Stephen of Blois

The power vacuum left after the deaths of King Henry I and his only legitimate son, William, resulted in a power struggle between Henry’s nephew, Stephen of Blois, and Henry’s daughter, Matilda. Before Henry’s death, the barons had agreed to support Matilda as the next ruler of England, but instead backed Stephen when the time came. Many of the Norman barons in England did not approve of Maltida’s marriage to the count of Anjou, a traditional enemy of Normandy, and Stephen took advantage of this and of his status as one of the most wealthy barons in England, and upon Henry’s death rushed across the English Channel from Normandy and seized the throne before Matilda could act.

According to the chronicles of William of Newburgh:

When, therefore, as already said, king Henry died, Stephen, violating the oath, which he had sworn to king Henry’s daughter, of preserving his fidelity, seized upon the kingdom; and in this he was aided by the prelates and nobles who were bound by the same oath: William, archbishop of Canterbury, who had sworn first, then consecrated him king, with the help and assistance of Roger, bishop of Salisbury, who was the second who had sworn, and had, moreover, administered the oath to every other individual … Stephen, therefore, in order that he might be elevated to the throne equally against right both human and divine — transgressing the one by not being the legitimate heir, and the other by his perfidy — promised everything which the prelates and nobles demanded.

Stephen’s reign began in 1135 but was marked by constant civil war between him and Matilda. With the backing of Angevin military strength, Matilda landed on English soil in 1139, and by 1141 had captured Stephen at Lincoln, though he was only held captive for eight months.

William of Newburgh recounts the events of Stephen’s capture:

In the sixth year of his reign, king Stephen laid siege to the castle of Lincoln, which Ranulph, earl of Chester, had entered by stratagem, and still possessed; and the siege was protracted from Christmas to the Presentation of our Lord. To raise the siege, the earl brought with him the earl of Gloucester (natural son of king Henry), his father-in-law, and some other very intrepid nobles, with considerable forces, and announced to the king, that unless he should desist, they would attack him. The king, however, being aware of their arrival, had collected troops on all sides; and, disposing them without the city to receive their opponents, he prepared for the battle with perfect confidence; for he was himself a most courageous warrior, and was supported by superior numbers. In addition to this, the opposing army, wearied with a long winter’s march, seemed more in need of rest to recruit its vigor, than calculated to encounter the perils of war. Still, however, though inferior in numbers and equipment, yet excelling in courage alone, and aware that, such a distance from home, there could be no place of refuge in a hostile country, they rushed undauntedly to the conflict. Having dismounted, the king himself, with his company, ranged his cavalry in the vanguard, to give or to receive the first assault; but it being vanquished and put to flight by the first charge of the enemy’s horse, the whole brunt of the battle fell upon the division in which was the king. Here the conflict raged most desperately, the king himself fighting very courageously amid the foremost; at length being captured, and his company dispersed, the victorious army triumphantly entered the city to plunder, while the royal captive was sent to the empress, and committed to custody at Bristol.

Due to this lasting civil war, the power of the royal government effectively collapsed, and the kingdom became fragmented like contemporary France, only to be restored by Henry II, Maltida’s son, when he assumed power in the year 1154. During this time of decentralization, barons printed their own coins and constructed castles without royal license.

The end to the conflict came about with the Treaty of Winchester when Stephen appointed Henry II as his heir and successor. There are two interpretations as to what brought about this resolution: one being that the barons had grown tired of fighting and splitting their loyalties, and the second was that with Stephen’s appointment of Henry as his successor, the barons also secured hereditary tenure of their estates.

Whatever the true reason, Henry II became the first Plantagenet king to rule England.

Sources:

Saul, Nigel. The Oxford Illustrated History of Medieval England. Oxford University Press, 1997.

The Chronicles of William of Newburgh

King Henry I of England

Henry I - King of England - Son of William the Conqueror - Medieval History - Medieval England - Middle Ages HistoryHenry I (1068 – 1135) was the fourth son of William the Conqueror, and might never have become king if not for the rebellious nature of his eldest brother (Robert Curthose) and the untimely deaths of his other two brothers (Richard and William Rufus). It is even speculated that Henry had something to do with William Rufus’ death, who was “accidentally” shot and killed by Walter Tyrell while hunting in the New Forest. Regardless of whether or not his brother’s death was an accident, Henry used this opportunity to grab the English throne while his brother, Robert, was away on crusade. The barons crowned Henry at Westminster on August 5, 1100.

