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William Rufus

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William Rufus

"William Rufus" redirects here. See also William Rufus Day.

William II
William II, from the Stowe Manuscript
King of England (more...)
Reign 9 September 1087 – 2 August 1100
Coronation 26 September 1087[1]
Predecessor William I
Successor Henry I
House Norman Dynasty
Father William I of England
Mother Matilda of Flanders
Born c. 1056
Normandy, France
Died 2 August 1100(1100-08-02) (aged c. 43–44)
The New Forest, England
Burial Winchester Cathedral

William II (Old Norman: Williame II; c. 1056 – 2 August 1100), the third son of William I of England, was King of England from 1087 until 1100, with powers over Normandy, and influence in Scotland. He was less successful in extending control into Wales. William is commonly known as William Rufus or William the Red, perhaps because of his red-faced appearance.[2]

Those who have written about William convey that he was a figure of complex temperament: capable of both bellicosity and flamboyance. He did not marry, nor did he produce any offspring, legitimate or otherwise. He died after being struck by an arrow while hunting, under circumstances that remain murky; his younger brother Henry succeeded him as King.

Early years

William's exact date of birth is unknown, but it was some time between the years 1056 and 1060. He was the third of four sons born to William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders, the eldest being Robert Curthose, the second Richard, and the youngest Henry. William succeeded to the throne of England on his father's death, but Robert inherited Normandy. Richard died around 1075 while hunting in the New Forest.[3]

He had five or six sisters. The existence of sisters Adeliza and Matilda is not absolutely certain, but four sisters are more securely attested as being: Adela, who married the count of Blois; Cecily, who became a nun; Agatha, who died before marriage; and Constance, who married the Duke of Brittany.[4]

Relations between the three sons of William I were recorded to have been strained. William's contemporary, chronicler Orderic Vitalis, wrote about an incident that took place at L'Aigle, in 1077 or 1078: William and Henry, having grown bored with casting dice, decided to make mischief by emptying a chamber pot onto their brother Robert from an upper gallery, thus infuriating and shaming him. A brawl broke out, and their father was forced to intercede to restore order.[5]

According to William of Malmesbury, William Rufus was "well set; his complexion florid, his hair yellow; of open countenance; different coloured eyes, varying with certain glittering specks; of astonishing strength, though not very tall, and his belly rather projecting."[6]

England and France

The division of William the Conqueror's lands into two parts presented a dilemma for those nobles who held land on both sides of the waterway of the English Channel. Since the younger William and his brother Robert were natural rivals, these nobles worried that they could not hope to please both of their lords, and thus ran the risk of losing the favour of one ruler or the other, or both.[7] The only solution, as they saw it, was to unite England and Normandy once more under one ruler. The pursuit of this aim led them to revolt against William in favour of Robert in the Rebellion of 1088, under the leadership of the powerful Bishop Odo of Bayeux, who was a half-brother of William the Conqueror.[8] As Robert failed to appear in England to rally his supporters, William won the support of the English with silver and promises of better government, and defeated the rebellion, thus securing his authority. In 1091 he invaded Normandy, crushing Robert's forces and forcing him to cede a portion of his lands. The two made up their differences and William agreed to help Robert recover lands lost to France, notably Le Maine. This plan was later abandoned, but William continued to pursue a ferociously warlike defence of his French possessions and interests to the end of his life, exemplified by his response to the attempt by Elias de la Flèche, Count of Maine, to take Le Mans in 1099.[9]

Thus William Rufus was secure in what was then the most powerful kingdom in Europe, given the contemporary eclipse of the Salian emperors. As in Normandy, his bishops and abbots were bound to him by feudal obligations; and his right of investiture in the Norman tradition prevailed within his kingdom, during the age of the Investiture Controversy that brought excommunication upon the Salian Emperor Henry IV. Anglo-Norman royal institutions reached an efficiency previously unknown in medieval Europe, and the king's personal power, through an effective and loyal chancery, penetrated to the local level to an extent unmatched in France. Without the Capetians' ideological trappings of an anointed monarchy forever entangled with the hierarchy of the Church, the king's administration and law unified the realm, rendering him relatively impervious to papal condemnation.

