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A contemporary goldsmith, who depicted Henry of Blois presenting a gift to God, included in his inscription the hope that the donor might follow the offering to heaven; but not immediately, `lest England weep, for war or peace, turmoil or tranquillity, depend on him'.(1) The goldsmith's work cannot be dated more precisely than between 1129 and 1171, the years of Henry's episcopate at Winchester, but the tenor of his words suggests a date during the civil war of Stephen's reign. The often crucial importance of the King's brother was as apparent then as it is now, and never more so than in 1140, a year crowded with negotiations in which he played a central role.(2) Their failure must have made him doubt for how much longer he could either fulfil his obligations or receive his revenues as abbot of Glastonbury, most of whose lands lay in that part of England in which the Empress Matilda's step-brother, the Earl of Gloucester, was achieving a de facto autonomy.(3) No one knows to which church Henry made the gift (which seems to have been an altar), but it would not be surprising had it been to Glastonbury as a gesture of farewell in 1140.
A Cluniac monk, son of the Count of Blois and grandson of William the Conqueror, Henry had become abbot of Glastonbury in 1126 and had retained the abbey after his accession to the bishopric of Winchester in 1129. In the event he remained abbot until his death in 1171, but departure from Glastonbury was certainly in his mind when he dictated a memoir intended to deflect criticism of his record at the abbey.(4) This select account of his gesta must have been made after the death of Bishop Roger of Salisbury on 11 September 1139, which he mentions, and before that on 6 May 1141 of Bishop Geoffrey Rufus of Durham, of whom he speaks in the present tense. Had Henry written after his reception of the Empress as `lady of England' on 2 March 1141, he might have rephrased his censure of Robert of Bampton for `utterly ignoring the obligations of fealty' to his brother, King Stephen. The memoir was probably written in the latter part of 1140, after Henry had temporarily withdrawn from the centre of events to take stock.(1) The tone of his opening words suggests that he did not expect to stay at the abbey for much longer: he was writing, he said, so that posterity should be left in no doubt about `what I have laboriously achieved at Glastonbury'.(2) This sounds more like the final account of a stewardship than a progress report.
In print since 1727 and frequently consulted by historians, Henry's memoir, despite its exceptional value, has never been given the detailed analysis that might not only clarify the circumstances of the transactions he recounts but also reveal some of the principles which underlay his conduct as master of Glastonbury's lordship. Although his surviving acta are scanty -- copies or notices of no more than eleven deeds issued by Henry in his capacity as abbot are extant, and only four of them concern lay holdings(3) -- his carta of 1166 is unusually informative, for, in company with only two other tenants-in-chief, he gave the names of holders of knights' fees in 1135 as well as 1166.(4) Moreover, there survives a survey of demesne manors made by Hilbert the precentor after Henry's death in 1171, which includes details from `the time' of King Henry I.(5) Such is the basis from which this paper will set out to look more closely than is usually possible at the activity of a great twelfth-century landlord. An initial analysis of Henry's attempts both to recover alienated demesne and to expand into pastures relatively new will be followed by an examination of his management of demesne manors. The second part of the paper concerns the honour of Glastonbury, the security of tenure within it and the principles on which Henry based his attitude towards knights' fees. Finally, we shall explore Henry's relationship with his abbey's knights, see how it was tested during the civil war, and assess the difficulties faced by such a grandee in enforcing his will on families who actually lived on or near the land which both he and they sought to control.
