chaplain. In either
proposition, all commentators seem to be bemused by how the author
censures Henry Blois. They also find it difficult to understand how the
author writes not like an underling but as a man of stature’ and conclude
that many of the statements made in the GS ‘sounds not like the voice of the
bishops chaplain, but like the voice of the Bishop himself’. Both Potter and
Davis conclude that the author was a reformer in the tradition of Henry
Blois’, yet cannot see through the obfuscation.
One thing becomes very plain before the end of this exposé: it is my
irritation with scholarship’s inability to join the dots of the three genres
under investigation. They are so close to the answer trying to rationalize
‘for if Robert Bishop of Bath is to be identified as the author of the GS and the
study of his entourage has failed to produce any other candidate; it must
follow that the account of his capture is autobiographical’. Wrong! Henry
Blois was there also.
However, Potter and Davis do recognize that the GS was written by a
scholar and admit his literary composition is far grander than the ordinary
Chronicle…. yet if they had done a comparison with the HRB they would see
that the ‘affected’ high tone in which the GS is written stems from Henry
Blois great learning in classical literature and in having written the HRB
and his tone is not affected…. but consistent with everything we know of
Henry Blois the orator who held Cicero as an idol. It is his learning, evident
in the composition of HRB, which has evidently changed his choice of words
which gives the classical tone. Thus, at times, Henry forgets himself, that he
is now writing a history chronicle when he refers to Woodchester in
Gloucestershire as Castellum de Silva. Potter and Davis assume this is an
affectation, but this is a man who likens himself to Cicero, who has read the
classics in Greek and Latin and therefore is merely making a choice of
words that come freely to him like the commanders of towns being called:
praeses, praeceptor, primipulus, commanipularius or summus primas and
soldiers as Legionarii and Centenarii. These classicism's are a story teller’s
tools and are found throughout the HRB and VM where men breathed forth
the life that now can never know the longer day, and dying men have, his
own last hour and are replicated in the GS where men have classically their
last breath, ad extema deveniens.
The aftermath of Geoffrey’s battle at
Autun and the burial of the dead is out of the siege of troy with all the
literary conventions of the classics from the Aeneid , Pharsalia, where the
fallen vomit forth their lifeblood and the slain drum the earth with their heels
are all part of Henry Blois’ voracious reading of the classics while growing
up at Clugny. That Henry could put in the mouths of his protagonists of HRB
so well the tone and temperament of a classical battle speech or rousing
retort is testament to his vast knowledge of the classics
It is evident that the devices employed by Henry Blois to mislead his
readership as to the authorship of the GS, have manifestly worked. Henry
Blois in the GS never claims to have seen any of the events which he
describes because the authorship could be traceable, but much like the
HRB, there are few dates. Bishop Robert of Bath was not the author;
although he was a Cluniac and a protégé of Henry of Blois who employed
the said Robert at Glastonbury Abbey before becoming Bishop of Bath. His
appointment was through the direct influence of Henry of Blois in March
The vocabulary syntax and style of the GS match exactly with that of the
HRB and sentiments of the Merlin prophecies; laced with affiliations
concerning the church. The most obvious clue is the detail in description of
certain episodes that Henry Blois attended and also the wide range of
locations visited; described with eyewitness detail in most cases, throughout
the Anarchy. The most commonly mentioned place in the GS is of course
Winchester and the events that transpired there are not only mentioned in
minute detail, but are also replicated for the most part as prophecies in the
Vita Merlini. The one place that is never mentioned is Glastonbury except in
In the Vera Historia,which may have been Henry Blois’ own addition to a First Variant version, the youth who
threw the Elm spear at Arthur had it immediately thrown back by Arthur and lodged in the youth’s back: Qui
transfixus, spiritum mox exhalauit uitalem.
the one allusion to Henry Blois being the Abbot of that institution. Can
modern scholarship not see that Glastonbury is not mentioned in HRB
also…. and deduce the reason?
Henry Blois continues on to confound those seeking the identity of the
author. If scholarship does not recognize this next reference as guile, they
will remain duped by Henry Blois’ brilliance: ‘at this time there was in the
town of Winchester a certain William, a most faithful guardian and steward,
of King Henry's treasures, who had often been implored by the Bishop, with
the added inducement of a bribe, to handover the Castle to him and open the
Treasury. But the more insistent the Bishop in entreaty, the more inclined was
the treasurer the refusal’.
If anyone in the future were to be suspicious of the GS authorship falling
to the bishop of Winchester…. who would suspect that somebody would
write in such a derogatory tone about oneself? This is precisely one of the
devices used throughout the GS. If the author was with Stephen, it seems
unlikely he would know this detail anyway.
However, we are then told that the treasury was very rich from the time
of the most ancient Kings; a point which would interest the writer of the GS
as the one who had tried to access it and who was bishop of the city in
which the treasure was kept. We then hear that ‘reports spread through the
Kingdom, the tidings of the new King's arrival, a great many, and those
especially who before the accession had found themselves in friendship to him
or his brothers, received him with joy and jubilation. This sentence alludes
surely to himself mainly. Although elder brother Theobald had gallantly
deferred the crown to Stephen, by the time Theobald could have done
anything about it; it was already a fait a compli …. even though the nobles in
Normandy had proffered Theobald
as the preferred replacement for the
Empress Matilda.
The GS then informs, (in concordance with Henry of Huntington), that
William of Corbeil, ‘Archbishop of Canterbury, a man having the countenance
of a dove and the habit of a monk, but more greedy in keeping money he had
got than lavish in spending it’. Firstly, it should be noted that it was Henry
Blois who was charged with running the see of Canterbury when William of
Corbeil died and Henry will probably be the one who found his treasure.
Many of these barons had taken an oath to stay in Normandy until the late king was properly buried, which
prevented them from returning to England.
But, Henry makes out that it was the King’s agents who found a countless
quantity of coin laid up secretly in his strong boxes.
After a brief negative biography concerning William, the account
continues where, the King’s supporters were engaged in persuading
William of Corbeil to anoint Stephen as King. William replied ‘that it mustn't
be done lightly or done in haste’. William also brings up the objection that
King Henry had bound his chief men of the whole Kingdom by oath to his
daughter Matilda and therefore it was contrary to this arrangement to
desire anybody else as King.
King Stephen’s supporters, we are told (probably Henry Blois, Roger,
Bishop of Salisbury, Hugh Bigod and a few others…. as it was only a small
conclave present), did not deny that they had given their oaths to King
Henry's daughter; but rather they had been compelled to make the oath.
On the attestation of Hugh Bigod,
we are conveniently informed by our
author that King Henry had subsequently relieved the barons of their
obligation of allegiance. The spurious grounds on which this miraculous
volte face is rationalized is ’that they swore unwillingly and that the oaths
would not be kept’. What the GS leads us to believe is that King Henry lay on
his deathbed at his hunting lodge at Lyons-la-Forêt and regretted that he
had previously made the nobles swear unwillingly, not once but twice….
and thus relieved them of their vow just before death.
King Henry attempted to build up political support for Matilda in both
England and Normandy, demanding that his court take oaths first in 1127,
then in 1128 and again some in 1131. There is no doubt that the GS’s
account in part is accurate in what it portrays, as to the arguments and
persuasions used to convince William of Corbeil to go ahead with the
coronation; but King Henry did not release his barons no matter what Hugh
Bigod professed. It was also posited and publicly maintained by Roger of
Salisbury that he was released from the oath he had taken to the Empress
because he had sworn only on condition that the King should not give his
daughter in marriage to anyone outside the Kingdom.
These are the
echoes of the real arguments used to convince William of Corbeil to hurry
It seems fair to assume Henry persuaded Hugh Bigod, the late King's royal steward, to swear that the King had
changed his mind about the succession on his deathbed, nominating Stephen instead. Historians doubt that Hugh
Bigod's account of Henry I's final hours was truthful.
William of Malmesbury. Historia Novella, 452
up with the process of crowning Stephen. Henry Blois understood that most
in the realm were cognizant of his manipulations in the usurpation of the
crown. This is borne out by contemporary chroniclers such as Malmesbury
and Huntingdon. Henry fully understands how his reputation will be
understood in posterity, thus the need for the GS presenting his
manipulations in a glossed apologia with a reasoned rationale for his
involvement now the two main chroniclers’ are dead and cannot contest his
position put forward in this apologia.
Understanding the political acumen of Henry Blois, it would not be too
improbable to suggest that Henry dreamt up the following. As part of the
polemic, William of Corbeil is told that: ‘in his death agony, with very many
standing by listening to his truthful confession of his errors, even very plainly
showed repentance of the forcible imposition of the oath on his barons’.
If this were really true we would never have had the Anarchy because
no-one wanted a Queen.
And therefore William of Corbeil as archbishop is advised that ‘it is
eminently advisable to accept gladly as King a man whom London, the capital
of the whole Kingdom, has received without objection, and who, moreover,
was a suitable candidate owing to his just claim of close relationship’.
Especially propitious when the rationale is added to the bogus proposition
that the Kingdom is being plundered and torn to pieces, (or so goes the gist
of the apologia). How, one wonders, does our anonymous author know all
this detail at the beginning of Stephen’s career?
