Bishop of Winchester
Born 1101 Died 1171
Henry of Blois was the son of Stephen, count of Blois, by Adela, daughter of William I, and brother of King Stephen. He was educated at Cluny, and consistently exerted himself for the principles of Cluniac reform. If these involved high claims of independence and power for the Church, they also asserted a high standard of devotion and discipline. Henry was brought to England by Henry I and made abbot of Glastonbury. In 1129 he was given the bishopric of Winchester and allowed to hold his abbey in conjunction with it. His hopes of the see of Canterbury were disappointed, but he obtained in 1139 a legatine commission which gave him a higher rank than the primate. In fact as well as in theory he became the master of the Church in England. He even contemplated the erection of a new province, with Winchester as its centre, which was to be independent of Canterbury.
Owing both to local and to general causes the power of the Church in England has never been higher than in the reign of Stephen (1135-1154). Henry as its leader and a legate of the pope was the real "lord of England", as the chronicles call him. Indeed, one of the ecclesiastical councils over which he presided formally declared that the election of the king in England was the special privilege of the clergy. Stephen owed his crown to Henry (1135), but they quarrelled when Stephen refused to give Henry the primacy; and the bishop took up the cause of Roger of Salisbury (1139). After the battle of Lincoln (1141) Henry declared for Matilda; but finding his advice treated with contempt, rejoined his brother's side, and his successful defence of Winchester against the empress (Aug. - Sept. 1141) 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. But his efforts were unsuccessful, though he made a personal visit to Rome.
At the accession of Henry II (1154) he retired from the world and spent the rest of his life in works of charity and penitence. He died in 1171. Henry seems to have been a man of high character, great courage, resolution and ability. Like most great bishops of his age he had a passion for architecture. He built, among other castles, that of Farnham; and he began the hospital of St Cross at Winchester.
Authorities. Original: William of Malmesbury, De gestis regum; the Gesta Stephani. Modern: Sir James Ramsay, Foundations of England, vol. ii.; Kate Norgate's Angevin Kings; Kitchin's Winchester.
Being the entry for BLOIS, HENRY OF in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.