The abbey Henry entered in 1126 was potentially very rich indeed. The value put on all the lands within its lordship in 1086 was 803 [pounds sterling] 0s. 6d., which exceeded that of any other monastic house.(1) This position was held thanks largely to a mighty hike in the level of demesne farms effected by Abbot Thurstan (1082-96): where figures are available for comparison between 1086 and `when Thurstan received' the estate, rents can be seen to have risen by 75.5 per cent.(2) In Somerset alone the abbey had about 130,000 acres, over half of them in its oldest and most concentrated collection of manors lying on the clay ridges and islands that stood out of the Somerset Levels east of the River Parrett and centred on the privileged core known as Glastonbury Twelve Hides. There was also a string of manors on both sides of the Fosse Way, stretching from north-west Wiltshire to south Somerset, and substantial holdings in the foothills of Mendip. All that remained of a once considerable presence west of the Parrett was a solitary manor in the fertile Vale of Taunton Dene and a coastal property on the Devon-Dorset border, but the eastward expansion of the estate in the tenth century had left lasting gains in extensive stretches of chalk upland on the Berkshire and Marlborough Downs, on Salisbury Plain, in central Dorset and in south Wiltshire. The abbot also had a large manor in Gloucestershire, below the extreme southern tip of the Cotswold ridge.(3)
The pressure on this vast estate to secure service in its administration and in its abbot's retinue, to acquit those public duties for which it remained answerable, to meet financial emergencies and territorial aggression, and to satisfy the demands of patronage and favour, had resulted by 1066 in the creation of thegnlands and loanlands on about one-third of its property.(4) It was the abbot's lordship over these lands which was most at risk in the aftermath of the battle of Hastings. The complete alienation recorded in Domesday Book of almost exactly 100 hides involved the abbey in a loss of service rather than anything else; only some woodland at Butleigh (Som.) and a virgate of arable at Idmiston (Wilts.) had been in demesne in 1066.(1) Glastonbury was not exceptional in this regard. The protection of ecclesiastical demesnes against outright loss was actively supported by the Anglo-Norman kings, whose proprietary attitude towards the church could at times be beneficial.(2) They were less helpful, however, about lost thegnland, even though the effect of its loss was detrimental to the demesne, since the church's need to provide for service remained undiminished. Although much the greater part of Glastonbury land tenanted in 1086 had been tenanted in 1066, about to per cent of it had been in demesne at the earlier date. Overall, 70 per cent of the Glastonbury estate was held in demesne in 1086,(3) a proportion considerably higher than that retained by most of the lay tenants in their own baronies,(4) appreciably lower than that on the episcopal lands of Canterbury, Winchester and Exeter, but matching that found on a number of other ecclesiastical lordships.(5) Most of this land consisted of distinct settlements. It was as rare after 1066 as before for the abbot to share a village with a subtenant.
Protection of the integrity of his abbey's demesne is a major theme in Henry of Blois's memoir. We may be sure that he arrived at Glastonbury, in his mid-thirties, determined to make his mark and intent on taking seriously the promise made at his benediction as abbot to recover such of his church's possessions as had been improperly dispersed. His future career and his accumulation of riches and power were to reveal driving ambition. He was a man who sought to dazzle. His cultivation of the luxuriant beard that made him so conspicuous at the Roman curia betrays a degree of reclame that announced the presence, prince or no prince, of a man to be reckoned with.(6) After he made a tour of inspection of his new estate and examined the terms of the major tenancies found on it, knowledgeable observers may have expected feathers to fly.(1) Henry was disappointed by what he found: the place a mockery of its former self, with buildings collapsing and impoverished monks living in huts. At the root of the trouble was the church's loss `of many large properties', and it is clear from the ensuing narrative that he was talking about encroachments on the demesne.(2) These had taken the form not only of military tenures but also of improper manorial leases. Eight entire manors had been misappropriated as well as parts of four others, together with five churches. The origins of these irregularities would have been familiar to the monks of many houses: nepotism and favouritism on the part of abbots, the attention of greedy neighbours, both large and small, and the depredations of a royal custodian during a vacancy.(3)