The first part of Henry’s reign was spent fighting against Robert over control of England and Normandy. In 1106, he finally defeated and captured his brother at the Battle of Tinchebray. He imprisoned Robert in Cardiff Castle in Wales, where he died in 1134. With the death of Robert, the realms of Normandy and England were unified under a single ruler.

Henry’s major accomplishments included judicial, financial, and ecclesiastical reforms. He granted the Charter of Liberties to the English barons, he established the biannual Exchequer to improve the treasury,  and he reached an agreement (the Concordant of London) with the pope and Archbishop of Canterbury over the issue of lay investiture. Henry agreed to give up his control over elections of bishops and abbots, and the pope agreed that these churchmen should do homage and swear fealty to the king before receiving their landed properties.

While Henry managed to put in motion important reforms during his reign and bring England under a more centralized government, his death caused a fracturing among the barons in support of Henry’s immediate successor. Henry’s only legitimate son, William, died by drowning while crossing the English channel in the “White Ship,” leaving Henry with only one legitimate child — a girl — Matilda. While the barons agreed to back Matilda as the claimant to the throne upon Henry’s death, they instead sided with Henry’s nephew, Stephen of Blois, after Henry died of food poisoning in Angers on December 1, 1135. The resulting power vacuum led to a civil war between Stephen and Matilda.

Sources:

English, Edward D. “Henry I.” Encyclopedia of the Medieval World, vol. 1. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2005. Ancient and Medieval History Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?
ItemID=WE49&iPin=EMW0664&SingleRecord=True (accessed May 5, 2009).

“Henry I.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 05 May. 2009 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/261418/Henry-I>.

*image is a Miniature from illuminated Chronicle of Matthew Paris (1236-1259), British Library, MS Royal 14 CVII, f.8v

Robert Curthose (Robert II), Duke of Normandy

Robert Curthose (Robert II), Duke of Normandy (b. 1054 – d. 1134)

The eldest son of William the Conqueror and Maltida of Flanders, Robert Curthose was the likely successor to his father’s estates in Normandy. His unstable temperament and rebellious nature, however, led to his expulsion and exile to Italy, after two unsuccessful attempts at overthrowing William (1077-178 and 1082-1083). Upon his father’s death (1087), Robert returned to Normandy to stake his claim, though he was never able to fully establish his authority over his province and vassals. His men showed little loyalty to him, and his brothers showed him even less loyalty than his men.

In 1091, King William II of England (called Rufus, younger brother to Robert), invaded Normandy and siezed two counties from Robert, and then he invaded again in 1094, resulting in a treaty that gave William full control of Normandy. Robert received a sum of money from the treaty, and he went off to join the First Crusade.

While he had had little success during his reign in Normandy, Robert proved himself a competent and courageous leader at the victory of Ascalon (1099). He was also present at the capture of Jerusalem in 1099.

Upon hearing about William Rufus’ death and his youngest brother Henry’s succession to the throne of England, Robert hurried back from Italy to invade England. With his arrogance likely high from his successes in the Middle East, Robert crossed the channel, but Henry’s armies drove him back into France, and in turn, Henry invaded Normandy in 1105. On September 28, 1106, Robert was captured at the Battle of Tinchebrai and lived out the rest of his existence as a prisoner in Cardiff Castle, Wales. He died on February 10, 1134.

Sources:

O’Brien, Patrick K., gen. ed. “Robert II Curthose.” Encyclopedia of World History. Copyright George Philip Limited. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2000. Ancient and Medieval History Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?
ItemID=WE49&iPin=ewh04968&SingleRecord=True (accessed April 20, 2009).

“Robert II.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 20 Apr. 2009 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/505415/Robert-II>.

Famous People in Medieval History: Cerdic, First King of Wessex

Anglo-Saxon England, Medieval England, Map, Chart, Medieval History, Middle Ages, Medieval Britain, Dark Ages

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Cerdic arrived off the coast of Britain with his son, Cynric, and a fleet of five ships in the year 495 and landed near Southhampton (Hampshire), or what the chronicle calls “Cerdic’s-ore.” That day, they fought against an army of Welsh troops.

In the year 508, Cerdic’s army slew Natanleod, a British king, along with five thousand of his men, and afterwards, the land was named Netley, as far as Charford.

Ten years later, in 519, the chronicle says Cerdic and Cynric founded the government of the West Saxons, and in that same year, they fought and defeated the Britons at Charford, establishing the reign of the West-Saxon kings.

A.D. 527 – Cerdic and Cynric fought against the Britons at Cerdic’s-ley, and in 530 A.D., they took the isle of Wight and defeated the Britons at Carisbrook.

