William II (England)

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William II (England).

Wilhelm II. , English William II , called William Rufus , French Guillaume II , called Guillaume le Roux (* 1056 ; †  August 2, 1100 near Lyndhurst in Hampshire ), was King of England from 1087 to 1100 . The nickname Rufus means "with the red hair" or "with the red cheeks". He was the son of Wilhelm the Conqueror and Mathilde , who came from the ruling dynasty of the Capetians . On September 26, 1087, he was crowned at Westminster Abbey .

Contemporary reception

On the other hand, although Wilhelm was a successful soldier, he was also a ruthless ruler and very unpopular with his subjects. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports that he was "hated by almost all subjects". This view of the Anglo-Saxon chroniclers must be viewed critically, because on the one hand the chroniclers of that time usually belonged to the clergy and Rufus was in a long and intense conflict with the church, and on the other hand, as was customary among the Normans at that time, he despised the Anglo-Saxon culture.

Wilhelm was a striking character and his reign was marked by his warlike temperament. He was never married and had no illegitimate children. On the other hand, various contemporary chroniclers ( Ordericus Vitalis , William of Malmesbury and Serlo, Bishop of Bayeux and Abbot of Gloucester ) report on the king's homosexual affairs. William of Malmesbury was contemptuous of William's court, which he described as full of “effeminate” young men in extravagant clothing. Ordericus Vitalis mentions “libertines and sodomites ”, who were in high favor during Wilhelm's reign, and agreed with the subsequent King Heinrich I, who had the courtiers shaved their long hair as one of his first official acts.

Wilhelm's favorite was Ranulf Flambard , whom he made Bishop of Durham in 1099 . At that time, in addition to the church office, this was also associated with a noble fief .

Outward appearance

William of Malmesbury describes Wilhelm Rufus as: “... muscular; his complexion was flushed, his hair yellow; his gaze was open; his eyes of different colors, with glittering spots; very strong, but not very big, and his belly rather protruding; ... "

Early years

The exact birthday of Wilhelm is not certain, but was between 1056 and 1060. He was the third of four sons of Wilhelm the Conqueror and Mathilde. The Duchy of Normandy would later be inherited from his eldest brother Robert Curthose . Wilhelm von Lanfrank von Bec was raised . It was already apparent during his youth that he would become an excellent feudal lord, but that he was incapable of becoming king.

After the unexpected death of his second oldest brother Richard, Wilhelm was appointed heir to the throne and succeeded his father to the English throne in 1087. This led to long-term enmity with Robert, which was only resolved when the youngest brother Heinrich tried to overthrow in 1091. Relations between the three brothers remained tense.

Wilhelm had five or six sisters.

England and France

The decision to divide the holdings of William the Conqueror on either side of the Channel created a dilemma for those nobles who owned lands on either side of the Channel. Since Wilhelm and his brother Robert were rivals, the nobles had to decide which liege they should serve. You would definitely lose the other ruler's favor. The only option they saw was to unite the two empires, Normandy and England. This led to the rebellion of 1088 in which the nobles joined Robert Curthose. The leader of this rebellion was Bishop Odo of Bayeux , a half-brother of William the Conqueror. Robert Curthose, however, failed to appear in England and support the rebels, so that Wilhelm could win the rebels on his side with silver and promises for a better government. Wilhelm invaded Normandy in 1090 and defeated Robert’s army. This then had to cede parts of his lands to Wilhelm. As a result, they settled their dispute and Wilhelm promised Robert his support in the planned recovery of the French county of Maine .

At that time, Wilhelm ruled one of the most powerful kingdoms in Europe and had few domestic problems with the nobility. In addition, he was obliged as in Normandy, the bishops and abbots as he always had the right in his kingdom by Norman tradition to forgive church offices new - unlike, say, the Holy Roman Empire, where Henry IV. During the Investiture Controversy exactly was excommunicated for this reason. The administration of royal estates in England and Normandy achieved an unbelievable efficiency in medieval Europe for the time.

Unlike the Capetians in France, who closely linked the monarchy with the hierarchy of the Church, Wilhelm's way of showing himself relatively unaffected by papal condemnation led to a united kingdom.

