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Henry of Blois

Henry of Blois (d. 1171). Prince-bishop of the English church. Nephew of Henry I, he was made abbot of Glastonbury in 1126 and bishop of Winchester in 1129; by holding on to both he remained for over 40 years the richest prelate in England. Although brought up as a monk at Cluny, he became a great builder of castles and palaces (notably Wolvesey palace) and an art connoisseur who brought back pagan statues from Rome. Not surprisingly the ascetic St Bernard of Clairvaux branded him ‘whore of Winchester’ and ‘old wizard’. In 1135 he helped his brother Stephen of Blois to obtain the throne and played a prominent political and military role throughout the reign. In 1139–43, when the conflict between Stephen and Matilda was at its height, he used his authority as papal legate to hold councils in unsuccessful but highly publicized attempts to settle the affairs of the realm. At Henry II's accession he withdrew for a while to Cluny, but returned as the elder statesman of the English church.

John Gillingham

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