In 534, Cedric, the first king of the West-Saxons, died. Cynric succeeded to the throne and reigned twenty six years. The exact date of Cedric’s birth is unknown.

There are competing historical theories surrounding the reign of Cerdic. Some historians claim Cerdic’s reign lasted between 538-554 A.D., slightly later than what is suggested in the Anglo-Saxon chronicle, though since the chronicle was actually compiled sometime in the late 9th century, it is likely the chronicle is not entirely accurate. Other historians believe Cerdic was the leader of the Saxons at the Battle of Mount Badon, where the the British defeated the Saxons and kept them from pushing farther into Wales. *It’s intersting to note that some historians believe the legend of King Arthur arose out of the Battle of Mount Badon, as “Arthur” was the leader of the Britons who held off the Saxons during this battle.

Also, archaeological evidence suggests that the locations mentioned in the chronicle about Cerdic and the origins of Wessex may not be entirely accurate either. And yet another competing theory claims Cerdic was not a real person at all, but a purely legendary figure who represented the founding of the Anglo-Saxon tradition in medieval Britain that would last for 500 years.

Sources:

“Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.” Trans. James Ingram. London: 1847. Ancient and Medieval History Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?ItemID=WE49&iPin=amdoc001&SingleRecord=True (accessed November 24, 2008).

O’Brien, Patrick K., gen. ed. “Cerdic.” Encyclopedia of World History. Copyright George Philip Limited. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2000. Ancient and Medieval History Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?
ItemID=WE49&iPin=ewh01201&SingleRecord=True (accessed April 7, 2009).

*image retrieved from Facts on File, Inc.

The Capetians

The Capetians, called the Robertinians in earlier generations, ruled medieval France from 987 to 1328. A powerful family in the West Frankish Kingdom, the Capetians were likely of Saxon origin, migrating from the Rhine-Meuse region some time in the early 8th century. For several generations the Robertinians, descendants of Count Robert I, ruled as counts in Upper Lorraine. In the 840’s, Robert IV’s (the Strong) holdings in the Rhineland were withheld from him due to his support of Louis I the Pious and Charles I the Bald in their fight against Charles’s brothers.

Robert the Strong developed marriage connections within Charles the Bald’s kingdom, and by 852, he became the Count of Angers and the lay abbot of Marmoutier. He further added to those titles by gaining the distinction of Count of Blois and Abbot of St. Martin at Tours in the 860s.

Throughout the 10th century, the family was able to maintain its wealth and status through inheritance. Hugh Capet the Great died in 956, and his son, also Hugh Capet, took over as duke of the Franks, and after the death of the last Carolingian king, Louis the Sluggard (987), Hugh was chosen to be king. The Capetians, who were un-related to the Carolingian family, ruled medieval France until 1328. Philip II Augustus was one of the most successful French monarchs in the Capetian line, extending his influence and the royal demesne outside of Paris.

The Valois dynasty succeeded the Capetians when the last male in the Capetian line died.

Additional Reading:

Elizabeth A. R. Brown, The Monarchy of Capetian France and Royal Ceremonial (London: Variorum, 1991); Robert Fawtier, The Capetian Kings of France: Monarchy and Nation, 987–1328, trans. Lionel Butler and R. J. Adam (London: Macmillan, 1960); Andrew W. Lewis, Royal Succession in Capetian France: Studies on Familial Order and the State (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981).

Source:

English, Edward D. “Capetian dynasty.” Encyclopedia of the Medieval World, vol. 1. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2005. Ancient and Medieval History Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?
ItemID=WE49&iPin=EMW0282&SingleRecord=True (accessed January 27, 2009).

The Anglo-Saxons in Medieval England

Anglo-Saxon, Medieval England, Medieval History, History of Britain, Britons

The Angles and Saxons arrived in England sometime during the 5th century, not long after Rome had fled the island and left the Britons to fight against their northern aggressors, the Picts. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, in A.D. 449:

In their days Hengest and Horsa, invited by Wurtgern, king of the Britons to his assistance, landed in Britain in a place that is called Ipwinesfleet; first of all to support the Britons, but they afterwards fought against them. The king directed them to fight against the Picts; and they did so; and obtained the victory wheresoever they came. They then sent to the Angles, and desired them to send more assistance. They described the worthlessness of the Britons, and the richness of the land. They then sent them greater support. Then came the men from three powers of Germany; the Old Saxons, the Angles, and the Jutes. From the Jutes are descended the men of Kent, the Wightwarians (that is, the tribe that now dwelleth in the Isle of Wight), and that kindred in Wessex that men yet call the kindred of the Jutes. From the Old Saxons came the people of Essex and Sussex and Wessex. From Anglia, which has ever since remained waste between the Jutes and the Saxons, came the East Angles, the Middle Angles, the Mercians, and all of those north of the Humber.