Relationship to the Church

After a few years, Wilhelm Rufus lost his advisor Lanfranc , the Italo-Norman Archbishop of Canterbury , who died in 1089. Initially, Wilhelm did not appoint a new archbishop for a few years, but collected the church income himself during this time. When he became seriously ill in 1093, he decided to appoint Anselm of Canterbury as archbishop. Anselm, who was also of Italian-Norman origin, was one of the most important theologians of his time. A long period of hostility between church and state began.

Anselm was a stronger supporter of Gregorian reforms in the Church than Lanfranc was. Wilhelm and Anselm were not in agreement on many church matters. Wilhelm once said that he

... hated him very much yesterday, hate him very much today and will hate him more and more tomorrow and in general.

The English clergy, however, were publicly cautious towards Anselm, as he was obliged to the king through offices and income conferred on him. In 1095 William convened a council at Rockingham to bring Anselm under control, but the archbishop stood firm.

In October 1097 Anselm went into exile and presented his case to the Pope. The new pope, the diplomatic and adaptable Urban II, was at the time involved in a dispute with the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV, who was supporting an antipope. Since Urban did not want to make another enemy, he concluded a concordat with Wilhelm Rufus . In it, Wilhelm recognized Urban as Pope and Urban blessed the Anglo-Norman procedure in church questions about the status quo at that time.

Anselm remained in exile and Wilhelm was able to collect the revenue of the Archdiocese of Canterbury until the end of his reign.

War and rebellion

The Norman possessions that Wilhelm inherited from his father are detailed in the Domesday Book , a list that was unique in Europe at the time and gave the monarchy control over the land. What Wilhelm did not inherit from his father was charisma and political ability. He failed to channel the Norman lords' propensity for rebellion and violence.

In 1095 Robert von Mowbray, the Earl of Northumberland , refused to attend the regis Curia , the council of the king, held three times a year . There the king announced his government decisions to the high nobility. Wilhelm then attacked Robert with his army and defeated him. Robert von Mowbray was expropriated and imprisoned. Another nobleman, Wilhelm von Eu , was accused of treason, blinded and emasculated.

In terms of foreign policy, Wilhelm had some successes. In 1091 he defeated the army of the Scottish King Malcolm III. back and forced him to pay homage to Wilhelm. Later both kings argued again over Malcolm's possessions in England and Malcom again invaded England and sacked Northumbria . At the Battle of Alnwick , he and his son Eduard were ambushed by Robert von Mowbray and killed. Malcolm's younger brother Donald then climbed as Donald III. the Scottish throne. However, Wilhelm supported Malcolm's son Duncan in his claims to the succession and later Edgar, another son of Malcolm.

Edgar conquered Lothian in 1094 and ousted Donald from the throne three years later. Before that he had waged a campaign with Edgar Ætheling with Wilhelm's help . Edgar recognized Wilhelm's rule over Lothian and joined his court. William was less lucky in Wales and failed with two raids in 1096 and 1097.

In 1096, Wilhelm's brother Robert Curthose joined the First Crusade. To pay for the company Robert needed money and therefore pledged his duchy to William for the price of 10,000 marks, a sum that represented about a quarter of Wilhelm's annual income. In order to raise the money, he drove a new, very high tax in England against much opposition. In Robert's absence, William ruled Normandy as regent. However, Robert returned from the crusade in September 1100, a month after Wilhelm's death. During his reign in Normandy, William led campaigns against France from 1097 to 1099. Although he secured the northern part of County Maine, he failed to control parts of the Vexin region. At the time of his death, he was planning a raid on Aquitaine in south-west France.

Unexplained circumstances of death

Perhaps the most famous aspect of Wilhelm Rufus' life is his death while out hunting in the New Forest . He was hit in the lung by an arrow, but the details of the situation remained unclear.

On a clear August day in 1100 Wilhelm organized a hunting party in the New Forest. A report from Ordericus Vitalis describes the preparations for the hunt:

... a gunsmith came to him [Rufus] and showed him six arrows. The king took them with great satisfaction, praising the work and not knowing what would happen, kept four to himself and held the other two out to Walter Tyrrel with the words: “It is only right that the sharpest should be given to the man who knows how to shoot the deadliest shots. "

During the subsequent hunt, the hunting party dispersed and Wilhelm, accompanied by Walter Tyrell (or Tirel), the Lord of Poix, was separated from the others. Here Wilhelm was seen alive for the last time.

