A Royal Struggle
Wallingford was an important place in the struggle for the throne between Empress Matilda, Henry I’s daughter and royal heir, and her cousin Stephen, who had seized the crown while Matilda was in France. The period of struggle (1135-1154) is known as The Anarchy.
Brien Fitzcount, Lord of Wallingford Castle, declared his support for Matilda, and strengthened the castle against attack from Stephen’s forces.
Stephen laid siege to Matilda’s supporters at the castle many times, building counter castles nearby from which they could attack. Fitzcount captured William Martel, Stephen’s chief steward and put him in the ‘Cloere Brien’ the prioson he had built within the castle.
Matilda and Henry of Anjou
Matilda famously escaped imprisonment at Oxford Castle for the safety of Wallingford Castle by descending on ropes and then fleeing across the snow dressed in white. Henry of Anjou, Matilda’s son, hearing that Matilda was under siege, came across from France and attacked Stephen’s countercastles, killing many of his troops.
Treaty of Wallingford
A battle between Stephen and Henry of Anjou was avoided through a truce, which was later confirmed as the ‘Treaty of Wallingford’. The treaty said that when Stephen died, Henry would become king, rather than Stephen’s heir.
Henry II showed his gratitude to Wallingford by granting the town its charter in 1155. This gave it the right to hold certain markets and exempted it from some taxes, and limited interference from its neighbours.