Relations with the Church, and personal beliefs

Less than two years after becoming king, William II lost his father William I's advisor and confidant, the Italian-Norman Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury. After Lanfranc's death in 1089, the king delayed appointing a new archbishop for many years, appropriating ecclesiastical revenues in the interim. In panic, owing to serious illness in 1093, William nominated as archbishop another Norman-Italian, Anselm – considered the greatest theologian of his generation – but this led to a long period of animosity between Church and State, Anselm being a stronger supporter of the Gregorian reforms in the Church than Lanfranc. William and Anselm disagreed on a range of ecclesiastical issues, in the course of which the king declared of Anselm that "Yesterday I hated him with great hatred, today I hate him with yet greater hatred and he can be certain that tomorrow and thereafter I shall hate him continually with ever fiercer and more bitter hatred".[10] The English clergy, beholden to the king for their preferments and livings, were unable to support Anselm publicly. In 1095 William called a council at Rockingham to bring Anselm to heel, but the archbishop remained firm. In October 1097, Anselm went into exile, taking his case to the Pope. The diplomatic and flexible Urban II, a new pope, was involved in a major conflict with the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV, who supported an antipope. Reluctant to make another enemy, Urban came to a concordat with William Rufus, whereby William recognised Urban as pope, and Urban gave sanction to the Anglo-Norman ecclesiastical status quo. Anselm remained in exile, and William was able to claim the revenues of the archbishop of Canterbury to the end of his reign.[11]

However, this conflict was symptomatic of medieval English politics, as exemplified by the murder of Thomas Becket during the reign of the later Plantagenet king Henry II and Henry VIII's actions centuries later, and as such should not be seen as a defect of William II's reign in particular. Of course, contemporary churchmen were themselves not above engaging in such politics: it is reported that, when Archbishop Lanfranc suggested to William I that he imprison the rebellious bishop Odo of Bayeux, he exclaimed "What! he is a clergyman". Lanfranc retorted that "you will not seize the bishop of Bayeux, but confine the earl of Kent": Odo was both bishop of Bayeux, and earl of Kent.[12] Also, while there are complaints of contemporaries regarding William II's personal behaviour, he was instrumental in assisting the foundation of Bermondsey Abbey, endowing it with the manor of Bermondsey; and it is reported that his "customary oath" was "By the Face at Lucca!" It seems reasonable to suppose that such details are indicative of William II's personal beliefs.

War and rebellion

William Rufus inherited the Anglo-Norman settlement detailed in the Domesday Book, a survey undertaken at his father's command, essentially for the purposes of taxation, which could not have been undertaken anywhere else in Europe at that time, and is a sign of the control of the English monarchy. If he was less effective than his father in containing the Norman lords' propensity for rebellion and violence, through charisma, or political skills, he was forceful in overcoming the consequences. In 1095, Robert de Mowbray, the earl of Northumbria, refused to attend the Curia Regis, the thrice-annual court where the King announced his governmental decisions to the great lords. William led an army against Robert and defeated him. Robert was dispossessed and imprisoned, and another noble, William of Eu, accused of treachery, was blinded and castrated.[13]

In external affairs, William had some successes. In 1091 he repulsed an invasion by King Malcolm III of Scotland, forcing Malcolm to pay homage. In 1092 he built Carlisle Castle, taking control of Cumberland and Westmoreland, which had previously been claimed by the Scots.[8] Subsequently, the two kings quarrelled over Malcolm's possessions in England, and Malcolm again invaded, ravaging Northumbria. At the Battle of Alnwick, on 13 November 1093, Malcolm was ambushed by Norman forces led by Robert de Mowbray. Malcolm and his son Edward were killed and Malcolm III's brother Donald seized the throne. William supported Malcolm's son Duncan II, who held power for a short time, and then another of Malcolm's sons, Edgar. Edgar conquered Lothian in 1094 and eventually removed Donald in 1097 with William's aid in a campaign led by Edgar Ætheling. Edgar recognised William's authority over Lothian and attended William's court.

