William Rufus Devane King

All Sources -
Updated Media sources (1) About encyclopedia.com content Print Topic Share Topic
views updated

William II (c.1060–1100), king of England (1087–1100), known as ‘Rufus’, the second son of William the Conqueror, was a ruler whose reputation has suffered because of the opinions of contemporary ecclesiastics, appalled by his sometimes cynical attitude to religion. William became England's king as a result of his father's death-bed bequest. Whether his succession should be interpreted as involving the disinheritance of his elder brother Robert Curthose is a controversial matter which cannot be conclusively resolved from the existing sources. Whatever the case, the consequence was that William rapidly faced widespread revolt in England in 1088 in support of Robert, who had acquired Normandy. A major motive for revolt, quite apart from personal loyalties towards Robert, was certainly that the great magnates holding cross-channel estates feared the implications of having the territories under two different rulers. After defeating his opponents, William set out to weaken Robert's increasingly fragile hold on the duchy, organizing expeditions there in 1091 and 1094. In 1096 Robert mortgaged the duchy to William in order to take part in the First Crusade, and from then until his death, William ruled over his father's cross-channel realm and regained some of the authority over Normandy's neighbours which his brother had lost. William also consolidated Norman rule in northern England, establishing effective royal power at Carlisle, and he supported the continuing Norman-French penetration of Wales. William's notoriety is based partly on the rapacity of his financial exactions and in particular on the way in which such established royal rights as that of administering bishoprics and abbeys during vacancies were ruthlessly exploited. The king also had a habit of making provocative remarks which offended the susceptibilities of more scrupulous clergy and he lacked the sincerity of belief which had ensured his father's good relations with the church. All of these factors contributed to his quarrel with St Anselm, the gifted theologian and philosopher whose appointment to Canterbury had been dramatically sanctioned by the king as he lay seriously ill at Gloucester in 1093. A series of arguments culminated in the archbishop going into exile in 1097 and remaining out of England until after William's death. Historians differ as to the central causes of this conflict and where personal responsibility should be placed; it is certain that the king lacked tact, but most bishops continued to work with him and to support him. William can be seen as personifying the masculine military virtues of his age; the fact that he never married led to suggestions of homosexuality and several clerical commentators accused him of sexual depravity. In most respects, his reign was a success, but his blustering and inflammatory personality made him enemies. He was killed while hunting in the New Forest on 2 August 1100. His death was probably an accident; all arguments that he was murdered rest on highly circumstantial evidence. His death did, however, come at a very convenient time for his younger brother, the future Henry I, who was nearby and who reacted with such promptness that he was crowned king within three days of his brother's death. The nickname ‘Rufus’ first appeared in the early 12th cent., and refers either to red hair or to a ruddy complexion.

David Richard Bates


Barlow, F. , William Rufus (1983).

views updated

William Rufus Devane King, 1786–1853, U.S. Senator from Alabama (1819–44, 1848–52), b. Sampson co., N.C. A Democratic Congressman from North Carolina (1811–16), he settled (1818) in Alabama and became one of its first Senators. King resigned in 1844 to become minister to France; he successfully urged France to refrain from joining England in a protest against U.S. annexation of Texas. Later he again entered (1848) the Senate. Elected (1852) Vice President under Franklin Pierce, he died in Alabama soon after taking the oath of office.