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The Mystery of William Rufus

Amidst the spreading Oaks of the New Forest stands a solitary stone, as soon as ten foot excessive with a ball on prime, now truncated and shielded from vandals. Known because the Rufus Stone, it’s the memorial to a slain king, William II, one of England’s most mysterious and little-known Norman Kings.

On the stone, which solely dates from the reign of Charles II and isn’t sited the place the occasion it commemorates truly occurred, is an inscription:

Here stood the oak tree, on which an arrow shot by Sir Walter Tyrrell at a stag, glanced and struck King William the Second, surnamed Rufus, on the breast, of which he immediately died, on the second day of August, anno 1100.

Rufus Stone - New Forest, Winchester, England - Photochrom Print Collection - Public Domain

Rufus Stone – New Forest, Winchester, England – Photochrom Print Collection – Public Domain

King William the Second, surnamed Rufus, being slain, as earlier than associated, was laid in a cart, belonging to 1 Purkis and drawn from therefore, to Winchester, and buried within the Cathedral Church, of that metropolis.

William Rufus, son of William the Conqueror, is one of these historic figures who has attracted tons of mythology however about whom little is definitely recognized. Due to his nickname, he’s incessantly described in fashionable writings as red-headed, however within the medieval Malmesbury Chronicle, he’s mentioned to be ‘yellow haired’ with a really crimson face that grew extra florid when enraged.

William Rufus - Google Art Project - Dulwich Picture Gallery - Public Domain

William Rufus – Google Art Project – Dulwich Picture Gallery – Public Domain

It is claimed William was merciless and unpopular, however there may be little written proof of what his cruelty precisely consisted of. He did implement excessive taxation, treating his English topics with disdain, however his predominant folly gave the impression to be in defying and even ridiculing the Church. (The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle mentioned he was ‘abhorrent to God’.) The Church loathed him, and the clerics of the day spoke peevishly of his doable sodomy (he by no means married, nor had any recognized illegitimate youngsters), his dissolute court docket and the very fact he wore his hair practically so long as a girl’s in addition to enormously prolonged pointy sneakers!

Despite his unpopularity, Rufus was a succesful soldier, making forays into Scotland and placing down a severe revolt in Northumberland.

It is his uncommon loss of life nonetheless, for which he which is finest remembered, and right here the folklore has grown and flourished most. On August 2nd, the day after the traditional harvest pageant of Lughnasad, Christianised as Lammas, William was out looking within the forest together with his brother Henry, a lord referred to as William Tirel/Tyrell/Tyrrell and others of his entourage. Apparently, the evening earlier than he had been gripped by evil desires wherein he had been kicked by an indignant cross, and this put him in an evil temper. As the get together noticed a stag amidst the timber, he turned to Tirel, one of the best archer within the get together and shouted, “Shoot, in the name of God, shoot!”

Tirel shot and the arrow struck not the deer however the king, getting into his lung. He tried to attract it out however collapsed, falling on the shaft and driving the arrow in deeper.

No one helped the dying king. Tirel instantly spurred his horse onwards and fled for France. The King’s brother Henry, not bothering with any niceties for the newly deceased King’s physique, rushed for the close by metropolis of Winchester the place he seized the treasury, then promptly rode to London the place he claimed the crown earlier than his different brother, Robert Curthose, who was away on the First Crusade, might hear of William’s demise.

It was, reportedly, two humble peasants who recovered William’s corpse, dumping it unceremoniously right into a cart and carrying it to Winchester, with blood dripping by means of the cart-slats all the best way alongside the highway. In the nice cathedral, Rufus was rapidly buried in a plain chest tomb (and a few bones believed to be his nonetheless stay there, though the cranium is lacking).

The Church of the day believed God had stricken down William for his wickedness, however later historians started to talk of homicide and a possible plot to take away him from the throne. Henry was positively current on the loss of life and definitely had probably the most to achieve; his actions when the King was stricken down have been additionally not precisely these of a loving brother. Tirel was mentioned to be a superb archer and impossible to have missed his goal in such a disastrous method.

In the sooner twentieth century, the story was given one other twist—anthropologist Margaret Murray wrote about Rufus being a pagan who was sacrificed in an historical Lammas harvest ceremony as a result of he was ‘infertile’ and therefore would deliver famine and plague to England. (The chroniclers did in truth say that in Rufus’ reign, “thunders terrifying the earth, lightnings and thunderbolts most frequent, deluging showers without number, winds of the most astonishing violence, and whirlwinds that shook the towers of churches and levelled them with the ground.”

As ‘proof’ Murray pointed to the auspicious date of loss of life at Lammas and to the very fact one other younger royal relative had died in an equivalent method earlier that 12 months…on May 2nd, the day after previous Beltane. She thought of this earlier loss of life as a ‘proxy’ for the king himself, however when England didn’t flourish after the substitute was sacrificed, Rufus himself needed to die. The peasants who allowed Rufus’ blood to movement onto the earth on the journey to Winchester have been additionally seen as persevering with some kind of historical ritual observe.

Pretty wild, unlikely stuff, intriguing although it’s.

Henry I of England - Georgemiller381 - CC BY-SA 4.0

Henry I of England – Georgemiller381 – CC BY-SA 4.0

So, Henry turned Henry I and Tirel in France remained free and unpunished. Who killed Rufus, and whether or not it was an accident or homicide (ritual or in any other case) stays one other unsolved medieval thriller, though I might personally put my cash on Henry. As for Tirel’s involvement, his identify was in truth not instantly related to the loss of life; the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle simply says the King was ‘shot by one of his own men.’ Tirel’s identify solely seems in later writing, though he does appear to have fled England, and his daughter Adeliza was married to 1 of the boys Henry took with him when he seized the treasury.

It is a barely unusual and fascinating coincidence that this surname for a doable ‘King killer’ is so just like that of James Tyrell/Tyrrell who has been accused of overseeing the deaths of Edward V and his brother Richard of York within the Tower 383 years later, one other determine obscured by time and by later mythologising.

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First printed on Murrey and Blue


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