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.