William II

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.

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