A quitclaim was basically a waiver of all legal rights – usually to do with property. it’s a document that stops someone from turning up later to claim a possession back. The two most famous examples that I can think of are the Quitclaim of Canterbury dated 1189 and John of Gaunt’s quitclaim to Katherine Swynford dated 14 February 1382 – but that may be because I’m currently exploring the Scottish Wars of Independence and finishing off some work on medieval mistresses.
Essentially the Duke of Lancaster received something of a shock with the Peasants Revolt of 1381. His estates were attacked, his London home turned into a pile of smouldering rubble, his servants murdered and his son Henry of Bolingbroke had to be smuggled out of the Tower shortly before the rebels broke in and dragged the Archbishop of Canterbury out to his death. No one knows where his long term mistress, and mother of four of his children, Katherine Swynford was during those dangerous weeks. She may also have been hiding John’s daughter Philippa of Lancaster with the rest of her family. There is a theory that she was in Pontefract Castle because when John’s wife Constanza of Castile arrived the castellan refused to open the gates to her and she was forced to find shelter at Knaresburgh Castle. Lancaster who had been negotiating with the Scots at Berwick crossed into Scotland and returned only when it was safe to do so. He swore to forego his sinful ways – which included setting aside the woman he loved.
The quitclaim was a legal document that Lancaster used to give up all rights and claims to any property or gifts that he had given to Katherine in the past. He quite literally quit all claims to anything that once belonged to him that he had granted to his mistress.
The Canterbury Quitclaim of 5 December 1189 was a treaty that reversed the feudal overlordship claimed by King Henry II over Scotland’s kings at the Treaty of Falaise when he had the good fortune to capture William the Lion during a confrontation of Alnwick. Henry’s heir, Richard the Lionheart accepted 10,000 marks from William to help finance his part in the Third Crusade and Scotland was independent once more. Simples…