William of Corbeil is convinced by all present that he should crown a
man ‘of resolution and soldiery qualities, who, exalted by the might of his
vassals and by the fame of his wise brothers who will supply their
assistance and whatever is lacking to him’. Then Henry Blois goes on to
explain: ’therefore, swayed by these arguments and some others that I passed
over for the sake of brevity, the Archbishop, with the bishops and numerous
clergy present, consecrated and anointed him as King over England and
There certainly were not numerous clergy present at the time William de
Corbeil was being browbeaten and it is no wonder that Henry wishes to
pass over the arguments that prevailed at the proceedings with brevity…. as
many must have been contrary. But not one is mentioned.
We are led to believe the coronation, (when numerous clergy were
present), was all part of the same proceedings. As the other historians note,
it was Henry Blois (as he himself nearly expresses), who manipulated the
crown onto Stephen's head. There is no part of the contemporary audience
that would have believed that Henry played a minor role in the proceedings
which led to the crowning.
William of Malmesbury also concurs that Stephen was aided by his
brother Henry ‘granting him an easy acquiescence, allured indeed by a very
strong hope that Stephen would continue the ways of his Grandfather’.
The manipulations are enshrouded in the GS by a portrayal of events
and rationales, which, in effect, act as an apologia for Henry Blois…. even
though his intentions were noble toward the church. One point to consider
is that, if Robert of Lewes the future Bishop of Bath is thought to be the
author of the GS, he must have thought to make note of all the various
points of contention and persuasion with a view in mind to writing an
account of Henry’s brother from the outset.
Henry Blois’ artifice continues as he refers to ‘Robert Earl of Gloucester,
son of King Henry, but a bastard, a man of proved talent and admirable
wisdom as he establishes the tone of a balanced chronicler. Most would
think Henry Blois would only have animosity for Robert of Gloucester.
Henry would have had numerous encounters against him and in fact
probably even conspired with him on one occasion to prevent a blood bath
occurring at Arundel. This view is held according to the GS version.
Gervaise of Canterbury has a different point of view and thinks that Robert
of Gloucester ‘had been urged to do this (invade with the Empress) by the
council and assent of Henry, Bishop of Winchester, because he had not been
elected to the archbishopric of the church of Canterbury after the death of
Gervaise thinks that their meeting and their relationship was
partly due to Henry conspiring to help Matilda and Robert…. after being
snubbed for the post of Archbishop of Canterbury.
Apparently, Henry wrote letters to Robert of Gloucester conspiring and
inviting the return of Matilda, since he had been overlooked by his brother
for the archbishopric appointment. He was accused of this change of
allegiance later…. and it is only the GS which presents the view which runs
Gervaise of Canterbury, II,73
contrary to what seems to have been commonly understood. Anyway,
referring to Robert of Gloucester as a man of ‘admirable wisdom’ (as the GS
does), would surely exclude Henry as a possible author and is all part of his
deflection of authorship device. The illusion of dedicating some copies of
the HRB to the Duke of Gloucester is all part of distancing himself from
suspicion of authorship when he finally publishes the Vulgate version.
Henry Blois goes on to say in GS (covering the fact that he is the advisor),
that when Robert was advised: as the story went, to claim the throne on his
father's death, deterred by sounder advice, he by no means assented, saying it
was fairer to yield it to his sister's son to whom it more justly belonged.
It was probably Henry Blois who persuaded a truculent Robert of
Gloucester to do nothing as Stephen was already King. Matilda had nearly
died giving birth to her second son Geoffrey and Matilda at the time of
coronation was recently pregnant again. Robert, being a bastard, could not
claim the throne, but his sister was at Argentan more concerned with
getting through another pregnancy. She eventually gave birth to her third
son (third nesting), William, on 22 July 1136 and Robert stayed reluctantly
compliant until he declared for Matilda in 1138. The broken oaths of the
barons, gilded over by Hugh Bigod’s false testimony is aptly described by
Henry Blois posing as Merlin in the HRB prophecies where he posits Matilda
as the Eagle: This shall the Eagle of the broken covenant be gilded over, and
the Eagle shall rejoice in her third nesting.
However, another indicator of Henry Blois’ authorship is that the same
exact point of view and polemic which are found in the beginning of the GS
were recorded as being voiced by Henry himself at Winchester on April 17
1141. Henry Blois had summoned on behalf of the Empress Matilda, a large
body of clerics to his Legatine Council and before he had even written the
GS, in a brilliant piece of oratory, he explains to the Council why it was that
he changed allegiance, while maintaining the moral high ground, and
makes the same point as that stated in the GS, in that; King Henry had ‘died
in Normandy without a male heir. Therefore, because it seemed tedious to
wait for the lady, who made delays in coming to England since her residence
Orderic Vitalis is thought by some commentators to have possessed the prophecies in 1135. This is
incorrect…. see Tatlock, The legendary history of Britain, The Merlin prophecies p. 421. I will cover this
interpolation in Orderic shortly.
was in Normandy, thought was taken for the peace of the country and my
brother allowed to reign’.
Henry Blois also makes it clear in the GS that Stephen's defeat and
captivity in 1141 was not down to bad luck ‘but was a judgment from God’.
This is Henry Blois’ view, so we hear Stephen ’crying out in a voice of humble
complaint that his mark of ignominy had indeed come upon him because God
avenged his injuries’. Henry Blois leaves us in no doubt that the injury in
question was that of the arrest of the three bishops, Roger, Alexander and
Nigel which here in the GS he describes as a monstrous sin against God
himself. As we have mentioned before, Henry Blois found this such an
affront to the church, he again mentions it in the Vita Merlini. I see the city
of Oxford filled with helmeted men, and holy men and holy bishops bound on
the decision of the Council.
Henry Blois sets up his apologia with an aura of national satisfaction
where Stephen has taken the crown by general consent and Robert of
Gloucester dutifully pays homage to the accepted King. Henry Blois
establishes in the GS that an air of peace, now pervaded over the country
and King Stephen, attended by a large bodyguard made a progress
throughout England with the splendour that befits the Royal Majesty and he
made very great efforts to re-establish peace in the Kingdom.
Henry of Huntingdon while referring to previous Winchester bishops
shrewdly depicts what is in store for the nation: Their seat is occupied by
Henry,(Blois) the King's son, who promises to exhibit a monstrous spectacle,
compounded of purity and corruption, half a monk, half a knight.
However, in GS, Henry Blois now sets the state of affairs in Britain as a
whole by starting out his commentary with the Welsh and Wales. We know
from the HRB his distaste for the Welsh, even though Geoffrey of
Monmouth is supposed to be from there.
Now Wales is a country of woodland and pasture, immediately bordering
on England, stretching far along the coast on one side of it, abounding in deer
and fish, milk and herds; but it breeds men of an animal type, naturally swift
footed accustomed to war, volatile always in breaking their word as in
changing their abodes. When war came and the Normans conquered the
English, this land also they added to their dominion and fortified with
William of Malmesbury. Historia Novella.
numberless castles; they perseveringly civilised it after they had vigorously
subdued its inhabitants; to encourage peace they imposed law and statutes
on them; and they made the land so productive and abounding in all kinds of
resources that you would have reckoned it in no wise inferior to the most
fertile part of Britain.
In other words: had it not been for the presence of the Norman overlords
the poor Welsh would have remained savages! This man has seen the
effects of Norman domination of Southern Wales. As the reader will
become aware before the end of this exposé Henry Blois is in Wales in 1136
dutifully aiding his brother at the outbreak of the Welsh rebellion while
Stephen is in the North dealing with King David.
This is the very reason our author starts here chronologically when he
commences his account in GS: But when King Henry died and the peace and
harmony of the Kingdom were buried with him, the Welsh who always
cherished a deadly hatred of their masters, broke their compact with them
utterly, and appearing in bands at different places; they made hostile raids in
various directions; they cleared the villages by plunder, fire, and sword, burnt
the houses, slaughtered the men. And first they advanced into a district by the
coast, called Gower, very pleasant and rich in every kind of produce, and
when knights and footmen to the number of 516 massed in one body against
them, they surrounded them on every side and laid them all low with the edge
of the sword. Then rejoicing greatly at this first success in their insurrection,
they streamed boldly over every quarter of Wales; addicted to every crime,
ready for anything unlawful, they spared no age, showed no respect for any
order, were not restrained from wickedness either by time or by place. When
the first occurring’s of this rebellion were reported to the ears of the King,
proposing to check their wanton recklessness he sent to subdue them Knights
and archers whom he had hired at very great expense.
The writer of the VM has similar views on the Welsh: Wales will always
enjoy spilling blood. Nation abominable to God, why do you enjoy spilt blood?
And again in the HRB: into the parts of Wales, not knowing what to do
against this accursed people.
The writer of the HRB has a good knowledge of Wales. Does it not seem
strange that a man writing a biography of Stephen launches into his initial
HRB VI, xvi
text after his coronation of Stephen prologue, with a description of Wales?
It is my view that Henry Blois visited Wales on a few occasions, probably in
King Henry’s time to begin with but also at the beginning of Stephen’s reign
as a trusted brother to quell the Welsh rebellion. Not only did Glastonbury
have land
in Wales, but it was a short sail from Bridgewater. King Henry
Ist took control of the port at Swansea and seized the Gower peninsula from
the Welsh changing ‘Gwyr’ to Gower.
