1902 Encyclopedia > William II

William II
King of England
(1056-1100)




WILLIAM II (1056-1100), king of England, surnamed RUFUS, third son of William I. and Matilda, was born in 1056. Little is known of his youth, except that in the quarrel between the Conqueror and Robert he remained loyal to his father. When the Conqueror was on his death bed he sent William to England with a letter to Lanfranc, I requesting the archbishop to secure his election to the throne. Accordingly on 26th September 1087 William was elected and crowned at Westminster. His brother Robert, to whom the Conqueror had bequeathed the duchy, was not likely to give up his claim to the larger part of his father's dominions without a struggle. A general revolt in his favour broke out in the summer of 1088. Roger Bigod rose in Norfolk, Roger, earl of Shrewsbury, and Robert of Mowbray on the western border, while Odo of Bayeux, the king's uncle, whom he had reinstated against his father's advice in the earldom of Kent, occupied Rochester. o But there was little combination among the rebels. After being foiled in attacks on Ilchester and Worcester, the rebellion in the west seems to have died away. William won over the earl of Shrewsbury, and summoned his English subjects to his aid. He promised good government, the repeal of the forest laws, and the reduction of taxes. Thus conciliated, the fyrd, or national levy, flocked to his standard. It was the beginning of that alliance between the monarchy and the people which, fostered by Henry I. and Henry II. and confirmed by the great Edward, secured victory for the crown in its struggle with the feudal aristocracy. With the aid of his English troops William took castle after castle, repelled an attempted landing of the Norman fleet, and forced Odo to surrender his stronghold of Rochester. The rebellion being thus suppressed, he held a great council, at which, although the rebels in general were leniently treated, many confiscations and sentences of banishment were pronounced. A later meeting at Salisbury (November 1088) was notable for the trial of William of Saint-Calais, bishop of Durham, who had been one of the chief promoters of the rebellion. The bishop denied the jurisdiction of the king's court and appealed to Rome. It was the first instance of such an appeal. The court, however, acting under the advice of Lan-franc, refused to allow the plea, and the bishop, condemned to lose the temporalities of his see, retired to Normandy.

Two years later William sent an army to Normandy (Easter 1090), which under the misgovernment of Robert had lapsed into a state of anarchy. The reconquest of the duchy by England was begun by the capture of St Valéry ; but there was not much fighting, place after place yielding to William's lieutenants or to English gold. Robert called King Philip to his aid, but William bribed him to retire. In Rouen itself a popular movement took place for the surrender of the town ; but Henry, the duke's youngest brother, put a stop to it by killing its leader, Conan, with his own hands. In February 1091 William himself crossed the Channel, and at once received homage from many of his brother's subjects. Unable to resist, Robert consented to a disgraceful peace. By the treaty of Caen William engaged to pay Robert a sum of money, in return for which he received some of the most important districts of eastern Normandy, as well as Cherbourg and other places in the west. It was agreed, among other stipulations, that whichever brother died first the other should succeed to his dominions. Later in the same year William marched against Malcolm III., who had invaded Northumberland, and, penetrating as far as the Firth of Forth, obliged the Scottish king to do him homage. Whether it was for the whole of Scotland or for Lothian only, history does not say ; but the latter is most probable. For an account of the subsequent relations between Malcolm and William, see SCOTLAND, vol. xxi. p. 481. Meanwhile war had broken out again with Normandy. At Christmas 1093 Robert sent a challenge to his brother, reproaching him with violations of the treaty. Accordingly in March 1091 William invaded Normandy a second time. On this occasion fortune turned against him. Philip assisted the duke, and William, who had exhausted his supplies, was unable to buy him off as before. In this predicament his justiciar, Ralph Flambard, assembled an English army on the pretext of an expedition to Normandy, took from each man the money which had been provided for his expenses, and then dismissed the soldiers to their homes. With the money so obtained William bribed the French king, and then returned to England. Next year the first crusade was being preached, and Robert took the cross. A peace was made between the brothers through papal mediation, William supplying Robert with funds, for the repayment of which the latter pledged his duchy. When, in September 1096, Robert set off for the crusade, William took possession of Normandy, where he soon put an end to the anarchy which had resulted from Robert's misrule; and he held the country till his death. Shortly before the acquisition of Normandy William had subdued a second rebellion in England. Robert of Mowbray was again one of the chief conspirators, and he was joined by William of Saint-Calais, whom the king, in accordance with the treaty of Caen, had restored to his bishopric, and by others. Mowbray refused to obey a summons to the king's court, whereupon William marched against him, captured his castles of Bamborough and Tynemouth, and took him prisoner (1095). As on the suppression of the earlier rebellion, William called a great assembly, this time consisting of all his tenants-in-chief, and by their judgment the rebels were condemned. During the next two years he made a serious attempt at the conquest of Wales. The southern portion of the principality had been to a great extent reduced, first by Harold, afterwards by the Norman border lords. William's efforts were mainly directed against the northern districts. He made three invasions, and penetrated to Snowdon, but seeming victories were immediately followed by revolts, and in the end little ground was actually won.





