The Treaty of Winchester

The Treaty of Winchester.

The 1153 Treaty of Winchester or as it is alternatively known, The Treaty of Westminster or the Treaty of Wallingford. The alternative names arise because the negotiation came at Winchester and it was then signed at Westminster and King Henry II was later to reward Wallingford for its support in bringing the war to an end. It is indisputably a very important historical document not just because it brought to an end the Civil War which forced Stephen to recognise Matilda’s son Henry of Anjou as heir but it had other diverse roles. It could be said to have put in place heritability of the crown and baronies and laid the foundation for the writ of right. That is all for later though. Let us consider first what led up to the signing of the Treaty of Winchester and place it in its historical context.

Winchester Treaty

Winchester Cathedral

A brief look at Stephen and Matilda.

By the time King Henry I had died in 1135, he had ensured that his daughter Matilda would be accepted by the barons as his heir but what he had failed to do was to complete the deal by giving her land and castles that he owned. He also declined to share his rule with her and so when he died and Matilda was otherwise engaged in far off Anjou, another claimant stepped forward, Stephen, son of the Count of Blois and grandson of William the Conqueror. He possessed land in England and Normandy. His brother was Bishop of Winchester and so Stephen, holding such a strong hand, was able to have the oaths made to Matilda declared void and the crown, placed on his own head.

Treaty of Winchester

King Stephen

Matilda and her husband Geoffrey of Anjou moved to take Stephens land in Normandy and when they were successful, weakened Stephens power base in England. His barons also lost their lands in Normandy and would have to face Matilda and deal with her. Stephen thus lost power over these men and so began the slow boil to civil war in England. New castles were thrown up by both sides and a miserable time was had by all. The armies took food and resources from the common man and there was great destruction throughout the kingdom.

In 1151 Matildas husband Geoffrey died and her son Henry came to England in 1153 fresh and intent on supporting his mothers claim to the crown of England. He found a country fed up with state of misrule. The barons and the church both wanted a return to law and order and to be led by a strong king, in truth they had had enough of the two warring sides. Neither side was able to mount a sustained attack that would deal the other side the mortal blow and the position of intransigence was wearing everyone down.

King Stephen turned his attention to Wallingford Castle where Brien Fitzcount held firm in his support for Matilda, Henry determined to mount a counter attack but it was one step too many for the Barons and the two factions were persuaded to negotiate a settlement, much to the annoyance of King Stephens son Eustace.

Henry of Blois, Stephens brother and Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury also stepped in at this point, the country needed stability and they sought to persuade the two sides it was time to cease fighting.

Treaty of Winchester

Wallingford Castle

The death of Eustace, son of King Stephen.

In August 1153, Eustace died suddenly. Did he die of natural causes or was he killed is open to conjecture. His death, however it came about, seemed to knock the remaining stuffing out of Stephen. Eustace before his death, had opposed any kind of settlement so it cannot be denied it was a convenient that he choose August of 1153 to throw off the mortal coil. His death and his fathers subsequent state of mind, resulted in the opening of discussions and he was led to the negotiating table at Winchester to begin talks on how the future of the throne of England would be mapped out.

On the face of it, the treaty may seem like an amazing capitulation on Stephens part.

In a nutshell it seems that King Stephen recognized Henry’s right to be King of England. What maybe is more astonishing is that it recognized that Henry’s heirs would also have the right. Henry in return recognized Stephens right to reign and pledged himself to his service for the duration. But what of King Stephens other son, William? The treaty states that he too paid homage to Henry but it did not state that William would have no claim to the throne either. He would however keep his lands in England and in Normandy. This maybe was the weakest part of the deal, one which would return to nip Henrys heels.

Apart from some exclusions, including the honour of Dover and its appurtenances, Stephen gave assurances that the castles would not oppose Henry when the time came for him to be King and the clergy also pledged to support Henry and were to be entitled to use their authority as necessary to keep the peace. Henry also wanted to be consulted on matters during Stephens reign. It was almost as if theirs would be a joint kingship, master and apprentice as it were. Guarantors would keep certain important castles for Henry and Stephen would retain others, all foreign serving soldiers would be sent home.

There was also an unwritten agreement to destroy the adulterine castles of England. Adulterine castles were unauthorised castles built during the civil war or the ‘Anarchy’ as it is referred to. It is thought they numbered in the hundreds and were built by both sides of the conflict to defend territories, house troops and possibly to expand a ‘front line’. Henry saw these strongholds as a threat, capable of giving defense to possible opponents to his rule and he wanted them destroyed.

The barons, who had become more powerful during the civil war and the populations of major towns had to swear allegiance to both Henry and Stephen and they and the church were empowered to take action if either side reneged on the terms of the treaty.

Treaty of Winchester

The crown topples from King Stephen.

Importance of the Treaty of Winchester.

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, the Treaty of Winchester is a very important historical document. It is seen as the document that created the Crowns heritability, that is, the direct line of inheritance.

It also established the great barons by increasing their power as they aligned themselves to the Crown.

Another difficulty at the start of Henry’s reign was the problem of land ownership. During the civil war much land had been transferred to supporters of Stephen. Henry wanted to transfer these lands back but because he had not become king by conquest but by agreement set out in the Treaty of Winchester, he was unable to simply hand the lands back. It would all be much more complicated, there could be no grabbing back of land by force.

There were an incredible number of courts across England controlled by many lords, so for King Henry to resolve the issue of land ownership, he had to be able to control land litigation. He made it necessary to get a royal writ before anyone could start a claim for land, it would for ever more become a matter for the court to decide land ownership.