Henry de Beaumont, the Earl of Warwick, was given lordship of Gower
to protect the port at Swansea from invaders. Henry de Beaumont erected a
castle to oversee the River Tawe, the castle at Swansea. There were other
castles built at Penrhys, Llanrhidian, Oystermouth and Loughor. The Battle
of Gower took place on New Year's Day 1136 a year after Stephen’s
coronation. Since Henry starts the GS with this account he may have been
involved in the subsequent attempts to quell the rebellion, eager to help his
brother…. still being on good terms with him and being able to supply
The GS goes on to explain that after the death of Richard Fitz Gilbert in
April, the rebellion proper took hold, where royalist/Norman forces were
captured, put in churches and burnt. It goes on to explain the rescue of
Richard’s wife by Miles of Gloucester, who Henry despises. He relates also
that he later became an Earl (not by hereditary right but by servility to
One thing to notice about the proportion of space our unknown
biographer gives in his account to affairs in Wales is that there seems too
much detail for a biographer of Stephen; but proportionate for someone
who is concerned with state affairs and the rebellion in Wales and would
probably be recounting much from memory about that time. But, more
importantly, attitudes are betrayed. The author of GS has been to Wales.
Anyway, Richard Fitz Gilbert’s brother is dispatched with an ‘immeasurable
sum of money’ to beat back the enemy; not the sort of detail Robert of Lewes
the overseer of Henry Blois’ huge architectural endeavour at Glastonbury
would know about.
I will include the last extract on Wales that the author of GS includes,
because it highlights several points about Henry. If one is careful to observe
William of Malmesbury, Antiquitates Glastoniensis. See chapter on abbot Herluin.
throughout the GS, Henry, in the third person, gives many instances of his
judicious council and therefore, when he is not mentioned explicitly, it
should be understood that it is him giving the council. He cannot outwardly
state in many situations it is him as the advisor, otherwise he would
uncover his authorship. But, to advise the King to leave the Welsh for the
moment and let them destroy themselves shows a good understanding of
the Welsh situation. Henry’s presence in Wales explains Henry’s knowledge
of Wales’ geography and topography found in the Arthuriad.
Throughout the GS there is continual remark or concern over the status
of a person’s nobility or birth. One could not be more illustrious in the
Norman pecking order than the grandson of William the Conqueror. The
reference to birth and nobility is simply not a recurrent observation
someone without nobility would concern himself; especially after just
referring to Richard Fitz Gilbert as a ‘man distinguished for his truly noble
Robert Fitz Harold, a man of very noble descent, was also dispatched to
subdue the Welsh, but in another direction; and there, after gaining many
glorious victories over the enemy, he impregnably fortified among them a
castle which at the time was almost unoccupied, and when he had carefully
garrisoned it with men prepared for any fate, he returned to England with a
small escort, after many notable exploits, to procure reinforcements. The
enemy, greatly encouraged by his absence and fearing his return, gathered in
one body, and when they had besieged his Castle for a very long time, since
the occupants were short of food and Robert could not bring aid soon enough
on account of the unbearable fury of their attack, at length they forced its
surrender and destroyed it. Therefore, when the Welsh were troubling the
land in this fashion, it seemed to the King that he was striving in vain, in vain
pouring out his vast treasure to reduce them to peace; and so, advised by
more judicious council, he preferred to endure their insolent rebellion for a
time, in order that, with fighting at a standstill and disagreement setting them
all at variance, they might either suffer a famine or turn on each other and be
exterminated by mutual slaughter. And indeed we have seen this happen in a
short while. For being continually occupied in slaughter and plunder
left the whole land so untouched by the plough and so empty of men that no
This same attitude to the Welsh (and Britons) is coincidentally held by ‘Geoffrey’ and by Merlin.
hope at all of the future livelihood remained, but worn out with plague and
hunger, after the death of the animals which followed on the plundering of
them, they themselves shared the same fate, since the air became pestilential
from the rotting bodies. These things which happened in Wales at different
times, I have brought together and dealt with briefly, that I might not have to
stray from the course of my narrative whenever some conspicuous event
required more adequate treatment in its proper place.
Henry then moves on from his account of Wales in GS and gives a loving
assessment of his brother’s character. Henry is concerned about his
brother’s well fare as he describes King Henry’s old stalwarts Miles of
Gloucester and Payne Fitz John…. (again, of low birth), being brought into
subjection. The author’s concern for the state of political affairs and certain
barons’ non-compliance to Stephen’s Kingship, comes across as a personal
affront also.
The Pillars of the church sat arranged according to rank, as the chief
leaders of the church held Council at London. A discussion of the state of
the church takes place where the faults in King Henry’s reign were now to
be rectified along the lines of what Stephen had agreed when Henry Blois
had manipulated the crown on his brother’s head. Henry had acted as
guarantor and had convinced William of Corbeil to crown Stephen under
oath about the restoration and maintenance of the freedom of the church.
The King listened to this patiently, freely granted them all their requests, and
gave orders that the freedom of the church should be firm and inviolable, its
laws valid and unshakeable, and that its servants of whatever profession or
order, should be treated with the utmost respect. And he would have kept
his word, had it not been that perverse councilors who sometimes lead a good
disposition astray… urged him to break these promises.
We can see what was agreed by Stephen’s charter at Oxford and Henry
Blois directly refers to the Beaumont twins’(perverse councillors) accusation
against Roger of Salisbury, Alexander, and Nigel. The Beaumont’s are
jealous of Henry Blois burgeoning power base and give advice to Stephen
which Henry disagrees with.
We then move on in the GS to Robert Bampton a Knight not of the lowest
birth who Henry had already, (even at the point being related in the GS),
What this actually means is that Henry dealt with this issue as it occurred in his diary because he was present
in Wales.
had problems with (as we related earlier) regarding when he was abbot of
Glastonbury. Robert Bampton was an Angevin supporter and was
summoned to court for rebellion and disloyalty and compelled to put his
Castle at the King's disposal and deliver all he possessed to his merciful
discretion. And this certainly was a just a provision and a very fitting
sentence, that he who from desire of other men's property had laid hand on
what was not his, should by a just decision of equity, lose what was his own.
The King was advised because needs so required to send the body of Knights
to take over his Castle accompanied by Robert himself. Vengeance indeed for
Henry and indicative of authorship should the reader still be in any doubt.
Anyway, on the way to Devon, Robert Bampton catches his escorts off guard
and when all had feasted lavishly at a splendid banquet and were buried,
stole away from them. Henry, because of his personal disputes with Robert
Bampton, is pleased to tell us of his dreadful death amongst strangers while
exiled in Scotland.
The next episode concerns Baldwin de Redvers, Exeter and Plympton
where, by the description, we know it is an eyewitness account of the sieges.
We know Henry Blois is at Exeter anyway. But we can deduce Henry is
writing the GS as it is him who comments on architecture throughout GS….
one of his great interests; and on his insight to military strategy and the use
of siege engines. But, how does the author know that the expenditure by the
King for the three months siege is fifteen thousand marks?.... unless he is
someone engrossed in affairs of state as the King’s brother would be. Why
would our anonymous author comment on someone’s eloquence? Certainly
someone would, whose own epitaph vainly likens himself to Cicero and
bequeaths Quintillian’s Institutio Oratoria to Glastonbury abbey. The three
month siege at Exeter in 1136 is coincidentally mentioned by Merlin in
Vulgate HRB prophecies
where the bull breaks it horns against the Walls
of Exonia.
At once two of them, the first in rank and dignity of the whole Castle, were
sent to the King, men already skilled to adorn their speech with charm and
give their words, whenever it suited them, the term that wisdom and elegance
‘Buried’ is Virgil’s word for inebriated. We know Henry starts the HRB where the Aeneid leaves off and
displays material that came from it. One could count this as coincidence, but when added to the ‘high tone’ in
other instances, the evidences mount up.
HRB. VII, iv
most required. But he, under the persuasion of his brother the Bishop of
Winchester's advice, showed them a front of iron, refused to listen to them,
and drove them from his presence with threats; for the Bishop, observing
their sagging and wasted skin, the look of torpor on their faces, drained of the
normal supply of blood, and their lips drawn back from gaping mouths,
perceived that they were suffering from agonies of thirst and that therefore it
was anything but wise to give them permission to leave the Castle, it being
certain that they would very soon surrender on whatever terms the besieger
Henry Blois betrays himself as a scheming strategist and what detail of
personal discomfiture of the besieged recalling facial details second hand
from the bishop. Henry then shows his pique at the other Barons who
persuaded the King to have pity on the occupants of the castle and
obviously thought it an error of judgment to let all these rebels free…. to
come again another day.
