Monday, January 14, 2008

The Mysterious Death of William II of England

This starts a series about suspicious, or uncertain, deaths of English monarchs. From history one problem with a monarchy, as opposed to modern governments with leaders for defined time periods, is that a monarch could only be truly removed by death. Sometimes a monarch was first overthrown (and murdered soon afterwards), though at other times the ruler died in somewhat suspicious circumstances -- as in the case of William II of England.

William II, or William Rufus, was the second surviving son of William the Conqueror, and ruled England for 13 years, from his father's death in 1087 until 1100. William the Conqueror left England to William Rufus, and the Dukedom of Normandy to the oldest son Robert Curthose, but nothing to youngest son Henry.

William Rufus was not a good ruler, decidedly anti-Church (even robbed monasteries for their wealth) and possibly homosexual; he never married and apparently did not desire such a lifestyle, and thus left no heirs. In 1100, when he was about 44 years old, he died unexpectedly of a supposed hunting accident, an arrow in his chest. He had routinely enjoyed hunting, and such accidents were not uncommon; his older brother Richard had died in an accident in 1081. But some suspected foul play. His close friend, French nobleman Walter Tirel, is the most likely suspect. He had quarreled with the king the night before, had been alone with him that day of the hunt; afterwards Tirel quickly fled to France. The fullest account from the time, by William of Malmesbury, describes Tirel's involvement in an apparent accidental shooting. Younger brother Henry may also have been involved, as he had the most to gain; it is noteworthy that he responded very quickly, taking action as soon as his brother's death was news. He went to Winchester and soon had control of the treasury, declaring himself King the next day. William died on August 2, and Henry was crowned king on August 5.

Tirel was not pursued, and though the death was somewhat suspicious, the people did not sorely miss their king and were content to continue with a new king, Henry I.

For further reading: Yale English Monarchs - William Rufus (The English Monarchs Series) by Frank Barlow
Historical Fiction reference: The Lion of Justice (Norman Trilogy, Book 2), by Jean Plaidy

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