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William II of England

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William II (called "Rufus", perhaps because of his red-faced appearance, or maybe his bloody reign) (c. 1056August 2, 1100) was the second son of William the Conqueror and was King of England from 1087 until 1100, with powers also over Scotland, Wales and Normandy.

Although William was an effective soldier, he was a ruthless ruler and was little liked by those he governed; according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, he was "hated by almost all his people." However, it is not surprising that the chroniclers of his time took a dim view of Rufus, because many literate men of the day were men of the Church, against which Rufus fought hard and long.

William himself seems to have been a flamboyant character, and his reign was marked by his bellicose temperament. He never married or had illegitimate children; it has been suggested that he was homosexual.

Contents

Early years

William's exact date of birth is unknown, but it was some time between the years 1056 and 1060. He was born in his father's duchy of Normandy, which would be inherited in due course by his elder brother, Robert Curthose. His father's favourite son, William succeeded to the throne of England on his father's death, but there was always hostility between him and his eldest brother, though they became reconciled after an attempted coup in 1091 by their youngest brother, Henry.

Relations between the three brothers had never been excellent; Orderic Vitalis relates an incident that took place at Laigle, in 1077 or 1078. William and Henry, having grown bored with casting dice, decided to make mischief by pouring fetid water on their brother Robert from an upper gallery, thusly infuriating and shaming him. A brawl broke out, and their father King William was forced to intercede and restore order.

Appearance

According to William of Malmesbury, William Rufus was "thickset and muscular with a protruding belly; a dandy dressed in the height of fashion, however outrageous, he wore his blond hair long, parted in the centre and off the face so that his forehead was bare; and in his red, choleric face were eyes of changeable colour, speckled with flecks of light" (Barlow).

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 Channel. Since the younger William and 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 favor of one ruler or the other (or both of them). 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 favor 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. William, however, won the support of the English with promises of better government and defeated the rebellion, thus securing his authority in this precarious early period after becoming king. In 1090 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 Maine.

Power struggles

Much of William's reign was spent feuding with the church; after the death of Archbishop Lanfranc in 1089, he appropriated ecclesiastical revenues to which he was not entitled, and for this he was much criticised. In 1093 Anselm was made Archbishop of Canterbury, and this led to a long period of animosity between church and state. William and Anselm disagreed on a range of ecclesiastical issues, and in October 1097, Anselm went into exile. The problem was somewhat mitigated for William by his ability to claim the revenues of the archbishopric of Canterbury as long Anselm remained in exile, and Anselm remained in exile until the reign of William's successor, Henry I.

In 1095, Robert de Mowbray, the earl of Northumbria, would not come to William's court, and William subsequently led an army against him and defeated him; the earl was dispossessed and imprisoned. Another noble, William of Eu, was also accused of treachery and blinded and castrated. That same year, William II also made an unsuccessful foray into Wales. He tried again in 1097 with an equal lack of success. He returned to Normandy in 1097 and from then until 1099 campaigned in France, securing and holding northern Maine but failing to seize the French-controlled part of the Vexin region. At the time of his death he was planning to occupy Aquitaine in south-western France.

William also quarrelled with the Scottish king, Malcolm III, forcing him to pay homage in 1091 and seizing the border city of Carlisle in 1092. However, he gained effective control of the Scottish throne after Malcolm's death in 1093 when he backed a successful bid by Edgar Atheling to dethrone Malcolm III's brother Donald Bane in favor of his nephew, also named Edgar. The newly crowned King Edgar, who ruled Scotland from 1097 to 1107, thus owed his position to William.

In 1096, William's brother Robert joined the First Crusade. He needed money to fund this venture and pledged his duchy to William in return for a payment of 10,000 marks; a sum equalling about one-fourth of William's annual revenue. 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.

The Court of William II

William Rufus had a notorious disregard for the church; his most passionate detractors are found among clergymen. Eadmer relates two incidents in which William Rufus either convinced converted Jews to return to Judaism, or attempted to do so. During his quarrels with Anselm of Canterbury, the king declared that "he hated him much yesterday, that he hated him much today, and that he would hate him more and more tomorrow and every other day."

William of Malmesbury decries William Rufus' court, which he describes as being filled by "effeminate" young men in extravagent clothes mincing about in "shoes with curved points". Orderic Vitalis makes mention of the "fornicators and sodomites" who held favor during William Rufus' reign, and remarks approvingly that when Henry became king, one of his first acts was to have his courtiers shorn of their long hair.

The unusual death of William II

Perhaps the most memorable event in the life of William Rufus was his death, which occurred while hunting in the New Forest. He was killed by an arrow through the heart, but the circumstances remain unclear.

On a bright August day in 1100, William organised a hunting trip in the New Forest. An account by Orderic Vitalis described the preparations for the hunt:

...an armourer came in and presented to him (Rufus) six arrows. The King immediately took them with great satisfaction, praising the work, and unconscious of what was to happen, kept four of them himself and held out the other two to Walter Tyrrel... saying It is only right that the sharpest be given to the man who knows how to shoot the deadliest shots.

