Cambridge Historical Reader: Primary - Cambridge Press

The Red King in the New Forest

When William the Conqueror died, his second son, William, became king. He had red hair and a very red face, and so he was often called "Rufus," which means "The Red." His reign was a short one, and it was a good thing for the country that it was so; for Rufus was a very bad and cruel king.

The best thing we can say of him is that he was very brave. Once he wanted to cross the sea to France. When he reached the sea-shore, a great storm was raging, and the sailors said it was not safe to put out to sea. But William only laughed at their fears. He got on board the first ship he could see, and ordered the captain to set sail, saying, "Did you ever hear of a king being drowned?"

The Red king and his Norman friends were fond of hunting deer. Quite close to the city of Winchester where the king lived, was a large forest, known as the New Forest. There had always been a forest in that part of the country, but William the Conqueror had made it much larger.

He did this by pulling down a number of churches and houses, and driving away poor people. The deer could thus roam through the leafy glades without being disturbed. If a poor man dared to kill one of these royal animals, he was cruelly punished by having his eyes put out.

One fine day in August, in the year 1100, a great party met together for a day's hunting in the New Forest. The king and his brother, prince Henry, were there, and so was a Norman knight, Sir Walter Tyrrell, one of the king's friends, and a great hunter like himself.

Rufus had spent the night before at Malwood Keep, a kind of hunting lodge, and the old writers tell us that his sleep was broken by fearful dreams.

In the morning, too, an old woman begged him not to go out to the hunt, as evil would surely befall him that day. "Am I to be frightened by an old woman's tale?" asked the rough and ready king, and away he gaily rode to the chase.

All through the day, Sir Walter Tyrrell kept close to the king's side, quite away from the rest of the party. Late in the afternoon, a large stag sud¬denly darted from the bushes, and passed between the king and his friend.

Rufus at once drew his bow, but the string broke and the arrow fell to the ground. The startled deer stopped its flight for a moment, and the king at once called out to the knight, "Shoot, Walter, shoot!"

Tyrrell did so; but the arrow, instead of going straight to its mark, glanced against the trunk of a tree, and then struck the king, piercing him to the heart. He fell from his horse, quite dead.

You can understand how alarmed Sir Walter was, when he saw what he had done. No one else had seen what had happened: so, very likely he thought people would say he had really meant to kill the king. He therefore galloped away from the fatal spot as fast as he could. He soon reached the sea coast, got into a ship, and sailed across the Channel to France.

Now all this time the dead king was lying where he fell. It is said that, when prince Henry heard of the sad event, he at once rode with all speed to Winchester, to seize the money and jewels belonging to his dead brother.

In the evening, a poor charcoal burner was passing through the forest and saw the dead body of the king. He placed it in his cart and carried it to the great church at Winchester, where it was buried.

Rufus stone in new forest


For hundreds of years afterwards, an oak tree was pointed out as being the one against which, the fatal arrow glanced. A stone was set up in the place where it fell, and this is called "The Rufus Stone."

No one was sorry that the Red king was dead. As an old writer says, "He feared God but little, and man not at all."