Baldwin de Redvers gathered new forces and went directly to the Isle of
Wight where Baldwin had a Castle… very finely built of stone and very
strongly fortified. And the King followed him, because the King had
anticipated his crafty design, left the Castle of Exeter together with the
neighbouring county in charge of the Bishop of Winchester and rapidly
followed Baldwin, to Southampton. Stephen defeats Baldwin who is forced
into exile. Baldwin goes over to Normandy and stirs up trouble for Stephen
over there, obviously complaining of his mistreatment to the Empress
Before coming to a section in the GS where pages in the manuscript are
missing, we hear: when the King had learnt more fully that these things were
happening in Normandy, he sent envoys across the sea for he could not go
there so quickly himself on account of the heavy burden of pressing affairs…
We know that one of those envoys was Henry where Orderic Vitalis
informs us Henry Blois: heard from weeping plaintiffs heartrending accounts
of the wicked crimes committed by traitors in that leap year,(1137) listened to
the woeful complaints of the terrible disturbances in Normandy, and was able
to see with his own eyes clear evidence of these things; burnt buildings
This essentially is the cause of Henry Blois being on location in Normandy in 1137 where he composes the
Primary Historia(the HRB found at Bec). Henry Blois was in essence the King’s envoy who, coincidentally, the
author of GS omits to name.
roofless and desecrated churches, devastated villages emptied of their
settlers, and people utterly destitute in the heart of their native land, since
they had been roughly deprived of everything they possessed and pillaged
with impunity by their own rulers as well as foreigners, and still struggled on
without the presence or protection of their rightful ruler to hearten them.
We then move on in GS to the siege of Bedford in 1138 where we know
from descriptions that Henry is there as an eyewitness to events. By this
time Henry Blois has already deposited the Primary Historia at Bec. Orderic
also says: Stephen was so indignant that he took arms unadvisedly against
the rebels and, against the advice of his brother Henry, bishop of Winchester,
laid siege to Bedford, but as it was the season of Christmas, and the winter
was very rainy, after great exertions he had no success ; indeed, the sons of
Robert de Beauchamp defended the place with great resolution, and until the
arrival of the bishop, the King's brother, rejected all terms of submission
to Stephen……At length, when five weeks after the bishop came to Bedford,
they submitted, and following his advice, which they thought good, and by his
help, they were reconciled to the King and surrendered the place.
Henry does not state in the GS that he negotiated the settlement whereby
a deal was struck by Miles and Henry that the castle went to Stephen and
the surrounding estates were left in the hands of the Beauchamp’s. Next in
GS we hear in 1138 (when Henry is back in England) of the effects of ash
making the sky red from some volcanic eruption. (Probably Eyjafjallajökull
or Grímsvötn in Iceland). Henry, (pandering to the superstitious portents
understood by his readers) seems to think the red sky an omen of what was
to come i.e. events in Northumbria with King David and the return of
As he does in his section on Wales, Henry launches into the Scottish
expedition and its causes, being very careful not to say that Matilda had
been disinherited, but that she had not received what her father had willed
and deprived of the Kingdom promised to her on oath by the barons. A
subtle nuance from a person who is wholly guilty of the said deed and in
said apologia. As we know, deals were struck by Stephen much against
Henry’s better judgment because Henry opines that the King of Scotland
Orderic Vitalis. VI, xiii, 479
breaks the deal three times in both the prophecy of Merlin found in the Vita
Merlini and here exposed like-mindedly in GS.
It is hard to say if Henry was present, in the north as much of the text is
again missing in GS and it is only from his description of the battlements
that we get a sense of his presence. But this description could have come
from Knights in the northern campaign
However, the King departs Scotland after the 1
treaty of Durham and
Stephen himself went west in an attempt to regain control of
Gloucestershire, first striking north into the Welsh Marches, taking
Hereford and Shrewsbury, before heading south to Bath. Stephen hears that
Bristol is being fortified with provisions for those committing against the
King. Our widely read author of GS cites its fortifications and situation
being similar to Brindisi from Lucan’s Pharsalia.
He goes on to describe
Bristol’s ideal military and commercial situation and the existing royalist
faction of Bath and the Bristolian Angevin forces. As the Royalists are
scouting Bath a hostage is caught, so the Angevin’s force presents itself at
Bath asking to see the Bishop of Bath who is duly kidnapped and used as
hostage in exchange. Henry knows the lay of the land in Bristol and Bath,
but we can identify Henry as the author by his outrage at the kidnapping
and treatment of the Bishop of Bath who is a personal friend.
At once they laid sacrilegious hands on the preacher of the gospel, the
ministrant at God's holy table, and the venerable sower of all men’s faith and
religion, the steward of the grain in the Lords Granary, who carries in his
breast the ark of God and the divine manna, they addressed with shameless
insult and threatened to hang unless he handed Geoffrey back to them. It
seems lame that the Bishop of Bath is postulated as the author of the GS.
Who would refer to himself as a simpleminded man who believes every
word? And if we did, he would hardly refer to himself as like another Jacob
who lived guilelessly at home.
In the next extract, from where does our author get his interest in
military stratagem and incisive engineering knowledge? Who would be
giving his brother advice and commenting on those opposing his good
We know that Henry Blois posing as ‘Geoffrey has read the Pharsalia as he twice quotes from it…. Once in a
sneer at Caesar and then actually naming Lucan. It is not impossible to conceive that Henry travelled there. He
may have heard of its fortifications from crusaders heading to the Holy land as it is an obvious embarkation port.
advice: urging in opposition that it was a waste of time and labour without
profit. This is Henry Blois speaking. He is annoyed that his ideas are not
being acted upon, in order that the siege might be continued. Don’t forget
these are details from a diary.
And then, going away towards the impostor Bristol, he led his army near
the town and when he called a council of war and asked his barons how he
could most effectively besiege it, by what engines he could put most weight
into an assault, by what means he could most readily bring it to submission,
he received differing and doubtful advice according as some obeyed him
loyally, others deceitfully.
Some recommended the throwing in of a huge
mass of rocks, beams, and turves at the point where the approach to the town
narrowed and the two sides nearly met, that with the mouth of the harbour
blocked the enemy might no longer get supplies from rowing boats, in which
they chiefly put their trust, and also the rivers that wash around the sides of
the town, as has been said, might be forced back with rising waters when
their current was checked, gathered into a lake broad and deep as a sea, and
immediately flood the town. They also approved the King’s building castles on
each side of the town to prevent the constant traffic both ways over bridges,
and of his keeping his army in front of the Earl’s Castle for some little time
and afflicting the inmates with hunger and many kinds of suffering. But
others and those especially who only pretend to serve the King and rather
favoured the Earl, made these men’s sound and acceptable council of no avail,
urging in opposition that it was a waste of time and labour without profit to
try to block up the unfathomable sea with masses of timber or stone, since it
was very clear that anything rolled in would either sink and be swallowed up
from the mere depth of the water or else be entirely washed away and
brought to nothing by strong flooding tides.
What Henry is intoning is that his engineering advice was been confuted
by devious advisors who did not have Stephen’s best advantage at heart.
Interestingly, when Henry wrote the prophecies of Merlin, he had foreseen
and designed such an engineering feat for Winchester involving the river
Itchen, (even though he calls it the Thames later in the updated squewed
edition to obfuscate), the renown of which would reach Rome; and we
This is not a clerical chronicler at work, but someone who fully understands the duplicity and deceit of certain
barons close to Stephen i.e. those especially who only pretend to serve the King and rather favoured the Earl
know the ‘Hedgehog hiding his apples’,
is the underground chamber in the
Cathedral that he excavated for viewing the saints relics: He shall add
thereunto a mighty palace, and wall it around with six hundred towers.
London shall behold it with envy and trebly increase her walls. The Thames
river shall compass her round on every side, and the report of that work shall
pass beyond the Alps. Within her shall the Hedgehog hide his apples and shall
devise ways under-ground.
Three fountains shall well forth in the city of Winchester, whereof the
streams shall dispart the island into three portions.
It is a strange coincidence that tradition says it was the Bishop of
Winchester that is said to have devised a grand plan for improving the
trade both of Winchester and Alresford by the construction of a
"navigation" on the river Alre
and Itchen. Alresford Pond was started by
Henry as the prophecy predicts and constructed in order to create a head of
water for a canal. This canal is supposed to have run from Alresford Pond
to Winchester. It is said to have been constructed on the orders of the
Bishop of Winchester. Henry was an engineer in many respects seen in the
arrangements for a water supply at his palaces. Gerald of Wales noted his
creation of ponds, aqueducts and fountains at Wolvesey palace.
Anyway, I just mention this to show that our author of GS is telling us
that similar engineering feats were being posited as a solution to overcome
Bristol. One must ask how is it that our author of GS understands that the
engineering dam idea has any veracity as opposed to the deceitful advice of
other advisors?
Once the Bristol episode in the GS is over, we move to Castle Cary which
Stephen also besieges and then moves onto Harptree where we hear that;
had it not been suggested to him by the advice of wise men that this Castle too
he could most conveniently treat in check by the soldiers he had left at Bath….
