On this day : The 2nd of August 1100 AD

William Rufus killed by Arrow

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William II , known to history as William Rufus because of his red hair or ruddy complexion, had more or less seized the throne of England on the death of his fatherWilliam the Conqueror in 1087. Rufus raced from Normandy to England with his father’s supposed death-bed bequest and was crowned by his great ally Archbishop Lanfranc in Westminster Abbey within three weeks of the conqueror’s demise. His elder brother Robert took the Duchy of Normandy, and younger brother Henry inherited money but no lands.

Rufus is notoriously one of English history’s wicked kings, competing with John and Richard III for supremacy in that regard, yet like them he was not all bad. Partly out of necessity his reign saw a rapprochement between the invader Normans and the Saxon nobility – Rufus needed support against rebellion and the threat of invasion from brother Robert’s Normandy. He also secured the nation by building fortresses along the Welsh marchesand making Carlisle a royal stronghold, a move that helped bring the North under greater control.

He was not unique in milking the church for funds, leaving cathedrals abbeys and priories devoid of leadership so he could take the revenues from those foundations. He is famed as a blasphemer. Dying unmarried, and with no illegitimate children either, it is widely thought he was homosexual, in those times a terrible slur.

The death of Rufus was sudden and violent, and remains a mystery. Hunting with friends in the New Forest on August 2nd 1100, after a no doubt wine-fuelled dinner, the party split up to search for game. William it is said was with Walter Tirel, Lord of Poix, who loosed a wild shot at a passing stag, the arrow grazing off the beast and hitting the king in the lung. Alternatively Tirel mistook the king’s hair for a red squirrel and fired a thoughtless shot at him. In Abbot Suger of St Denis’s version, though, Tirel, whom he sheltered in exile in France, denied having been in the same part of the forest as the king.

Theories and speculation abound. Henry , the brother of Rufus, set off forWinchester to secure the royal treasure without waiting to deal with William’s body, or to arrange pursuit of Tirel. Others think Rufus may have fallen on his own arrow. One fascinating idea is that he was a devil-worshipper whose time of death had been set with his knowledge. We will never know the truth, but the smoothness of Henry’s grab for the throne, being crowned just three days after the ‘accident’ is very suspicious to modern eyes.

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