William made two forays into Wales in 1097. Nothing decisive was achieved, but a series of castles were constructed as a marchland defensive barrier.[14]

In 1096, William's brother Robert Curthose joined the First Crusade. He needed money to fund this venture and pledged his Duchy of Normandy to William in return for a payment of 10,000 marks—a sum equalling about a quarter of William's annual revenue. In a display of the effectiveness of English taxation, William raised the money by levying a special, heavy, and much-resented tax upon the whole of England. William then ruled Normandy as regent in Robert's absence. Robert did not return until September 1100, one month after William's death.

As regent for his brother Robert in Normandy, William campaigned in France from 1097 to 1099. He secured northern Maine but failed to seize the French-controlled part of the Vexin region. At the time of his death, he was planning to invade Aquitaine, in southwestern France.

Death in the New Forest

William went hunting on 2 August 1100 in the New Forest, probably near Brockenhurst, and was killed by an arrow through the lung, though the circumstances remain unclear. The earliest statement of the event was in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which noted that the king was "shot by an arrow by one of his own men".[15] Later chroniclers added the name of the killer, a nobleman named Walter Tirel, although the description of events was later embroidered with other details that may or may not be true.[16] The first mention of any location more exact than the New Forest comes from John Leland, who wrote in 1530 that William died at Thorougham, a placename which has since fallen into disuse but was probably located at what is now Park Farm on the Beaulieu estates.[17][18]

William's body was abandoned by the nobles at the place where he fell. His younger brother, Henry, hastened to Winchester to secure the royal treasury, then to London, where he was crowned within days, before either archbishop could arrive. William of Malmesbury, in his account of William's death, stated that the body was taken to Winchester Cathedral by a few countrymen.[19]

To the chroniclers – men of the Church – such an 'act of God' was a just end for a wicked king. Over the following centuries, the obvious suggestion that one of William's enemies may have had a hand in this extraordinary event has repeatedly been made: chroniclers of the time point out themselves that Tirel was renowned as a keen bowman, and thus was unlikely to have loosed such an impetuous shot. Moreover, William's brother Henry was among the hunting party that day and benefited directly from William's death, being crowned king shortly thereafter. Modern scholars have reopened the question, and some have found the assassination theory credible or compelling,[20] but the theory is not universally accepted.[21]

William's remains are in Winchester Cathedral, scattered among royal mortuary chests positioned on the presbytery screen, flanking the choir.[22] His skull appears to be missing, but some long bones may remain.[23]

The Rufus Stone

A stone known as the "Rufus Stone" marks the spot where William II supposedly fell (see

The inscription on the Rufus Stone reads:

Here stood the oak tree, on which an arrow shot by Sir Walter Tyrrell at a stag, glanced and struck King William the Second, surnamed Rufus, on the breast, of which he instantly died, on the second day of August, anno 1100. King William the Second, surnamed Rufus, being slain, as before related, was laid in a cart, belonging to one Purkis to take the king's body to Winchester Cathedral on his cart.,[25] and drawn from hence, to Winchester, and buried in the Cathedral Church, of that city.

Contemporary assessment

Although William was an effective soldier, he was a ruthless ruler and, it seems, was little liked by those he governed: according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, he was "hated by almost all his people and abhorrent to God."[26] Chroniclers tended to take a dim view of William's reign, arguably on account of his long and difficult struggles with the Church: these chroniclers were themselves generally clerics, and so might be expected to report him somewhat negatively. His chief minister was Ranulf Flambard, whom he appointed Bishop of Durham in 1099: this was a political appointment, to a see that was also a great fiefdom. The particulars of the king's relationship with the people of England are not credibly documented. Contemporaries of William, as well as those writing after his death, roundly denounced him for presiding over what these dissenters considered to be a dissolute court. In keeping with tradition of Norman leaders, William scorned the English and the English culture.[27]





External links

William II of England
Born: 1056 Died: 2 August 1100
Regnal titles
Preceded by
William I
King of England
Succeeded by
Henry I
Family information
Robert II of Normandy
House of Norman
William I
King of England
William II of England
Herleva of Falaise
Baldwin V of Flanders
House of Flanders
Matilda of Flanders
Adela of France
House of Capet Major
Notes and references
1. Tompsett, Brian, The Proceedings of the Friesian School (Los Angeles, US: Los Angeles Valley College, 2007).

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