The next day, Wilhelm was found by a group of local farmers. He was dead in the woods, and an arrow had pierced his lungs. William's body stayed in place and all the nobles fled to their Norman and English possessions, as the law provided that with the death of the king, law and order would have to be reorganized. To secure their possessions, it was an advantage to be present.

Wilhelm's younger brother Heinrich hurried to Winchester to secure the royal treasure, then on to London , where he was crowned within a few days. This happened before any archbishop arrived.

Legend has it that a local charcoal burner named Purkis brought the royal corpse on his cart to Winchester Cathedral .

According to the records that William of Malmesbury made in his "Chronicle of the Kings of England" (c. 1128), Wilhelm's death was not said to have been a murder:

The day before the king died, he dreamed that he was in heaven. He suddenly woke up. He commanded that light should be brought and forbade his servants to leave him. The next day they went into the woods ... He was accompanied by a few people ... Walter Tirel stayed with him while the others pursued the prey. The sun was already sinking when the king, stretching his bow and letting an arrow fly, slightly injured a stag that jumped past him ... the stag ran on ... the king chased him for a long time and raised his hands around his eyes before the sun's rays to shadow. At that moment Walter decided to shoot another animal. Oh, good God! The arrow pierced the king's chest.
When he was hit, the king didn't say a word, but broke the shaft of the arrow where it protruded from the body ... This hastened his death. Walter came running at once, but when he saw him passed out, he jumped on his horse and fled in a hurry.
There was no one to pursue him: some helped him escape, others regretted him.
The king's body was placed on a cart and taken to Winchester Cathedral ... blood dripped from his body all the way. Here he was buried in the tower. The next year the tower collapsed. Wilhelm Rufus died in 1100 ... forty years old. He was a man who was deeply pitied by the clergy ... he had a soul that they could not save ... He was loved by his soldiers but hated by his people for plundering them.

According to another version, William is said to have ducked behind a bush for unknown reasons, and Tyrell mistook his red hair - according to William of Malmesbury, he was blond - for a squirrel.

Church chroniclers called such a divine judgment appropriate for such an evil king. Over the centuries it has been suggested that one of the many enemies might have had a hand in it. Even contemporary chroniclers portray Walter Tyrell as an experienced archer who would not just fire such a violent shot. It was also repeatedly mentioned that Wilhelm's younger brother Heinrich profited from death because he became king afterwards. He too had belonged to the hunting party.

Another chronicler, Abbot Suger de Saint-Denis , was Tyrell's friend and hid him in exile in France. He later wrote:

A certain nobleman, Walter Tirel, was persecuted because he is said to have shot the king with an arrow; but I have heard him often when he had nothing to fear or hope, that he solemnly swore that he was neither in that part of the forest where the king hunted nor saw him in the forest on the day in question would have.

Wilhelm died as a bachelor and did not leave a biological heir.

The Rufusstein

The Rufusstein

A memorial known as "Rufusstein" ( 50 ° 54 '40.4 "  N , 1 ° 37' 1.4"  W ) marks the place where it is believed that the king died there. The claim that this was the place of death goes back to a visit to the forest by Charles II in the 17th century. The inscription on the stone reads:

Here stood the oak that was grazed by an arrow that Sir Walter Tyrell had shot at a stag, which then hit King Wilhelm II, known as Rufus, in the chest, whereupon he died immediately, on August 2nd in 1100. King William II was killed, as already reported, placed on a cart that belonged to a Purkis, and from here brought to Winchester and buried in the cathedral church of that city.

The present monument is made of cast iron and dates from 1865.

Rufusstein in the New Forest


William II of England Father:
William I of England
Robert I, Duke of Normandy
Richard II, Duke of Normandy
Great grandmother:
Judith von Rennes
Great grandfather:
Fulbert von Falaise
Great grandmother:
Doda from Falaise
Mathilde von Flanders
Baldwin V, Duke of Flanders
Baldwin IV, Duke of Flanders
Great grandmother:
Otgiva from Luxemburg
Adela of France, Duchess of Flanders
Robert II of France
Konstanze von Provence


Wilhelm Rufus is one of the main characters in Valerie Anand's historical novel King of the Forests (1989).