The point is that the person relaying the GS also gives account from the
route down to Bristol and what happened at Harptree on the way; so it
Henry knows he has built the subterranean passage under Winchester cathedral and plays on the word hericius
for Henricus. Some translators trying to make sense of the passage have translated: It shall be rebuilt by Eric,
loaden with apples
In some texts it has Fons Annae and we know the camp of Venus (which will be renewed) is Winchester after
Henrys reconstruction.Thus we can speculate that Henry had plans for the three springs appearing in
Winchester, one of which was to be navigable to Hamos port which is Southampton.
would hardly be the Bishop of Bristol who was earlier castigated by the
King for exchanging Geoffrey, before he arrived at Bath. He must have been
en-route with the King’s forces down to Bristol and Bath. Henry Blois is
purposely disguising himself as the author. It is the same tactic used for
disguising himself as Geoffrey of Monmouth.
Potter and Davis state, while trying to discover who the mysterious
author might be: the author writes like an underling but as a man of stature
and pronounces moral judgements as if his opinion were one that
mattered…and his learning is such that it must surely have marked him for
promotion at any rate in the eyes of Henry Blois… Our author pretends to be
an underling and is a man who hears and sees much of what the King sees
and is in audience to hear opinions. Scholars seem to possess an ineptitude
which, they, by their naivety, conceal the very thing they wish to elucidate
or expose.
The Bishop of Winchester at this stage is eager to see Stephen’s reign
flourish, but next, Henry Blois opines in the GS that Stephen had to deal
with various anxieties and tasks of many kinds which continually dragged
him hither and thither all over England. It was like what we read of the fabled
hydra of Hercules; when one head was cut off two or more grew in its place.
That is precisely what we must feel about King Stephen's labours, because
when one was finished others more burdensome kept on taking its place
without end and like another Hercules he always girded himself bravely and
unconquerably to endure each.
Our cleric (for it is obvious the author is a churchman) has studied Greek
Mythology; but we know Henry has read Orosius, Suetonius, Silius Italicus ,
Horace, Livy, Virgil, Ovid, Statius, Quintillian, Plato, Aristotle, Sallust, to
name but a mere few of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s classical sources. Henry
Blois then mentions in the GS, Alexander’s wondrous battles against
foreigners. It is a strange coincidence that quite a few old HRB manuscripts
have the Epistola Alexandri ad Aristotelum with them.
Following on, the GS continues: but you will find King Stephen's
afflictions and struggles many times as great and far heavier to bear, and of
course all the more grievous in that they were brought on him by servants
from his own country and vassals bound to him by oath. For that the
persecution of friends and countrymen is wont to be more painful and more
bitter the Lord bears witness, complaining of him that ate his bread and yet
raised his heel against him more than he complains of others. Hence he says
elsewhere ‘a man's foes shall be they of his own household’. For that reason
too some philosopher says ‘there is no plague more deadly than an enemy
under your own roof’. Then let him who wishes to read and know wondrous
things hearken and learn more fully the story laid before him.
The Philosopher is Boethius and the quote from the Consolation of
Philosophy which again shows Henry Blois’ wide array of reading.
Unfortunately we will never know just how the election of Theobald of Bec
was covered by Henry Blois as more pages are missing from the GS. It
almost seems that anything that could definitively confirm for us that
Henry is the author is on a missing page. Anyway, one can certainly
ascertain where the narrative is heading before going blank as we are
warned of propitious events concerning what most likely would have been
in progression the double dealing of Stephen, who denies Henry Blois his
goal of the Archbishopric of Canterbury…. and then Henry’s reaction to it.
However, it is plainly stated elsewhere that God’s judgement rested on
Stephen. Henry Blois in his own mind and as the author of the GS puts it
down to two incidents; his own rebuff concerning Canterbury, (considering
he had put the crown on Stephen’s head) and the fact Stephen had broken
canon law in arresting the Bishops after swearing to maintain the freedom
of the Church.
The whole affair is very complex and William of Malmesbury gives a
concise account of how the arrests took place and of the council at
Winchester which transpired afterward. The problem is that Henry can see
both sides of the argument and could possibly envisage that Roger,
Alexander and Nigel castles could be transferred to increase Matilda’s
powerbase. However, it was the abuse to the church which riled Henry
Blois after his brother had given oath to maintain the freedom of the
Church. At Devizes, we again see the author commenting on construction: a
Castle of the Bishop of Salisbury, constructed with wonderful skill and
impregnable fortifications.
Henry as Legate summoned King Stephen and Churchmen to
Winchester. Henry’s complaint was that the church should be able to judge
and hand out justice if Roger, Alexander and Nigel were guilty under canon
law, rather than the King’s swift justice. Henry is in quite a tricky position
throughout this whole affair as he too is implicated when the Bishop of
Rouen clarifies the point concerning churchmen owning castles. Henry was
definitely allied and behind Stephen to this point in Stephen’s reign, but it is
here he sees that his brother listening to bad advice has made a large
blunder to which he personally has taken great offence.
For to do one in the sight of men is acknowledged to be a great
transgression; to bring the other to pass is considered, and really is, a
monstrous sin against God himself. Hence also the Lord says in the words of
the prophet, ’he that touches you, touches the apple of mine eye’. And in the
gospel ‘he that despiseth you despiseth me’. And to inflict dishonour so rashly
and recklessly, or dishonourable extortion, on the ministrants at the holy
altar he thus forbids them in the words of the prophet saying ’touch not mine
anointed’. For my part, I proclaimed firmly and boldly that God himself
cannot be more swiftly or more grievously offended by anything than by any
man's offence, in word or deed, to those appointed to serve at his table. Just
listen to this man’s high tone in castigating a King (or rather a brother).
In the GS it is a remarkable fact that the Bishop of Winchester is not
mentioned in this affair and the council which followed at Winchester
becomes a council was held in England. This was the turning point of
Stephen’s reign and the part Henry Blois played was strictly centre stage
much as William of Malmesbury relates it in HN. It becomes obvious that if
this were a chaplain of Henry Blois or even the Bishop of Bath as author,
they both would have at least mentioned Henry Blois or the Bishop of
Winchester or the Legate’s involvement. Henry hiding his authorship is
plainly the reason the chief judge of these affairs is not mentioned by name.
The GS downplays Henry Blois’s part firstly, because, at the council it is
plainly seen in William’s Historia Novella account of the same events that it
is Henry himself who is the main force in bringing his brother to book.
Secondly, if he were to vent his opinions and rationale concerning the
arrests, suspicion of authorship would fall on him because all of those
opinions are stated clearly in the Historia Novella to have been expounded
by Henry and GS is written afterward.
Now, the reader may well think what difference does it make if Henry
did write the GS. Well, if you can write one book you can write others and
this is not something that Henry wishes others to consider. How then may
we rationalise his self-professed epitaph on the Meusan plate that an
‘author is greater than art or jewels,’ unless he sees himself as a great author
and understands (like the classics) the benefit and beauty of well written
literature surpassing the less transmittable forms of art which degrade with
time. Henry is the author of the greatest contemporaneous book which has
affected the outlook on British history i.e. HRB. This is the reason for his
statement on the epitaph which we will investigate shortly.
However, Henry can be seen trying to find a solution to the
disagreement by offering advice to the three bishops to hand over their
castles to the King. Henry owning more castles than any other bishop is
morally compromised, yet it is not he who is being accused.……and even to
peril of death unless they put at the King's disposal the castles they had built
with so much care and regarded with so much affection. However by advice of
their friends, (for they still had some in the gathering at court, though very
few) they were persuaded and firmly convinced that they must get their
release from the dishonourable arrest under which they were kept and
entirely satisfy the King’s wishes, especially as what belongs to Caesar must
be rendered unto Caesar, and there is nothing that should be taken in
exchange for a man's soul.
There is a sharp contradiction between Malmesbury’s HN account and
the GS account which is only reconcilable if indeed the author of GS was
Henry Blois.
William of Malmesbury states: however the legate and the Archbishop
did not fail to pursue the course that their duty prescribed for they fell as
supplicants at the Kings feet in his room and begged him to take pity on the
church, pity on his soul and reputation, and not suffer a divorce to be made
between the monarchy and the clergy. Though he rose respectfully and
removed the stigma that their act had laid on him, yet taken up with the
advice of wicked men, he showed no fulfilment of righteous promises.
In the GS account written by Henry Blois we have a stark contrast in
outcome: but because it was justly decided and judiciously determined by all
the clergy that on no grounds could he lay hands on the Lord's anointed, he
softened the harshness of the church's severity by a humble submission, and
putting aside his Royal garb, groaning in spirit and with a contrite heart, he
humbly accepted the penance enjoined for his fault.
There can only be two reasons for the GS’s disagreement with William’s
account. Either the King privately (in his room) humbly accepted his
wrongdoing in front of Theobald and Henry or Henry as the writer of the
GS, after his brother’s death, glosses over his intractability. Considering
Henry Blois’ change of allegiance, it is probably the latter. However, there is
one more consideration to take into account. If Roger’s castles were seized,
how did Kidwelly Castle (Lidelea) come into Henry Blois’ possession, a point
we shall cover in due course.
But, one point to make is that Henry Blois
himself was suspicious of Roger and his relatives always being surrounded
by guards before the arrest: And because he (Roger) hoped that their
(Matilda’s) arrival in England would be soon, according to frequent messages
they had sent from Normandy, everywhere he went and especially to the
Kings Court, he was encircled by a large and numerous bodyguard of troops,
on pretence that he was leading them to help the King; he added to his retinue
a great and surprising number of friends, that he might both please the King
in the meantime on this account and at once be ready to aid if they arrive,
those to whom he granted a more cordial and willing obedience.
