William Rufus

(William II of England)


William Rufus was the third and favorite son of William the Conqueror. He was not expected to ascend to the throne, but because of a long-running feud between his father and his eldest brother, Robert Curthose, and the death of his second eldest brother, Richard, the Kingdom of England was bequeathed to William Rufus. The historical record of his thirteen year reign portrays him highly unfavorably, but unlike his father, who was very deferential to the church, William Rufus feuded with his bishops and confiscated church revenues, behavior which tended to detract from one's reputation with the chroniclers of the time. By all accounts however, the William's conduct in both his private and public life was reprehensible. Although a strong and energetic king, he was cruel, grasping, arrogant and lacking in tact and discretion.

William Rufus
William the Conqueror had spent his entire youth fighting off rebellious barons so as king, he held all power in his own hands. His eldest son, supported by other members of William's family, believed that as heir apparent, he should be given the duchy of Normandy to rule independently, and he therefore raised a rebellion against his father in 1077. In this rebellion, William Rufus supported the cause of his father and when William died he desired to bypass his defiant elder son altogether and leave his entire empire to William. His counsellors believed this was unwise, so Normandy was given to Robert, the elder, and England to William. Within a year of this settlement, Robert rebelled against his brother and tried to take England under his realm. William successfully opposed this rebellion, and repaired his relationship with Robert so well that a few years later he acted as regent for his brother when he left on a crusade. William also repulsed an invasion in Northumbria led by Malcolm of Scotland and put down a rebellion in Wales. Overall, he succeeded in consolidating his power during the early years of his reign, but he did so largely by bad faith and brutality rather then by military skill and diplomacy.

It was his relationship with the church however, rather than with rebellious barons, that gave him the most trouble. He was tutored in his youth by Lanfranc, a highly esteemed advisor to William the Conqueror, and the first Norman Archbishop of Canterbury. As long as Lanfranc lived, his bad behavior was held somewhat in check, but Lanfranc died early in his reign, and from that point on, William's relationship with the Church was antagonistic and his personal conduct deplorable. He confiscated church monies for his own personal and extravagant use, failed to fill bishoprics, or filled them with corrupt cronies, and showed no deference for the church or contrition for his behavior. Eventually, after four years of keeping the Archbishop of Canterbury vacant, under great pressure, and in a moment of weakness, he appointed Anselm to the position. Anselm was familiar with the deplorable state of affairs and dreaded the task, but was likewise pressured to accept the position and fell out of favor with William Rufus almost immediately. After four years of conflict, Anselm left England and did not return until after William's death in a hunting accident two years later.

Key events during the life of William Rufus:

Birth of William Rufus, the third and favorite son of William the Conqueror.
William the Conqueror wins the crown of England at the Battle of Hastings.
Fought on the side of his father, during his brother Robert's rebellion.
Crowned king of England on the death of his father.
Second rebellion of Robert Curthose
Death of Lanfranc, Archbishop and counsellor of William Rufus.
Repulsed an invasion from Scotland by Malcolm, and an attempted coup by Henry I.
Appointed Anselm as Archbishop of Canterbury.
Defeated and killed Malcolm of Scotland at the battle of Alnwick
Raised money for Robert Curthose's crusade.
As regent of Normandy, annexed Maine to his brother's dominions.
Died in a hunting accident in the New Forest.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Sons of William the Conqueror  in  Fifty Famous Stories Retold  by  James Baldwin
Edith of Scotland  in  Historic Girls  by  E. S. Brooks
The Red King in the New Forest  in  Cambridge Historical Reader—Primary  by  Cambridge Press
Red King  in  Stories from English History  by  Alfred J. Church
Story of William the Red  in  Our Island Story  by  H. E. Marshall
Death of the Red King  in  Historical Tales: English  by  Charles Morris

Book Links
Anselm  by  E. M. Wilmot-Buxton

Image Links

A Norman King Hunting
 in Stories from English History

Anselm dragged to the Bedside of Rufus
 in Anselm

Rufus and Anselm dispute at Hastings
 in Anselm

Charcoal-burners finding the body of Rufus.
 in Anselm

Short Biography
Lanfranc Norman Archbishop of Canterbury, installed under William the Conqueror.
Robert III of Normandy Eldest son of William the conqueror. Raised a rebellion against his father.
Malcolm Canmore Long reigning King of Scotland, married St. Margaret, befriended Saxon exiles from Normans.
St. Anselm Archbishop of Canterbury under William Rufus and Henry I. Feuded with both kings.