William II Facts
William II (ca. 1058-1100) called William Rufus, "the Red," was king of England from 1087 to 1100. He attempted to wrest Normandy from his brother, and he quarreled about his rights over the Church with Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury.
William II was the second surviving son of William I and Matilda of Flanders. On the death of William I his lands were divided; his elder son Robert became Duke of Normandy, while William Rufus received England. He was crowned on Sept. 26, 1087. He had almost at once to face a rebellion in favor of Robert, led by their uncle Odo, Earl of Kent and Bishop of Bayeux. The rebels were defeated largely with the help of English levies, to whom William promised, among other things, less taxation and milder forest laws, but he did not keep his promise. In 1091 he attacked Normandy with some success; by the treaty of Rouen, Robert let him hold what he had won in return for help in restoring order and regaining the county of Maine. These promises too were only partially fulfilled.
Archbishop Lanfranc died in 1089. William, who seems to have been openly irreligious, kept the see vacant and exploited the leaderless Church through his able and unpopular minister Ranulf Flambard. But in 1093, thinking he was dying, he appointed as archbishop Anselm, Abbot of Bec, a leading theologian, who made every effort to decline the office. The King recovered, shook off his superstitious fears, and soon quarreled with the archbishop. The first dispute arose over the recognition of one of two rival popes; more trouble arose over the poor quality of the archbishop's knights; in addition William would not allow Anselm to visit the Pope to obtain his pallium. A council at Rockingham (February 1095) failed to make a decision about the arch-bishop's rights. The King wished for his deposition but was outmaneuvered by a papal legate to England.
In 1096 Duke Robert decided to go on crusade. To finance his expedition he offered to pledge the duchy to William for 100,000 marks. William raised the money in England and so got control of Normandy, where he restored order and attacked Maine and the French Vexin. He was considering a similar bargain with the Duke of Aquitaine, but on Aug. 2, 1100, while hunting in the New Forest with his brother Henry, he was killed by an arrow shot by Walter Tirel. His body was brought by a forester to Winchester and buried without ceremony in the Cathedral, while his brother seized his treasure and his throne.
William was an able ruler and in his disputes with Anselm was only claiming rights which his father had exercised. His reputation suffered because he was a homosexual and an irreligious man in an age when prejudices were strong and nearly all history was written by churchmen.
Further Reading on William II
Useful information about William Rufus is provided in the biography of his brother by Charles Wendell David, Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy (1920). A good account of the England of William's time is in A. Lane Poole, From Domesday Book to Magna Carta, 1087-1216 (1951; 2d ed. 1955), and of Normandy in Charles Homer Haskins, Norman Institutions (1918).
Additional Biography Sources
Barlow, Frank, William Rufus, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.
The last of the Hohenzollern rulers, William II (1859-1941) was emperor of Germany and king of Prussia from 1888 until his forced abdication in 1918.
In the crucial years before World War I, William II was the most powerful and most controversial figure in Europe. His domineering personality and the comparatively vague political structure of the post-Bismarck state combined to make his reign over the most advanced country in Europe both authoritarian and archaic.
William was born on Jan. 27, 1859. He was the son of Frederick III and Princess Victoria of England. William's views of his prerogatives were strongly influenced by his Prussian military education, amidst the subservience and flattery of his fellow cadets. After completing his studies at the University of Bonn, William entered the army and in 1881 married Princess Augusta Victoria of Schleswig Holstein.
William was an intelligent, dashing, impulsive young man who loved military display and believed in the divine nature of kingship; his strong personality overcame the serious handicap (for a horseman) of a withered left arm. His father found William immature, but Chancellor Otto von Bismarck considered him a more acceptable successor to his grandfather (and to Frederick the Great) than his liberal father. Conservative circles in Germany breathed a sigh of relief when the death of William I in 1888 was quickly followed by that of Frederick III. William II ascended the throne that year.
Differences between the young kaiser and the aging Bismarck soon were public knowledge. Serious questions of policy separated them, such as whether to renew the anti-Socialist legislation on the books since 1878, and in foreign affairs, whether to keep the alliance with Russia as well as with Austria, as Bismarck insisted. But basically the split was a personal one, the question being which man was to rule Germany. William forced Bismarck to resign in 1890, and thereafter he steered his own course.
It seemed to mark the beginning of a new era. William was the representative of a new generation that had grown up since German unification, and he was at home in the world of technology and of neoromantic German nationalism. Indeed, William gave the impression of dynamism. He was always in the public eye and caught, for a time, the imagination of his country. But he cared little for the day-to-day problems of government, and his "policies" were often shallow, short-lived, and contradictory. Thus the "Labor Emperor" of the early years of the reign soon became the implacable enemy of the Social Democratic working-class movement. In foreign policy his inconsistencies were even more glaring. England and Russia, in particular, were alternately wooed and rebuffed; both ultimately ended up as foes. Sometimes the Kaiser's sounder instincts were overridden by his advisers, as in the Morocco crisis of 1905, which William, who was essentially peaceful in intent, had not wished to provoke. But mainly his mistakes were his own.
Foreign opinion concerning the Kaiser was much more hostile than German opinion, and his often bellicose and pompous utterances did much to tarnish Germany's image abroad. Nevertheless, World War I and postwar depictions of him as the incarnation of all that was evil in Germany were grossly unfair. So little was he the martial leader of a militaristic nation that his authority in fact faded during World War I, and the military assumed increasing control. Belatedly, William tried to rally a warweary nation with promises of democratic reforms, but at the end of the war the German Republic was proclaimed without serious opposition. William abdicated in November 1918.
After his abdication William lived in quiet retirement in Doorn, Holland, not actively involved with the movement for a restoration of the monarchy. He died in Doorn on June 4, 1941.
Further Reading on William II
Most studies of William II have been in a popular vein. Two good recent biographies are Virginia Cowles, The Kaiser (1963), and Michael Balfour, The Kaiser and His Time (1964). William's autobiographical My Early Life (trans. 1926) ends at 1888.