1153-54: A Treaty and Death Comes

Henry of Anjou returned to England in January 1153, his own situation much changed. He was now Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou, Touraine, and Maine, and in the right of his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, ruler of the duchy of Aquitaine. He had also become a skilled military tactician. Both clergy and barons alike seem to have accepted that peace would only come if Henry was recognised as Stephen’s heir, even if Stephen himself didn’t quite see it that way. The challenge was to convince the King.

This task was made unexpectedly simple when Eustace suddenly died in August 1153 while he was pillaging church lands in Bury St Edmunds. Stephen’s younger son, William, had not expected to be king and the way for negotiations had now been opened. In the Treaty of Wallingford (also called Westminster) it was agreed that Stephen would remain king until his death, William was to inherit all of his baronial lands, and Henry would be nominated as Stephen’s heir, effectively ending the dispute over the English throne and the subsequent civil war.

Some credit is also due to William d’Aubigny, 1st Earl of Arundel. Stephen had built counter castles near Wallingford in order to attack Brian Fitzcount, one of Matilda’s key supporters, at Wallingford Castle. Henry had determined to launch attacks on Stephen’s fortifications and a battle had been expected. William successfully argued that further fighting was futile and a truce was reached on the banks of the Thames which infuriated Eustace as he was opposed to a settlement. After his death it appears that a more formal agreement was written in November 1153 and signed in Westminster.

King Stephen died on 25th October 1154 at Dover and was buried alongside his wife, Matilda of Boulogne, and eldest son Eustace in their foundation church, Faversham Abbey, in Kent. Today next to nothing remains of the church and the area is now a school sports field. Like many others it suffered during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries.

In stark contrast to most of his Norman predecessors the transition of Henry II as King of England when smoothly and he wasn’t immediately required to rush straight from Normandy to London for his coronation. Among Henry’s first actions as King was to the demolish all of the unlicensed castles that had been built in King Stephen’s time. He also rewarded Wallingford for its loyalty and assistance by the issue of its royal charter in 1155.


Biographies – Henry II

• Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine

Henry II, Curtmantle
Reign: 1154-1189
Birth: 25 March 1133, Le Mans
Death: 6 July 1189, Chinon
Burial: Fontevrault (Fontevraud) Abbey
Father: Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou
Mother: Matilda, The Empress
Marriage: 18 May 1152, Bordeaux, France – Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine
Henry, the Young King
Matilda (Maud)
Richard I, King of England
Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany
John, King of England

The first of the Angevin kings, Henry II became not only King of England, Duke of Normandy, and Count of Anjou and Maine, but also Lord of Brittany, Aquitaine, Poitou, and Guienne – basically all of western France from Normandy to Gascony and the Pyrenees. His restoration of order in England was swift. Firstly he had hundreds of unlicensed castles built in Stephen’s reign demolished. Then, instead of military service, he demanded money from the barons which enabled him to hire mercenaries responsible to himself alone. To keep order at home he raised a militia composed of all freemen and prescribed how they were to be armed.

Of lasting importance were Henry’s legal reforms. He transformed the Curia Regis into a regular court of trained officials and lawyers, dismissing most of the feudal sheriffs and replacing them with these men. Others were made into a special court of justice, the King’s Bench, and most important of all, he sent out travelling judges – Justices in Eyre – who carried a ‘common law’ into every Shire Court of the country. A national system of law and local government and a civil service were beginning to take shape. Elsewhere, Ireland was invaded for the first time and he was recognised, at least in name, as its King. Whether this was good for the Irish people is of course open to question.

In one thing Henry II failed. His Archbishop, Thomas Becket, opposed his attempt to bring clergy who had been convicted of crime in the church courts before the king’s court for sentencing. He also wished to ensure the peaceful transition of his eldest son Henry, the young king, who died in 1183 by having him crowned in his own lifetime. The ceremony was eventually performed by the Archbishop of York. As a result of this quarrel four knights, apparently overhearing Henry’s lament to be rid of his troublesome archbishop, murdered Becket in his cathedral. Becket quickly became a martyr, then a saint, while Henry was humiliated and made to do a public penance and submit to the Pope.

Over the years Henry’s family life became fraught with problems. He fell out with his wife and his sons, ambitious for their inheritance, rebelled in various combinations often at the urging of Eleanor. Overall however, Henry II was one of England’s most successful kings and it is to his credit that the English have been governed by English Common Law rather than by Roman. Henry died on 6th July 1189 in Chinon and was buried in Fontevrault Abbey.

Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine
Birth: c.1122, Bordeaux
Death: 1 April 1204, Fontevraud
Burial: Fontevrault (Fontevraud) Abbey
Father: Duke William X of Aquitaine
Mother: Aenor de Châtellerault
Marriage: (1) 1137 – Louis VII the Younger, King of France
Children from her first marriage:
Margaret of France
Alix of France

Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of England, Queen of France, Duchess of Aquitaine, and Countess of Poitiers was one of the most powerful women of her time. After the annulment of her marriage to the French King Louis VII, Eleanor had the audacity to marry Henry of Anjou, some 11 years her junior, in 1152. Over the next thirteen years, she and Henry added five sons and three daughters to their family. In their later years the couple fell out with each other and Eleanor supported their sons in the various plots and rebellions against their father. Eventually Henry confined Eleanor from 1173 to 1183. From 1185 onwards she became more active in the ruling of Aquitaine. Eleanor died in April 1204 and was buried in Fontevrault Abbey.