The last three years of the 11th century were much occupied by tedious wars with France and efforts to recover Maine. In 1097 he quarrelled with Philip about Vexin, and crossed the Channel to make good his claim to that district; but the French king was able to hold his own. Next year William set about the recovery of Maine. That territory had been allowed by Robert to slip out of his hands, and had been governed since 1091 by Helias de la Fleche. William's vassal, Robert of Belleme, attacked Helias, and, having succeeded in taking him prisoner, handed over his prize to the king. William thereupon marched into Maine, and a desultory war of forays, sieges, and skirmishes followed. Fulk of Anjou opposed the Norman claim ; but in August 1098 a treaty was made, by which William's rights over the country were recognized, ana Helias was at the same time set free. William now turned again to France. Strengthened by an alliance with the duke of Aquitaine, he invaded the French territory and advanced as far as Pontoise. But, tiring of the fruitless war, he made a truce with Philip and returned to England early in 1099. He had only been there a few months when he heard that Helias de la Fleche was attacking his castles in Maine and had won back Le Mans. He crossed the Channel with great speed, and a last campaign replaced him in possession of the coveted borderland. But he took no pains to secure his hold, and the Norman power in Maine fell to pieces immediately on his death.

William II.'s relations with Anselm form perhaps the most important episode of his reign. Lanfranc died in 1089. The worst features of William's character began at once to show themselves. At the instigation or with the assistance of Ralph Flambard, he applied to the possessions of the church all the principles of feudal law developed in the interest of the monarchy. He treated vacant benefices as if they had been lay fiefs and bishops as tenants-in-chief, while he made simony the rule and degraded the heads of the church into servile courtiers. He had kept the see of Canterbury vacant for nearly four years, when a severe illness aroused him to a sense of his enormities. Sending for Anselm, at that time abbot of Bee, he forced the crozier into his unwilling hands (1093). Anselm insisted on three conditions,—that the temporalities of the see should be fully restored, that William should act in ecclesiastical affairs by his counsel, and that he should be allowed to recognize Urban II. as pope. After some hesitation William yielded the first demand, and Anselm did homage for the temporalities. The other two demands remained unsettled. In December 1093 Anselm was consecrated archbishop of Canterbury. On the outbreak of war against Normandy in 1094 Anselm offered William a contribution of ¿£500. William declared the sum insufficient and angrily rejected the gift. Anselm refused to offer more, lest he should seem, even by a gift after his appointment, to be guilty of simony. Other grounds of quarrel were found in the reproofs which the archbishop levelled against the vices of the court, and his demand for ecclesiastical reform. In 1095 a more serious dispute arose. Anselm asked leave to go to Rome in order to obtain his pallium from the pope. As this involved a recognition of Urban, and William wished to secure his independence by acknowledging no pope, the permission was refused. The archbishop demanded that the question should be discussed at a great council. Accordingly an assembly was held at Rockingham (March 1095), in which Anselm was treated by the king as if he had been on trial for contumacy. The bishops sided with the king; the laity took part mostly with the primate. Anselm refused to renounce allegiance to the pope, but denied that this was incompatible with obedience to the king. The assembly broke up without coming to a decision. William now tried to win over the pope and received a legate who brought with him the pall. In the hope of getting the legate to suspend Anselm, he consented to recognize Urban. But, when he found that the pope had no intention of throwing over the archbishop, he reconciled himself with Anselm and allowed him to take the pall from the altar at Canterbury. But it was not long before he found an opportunity of taking his revenge. A contingent of knights sent by the primate to aid the king in his Welsh war (1097) was declared to be worthless, and Anselm was summoned to explain his conduct at court. Tired of the persecution and despairing of reform, Anselm again asked leave to go to Rome. William, believing, whether rightly or not, that Anselm intended to appeal against him, refused his request. Twice repeated, it met with the same answer. Anselm was charged with having broken his oath to observe the laws of the kingdom in threatening to leave England without the king's permission. He answered that he had only sworn to the laws subject to his duty to God and the verdict of his conscience. This answer alienated many who had supported him on the previous occasion. He was asked to swear that he would not appeal against the king, and on his refusal was ordered to leave the country. In October 1097 Anselm left England. William at once seized the archbishopric and kept possession of it till his death.

The unscrupulous tyranny which Rufus displayed in his quarrel with Anselm was equally characteristic of his temporal government. The feudal customs of aids, reliefs, escheats, &c, were developed into a great system of extortion. The townsfolk and the cultivators of the soil were weighed down by heavy taxes. The forest laws were carried out with ruthless severity. On the other hand, order was maintained, and the tyranny was to a certain extent veiled or limited by the frequent use which William made of his great councils, in the trials of great men like Odo, in the declaration of war, in the settlement of disputes such as that with Anselm. It is clear that the national assembly was neither extinct nor inefficient during this reign. It was in this period too that the office of justiciar became permanent in the person of William's chief minister, Ralph Flambard, although in his hands its powers were used merely in support of despotism.

In his private character William was as vicious as in his public capacity he was tyrannical. He was harsh and violent, extravagant and lustful, regardless of God and pitiless to man. He had a strong vein of mockery and sarcasm, and no little of the grim Norman humour. Almost the only redeeming feature of his character is his chivalrous observation of his plighted word; but for ordinary promises or obligations he had no respect. He died under mysterious circumstances in the New Forest, Hampshire, on 2d August 1100. William II. was not married; he was succeeded by his brother Henry.

Authorities.—Ordericus Vitalis, Historia Ecclesiastica; Geoffrey Gaimar, Histoire des Angles; Eadmer, Historia Novorum; the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; freeman, Reign of William Rufus. (G. W. P.)







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