William II

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for the German Kaiser see Kaiser Wilhelm II

William II (Rufus) (c. 1060-1100), King of England, 1087-1100. Second son of William I, The Conqueror, was granted the Crown of England at the deathbed of his father, while Robert Curthose, the oldest son, became Duke of Normandy; decisions that caused resentment from Robert and much unrest amongst the barons who preferred a single ruler of both lands.

William Rufus had a busy reign that left no discernible lasting legacy. Within a year of his accession he had to put down a rebellion on behalf of Robert led by his uncle Odo, Bishop of Bayeux. Two years later saw him invading Normandy, with the aim of destablizing his brother, whilst at the same time resecuring parts of the duchy in danger of being lost to barons. In 1091 he forced King Malcolm III of Scotland to swear homage, and captured the town of Carlisle. In 1094 he was back in Normandy, and managed to persuade Philip I of France to cease aiding Robert.

In 1096 Robert left to join the First Crusade, pledging Normandy to William for finance for the Crusade, effectively giving William complete control of the duchy. He also made an unsuccessful foray into Wales.

He fell out with St. Anselm, the widely respected theologian and Archbishop of Canterbury, over the matter of ecclesiastical investitures and banished him. Anselm only returned after William’s death.

During his reign he was widely resented by the clergy for his rapacity and brutality. Whilst he was probably no worse than his father, he had not his predecessor’s tact. He had a short temper and a rough manner. He never married and there are no records of children; almost unheard of for royalty in that age. There were rumours of homosexuality. He was a good commander, and successful in most of his campaigns; but had few inclinations of mercy. He was a ruthless pillager of all he could get his hands on. He disliked the English and had no respect for their culture or possessions.

William Rufus’ death is more notable than his life. He was killed by an arrow whilst hunting in the New Forest. It is not known if the shot was accidental, but certainly there is no evidence it was deliberate. His younger brother, Henry, who was nearby, took off to secure the treasury at Winchester and then to London to have himself crowned, as soon as he was told of the death. The offending archer, one Walter Tyrrel, took off to France; but appeared back in England some time later. Whether his return was allowed by Henry’s gratitude for a job well done, or his thankful acknowledgement of serendipity, cannot be known.

See also

Further reading

  • Bartlett, Robert. England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings, 1075-1225 (2002) excerpt and text search
  • Chibnall, M. Anglo-Norman England, 1066—1166 (1986)


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