The Britons had sent for help to these German tribes, and the Angles and Saxons obliged, but after having defeated the Picts, they did not return across the channel but stayed in southern England. They eventually turned on the Britons and drove them into western England, in what is today Wales. The name Wales is in fact Anglo-Saxon in origin, coming from the word “Walha,” which means foreigner or stranger.

The early Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, sometimes as many as seven and sometimes with more than one ruler, subjected their populations to fiscal and military obligations. The more powerful kings succeeded in establishing stronger and larger states, such as in Mercia, or in Wessex under King Alfred the Great (the only English king ever to be given the title of “Great”). These kingdoms lived in a somewhat peaceful state until the Viking invasions began in the 8th century. Viking aggression lasted until the 11th century, and during this time, England was in a constant state of warfare. The Danes conquered nearly all of Anglo-Saxon England, capturing the kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia, and East Anglia. Only Wessex held out against the invaders, due in large part to the leadership of King Alfred.

Between 924 and 939, King Aethelstan of Wessex achieved some sort of unification in England, as did King Edgar from 959 to 975. From 1016 to 1035, the Scandinavian Canute sat the English throne, followed a few years later by the Anglo-Saxon Edward the Confessor. Harold Godwinson succeeded Edward after Edward’s death, but Duke William of Normandy challenged his succession and defeated Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Harold was the last Anglo-Saxon king to sit the English throne.

Despite the political turmoil and centuries of warfare that accompanied medieval Anglo-Saxon England, the Anglo-Saxons did make many cultural and economic contributions to the rest of Europe. They created substantial wealth through their various skills of craftsmanship, seen in their detailed metalwork, embroidery, stone and wood sculptures, and architecture. They also possessed great artistic talent in manuscript decoration and wall paintings, and they produced some 30,000 lines of poetry (much of it written in the common vernacular), including the most famous epic poem of Beowulf. Some of the most famous artistic works from the Anglo-Saxon medieval period include: jewelry from the Sutton Hoo excavation, the Franks Casket, the Ruthwell Cross, the Book of Durrow, the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Codex Amiatinus, the Vespasian Psalter, and certain churches such as Jarrow, Brixworth, and Bradord-on-Avon. Bede and Alcuin are probably the most well-known authors from that period.

Sources:

“Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.” Trans. James Ingram. London: 1847. Ancient and Medieval History Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?ItemID=WE49&iPin=amdoc001&SingleRecord=True (accessed November 24, 2008).

English, Edward D. “Anglo-Saxons.” Encyclopedia of the Medieval World, vol. 1. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2005. Ancient and Medieval History Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?
ItemID=WE49&iPin=EMW0080&SingleRecord=True (accessed November 24, 2008).

*image retrieved from Facts on File, Inc.

Additional Reading:

F. M. Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, 3d ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971); James Campbell, ed., The Anglo-Saxons (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1982); Stephen Bassett, ed., The Origins of Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1989); H. M. Taylor and J. Taylor, Anglo-Saxon Architecture, 3 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965–1978); John Beckwith, Ivory Carvings in Early Medieval England (London: Harvey, Miller and Medcalf, 1972); J. J. G. Alexander, Insular Manuscripts 6th to the Ninth Century (London: H. Miller, 1978).

Great Military Leaders in Medieval History: Charles Martel

Charles Martel - Franks - Carolingians - Medieval France - Medieval History - Middle Ages - Medieval EuropeCharles Martel (b. 688 – d. 741) was the founder of the Carolingian dynasty and ruler of the Franks during the early 8th century. He was born near Liege around 688 to Pepin II of Heristal and Pepin’s mistress Alpaide. Tested militarily in his youth, Charles fought against his half-brothers after his father’s death, but he succeeded in defeating them and laying claim to the Frankish throne.

He united the three Merovingian kingdoms of Austrasia, Neustria, and Burgundy after defeating the Neustrians in 716, and in an effort to strengthen his power, he heavily employed the use of cavalry in his military strategy. As a reward for their service, Martel granted lands to these soldiers (or vassals), who would then hold these benefices for life.

