Henry of Blois

Henry of Blois (1111-1171) was bishop of Winchester from 1129 to his death. Henry was son of Stephen, Count of Blois, by Adela of Normandy daughter of William the Conqueror, and therefore brother of King Stephen.

Henry was educated at Cluny and promptly adhered to the principles of Cluniac reform, which included high claims of independence and power for the Church, as well as a high standard of devotion and discipline. Henry was brought to England by king Henry I, to be abbot of Glastonbury. In 1129 he was given the bishopric of Winchester and allowed to hold his abbey in conjunction with it but this was no more than a blow on Henry’s ambitions to become Archbishop of Canterbury. However, in 1139, during the reign of his brother Stephen, Henry obtained a legatine commission which gave him higher rank than the primate of Canterbury, meaning that in fact as well as in theory he became the master of the Church in England during the troubled times of the Anarchy.

His brother was crowned King of England in 1135, but the relations between the two were not peaceful. After the battle of Lincoln (1141), he declared for Empress Maud; but finding his advice treated with contempt, rejoined his brother's side, and his successful defence of Winchester against the empress was the turning-point of the civil war. The expiration of his legatine commission of 1144 deprived him of much of his power. He spent the rest of Stephen’s reign in trying to procure its renewal. His efforts were unsuccessful, but he made a personal visit to Rome. At the accession of Henry II he retired from the world and spent the rest of his life in works of charity and penitence. Like most bishops of his age he had a passion for architecture. He built, among others, the castle of Farnham, Surrey and began the construction of the hospital of St Cross at Winchester.

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

Preceded by:
William Giffard
Bishop of Winchester Followed by:
Richard of Ilchester

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