William Rufus’ exact date of birth is not known, but he was believed to have been born around 1056. He was the third of four sons of William I, the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders.
He was known to be his father’s favourite son, and he stayed faithful to his father until his death in 1087. William the Conqueror left the Duchy of Normandy to his eldest son, Robert, and to William Rufus he left England.
Reign 1087 – 1100
Many nobles owned land in both Normandy and England; this made it difficult to please both of the lords of the land. The nobles wanted only one ruler across both Normandy and England and this led to the rebellion of 1088 which was led by Bishop Odo of Bayeux, half-brother of William the Conqueror. The rebel leaders favoured the elder brother Robert, but Robert refused to come to England and raise support, so this rebellion was crushed.
In 1091, William Rufus invaded Normandy and forced his brother Robert to hand over some of his lands. Although they spent much time as warring brothers, Rufus and Robert did make peace and they both embarked on a campaign to regain the French province of Le Maine.
Rufus faced opposition from King Malcolm III of Scotland in 1091 but he was repulsed by Rufus. He invaded again in 1093, but was ambushed and killed along with his son Edward.
William Rufus crushed a further rebellion in 1095 led by Robert de Mowbray, Earl of Northumberland and Mowbray was arrested and imprisoned.
William Rufus was a ruthless leader, spreading tyranny over his kingdom.
He was not a devout religious subject, but a sceptic of the church. When the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lanfranc died two years into Rufus’ reign in 1089, he took over four years in which to appoint a replacement, which he finally did so in 1093 by appointing Anselm, however Anselm and Rufus disagreed on many issues which led to Anselm going into exile.
Rufus was a great lover of hunting and on 2 August 1100 he went hunting in the New Forest and was killed by an arrow through the lung, shot by Walter Tirel, one of his own men. There has been speculation that he may have been assassinated on the orders of his younger brother Henry.
Rufus was left where he fell. Henry rushed to Winchester to secure the treasury and then made his way to London where he was crowned King Henry I of England, as Rufus had never married or produced any heirs.
Rufus’ body was found by some peasants and taken to Winchester cathedral where it was buried.