In the most famous battle of his military career, Charles tested the strength of his cavalry against a Muslim invading force at the Battle of Poitiers on October 25, 732. This battle was significant in that it halted the Muslim advance into western Europe, and had Martel failed, the European landscape could have appeared very different today.

Charles died on October 22, 741. His supporters buried him in Saint Denis near Paris.

Source:

English, Edward D. “Charles Martel.” Encyclopedia of the Medieval World, vol. 1. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2005. Ancient and Medieval History Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?
ItemID=WE49&iPin=EMW0318&SingleRecord=True (accessed November 13, 2008).

*image shows the tomb of Charles Martel in St. Denis; retrieved from wikipedia.org entry on “Charles Martel”

Additional Reading:

J. M. Wallace-Hadrill, ed., The Fourth Book of the Chronicle of Fredegar and Its Continuation (London: Nelson, 1960); Bernard S. Bachrach, Merovingian Military Organization, 481–751 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1972); Paul Fouracre, The Age of Charles Martel (New York: Longman, 2000); Edward James, The Origins of France: From Clovis to the Capetians, 500–1000 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982).

William de Longespée, 3rd Earl of Salisbury

William Longespee - Earl of Salisbury - Coat of Arms - Medieval England - NobilityIn my recent short story The Sea-Ghost, I make mention of William de Longespée, 3rd Earl of Salisbury. The following is a brief biographical sketch about him.

William de Longespée (also known as “Longsword”) was an English noble born in 1176, and he was the illegitimate son of Henry II, the King of England from 1154 to 1189. Though the true identity of William’s mother was unknown for many years, a charter mentioning William was later found that referenced “Comitissa Ida, mater mea,” and this “Ida” happened to be the wife of Roger Bigod, the 2nd Earl of Norfolk. King Henry did acknowledge William as his son and bestowed on him the lands of Appleby, Lincolnshire in 1188.

William received his lands and title of the 3rd Earl of Salisbury when his half-brother King Richard I married him to Ela (also called Isabel), the countess of Salisbury and daughter of William the 2nd of Earl of Salisbury.

Under the reign of King John (1199 – 1216), Earl Longespée held several offices: sheriff of Wiltshire, lieutenant of Gascony, constable of Dover and warden of the Cinque Ports, and later warden of the Welsh Marches. He served as a commander in King John’s army during the king’s Irish and Welsh expeditions of 1210 – 1212.

William de Longespée is most known for his command of the English forces at the Battle of Damme in Flanders. In the year 1213, Longespée led a fleet across the channel to Flanders, where a fleet of French ships was preparing to invade England. Longespée successfully destroyed and siezed a major portion of this fleet, ending the invasison threat but not the war between England and France.

In 1214, King John sent Longespée to Germany to assist Otto IV in Germany’s invasion of France. At the Battle of Bouvines, the French slaughtered Otto’s army and  Longespée was captured. The French later made an exchange for  Longespée, and Earl William returned to England in May 1215.

In the rebellion against King John,  Longespée remained loyal to the king for a time but later deserted after the French prince Louis (later Louis VIII) landed on the southern coast of England and joined the rebel barons in their cause against the crown.

Longespée, however, returned to the king’s cause after the death of John and the departure of Louis. By this time, Henry III, John’s son, was King of England. Early in the king’s reign, William held an influential position in government, and later he fought in Gascony to help secure the remaining English posesssions in France.

William de Longespée died on March 7, 1226, and he was buried in Salisbury Cathedral. He and his wife were benefactors of the cathedral, and they laid the foundation stones of the new cathedral in 1220. Roger of Wendover claimed Hubert de Burgh poisoned Longespée, though actual evidence is inconclusive. When Longespée’s tomb was opened in 1791, however, a well-preserved corpse of a rat with traces of arsenic was discovered inside William’s skull, lending possible proof to the idea that Longespée was indeed poisioned.

Sources:

William Longsword, 3rd earl of Salisbury.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 01 Sep. 2008 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/519371/William-Longsword-3rd-earl-of-Salisbury>.

William Longespée, 3rd Earl of Salisbury.” Genealogics.org. 01 Sep. 2008. <http://genealogics.org/getperson.php?personID=I00028335&tree=LEO>.

*wikipedia’s entry on William Longespée also has several sources cited that might be useful for further information
**image retrieved from wikipedia.org

William II (Rufus), King of England

medieval, history, England, William II, William Rufus William II, also called “Rufus,” was the second son of William I (“The Conqueror”) and was king of England from 1087 – 1100. William Rufus, in advance of the news of the death of his father, hurried from Normandy to Winchester, and with the support of Archbishop Lanfranc, gained the approval of enough barons and prelates, and on the seventeenth day after the Conqueror’s death, Archbishop Lanfranc crowned him as the new King of England.