We can witness a lovely foray into irony as Henry Blois pretends a
distanced analysis of the taking of the Bishops castles: so when these things
had in this manner been fulfilled, we wonder at the surprising good fortune
that was the Kings lot, in as much as after he had drained his own treasuries
almost to exhaustion to protect the Kingdom, he suddenly came to enjoy the
fruits of others toils, and what had been stored up in the castles for his own
injury and damage, as was reported, was given up for his honour and profit
alone without any toil at all on his part.
Anyway, the outcome of the whole affair was that the three most
powerful clergy (bishop knights) had submitted their castles to Stephen
along with their wealth while Henry Blois as chief hypocrite kept all of his
and may well have gained one of Roger’s. From this episode in GS, after a
brief discourse on events in Devon and Somerset, we move on to the arrival
of Matilda and Robert of Gloucester at Arundel (the beginning of the
Anarchy proper).
Robert had left during the night and was on his way to Bristol Castle to
garner support and the King was dividing his troops. One lot stayed to
ensure Matilda remained within the castle as the King with his other troops
pursued Robert: But, since he was far from achieving his desire (for the Earl
It should also be noted that at the time of writing the GS, Henry had administered for a time the bishopric of
Salisbury and may well have transferred Lidelea to be the possession of the Bishop of Winchester
had not gone by the main road but by a hidden by-way), he turned hastily
back to besiege those who had withdrawn into the Castle. The Bishop of
Winchester, on hearing of their arrival, at once had all the by-roads blocked
by guards, and at length met the Earl, it was rumoured, and after a compact
of peace and friendship had been firmly ratified between them let him go
unharmed. This was the popular report, but in every man of right feeling it
must be doubtful, or rather quite incredible, that a brother should greet the
invader of his brother's Kingdom with a kiss and let him go uninjured from
his sight to rouse the Kingdom to more violent rebellion against his brother.
So the Bishop, as though he had not caught up with the earl, came to the King
with a large bodyguard of cavalry. On observing that the King was
determined to prosecute the siege he (Henry) said that the plan was useless
and unacceptable both to the King himself and to the Kingdom. For if he were
preparing to besiege the Countess of Anjou in one part the Kingdom, her
brother would immediately rise up and disturb the Kingdom in another; and
so it was wiser for the King himself and more beneficial to the Kingdom to let
her go to her brother unharmed, that when both with their forces had been
brought into one place he might more easily devote himself to shattering their
enterprise and might more quickly arrive with all his forces for a heavier
attack. So when an agreement had been made and a truce accepted under
sanction of an oath he let the Countess go away to her brother, feeling sure he
could overcome them the more freely in as much as both were being brought
into one part of the country.
This extract establishes for posterity two things. It counteracts the
contemporary accusation of a duplicitous Henry, but it does not deny the
meeting between Robert of Gloucester and Henry Blois (which was common
knowledge) and could not be denied even in this GS apologia. Our author is
keen to establish that the bishop of Winchester is not accounted duplicitous.
It is made to appear as if it were not so much a meeting by arrangement but
by Henry having blocked the roads appearing to act for his brother. It
portrays Henry not as a turncoat but a smart strategist genuinely concerned
still for his brother’s welfare. It provides a rationale for what was a
contemporary accusation against Henry’s betrayal of his brother and his
duplicity. Many considered him the main instigator and manipulator of
affairs. Some, later, even accused Henry of being in touch with Robert and
Matilda prior to their landing in England, corresponding secretly.
However, it will have come out into the public domain of court gossip
that the meeting took place and many wondered at why Henry made no
mention of it to his brother on arrival at Arundel.
The wording, ‘as though
he had not caught up with the earl’ is included as part of the narrative
because it was common knowledge. It was known (or latterly discovered)
that having met Robert, Henry had said nothing to his brother. This
probably became common knowledge to both sides when both Robert and
the King became prisoners later on. Don’t forget, Henry was now Legate
and had been dealt a blow by his brother in being passed over as
Archbishop of Canterbury.
The point is skirted over and made to appear in the GS as if it were part
of the plan that both Matilda and Robert were to be brought together at
Bristol for Stephens advantage…. as it was also known that it was on
Henry’s advice that Matilda was escorted by himself to Bristol to join her
brother Robert. Now, it is a very difficult to divine at which point Henry’s
allegiance changed as GS emphatically denies it did. Was it when his
brother was imprisoned and expediency dictated a change of sides or was it
before, as many accused him of corresponding with Robert and the
Empress prior to their arrival? William of Malmesbury relates in HN: the
‘witness in the council accuses Henry and that Henry Blois cool lack of
response to the witness was anything but a denial.
Whatever the answer, the GS acts as a polemical apologia against the
proposition of his ever having changed sides before his brother was
captured at Lincoln. However, given that Henry Blois was snubbed by King
and Queen in his wish to be archbishop and he had witnessed his brother’s
capacity to turn on the Bishop Knights who were possessors of Castles….
there could be some truth to the proposition that he encouraged Matilda to
come. But, had it not been for the episode at Ely where the writer of the GS
is definitely present siding with the king…. there would be no
Historians are uncertain as to why the Empress was released, but we can safely say that it was the persuasive
influence of Henry Blois who was secretly siding with the Empress. The persuasion was easy as Arundel Castle
was considered almost impregnable…. so why would Stephen risk tying up his army in the south whilst Robert
roamed freely garnering support in the west. Stephen may also have released Matilda out of a sense of chivalry.
Henry Blois himself relates that his brother’s sense of Chivalry was his undoing. This is especially evident in the
three times he allowed King David of Scotland to break a deal without learning from the previous two times.
This affected Henry so much it was even included in the prophecies of VM. Stephen had a generous, courteous
personality and women in general were not normally expected to be targeted in Anglo-Norman warfare. Hence,
Henry Blois escorted her as was promised by him at the secret meeting with Robert earlier.
discrepancy… long as the GS is understood in part, to be an apologia for
Henry. It becomes clear why the narrative passage was constructed in this
way. Of course the usual obfuscation is continued throughout the GS as
things are ‘reported’ or as it was ‘rumoured’, ‘so it is said’, or ‘they say
that’… etc.
The GS continues with exploits at several castles such as Wallingford and
Henry opines in several places the distress Stephen goes through, but
always expresses it as God’s will in payment for his actions. We then get to
the point in GS where Roger, Bishop of Salisbury dies and Stephen
appropriates several treasures. As we know, Henry Blois is a lover of art
and comments on the pieces he has obviously seen, that his brother has
appropriated: He left Salisbury Cathedral a countless quantity of money, and
likewise a great many vessels of hammered goldsmithswork, some of silver,
some of gold, artistically and splendidly engraved. All these fell into the King's
hands, with the approval indeed by the voluntary offer of the canons
Henry goes on to say the money was spent on good deeds for various
religious institutions. But, Henry does not relate about his efforts to install
his eldest brother’s son Henry De Sully into the bishopric of Salisbury
against Waleran of Meulan’s protégé Philip d’Harcourt.
We now arrive at the passage in the GS where Nigel decides to take
revenge against Stephen where he abandons the weapons of the gospel and
the discipline of the Church militant, he put on the man of blood and after
hiring in Ely, at his own expense, knights….he holed up there:
Now Ely is an agreeable island, large and thickly inhabited, rich in land
that is fertile and fit for pasture, impenetrably surrounded on all sides by
bogland and fens, accessible only in one place, where a very narrow track
affords the scantiest of entries to the island and Castle, wondrously set, long
since, right in the water in the middle of the opening of the track, makes one
impregnable castle of the whole island. The King then on hearing the truth
about the bishops beginning a rebellion, hastily arrived there with a large
army, and after examining the wonderful and unconquerable
fortification in place, he anxiously consulted a number of persons about the
means of breaking in with his men. When at length advice was given and
approved that he should collect a quantity of boats at a place where the water
surrounded the island seemed to be less wide, place them broadside on, and
build a bridge over them to the shores of the islands with a foundation of
hurdles laid lengthwise, the King was much delighted and ordered the work to
be speedily done; and when at length a bridge had been skilfully constructed
in this way over the boats, he and his men quickly came to the shores of the
island beyond. But when the water had been crossed by this device there still
remained muddy fens, in which a shallow ford suitable for crossing, was
secretly shown to the King. They say that a monk who knew the district of
Ely very well, both gave the advice about crossing the water and acted as
guide, as well as informant, in the showing of the ford among the fens. We
have seen him afterwards in recognition of this service, inducted into a
church not by Peter’s key but rather by Simon's, and given the title of Abbot of
Ramsay, and we know that afterwards, on account of this unjust induction
into a church, he endured many toils and afflictions through God's just
judgement on what he did in secret.
