Accord of Winchester

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Accord of Winchester

Winchester, Hampshire The 27th of May 1072 AD

It is tempting to view the Norman Conquest as succeeding with victory at the Battle of Hastings, but the truth is very different. A rebellion in the North of England, backed by King Sweyn of Denmark, meant William I had to fight to retain his new throne. He did so with the use of extreme violence in 1069-1070 in The Harrying of the North, where entire communities were slaughtered in what was for a time a true reign of terror. This was not his only worry, Hereward the Wake providing cause for concern in the East of England.
William needed to establish control over church as well as state, and the Accord of Winchester in 1072 was one aspect of that drive. He had already removed (and imprisoned) Stigand as Archbishop of Canterbury in April 1070, replaced in August by the Lombard cleric Lanfranc, at that time Abbot of St Stephen’s in Caen (founded by William). Similarly in York Thomas of Bayeux was imported to the Archbishopric of York in 1070.
A power struggle within the English church soon disturbed the religious peace: in short, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York vied for primacy over the entire national church. This was evidently an unsettled time, that status made visible in the fabric of both York Minster and Canterbury Cathedral which had suffered recent damage. The papacy had backed William’s invasion, but was reluctant to create a major centre of religious power so distant from Rome, thus havered in support for Lanfranc. William himself had to resolve the matter: the cases were put first at Winchester over Easter 1072, then at Windsor on May 27, when the king gave his verdict. It is not too fanciful to see symbolism in this shift, Winchester the ancient Saxon capital, Windsor the new Norman stronghold.
The Conqueror decided that Canterbury should hold the primacy, and the ruling was formalized in a document witnessed by King, Queen, both archbishops, and numerous other senior clerics, including the Papal Legate. All bar one of the signatories did so under the Latin wording for I subscribe; the Archbishop of York under that for I concede.
Inevitably the dispute did not end with this accord; indeed in 1127 it was for a time reversed. Even today the relationship between the two archbishoprics is occasionally subject to tension.

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