On the subsequent hunt, the party spread out as they chased their prey, and William, in the company of Walter Tirel (or Tyrell), Lord of Poix, became separated from the others. It was the last time that William was seen alive.

William was found the next day by a group of local peasants lying dead in the woods with an arrow piercing his lungs. William's body was abandoned by the nobles at the place where he fell, because the law and order of the kingdom died with the king, and they had to flee to their English or Norman estates to secure their interests. Legend has it that it was left to a local charcoal-burner named Purkis to take the king's body to Winchester Cathedral on his cart.

According to the chroniclers, William's death was not murder. Walter and William had been hunting together when Walter let loose a wild shot that, instead of hitting the stag he aimed for, struck William in the chest. Walter tried to help him, but there was nothing he could do. Fearing that he would be charged with murder, Walter panicked, leapt onto his horse, and fled. A version of this tale is given by William of Malmesbury in his Chronicle of the Kings of the English (c. 1128):

The day before the king died he dreamt that he went to heaven. He suddenly awoke. He commanded a light to be brought, and forbade his attendants to leave him. The next day he went into the forest... He was attended by a few persons... Walter Tirel remained with him, while the others, were on the chase. The sun was now declining, when the king, drawing his bow and letting fly an arrow, slightly wounded a stag which passed before him... The stag was still running... The king, followed it a long time with his eyes, holding up his hand to keep off the power of the sun's rays. At this instant Walter decided to kill another stag. Oh, gracious God! the arrow pierced the king's breast.
On receiving the wound the king uttered not a word; but breaking off the shaft of the arrow where it projected from his body... This accelerated his death. Walter immediately ran up, but as he found him senseless, he leapt upon his horse, and escaped with the utmost speed. Indeed there were none to pursue him: some helped his flight; others felt sorry for him.
The king's body was placed on a cart and conveyed to the cathedral at Winchester... blood dripped from the body all the way. Here he was buried within the tower. The next year, the tower fell down. William Rufus died in 1100... aged forty years. He was a man much pitied by the clergy... he had a soul which they could not save... He was loved by his soldiers but hated by the people because he caused them to be plundered.

To some chroniclers, such an 'Act of God' was a just end for a wicked king. However, over the centuries, the obvious suggestion that one of William's many enemies may have had a hand in this extraordinary event has been repeatedly made. Even chroniclers of the time point out that Walter was renowned as a keen bowman, and unlikely to fire such an impetuous shot. And William's brother Henry, who was among the hunting party that day, benefitted directly from William's death, as he was shortly after crowned king.

Abbot Suger, another chronicler, was Tirel's friend and sheltered him in his French exile. He said later:

It was laid to the charge of a certain noble, Walter Tirel, that he had shot the king with an arrow; but I have often heard him, when he had nothing to fear nor to hope, solemnly swear that on the day in question he was not in the part of the forest where the king was hunting, nor ever saw him in the forest at all.

The Rufus Stone

A stone known as the Rufus Stone marks the spot where some believe he fell. Template:Gbmapping

The inscription on the Rufus Stone reads:

Here stood the oak tree, on which an arrow shot by Sir Walter Tyrell 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, and drawn from hence, to Winchester, and buried in the Cathedral Church, of that city.

Fictional treatments

William Rufus is a major character in Valerie Anand's historical novel, King of the Wood (1989).

William II is indirectly the subject of two historical novels by George Shipway, called The Paladin and The Wolf Time. The main character of the novels is Walter Tirel (or Tyrell) the supposed assassin of King William, and the main thrust of the plot of the novels is that the assassination was engineered by Henry.

References

  • Barlow, Frank. William Rufus. Berkeley, CA : University of California, 1983. ISBN 0300082916
  • Douglas, David C. William the Conqueror; the Norman impact upon England. Berkeley, CA : University of California, 1964. ISBN 0520003500
  • Hollister, C. Warren. "The Strange Death of William Rufus." Speculum, 48.4 (1973): 637-653.
  • Mason, Emma. "William Rufus: myth and reality." Journal of Medieval History, 3.1 (1977): 1-20.
  • Warren, W. L. "The Death of William Rufus." History Today, 9 (1959)
  • Orderic Vitalis
  • William of Malmesbury
  • Eadmer


Preceded by:
William I
King of England
9 September 1087–2 August 1100
Succeeded by:
Henry I

Template:End boxcy:Gwilym II o Loegr de:Wilhelm II. (England) eo:Vilhelmo la 2-a (Anglio) fr:Guillaume II d'Angleterre it:Guglielmo II d'Inghilterra he:ויליאם השני מלך אנגליה nl:Willem II van Engeland ja:ウィリアム2世 (イングランド王) pl:Wilhelm II Rudy pt:Guilherme II de Inglaterra fi:Vilhelm II Punainen sv:Vilhelm II av England uk:Вільгельм II Рудий zh:威廉二世 (英格蘭)

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