It would be incredible to think that someone who had such inside
knowledge or able to give such detail was not present. Not only is the
location perfectly described, but as always, through the eyes of a military
tactician/engineer…. taking into account a location’s defences and how it
might be assailed or assaulted. As we have discussed, advice when
mentioned in GS is usually that which has emanated from Henry Blois. At
length, it will be him that comes up with the solution, but to avoid future
accusation of a churchman laying siege to another, he piles all the blame on
Daniel the monk from Peterborough, the future abbot of Ramsey. I cannot
say one way or another whether Daniel himself was present, but it makes
no difference to Henry because at the time of writing the GS the abbot is
dead. Even if Daniel did show them a path through the fens…. to avoid
accusation, Henry implies that the whole feat (including the engineering of
a bridge), which the author explains in fine detail…. rests entirely on the
monk. It seems extraordinary that detail such as the hurdles being laid
lengthwise should be recounted by anyone else but an eyewitness.
At this time Nigel had fallen foul of both Henry and Stephen and as he
escaped to the receptacle of filth’ known as Bristol, Geoffrey de Mandeville
remained at Ely opposing them. This is a good indication of Henry’s guile
and shows how he is able to construct the GS so as to appear that the book
and its subject matter is about the ‘acts of Stephen’, while at the same time
polishing for posterity his role in the Anarchy.
There follows several incidents in the southwest involving Robert of
Gloucester and Stephen and the taking of Devizes by Robert Fitz Hubert and
events involving Geoffrey Talbot. As always, judgement by the author is
from God and the author knows his bible. Henry decides not to mention his
attempts as mediator as related by William of Malmesbury. To do so would
draw attention to himself and his role.
As we pass through the battle of Lincoln in the GS where Stephen is
captured and his subsequent imprisonment at Bristol, Henry manages his
best retrospective gloss implying his hands were clean of any connivance in
his brother’s capture, but as always puffed up by his vanity. The passage
portrays his blameless expediency in reacting to events. It basically paints
his actions as a man taking advice to make a pact; always with the intention
(given the right moment) to revert his allegiance back to his brother. We
can see later that it was probably just his revulsion to how he was treated
by the Empress, which caused him to manipulate events that were the
cause of her having to flee from London.
I believe, if Matilda had not acted haughtily to Henry and with
deference, Henry might not have reacted to the appeals from Stephen’s wife
to help his brother.
For those who know how events turned out in
posterity, the GS portrays a scenario of a man pressed by the turn of events,
who by expediency had to comply in co-operating with Matilda. The GS
gives the impression that Henry had the intention of reverting sides back to
Stephen given the right opportunity and thus he is portraying for posterity
his unwavering allegiance except by duplicity.
The truth of the matter is that Henry swapped sides to have what he
thought would be total control over the English church. Matilda turned out
to be a disagreeable choice and he reverted back to his brother’s side as the
lesser of the two evils… probably not on the Queen’s request but by rallying
support of the Queen (Stephen’s wife) to turn the tide of events back to his
own favour playing both sides. hoping to escape his demeaning position
under the Empress.
In fact, William Newburgh implies it was Henry who started the siege because he had had enough of the
Empress Matilda. After stating Henry Blois was inordinately fond of money, he states: In order to raise the
siege, he summoned from Kent (the only area unaffected by reason of the King’s calamity) William of Ypres and
the Queen and from other districts numerous individuals who were irritated by the disdainful tyranny of the
woman. After he had amassed massive forces…..
She was advised to win the attachment of Henry bishop of Winchester, the
Kings brother, because he was reckoned to surpass all the great men of
England in judgement and wisdom and to be their superior in virtue and
wealth; for, she was told, if he were willing to favour her party he must be
honoured and made her first councillor, but if he showed himself in any way
hostile and rebellious the whole armed force of England must be sent against
him. The Bishop was in a quandary; on the one hand it was most difficult
to support the Kings cause and restore it to its former flourishing condition,
above all because he had not provisioned or garrisoned his Castles well
enough, on the other it appeared to him a dreadful thing and unseemly in the
sight of men to yield so suddenly to his brother's foes while that brother was
still alive. So he was in bewilderment and dragged this way and that by
different hooks, until, strengthened by more acceptable advice, he resolved
to make a pact of peace and friendship with his enemies for a time, that
with peace thus assured to him and his, he might quietly watch the
inclinations of the Kingdom and how they were displayed and might rise more
briskly and with less hindrance to assist his brother if the chance were
offered. So when they had jointly made a pact of peace and concord he came
to meet her in cordial fashion and admitted her into the city of Winchester,
and after handing over to her disposal the King’s Castle and the Royal crown,
which she had always most eagerly desired, and the treasure the King
had left there, though it was very scanty, he bade the people, at a public
meeting in the marketplace of the town, salute her as their lady and their
Henry Blois alludes to Matilda’s parade in Winchester as if by public
meeting all decided to salute their Lady. No mention of his own
machinations in the Chapter house where the council took place. The ‘Deeds
of Stephen’ professes to be a book about King Stephen, but Stephen is the
glue around which Henry splices in his polemically slanted apologia
concerning himself. It is remarkable how our author glosses over the
defining moment of the whole period; the events which were going to
decide Stephens fate at the council of Winchester on the 7
of April 1141.
Now, if our author were anybody else except Henry Blois, it seems more
than likely that even a cursory précis of events would have been recorded.
The reason they are not is obvious. Luckily, we have William of
Malmesbury’s account which clearly indicates that Henry’s allegiance had
changed. This is the one event whereby the illusion of never having
changed sides (the case presented in the GS) would uncover his duplicity.
Henry skirts round the implications of the council, otherwise his carefully
crafted apologia put forward in GS is contradicted. We know this by the
declaration he made there. Up until these statements were made, secret
conclaves had been held among the clergy by Henry and it seems as if
Henry was seeing which way the wind blew before openly coming down on
one side of the fence or the other. Obviously, all the clergy thought it
prudent to side with the Empress Matilda.
William of Malmesbury relates by narration and quotation an un-
airbrushed version of what was openly declared by Henry. This runs
contrary to the position Henry himself paints in GS. William of Malmesbury
records what plainly is a duplicitous piece of oratory, saying the Legate’s
speech was much to this effect: That by appointment of the pope he (Henry
Blois) took his place in England and it was therefore by the pope’s authority
that the clergy of England were gathered in this council to discuss the peace of
the country, which was suffering a very perilous shipwreck. In the time of
King Henry, his uncle, England had been the peculiar habitation of peace, so
that through the activity, spirit and vigour of that pre-eminent man, not only
did the natives, whatever their power or position, not venture to create any
disturbance but likewise all the neighbouring Kings and princes, following his
example, both inclined to peace themselves and invited or forced their
subjects to it. That King, some years before his death had had the whole
Kingdom of England and also the Duchy of Normandy confirmed on oath by
all the Bishops and barons to his, formally Empress, his only surviving
offspring by his first wife, if he failed of a male successor by his wife from
Lorraine. ’And cruel fortunehe said, (Henry Blois) ’showed a grudge against
my preeminent uncle, so that he died in Normandy without a male heir.
Therefore, because it seemed tedious to wait for the lady
, who made
delays in coming to England since her residence was Normandy, thought was
taken for peace of the country and my brother allowed to reign. But though I
made myself a guarantor between him and God that he would honour and
exalt holy church, maintain good laws and repeal bad ones, I am vexed to
remember and ashamed to tell what manner of man he showed himself as
Henry actually borrows this expression from William of Malmesbury and inserts it in GS.
King, how no justice was enforced upon transgressors, peace at once brought
entirely to an end, almost in that very year, bishops arrested and
compelled to surrender their property, abbacies sold and churches
despoiled of their treasure, the advice of the wicked hearkened to, that of
the good either not put into effect or altogether disregarded. You know how
often I made application to him, sometimes personally and sometimes
through the bishops, especially when I called a Council for this purpose in the
year mentioned before and again nothing but hatred. And if anyone will
consider the matter aright he cannot be unaware that while I should love my
mortal brother I should esteem far more highly the cause of my immortal
father. Therefore since God has executed his judgement on my brother in
allowing him to fall into the power of the strong without my knowledge that
the Kingdom may not totter without a ruler I have invited you all to meet here
in virtue of my position as Legate. The case was discussed in secret yesterday
before the chief part of the clergy of England, whose special prerogative it
is to choose and consecrate a Prince. Therefore, first, as is fitting, calling
God to our aid, we choose as lady of England and Normandy the
daughter of a King who was a peacemaker, a glorious King, a wealthy King,
the good King, without peer in our time, and we promise her faith and
William says there was discreet applause or some acquiesced to what
was said by their silence. I am sure many were stunned at his duplicity.
Henry Blois as orator had taken the moral high ground saying he was
ashamed of his brother’s behaviour against the church. This is not someone
who is quietly watching the inclinations of the Kingdom as is stated in the
GS; this is the powerbroker, the shaker and mover of the Kingdom and he
has declared for the Empress.
Everyone in the secret conclaves and in the
council knew that Henry openly declared for Matilda…. all contemporaries
knew this fact. Why is it that mention of the council of Winchester and
Henry’s position as turncoat is avoided in GS? Why is the impression given
in GS of Henry’s undivided support for his brother? It is simply because
Henry (as author) did not want to go down in history as the primordial
instigator of the Anarchy in facilitating the crowning of his brother and as
HN. Potter. p. 52-54, chap 493
This is vainly expressed in his own self written epitaph found on the Meusan plates: lest England groan for it,
since on him it depends for peace or war, agitation or rest.
the continuator of it having changed his allegiance back…. albeit with a
push from his brother’s wife.