Rufus, according to many chroniclers, ruled with a heavy hand and was not well thought of by his subjects. One of the first orders he issued was that all English nobles, previously freed by his father, should once again be incarcerated.

Meanwhile his brother, Duke Robert of Normandy and eldest son of William the Conqueror, was also discontent with Rufus, and he had supporters in England and Normandy, seeing as many barons held estates in both countries. Bishop Odo, half-uncle of Robert, had it in my mind to unseat Rufus and place Robert on the throne, with the promise from Duke Robert that he would send an army across the channel to support his confederates in England. William II in turn gained the support of prominent Anglo-Saxon chieftains and marched on Rochester Castle against Bishop Odo, where the bishop surrendered the castle, and the movement in favor of Robert in England ended.

The fighting, however, did not end there. The duchy of Normandy fell into anarchy due to Robert’s inability to manage his realm, and William II gathered and army and sailed across to France. Before the armies came to battle, the king of France stepped in as a mediator, and the two brothers signed a treaty at Caen. William came out of the deal in better shape, as the king of France granted to him sizable possessions in Normandy and the agreement that the duchy would revert to him if Robert died first.

Prince Henry, the third son of William the Conqueror, was displeased with this outcome, and he revolted against his brothers. The two eldest brothers came together and besieged Henry in his castle fortress of St. Michael, and finally, Henry capitulated. William and Robert forced their youngest brother to give up all his possessions and then allowed him to retire into Brittany.

For the next five years, William Rufus fought to defend his kingdom against the Scots and the Welsh, and he continued his struggle with his brother in Normandy, until, in 1096, Robert joined the call of Pope Urban II to journey to the Holy Land and take back Jerusalem from the “infidels.” Robert, however, did not have enough money to raise an army of soldiers to accompany him, and so, he sold the duchy of Normandy to his brother William for five years for the sum of ten thousand pounds. William readily agreed and took possession of the province.

In the summer of 1100, a powerful baron from Normandy, Walter Tirel (Tyrrel), came to visit the king, and after a grand feast, William asked Walter if he would like to accompany him on a hunt in the New Forest. Orderic Vitalis, a contemporary English chronicler, described the preparation for the hunt:

… an armourer came in and presented to him (Rufus) six arrows. The King immediately took them with great satisfaction, praising the work, and unconscious of what was to happen, kept four of them himself and held out the other two to Walter Tyrrel… saying It is only right that the sharpest be given to the man who knows how to shoot the deadliest shots.

While hunting, Walter took aim at a deer swiftly moving toward the hills, and his arrow missed the stag and pierced Rufus in the chest. According to Peter of Blois (1135 – 1203):

The king fell to the earth, and instantly died; upon which, the body being laid by a few countrymen in a cart, was carried back to the palace, and on the morrow was buried, with but few manifestations of grief, and in an humble tomb; for all his servants were busily attending to their own interests, and few or none cared for the royal funeral.

Again showing William was not well liked by the people he ruled.

Walter, fearing he would be accused of murder, escaped and crossed the English channel back to Normandy. There is the suggestion of conspiracy, that Tyrrel purposely missed the deer and hit the king with his arrow. Abbot Suger, a contemporary chronicler and friend of Tyrell, dispelled this theory:

It was laid to the charge of a certain noble, Walter Tirel, that he had shot the king with an arrow; but I have often heard him, when he had nothing to fear nor to hope, solemnly swear that on the day in question he was not in the part of the forest where the king was hunting, nor ever saw him in the forest at all.

Whether Rufus’ death was murder or an accident — his brother Henry directly benefited from the king’s death and was shortly after crowned king himself — we will never know the truth of the circumstances entirely. It’s my belief, from my readings, that it was an accidental death. A stone known as the Rufus Stone now marks the spot where it is believed he died. Its inscription reads:

Here stood the oak tree, on which an arrow shot by Sir Walter Tyrell at a stag, glanced and struck King William the Second, surnamed Rufus, on the breast, of which he instantly died, on the second day of August, anno 1100. King William the Second, surnamed Rufus, being slain, as before related, was laid in a cart, belonging to one Purkis, and drawn from hence, to Winchester, and buried in the Cathedral Church, of that city.

Main Sources:

Ridpath, John Clark. History of the World. The Jones Brothers Publishing Company, 1940.

Peter of Blois. Medieval Sourcebook.