The Writ of Right.

The earliest writ was known as the Writ of Right. This was not a new writ but now it had to be obtained in cases of land disputes and this was new and it hosted in a number of issues about land ownership that embedded themselves in English law. Had the Treaty of Winchester not been in place, land ownership in England might be very different today.

Not long to wait.

Henry did not have long to wait to accept the crown of England. Stephen died in 1154 and the reign of King Henry II would begin and herald in the Plantagenets to rule over England.

Treaty of Winchester

Tomb of King Henry II at Fontrevault.

The Treaty of Winchester signed 6th November 1153.

Stephen, king of the English to the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, justices, sheriffs, barons and all his faithful subjects of England, greeting.

Know that I. King Stephen, have established Henry Duke of Normandy as my successor in the kingdom and as my heir by hereditary right, and that I have granted and confirmed to him and to his heirs the kingdom of England. The Duke, on account of this honour, grant and confirmation to him by me, had performed homage to me and has given me surety by oath, that he will be faithful to me and maintain my life and my honour to the best of his ability, according to the agreements discussed between us, which are contained in this charter. I have also given an oath of surety to the duke, that I shall keep his life and his honour to the best of my ability, and that I shall maintain him as my son and heir in everything possible and guard him as far as I can against all men.

Moreover my son William has done liege homage and given surety to the duke of Normandy. The duke has conceded to my son William, to hold of him. All the lands which I held before I obtained the kingdom of England, in England, in Normandy, or in other places, and also whatever he has received with his daughter or the earl Warenne, in England, in Normandy, and whatever pertains to these honours. The duke gives full seisin to my son William and his men, who are of the honour of Warenne, of all lands, towns, boroughs and renders pertaining to that honour which he now has in his hands, and specifically the castles of Belencombe and Mortemer. However Reginald de Warenne many have custody of the said castles if he wishes, and give the duke hostage for them; if he does not wish to do this, others of the liege men of the earl Warenne chosen by the duke shall have custody of them, giving hostages and guarantees of safe custody. The duke will return other castles pertaining to the county of Mortain to him [my son William] at my request when he is able to do so, receiving guarantees of safe custody and hostages. All the hostages will be returned to my son when the duke has the kingdom of England. Also the duke has conceded to my son William the increment which I gave him, namely the castle and town of Norwich with 700 pounds worth of land, the render of Norwich being reckoned within the said 700 pounds, and the whole shire of Norfolk, excepting the lands belonging to churches bishops, Abbots and earls, and especially excepting eh third penny that makes High Bigod an earl, but saving and reserving royal justice in all things.

Also, the better to secure my gratitude and affection, the duke has given and conceded to him [my son William] whatever Richer de lAigle had in the honour of Pevensey, as well as the castle and town of Pevensey,l and the service of Faramus, excepting the castle and town of Dover and what pertains to the honour of Dover.

The duke has confirmed the church of Faversham in all that pertains to it, and will, by the counsel of the holy church and by my counsel, confirm other grants or restorations made by me to other churches.

In return for the honour I have done their lord, the earls and barons of the duke which have never been my men have done homage and sworn an oath to me, saving the agreements made between the duke and myself. The otjhers, who have dome homage to me previously, have sworn fealty to me as their lord. And if the duke breaks his promises, they will cease entirely to serve him, until he puts right his errors. My son also, by the counsel of the holy church, will do likewise if the duke withdraws from these agreements.

My earls and barons have done liege homage to the duke, saving their fealty to me as long as I live and hold the kingdom, and by a similar rule, they will entirely cease from serving me if I break my promises, until I rectify my errors. The citizens of the cities and the men of the castles which I have in my demesne by my order performed homage and have given surety to the duke, saving their fealty to me as long as I live and hold to the kingdom. Those who have custody of the castle of Wallingford have done homage to me and have given me hostages for their fealty to me. By the counsel of the holy church I have given surety to the duke for my castles and strongholds so that on my death he may not incur any loss or damage to the kingdom because of this. By the counsel of the holy church the Tower of London and the motte of Windsor have been given to Richard de Lacy to keep. But Richard has sworn in the hand of the Archbishop that after my death he will hand over these castles to the duke, and has given his son as hostage.

In the same way, by the counsel of the holy church, Roger de Bussy keeps the motte of Oxford and Jordan de Bussy the castle of Lincoln; they are the duke’s liege men, and have sworn and given hostages in the archbishop’s hand that on my death they will hand over thee castles to the duke without any hindrance. The bishop of Winchester has pledged himself in the hand of the archbishop of Canterbury, in the presence of the bishops, that on my death he will hand over to the duke the castle of Winchester and the stronghold of Southampton. If any of those who keep my strongholds prove contumacious or rebellious concerning castles which belong to the crown by common counsel the duke and I will constrain him until he is compelled to make amends to the satisfaction of both of us.

The archbishops, bishops and abbots of the kingdom of England have at my command sworn an oath of fealty to the duke. Those made bishops or abbots henceforth in the kingdom of England shall do the same. The archbishops and bishops on both sides have undertaken that if either of us departs from these agreements, they will visit him with ecclesiastical justice until he amends his errors and returns to his observance of the aforesaid compact. The duke’s mother, his wife, his brother and all his men whom he can involve in this have likewise given surety.

I shall act in the affairs of the kingdom with the duke’s advice. I myself shall exercise royal justice in the whole kingdom of England, both in the duke’s part and my own.

Witness Archbishop Theobald at Westminster.








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