William II

 


William II (king from 1087-1100) was the the middle son of William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders. Learn how he became King of England, about his reign and his suspicious death in the New Forest.

William II, William Rufus

Dates:

  • Born c. 1056
  • Ruled from 1087
  • Died 1100

Who was he?

The third son of William I.

What is he most remembered for?

  • Being known as Rufus (red). William had a ruddy complexion and red hair as a child
  • Having a terrible temper. William spent most of his reign arguing with his brother Robert
  • Never marrying or having children
  • Being cruel and selfish (according to the Church)
  • Being a wise, hard-working king (according to others)
  • Being mysteriously killed by an arrow while hunting in the New Forest.

What happened next?

When William died in 1100, he was still in his forties. His younger brother Henry took the throne (Henry I) before his absent older brother Robert had a chance to!

Points of interest

  • William I had four sons: Robert, Richard, William Rufus and Henry. Two sons died in hunting accidents in the New Forest – Richard (in his twenties) and William Rufus (in his forties).
  • The spot in the New Forest where William Rufus supposedly died is marked by the Rufus Stone.
  • The building of Westminster Hall (the oldest building in the Houses of Parliament) was commissioned by William Rufus in 1098.

Mnemonic

“He was Rufus the Red for his big ruddy face, but his title was King William the Second."

A Short Biography of William II

Inheriting the throne of England
When William I died in 1087, he had three surviving sons. His eldest son Robert gained his original inheritance (to become Duke of Normandy). William Rufus was given England. And his youngest son Henry received some money, but no royal title.

The young William arrived in England, thinking he could do as he pleased. He loved the power of being king and was a fan of feasting and hunting. At first the barons rebelled, saying Robert should be king, but when Robert failed to make an appearance, the unrest died down.

Fighting with his brother
William spent much of his reign trying to win Normandy from Robert (who was known as Curthose – short legs!). Robert made it quite easy for William because he went off to fight in the First Crusade (a religious war between Christians and Muslims). Robert was short of money for his trip, so offered to give Normandy to William while he was away, in exchange for some cash. William raised the money with a heavy tax, which didn’t make him popular with his people.

Relationship with the Church...
William fell out with the Church on many occasions, which may account for their descriptions of him as a cruel king. He removed the Archbishop of Canterbury (St Anselm) and others who got in his way. This often meant he could take funds from a vacant position without appointing anyone else. He had his trusted adviser and friend Ranulf Flambard appointed as Bishop of Durham, which angered some of the establishment.

...and the army
William had better relations with the army, and that helped to keep the barons in check. The army also supported him when he faced opposition from the Scottish king, Malcolm III. Malcolm tried to invade a few times, but William’s forces were stronger, which helped him to assert control over some Scottish territories.

A suspicious death
William Rufus is perhaps most famous for the way he died. He was on a hunting trip in the New Forest with his brother Henry and other nobles when he was fatally shot by an arrow. Although his death was considered an accident (he was shot by a fellow nobleman, Sir Walter Tyrell) many suspect his younger brother Henry was involved. No sooner did he learn that his brother had died, Henry set straight off to Winchester to take his brother’s treasure and was quickly crowned at Westminster Abbey. Meanwhile, William Rufus’ body was taken to Winchester Cathedral to be buried.

Rufus Stone
Memorial stone for King William II of England in the grounds of Beaulieu Abbey, Hampshire. "Remember King William Rufus who died in these parts then known as Truham whilst hunting on 2nd August 1100" With thanks to Mervyn, shared under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License.

Our William I Printables

William II Death in the Forest Colouring Page

William II Death in the Forest Colouring Page

Who was responsible for the arrow that killed William Rufus, King William II, when out hunting in the New Forest? We know that Sir Walter Tyrol shot the arrow, but was he encouraged by William's younger brother Henry? We will never know, but the kids might enjoy colouring in this picture!

William II fact sheet

William II fact Sheet

Here is a printable version of our "fun facts" and short biography of William II of England, otherwise known as William Rufus. This 3-page pdf also includes a colouring page of his famously suspicious death - by arrow - in the New Forest.

William II Notebooking Pages

William II Notebooking Pages

There are four pages in this pdf file for you to choose from - perfect for putting down everything the kids have learned about William II, otherwise known as King William Rufus.

William II Story Paper

William II Story Paper

Use our colouring page of the suspicious death of William Rufus as a basis for some descriptive writing or for your children to summarise what they have learned about William II of England. We've included follow-on pages in this 3-page pdf file.

Succeeded by:

Henry I
Henry I

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