He is also a main character in Parke Godwin's novel Robin and the King (1993), the second volume of Godwin's interpretation of the Robin Hood legend.

Wilhelm II is a minor character in Rebecca Gablé's historical novel The Second Kingdom .

Wilhelm II is indirectly the subject of two historical novels by George Shipway: The Paladin and The Wolf Time have Walter Tirel (or Tyrell), the possible assassin of King Wilhelm, as the main character. The novel deals with the fact that Heinrich, Wilhelm's younger brother, is supposed to be behind the murder.

Wilhelm Rufus is also indirectly a subject in Brenda Joyce's novel Die Beliebte des Normans . The war and the death of Malcom III of Scotland also appear in this novel.

The death of William Rufus is also depicted in the historically unrelated history of the New Forest, called The Forest , by Edward Rutherfurd . In Rutherfurd's version of events, the king's death did not take place at the site of the Rufus stone, and Walter Tyrell is tricked and accused of murder by the influential Clare family. There is also a Purkiss who is a skilled storyteller and (much later) convinces King Charles II that one of his ancestors was involved in the murder.

In her novel Flambard's Confession (1984), Marilyn Durham tells the story of Wilhelm Rufus' reign from the perspective of his confidante Ranulf Flambard.

William Rufus and his relationship with Tyrell, as well as the circumstances surrounding his death, are mentioned by Katherine Kurz and Deborah Turner Harris in Lammas Night .

William Rufus is a character in Stephen Lawhead's Raven King saga about Robin Hood.

In the 1990s, television showed the film Blood Royal: William the Conqueror ; Wilhelm Rufus was played by Peter Firth .


The most important source about Wilhelm Rufus are the records of Ordericus Vitalis. The modern biography of the historian Frank Barlow "William Rufus" from 1983 has replaced the previously existing, but highly judgmental Victorian depiction of Freeman, "The Reign of William Rufus". In this work Rufus was portrayed as the pioneer of the United Kingdom.

  • Frank Barlow: William Rufus. Yale University Press, New Haven CT et al. 2000, ISBN 0-300-08291-6 .
  • Norman F. Cantor : The Civilization of the Middle Ages. A completely revised and expanded Edition of Medieval History, the Life and Death of a Civilization. HarperPerennial, New York NY 1994, ISBN 0-06-092553-1 , pp. 280ff.
  • David C. Douglas: William the Conqueror. The Norman impact upon England. University of California Press, Berkeley CA et al. 1964 (German: Wilhelm der Eroberer. Herzog der Normandie. Diederichs, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-424-01228-9 ).
  • Charles Warren Hollister: The Strange Death of William Rufus. In: Speculum. 48, 4, 1973, pp. 637-653.
  • Emma Mason: William Rufus. Myth and reality. In: Journal of Medieval History. 3, 1, 1977, pp. 1-20.
  • WL Warren: The Death of William Rufus. In: History Today. 9, 1, 1959, pp. 22-29.
  • William of Malmesbury: William of Malmesbury's Chronicle of the kings of England . From the earliest period to the reign of King Stephen. Ed .: JA Giles. G. Bell, London 1904, p. 327-346 (on- line ).
  • Marcus WüstWilhelm II. King of England. In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). Volume 32, Bautz, Nordhausen 2011, ISBN 978-3-88309-615-5 , Sp. 1525-1527.

Web links

Commons : William II of England  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. Norman F. Cantor: The Civilization of the Middle Ages , pp. 280-284.
  2. ^ William of Malmesbury: William of Malmesbury's Chronicle of the kings of England ; P. 337 Quote: enervated and effeminate
  3. ^ William of Malmesbury: William of Malmesbury's Chronicle of the kings of England ; P. 341f Quote: well set; his complexion florid, his hair yellow; of open countenance; different-colored eyes, varying with certain glittering bacon; of astonishing strength, though not very tall, and his belly rather projecting;
  4. Arthur Lloyd: The Death of Rufus . The New Forest Ninth Centenary trust, 2000, ISBN 0-9526120-5-4 , pp. 22-26.
predecessor Office successor
William I the Conqueror King of England
Heinrich I.