I watched the new programme about the year in the life of the York Minster last night and was fascinated to discover that King William the Conqueror was illiterate – not even able to sign his name. The Accord of Winchester which was signed on the 27th of May 1072 making the Archbishop of Canterbury more important than the Archbishop of York has the king’s cross next to his name. But why was there a need for an accord?
William the Conqueror might have thought that the Battle of Hastings was it so far as his hostile takeover bid for England was concerned. However there were rebellions throughout his new realm from Exeter where King Harold’s mother encouraged the locals to express their resentment to the border between England and Wales where Wild Edric was …well…just wild. In East Anglia, Hereward the Wake proved himself to be intransigent and in the north they were just plain stroppy.
In addition to the headache of governing a belligerent population there was also the small question of the church in England. Archbishop Stigand of Canterbury who had been King Canute’s chaplain and who had become a key political player in the power struggles between Edward the Confessor and Earl Godwin was initially kept on but by 1070 William had decided enough was enough. The archbishop was removed and imprisoned in Winchester (he was also Bishop of Winchester) and replaced by Lanfranc.
In York Archbishop Ealdred who’d been in place since 1060 having previously been Bishop of Worcester and who’d been one of the principal men sent to bring Edward the Exile home to England from Hungary on King Edward’s orders now backed the wrong men. He crowned King Harold and supported Edgar the Atheling’s claim to the throne but ultimately made his submission to William and crowned him in Westminster on Christmas Day 1066. Ealdred went to Normandy as a hostage along with Edgar the Atheling in 1067. Perhaps conveniently for William the archbishop died a couple of years later enabling the Norman king to shoehorn Thomas of Bayeaux into post in 1070.
Presumably William thought that he’d got supportive clerics at hand. What he hadn’t bargained for was that each man wanted to be the most important cleric in the kingdom and each argued that his diocese should take precedence over the other. Eventually William arrived at his conclusions and the Accord of Winchester was signed in 1072 – it was briefly reversed in 1127.