If the Empress had not disrespected Henry and broken her word to him
and begun to be arbitrary and headstrong as the GS puts it, the crown
would have been on the Empress’s head. The trouble was that Henry, (the
King and Queen ‘maker or breaker’) eventually decided he was better off
before as the King’s brother and would have more chance of accomplishing
a Gregorian state and his own personal ambitions through his brother. If
his brother was eventually released by Henry’s doing, his power would be
restored and the king would be indebted. He was also offered the propitious
momentum to reverse the situation by the rebellion of the Londoners,
which was most undoubtedly brought about by Henry Blois’s interference.
No one should be fooled by Henry Blois or underestimate his ability. He
was indeed a complex man. Henry was a supremely able financier and
administrator. As a builder, art patron, connoisseur and collector of
antiques, he was without rival in his age. The hangover of a proper
cloistered education lingered into an unshakable belief in God and zest for
the church as equal to state; but Henry’s faith was undoubtedly not in its
purest form…. as his ability to lie and manoeuvre and create fraudulent
tracts has little to do with God’s true ministers. His accusations against
greed, witnessed in the GS, against William of Corbeil, Roger, Alexander etc.
was a hypocrisy blinded by his own narcissism and he was fully culpable
himself. His obsession with art and his building projects required wealth
and he freely admits his wealth in the GS, but it is not until his back is
against the wall, when his brother dies, that his own obedience to mammon
is displayed as he transfers his movable wealth abroad.
We can see the reasons in this next extract for the reversal of fortunes of
the Empress. The bishop of Winchester’s pique is obvious, but Henry
cleverly shows that it was not his personal feelings that were offended but
also those of her most ardent allies. The sense implies that the mood of the
country as a whole was for change back to Stephen…. Since Matilda’s true
character was discovered. It may be more to do with Henry’s Machiavellian
orchestration of events to fulfil his own desires. Since both Robert of
Gloucester and King David were dead at the time of writing the GS, this
assertion could be made freely that they were of the same inclination
against the Empress. William of Malmesbury directly confutes this assertion
by stating: her brother Robert, constantly with her, increased her prestige in
every fitting way, by speaking affably to the chief men…
It must not be forgotten, our author likens himself to Cicero; he has
studied oratory arts and rhetoric and is a manipulator not only of events,
but words. The GS continues: Then she, on being raised with such splendour
and distinction to this pre-eminent position, began to be arbitrary, and rather
headstrong, in all that she did. Some former adherents of the King, who had
agreed to submit themselves and what was theirs to her, she received
ungraciously and at times with unconcealed annoyance, others she drove
from her presence in fury after insulting and threatening them. By reckless
innovations she lessened or took away possessions and lands of some, held on
a grant from the King, while the fees and honours of the very few who still
adhered to the King she confiscated altogether and granted to others; she
arbitrarily annulled any grant fixed by the King's royal decree, she hastily
snatched away and conferred on her own followers anything he had given in
unshakeable perpetuity to churches or to his comrades in arms. What was a
sign of extreme haughtiness and insolence, when the King of Scotland and the
Bishop of Winchester and her brother, the Earl of Gloucester, the chief men
of the whole Kingdom, whom she was then taking around with her as a
permanent retinue, came before her with bended knees to make some request,
she did not rise respectfully, as she should have, when they bowed before
her, or agree to what they asked, but repeatedly sent them away with
contumely, rebuffing them by an arrogant answer and refusing to hearken to
their words; and by this time she no longer relied on their advice, and she
should have,(could this be any other than the opinion of Henry Blois)….
and had promised them, but arranged everything as she herself thought fit
and according to her own arbitrary will. The Bishop of Winchester, seeing
these things done without his approval, and a good many others without
his advice, was sufficiently vexed and irritated, yet he disguised all his feelings
with caution and craft, and watched silently to see what end such beginning
would have.
What we should ask is: how is it that our author is encamped so closely
to Stephen in one instance and somehow ingratiates himself
instantaneously into Matilda’s court. The GS acts as an apologia for Henry
Blois portraying continuous commitment to his brother. He makes out that
any change of side was not of his own will but under compulsion by the
turn of events.
What we hear from William of Malmesbury is entirely different. Henry
had in fact from the beginning (when escorting Matilda from Arundel) been
confederate to her cause and a witness attests to this in court to a red faced
Henry Blois.
I do not say that these words of the Legate were gladly received by all, but
certainly no-one confuted them; all the clergy bridled their lips from fear or
respect. There was one layman, an envoy from the Empress, who publically
contradicted the Legate, by the pledge he had given to the Empress, to make
any decision in that council to prejudice her position, saying he (Henry) had
given her his pledge, not to aid his brother in any way, unless perchance he
sent him twenty knights, but no more. Her own coming to England had
been caused by frequent letters from him; the King’s capture and
imprisonment were mainly due to his connivance. The envoy said this and a
great deal more in very harsh terms without any attempt to appease the
Legate, but the latter could not be induced by any severity of language to
betray anger, being as I said before, a man not slow to carry out what he had
once taken in hand.
Having written a flattering dedicatory piece in the prologue of DA in
1134, William of Mamesbury is quite aware of what Henry Blois is
capable…. and how his lust for power has changed him since his brother
became King. Are we in any doubt as to William’s evidence? He certainly
knows the true nature of Henry Blois. Now we can understand why the GS
was written. William even knows the inconsequential details concerning
the twenty knights; so the truth about what was implied earlier in GS…. by
Henry having met Robert of Gloucester on the road, yet pretending to offer
his brother good advice, is blatantly confirmed as a duplicitous lie. Here it
is confirmed that Henry was confederate with Matilda.
Henry may be implicated in the capture of his brother by conveying
intelligence of his movements as is implied by William. It is only because of
William of Malmesbury’s HN, Potter p.6. William having known Henry at Glastonbury is fully aware of his
duplicitous position, especially as the witness for the Empress laid bare his double-dealings against his brother. I
doubt the accusation of connivance in the capture of Stephen as related in Malmesburys HN by the witness is
untrue. This makes Henry Blois a truly Machiavellian character in his pursuit of power, but also shows the guile
in the production of a book which for posterity puts the gloss on his character defects as presented here in the GS
Henry’s revulsion at Matilda’s haughtiness that he decides to back the lesser
of two evils i.e. his brother. It is only when everyone finds out his duplicity
in hedging his bets (and the truth comes out) that Henry tries to square
events by picking certain points which could rationalise his actions.
The way the facts are presented imply that never at any stage has
Henry’s allegiance changed. This is simply not true. Again William of
Malmesbury states that Henry who had adjourned proceedings while
waiting for the contingent to arrive from London states: The Londoners
came on the Wednesday and, on being introduced into the council, pleaded
their cause to the extent of saying they had been sent by what is called the
commune of London and brought not contentiousness, but a request for the
freeing of their Lord the King from captivity. All the barons who had earlier
been received into their commune were urgent in demanding this from the
Lord Legate, the Archbishop and all the clergy who were present. The legate
answered them at length and with eloquence and made the same
speech as the day before in opposition to what they asked. Moreover, he
added it was not fitting that the Londoners, who held a special position of
superiority in England, should give comfort to those who had abandoned their
Lord in war, by whose advice he had dishonoured holy church…
William is here showing the true course of events. Henry was in
opposition to his brother and had sided with Matilda. This is plainly
revealed in William’s next extract: meanwhile a certain man named
Christian, if I remember rightly, a clerk of the Queen as I have heard, stood up
and held out a document to the legate; he read it in silence and said at the top
of his voice that it was not valid and ought not to be read out in so great an
assembly, especially one of persons of rank and religion. For, he said, apart
from other things written in it that were worthy of reproof and censure, the
name of a witness had been added who the year before, in the same chapter
house in which they were sitting, had used the most insulting language to
reverend bishops. When he shuffled thus, the clerk did not fail to perform his
commission, but with splendid boldness read the letter before that audience,
the substance being as follows: ’the Queen earnestly begs all the assembled
clergy, and especially the Bishop of Winchester, the Lord's brother, to restore
to the throne that same lord, whom cruel men, who are likewise his own men,
HN. Potter p. 54 chap 495
have cast into chains’. The legates answer to this proposal was to the same
effect as to the Londoners. They, after discussing the matter, said they would
take back the decree of the Council to their fellow citizens and give it all the
support they could. The council broke up on the Thursday after
excommunicating many of the Kings adherents, notably William Martel who
had formerly been King Henry's butler and was then King Stephen's steward.
He had mightily exasperated the legate by seizing and stealing much of his
All of this transpired while we are left with the impression given by the
GS that Henry watched silently. Henry was in Matilda’s entourage and it
was at this time (between her arrival at London and his having made the
citizens of Winchester swear allegiance to her), that his vanity was
obviously slighted. He had had to subjugate himself to an arrogant women
who had promised so much, but not kept her word toward him. William of
interjects with sarcasm: the lord Legate also was at hand to serve the
empress with what seemed to be a zealous loyalty. William of Malmesbury
understands the duplicity of Henry Blois.
Now, I do not want to quot