Ward's Book of Days.

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On this day in history in 1100, died William Rufus.

William Rufus, William II, succeeded his father, William I, as king of England. He was notorious as a tyrant, was detested by nobles and peasants alike, and died in mysterious circumstances with an arrow through his heart.

William was the second son of William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy and winner of the battle of Hastings in 1066. There were three brothers, Robert, William and Henry. When William the Conqueror died in 1087, he left Normandy to his elder son, Robert, as he was obliged to do under feudal law, but left England, which he had gained and not inherited, to his favourite son, William.

Many of the Norman barons in England were not best pleased with the divorce of the two states. They felt that if the brothers quarrelled, as they were prone to do, then their lands in Normandy would be at risk of confiscation by Robert if they were to support William, and of course, their lands in England could be snatched by William if they supported Robert. In 1088, led by the Conqueror's half brother, Odo, Earl of Kent, and encouraged by Robert, they raised a rebellion in eastern England. Rufus retaliated by bringing his Saxon lords to his cause by promising reduced taxation and allowing them a share in the government. He managed to suppress the rebellion and even sought revenge against his treacherous brother by invading Normandy, and seizing part of that dukedom. In 1095, a second revolt was ruthlessly crushed, and William had many of the participants killed, blinded or castrated. From then on, no baron dared to challenge his authority and William felt confident enough to renege on his promise to reduce taxation.

William showed little respect for the nobles and displayed open contempt for the church. He allowed bishoprics to fall into decay whenever a vacancy arose, and refused to appoint successors to deceased bishops, taking the income for his own purposes. When the Archbishop of Canterbury protested, William seized his lands and forced him to leave for Rome. The clergy condemned him as an atheist, a usurper and a homosexual. This latter charge could well be true as William never married or produced any offspring, and was notorious for showing favours to younger men at the court.

When Robert left to join the Crusades in 1093, William attempted to take Normandy, but was himself attacked by the king of Scots, Malcolm III. William ruthlessly struck back and hunted down Malcolm, trapping him in Northumberland, and putting him and his elder son to death. For good measure, William invaded Wales and nearly succeeded in subjecting the whole principality. In 1100, he was about to set sail to Normandy to complete his conquest of Robertís territory, when he paused for some hunting in the New Forest. On 2nd August 1100, William, in the company of one of his close associates, Sir Walter Tyrell, became separated from the hunt. The next day, a group of peasants found William dead with an arrow in his back.

It was suspected that Tyrell had shot and killed the king, but none of the kingís men bothered to investigate. Instead they escorted the king's younger brother, Henry, to London, where he was crowned as Henry I, three days later. However, they did pay a local charcoal-burner, Purkis, to take the king's body to Winchester Cathedral on his cart, where he was buried with proper ceremony but without the usual procession of mourners.

On the spot where William died was placed a stone, known as the Rufus Stone, relating the sad event of the kingís death. The Rufus Stone has long since fallen into fragments, but in 1865, it was encased in a monument of cast iron and can be found in its original position. [In the vicinity of Minstead, Lyndhurst, SO43 7GL. grid reference SU270124]

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