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William Rufus, 1087-1100, King of England

Updated on August 21, 2011

What an act to follow- William the Conqueror

On the death of William the Conqueror his lands were divided between his sons. His hereditary lands those in Normandy were left to his eldest son Robert who had been named heir in 1078. The lands that he had acquired, England were willed to his son, William,. The reason behind this may have been that King William I wished to provide for both sons but more likely it was his wish to reward William for his loyalty to his father and Robert for his disloyalty. At the Conquerors death it was noted that William sat at this fathers bed side until he died whilst Robert was at the French court and refused to journey to his father.

William Rufus
William Rufus

William Rufus

William II known as Rufus was supported in his accession to the throne by a number of influential men headed by the Archbishop Lanfranc of Canterbury. (note the french surname, evidence that the french had acceded to power within the English church). Shortly after his accession Rufus was opposed by a large number of the ruling Norman Barons. The chronicles of Oderic Vitalis state that the aim of the rebellion was the unification of Normandy and England to ease the rebels own political lives. The majority of them had lands in both England and Normandy and found themselves serving two masters with different objectives who were mutually hostile.


The rebellion of 1088 by the Norman Barons quickly collapsed but Rufus was forced to take action and did so by putting his claim on the Duchy of Normandy. Using funds from England he was able to buy support and made some progress in Normandy, However in England there was a further conspiracy in 1095. Tensions within the ruling classes were running high but they were eased in a remarkable way. The pope, UrbanII preached throughout Europe enticing thousands to ride off to Jerusalem to rescue the Holy city from Muslim rule.

Robert, Duke of Normandy wanted to go to the war. He saw their romantic glamour of the expedition and the opportunity to cover himself in glory. Robert had mismanaged his dukedom and did not have the money to fund an expedition. After trying for loans unsuccessfully he turned to his brother and obtained a loan of 10,000 marks on the security of his lands in Normandy. Thus England and Normandy were reunited under one ruler, William Rufus. Rufus went further and reconquered the areas of  Maine and Vexin which had been lost by Robert so that by 1099 Rufus had restored William the Conquerors kingdom to its original frontiers.

The King and Church

The Kings relationships with the church were a troublesome subject during his reign. In 1093 William suffered a serious illness and the prognosis was that he was dying. He appointed a rather scholarly, saintly man, Anselm of Bec to the vacant seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Anselm was a proponent of the Gregorian reform which was a forum for radicals. Such were the relations between the King and his Archbishop that he called a council of his nobles, held at Rockingham to settle the dispute. Anselm objected to this by declaring that he was not subject to the King's power but subject to his obligations to God, and that these over rode the Kings' powers. Rufus continued his harassment of the Archbishop until 1097 when Anselm left the country giving the King his rich establishment at Canterbury. This is one action that demonstrated that William was an intelligent, strong king who as Eadmer, a Canterbury monk, wrote in his "Life of Anselm", " the wind and the sea obey him".

A stone to mark the spot where the King fell
A stone to mark the spot where the King fell

Robert returns.

The peaceful situation between Normandy and England was not to last. Robert was returning from Jerusalem with a very wealthy wife and was keen to redeem his lands and once again become the Duke of Normandy. However on 2nd August 1100, before Robert had returned, William was killed in a hunting accident in the New Forest and his life was brought to an unexpected end. There was a third brother Henry who took up the baton of keeping the reunited kingdom their father had fought so hard for and his brother had fought to regain.

William Rufus (English Monarchs)
William Rufus (English Monarchs)
The author is the Emeritus professor of History at the University of Exeter

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