Henry's opponents make a mixed bag and his treatment of them was suitably varied. With local men he was able to deal fairly briskly in Glastonbury's honorial court. It was made clear to Abbot Thurstan's brother, Ansketil of Cossington, that, if he wanted the new abbot to accept his homage for his knight's fee, he would have to surrender the two and a half hides of demesne which he had acquired four miles away at Moorlinch.(4) Ralph de Ste Barbe received similarly short shrift when Henry discovered that the ground by the River Axe in Brentmarsh, which he had persuaded Abbot Herluin (1100-1118) to grant him as worthless, had been successfully reclaimed and was now producing bountiful harvests. He was brought before an honorial court, which revoked the grant.(5)
Once he had brought his opponent before his court, Henry would require evidence of the convent's consent to the grant under scrutiny. Such consent had been used as a safeguard against abbatial and episcopal profligacy and self-interest throughout the eleventh century, in reaction to a climate which increasingly favoured the hereditability of leases. The fact that it was not always given willingly shows that it was no mere formality.(1) Among the books which were copied at Glastonbury under Henry was Ivo of Chartres's Decretum, which is emphatic that property transactions made without such consent were void.(2) Equally emphatic was Henry of Blois. His memoir recounts three instances where demesne was recovered from men whose tenancies were based purely on an abbot's grant unsupported by conventual confirmation. The most serious of these cases was that of Odo Beaucens, whose marriage into the family of Abbot Seffrid (1120/1-1125) had led to his acquisition of three demesne manors as well as the stewardship of the abbey.(3) He was based at Wanstrow, about 13 miles east of Glastonbury, where he held a knights' fee, together with land in neighbouring Witham, within the barony of the successors of Turstin fitz Rolf.(4) His case was probably close to the top of Henry's agenda in 1126, since he occupied a position of cardinal importance in the honour. The appointment of his own steward would have been as urgent a prerequisite for the new abbot as the recovery of three demesne manors.(5) Henry chose his inaugural homage ceremony to deal with Odo, using the knowledge that Seffrid's grant had been made invitis fratribus. When asked to show his chirograph Odo produced a blatant forgery, presumably in an attempt to supply the crucial deficiency. The honorial court declared against him and he was forfeited and mulcted.(6) In this case, however, that was not the end of the matter. Perhaps through the offices of his lord at Wanstrow,(1) Odo succeeded in gaining the ear of the King, who issued something like a writ of right to bring the case before `many great men'. These probably sat in on the abbot's court to ensure that right was done, rather than transferring the matter to another court altogether.(2) Buying the King's intervention in an honorial court did not, however, guarantee success,(3) particularly when that court belonged to his nephew, and Odo was ejected.
It was rare for litigants to leave twelfth-century courts quite empty-handed. Like all lords, Henry needed stability on his estate and to get it was prepared to offer compensation to those whose finances and face he was threatening in his programme of demesne recovery. He was fond of quoting Isaiah, who said of the Lord's elect `a bruised reed shall he not break'.(4) Ejected from his three manors, which had probably been close to headquarters at Glastonbury, Odo was promised land worth 2 [pounds sterling] a year and the service of a knight at Ashbury, 60 miles away on the northern edge of the Berkshire Downs.(5) When he prised William of Greinton out of three and a half hides at Moorlinch (Som.), Henry gave his widowed mother, who had probably thereby lost her dower, a life tenancy in one hide 12 miles away at Podimore Milton.(6) Roger de Mara's compensation for the loss of Mells, a demesne manor with a farm set at 10 [pounds sterling], was land worth 1 [pounds sterling] a year and the temporary lease of an unspecified group of manors.(7) On a smaller scale, when Robert Cotel of Sticklinch was forced in 1152 to surrender half of one hide in West Pennard within Glastonbury Twelve Hides, he was granted one virgate to rent for 4s. elsewhere in the manor.(8)
