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King Rufus

Updated on January 22, 2012

Rufus the Red

William Rufus, or Rufus the Red, was the third son of William the Conqueror and Queen Matilda. The eldest son was Robert Curthose, the second eldest was Richard, and Rufus's younger brother was Henry. The brothers were never very friendly to each other, seeming to be arguing and fighting among themselves continually. Rufus was born somewhere between 1056 and 1060, and he got the nickname Rufus the Red because of his ruddy complexion. Born in the Duchy of Normandy, he was brought up in England and educated by Archbishop Lanfranc of Canterbury. Richard, unfortunately died young, making Rufus the second eldest son. Rufus never married and he had no illegitimate children.

Robert Curthose

In 1077, his brother Robert Curthose met with his father and told him that he wanted to be the ruler of Normandy. William the Conqueror refused him and Robert stormed off and tried to seize Rouen. William Rufus took up arms with his father and helped him to quash the rebellion. The defeated Robert fled and made a stand at Gerberoi. William and Rufus besieged Gerberoi and during the fighting Rufus was wounded. The Conqueror decided that Rufus would be next in line for the throne of England as Robert Curthose was an unpredictable rebel. In 1080, Queen Matilda persuaded William and Robert to end their feud and an uneasy truce was called.

William the Conqueror died on the 9th of September 1087 after falling from his horse and suffering fatal injuries. Robert Curthose inherited the Duchy of Normandy and William Rufus was crowned King of England, as William 2nd. Their younger brother Henry was given 5000 pounds in silver. Rufus was crowned on 26th September, 1087 by his old teacher, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lanfranc.

Dividing the realm in this way caused many problems for those nobles with estates in both countries. They met together to air their views, stating that they were afraid to show allegiance to Rufus as Robert would be incensed and confiscate their lands in Normandy, yet if they showed allegiance to Robert, then Rufus would confiscate their lands in England. A real dilemma.

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They decided to unite and get rid of King Rufus, thereby joining Normandy and England together under a single king, Duke Robert. The rebels were led by William the Conqueror's elder half-brothers Odo of Bayeux and Robert, Count of Mortain.

The rebels' ranks were made up of six of the the most powerful barons in England. They were spread right across the length of England from Northumbria to Kent, controlled by Odo. Robert would launch an invasion force from Normandy, and in the meantime, Odo and the rebel barons would start the campaign in England.

In the Spring of 1088, the barons set out on a campaign to beat the king's supporters and take over their lands. They then saw to their own defences by improving their fortifications around their castles and stocking them with provisions. They waited for Rufus to respond, knowing they could plunder the neighbouring territories and reduce the kingdom to anarchy.

Rufus responded immediately, by dividing his enemies. He promised the ones who sided with him that he would give them as much money and land as they wanted. Then he appealed to the English people as a whole, promising them the best and wisest law that they had ever seen. Finally, he attacked the rebels personally and in a six-week siege of Pevensey Castle he captured the rebel leader Odo.

Fortunately for Rufus, the troops that Robert was sending from Normandy were caught in a storm at sea, delaying them greatly. In the meantime Rufus took Rochester Castle, and with Robert's troops still delayed, the rebels surrendered and the rebellion was over.

Rufus's nobles advised him to show leniency to the rebels, arguing that if he treated them with compassion, a lot more of them would support him.

Odo, previously a very rich man was stripped of his land and titles and banished to Normandy, while his brother Robert of Mortain was allowed to stay and keep his estates.

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In 1091 Rufus invaded Normandy, and such was the size of his army that his brother Robert Curthose sought peace with him. Rufus now had control over large areas of Normandy. Then he looked to his younger brother's holdings at Cotentin and set up a siege to take control of them. Henry was forced to surrender Cotentin in the summer of 1091, after a siege of fifteen days.

While Rufus was away in France, the Scots invaded England. King Malcolm 3rd had to be taught a lesson so when Rufus returned from the French campaigns, he marched North and soon had Malcolm beaten.

Unlike his father, Rufus was very unpopular with the Church. He was not a committed Christian, and his father's policy of allowing the Church huge amounts of money was reversed. When Rufus needed to raise money, he raided monasteries. He was not a very popular monarch at all, especially when, in 1096, Rufus seized the property of Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury while the Archbishop was in Rome.

The next months had William Rufus involved in many military campaigns in Wales, Scotland and Normandy. There was unrest everywhere. In January 1098 his forces captured Maine and besieged Le Mans. He fought a war against King Philip of France but the opposition was too fierce for him and he agreed a truce in April 1099.

On 2nd August 1100, King Rufus was hunting in the New Forest with his younger brother Henry and a hunting party consisting of Brothers Gilbert and Robert de Clare and Walter Tyrrel. Tyrrel loosed an arrow at a stag but the arrow missed the animal and hit William Rufus in the chest. Within a few minutes the king was dead. The whole hunting party panicked and raced away from the scene, leaving the King under a tree. A woodsman came across the body of the King later in the day and carried him back to the palace on his hand cart. Tyrrel made for a port and quickly crossed the channel to France. He never returned again to England.

As soon as Henry realised William Rufus was dead, he rushed to Winchester where the treasury of the kingdom was kept. After gaining control of the treasury, Henry declared he was the new king. Gilbert and Robert de Clare supported Henry in his seizure of the crown and King Henry 1st was crowned king on 5th August. Robert Curthose threatened to invade England and take the crown but eventually agreed to do a deal with Henry. Robert accepted Henry as king of England for a good, annual sum of money.

The Clare family were generously rewarded for their loyalty to Henry. Although Walter Tyrrel stayed clear of England, his son was allowed to keep the family estates. Some suspected that Henry and the Clare family had planned the murder of Rufus, others accepted that William Rufus had been killed by accident. We will never know the truth of the matter, but the Clare family obtained considerable benefit from the death of William Rufus, and not many people shed a tear over his passing.

Death of Rufus


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    • scarytaff profile image

      Derek James 8 years ago from South Wales

      Thank you jayjay and No.7 Your comments are greatly appreciated.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 8 years ago from Upstate New York

      Terrific hub. That woodcut of the New Forest is MARVELOUS! Great copy, interesting info as always. The power struggles back then were fierce, harsh and unrefined. But fewer people died as a result.

    • jayjay40 profile image

      jayjay40 8 years ago from Bristol England

      another good hub. It brings back a lovely memory of a visit to the new forest to see the Rufus Stone. Thanks