Compromise was necessarily imposed on Henry in his dealings with larger predators. The Chancellor, Geoffrey Rufus, had used his custody of Glastonbury during the vacancy following Seffrid's appointment to Chichester in April 1125 to appropriate five churches. The new abbot chose to flex his muscles, asserting his control of the churches and remaining obdurate despite the mixed barrage of blandishments and threats that came his way. Geoffrey, however, was secure in the confidence of Henry I and in the support of his probable patron, Roger of Salisbury. The King urged his nephew to reach an accommodation with his Chancellor, who succeeded in retaining three churches, less their tithes, for the term of his life.(1) The Bishop of Salisbury himself had cast an interested eye over Glastonbury's assets. Roger was a notoriously covetous neighbour; according to William of Malmesbury, `anything bordering his property that suited his requirements he extracted at once by prayer or price'.(2) He had an exceptionally neighbourly interest in Pilsdon (Dorset), a knight's fee which marched with no fewer than three of his Salisbury manors, whose service was granted him by Abbot Seffrid and which Henry recovered by putting pressure on the knight rather than on his intrusive mesne lord.(3) Within Glastonbury's demesne Bishop Roger's eye had lighted on Camerton, a manor worth 10 [pounds sterling] a year, situated in the foothills of the Mendips only five miles north-east of his own lonely manor of Chilcompton. Having asserted his lordship over it against its occupants, the Cotels, Abbot Seffrid had found reason to transfer it immediately pro gracia to the Bishop, and there was little that his successor could do about the matter. In his own words, he `thought it necessary to give way out of respect for Bishop Roger and to hold back in this particular case'.(4) It was not a position which Henry of Blois tolerated with equanimity, and as soon as Roger died in December 1139 he reasserted Glastonbury's rights. Perhaps the investment of goodwill had paid dividends when he needed Roger's co-operation in putting his brother on the throne in 1135. Henry also explored the virtues of patience in his resolution of a problem affecting one of the abbey's largest and most important manors, Damerham in southern Wiltshire (now in Hampshire). There had been a collegiate church on this downland property since the ninth century, six of whose members were found by Henry to be enjoying individual prebends carved out of the demesne. His approach was to wait for each to die and rebuild the demesne piecemeal. It is less likely that this method was adopted out of deference to individual canons than because Henry was torn between his approval of the collegiate idea and his desire to improve a manor of major importance in his abbey's economy.(1)
From compromise we move to failure. Henry's resumption of demesne at Camerton after the death of Roger of Salisbury brought him into conflict with a family who had preceded Roger in occupation of the manor: the Cotels of Lake. A less adventurous branch of the clan had been at Sticklinch in Glastonbury Twelve Hides since the time of Abbot Aethelnoth (1053-1078),(2) and as long a history may have underlain the claims of Roger Cotel, which peppered the map of Glastonbury's estate from south Hampshire, through Wiltshire, the Mendips and northern Somerset, to south Gloucestershire. Bishop Henry traced Robert's acquisition of the manors of Camerton (Som.) and Ower (Hants.) and of at least six hides in Pucklechurch (Glos.), Doulting (Som.), Damerham (Wilts.) and Deverill (Wilts.) `and much else' to the high favour he had enjoyed with Abbot Herluin. `Much else' included the castlery of Brent (Som.), whose castle was the only one on Glastonbury's demesne apart from the fortified residence built by Henry of Blois within the abbey precincts.(3) On his death, soon after Herluin's in 1118, Robert disposed of these lands among his wife and children `as if he had hereditary right'. Perhaps he thought he had: Herluin had apparently warranted his grant and may have created the knight's fee successfully claimed by Robert's descendant `in duellum suum' prior to 1189.(4) Abbot Herluin, however, was no profligate and rather than initiating the tenancies he may well have chosen to accommodate Cotel in claims which had roots in the early days of conquest, for the geographical spread of the grant was not as random as it may at first appear. The family's base was at Lake in Wilsford (Wilts.), which was held of the earls of Salisbury.(5) In 1066 Wilsford had been held by Eadnoth the Staller, whose son, Hearding, was to occupy Glastonbury demesne at Mells, which Robert Cotel's successor, Richard, was to …