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Chapter XXXVI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1


Reign of William Rufus continued - Insurrection in Maine - Death of Rufus.
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The money which William Rufus paid to his brother the possession of Normandy was obtained in his accustomed manner, by inflicting new burdens and exactions upon his people. The account taken from the old chroniclers is thus related by Holinshed: - "He did not only oppress and fleece his poor subjects, but rather with importunate exactions did, as it were, flay off their skins. All this was grievous and intolerable, as well to the spirituality as temporality, so that divers bishops and abbesses, who had already made away with some of their chalices and church jewels to pay the king, made now plain answer that they were not able to help him with any more; unto whom, on the other side, as the report went, the king said again, 'Have you not, I beseech you, coffins of gold and silver, full of dead men's bones?' - meaning the shrines in which the relics of saints were enclosed."

The king also argued that there was no sacrilege in taking money obtained from such a source, for the purpose of prosecuting a holy war, and delivering the sepulchre of Christ from the hands of the infidel. Ho did not choose to remember that the expedition to the Holy Land was one in which he had no part, and that he required the money, not for that purpose, but to obtain a worldly possession. If the argument carried little weight, the force by which it was backed was not to be resisted, and the spoils of the altar, as well as the hoards of civilians, were seized in the king's name.

Robert having resigned his dukedom, and set out for the Holy Land, William passed over into Normandy to take possession. He was received with welcome by the Norman nobles, who, if not well disposed towards their new sovereign, were overawed by his power or bought by his gold. The people of Maine, however, rose in revolt, and, headed by Helie, the Lord of La Fleche, the insurrection assumed an importance which rendered it necessary for Rufus to take energetic measures for its repression. He entered Maine in person at the head of a large force, but on the interference of the Count of Anjou and Philip of France, he consented to a truce with the insurgents, and Helie, having been taken prisoner, was set at liberty, on tendering his submission, and giving up the town of Mans into the king's hands.

The people, however, remained disaffected towards the English king, and his government was odious to them. A year pas.-ed away without any change in this state of things, when one day, as William was hunting in the New Forest, a messenger came to him from beyond sea with the intelligence that Helie had obtained possession of the town of Mans, that the inhabitants had joined his standard, and were besieging the castle containing the Norman garrison. Rufus immediately set off for the sea-coast, without waiting for an escort; and when some of his lords came up with him, as he was about to embark, they counselled him to wait until troops could be summoned to accompany him, William replied, "Such as love me, I know well, will follow me," and went at once on shipboard. A storm was blowing so violently that even the sailors hesitated to set sail; but the king was determined to proceed, and cried out to the master to weigh anchor, asking him if he had ever heard of a king that was drowned.

Rufus escaped the storm, and landed the next day at Harfleur. When the news of his advance reached the town of Mans, the insurgents appear to have been struck with dismay. Helie, forgetting his knightly fame, and the safety of the people, who looked to him for guidance, disbanded his troops and fled at the mere sound of the enemy's approach, while William passed through the country, dealing ruin and desolation around him. A short time sufficed to reduce the insurgents to submission, and this being accomplished, Rufus returned to England.

On his return to England, the king began, "after his old manner, to spoil and waste the country by unreasonable exactions," assisted by his favourite, Ralph Flam-bard. Various public buildings, which were erected by Rufus, served as pretexts for demands of money, a large portion of which was applied to satisfy his own private extravagance,

In the month of August, a.d. 1100, there was held, in the New Forest, a hunting meeting, at which the king-was present. This district, where the blackened ruins of villages still remained, where the ground had been watered by the tears and the blood of the miserable inhabitants, murdered or driven from their homes, where the trees grew thickly in commemoration of a deed of cruelty which has bat few parallels in history - this gloomy solitude was destined to be the death-scene of Rufus, as it had already been of two other persons of the Conqueror's blood. In the year 1081, Richard, the eldest son of William I., had mortally wounded himself in the New Forest; and in May, 1100, Richard, son of Duke Robert and nephew of Rufus, was killed there accidentally by an arrow. In these successive calamities, the people thought they saw a retribution for the crime which had been committed in that place. With little light of religion, and but vague notions of Providence, they entertained a deep-seated belief in a punishment attendant on crime and in the final though long-delayed triumph of the principle of justice.

On Lammas Day the king and his court were assembled at Malwood Keep or Castle, preparing to go a-hunting. A large and noble company were there making merry, and at the side of the king sat Prince Henry - the two brothers having become reconciled some time before. Among the party was a Norman knight, noted as a good sportsman and a gallant gentleman; his name was Sir Walter Tyrrel, or De Poix.

The monkish historians relate that during the feast a message came to the king from the abbot of a neighbouring monastery, to the effect that a monk, the night before, had a dream, in which the fiend had appeared to him, and that the dream foretold some impending evil to the king. Rufus laughed at the story. tl The' man is a right monk," he said, " and dreams for money. Give him an hundred pence, and tell him to dream of better fortune to our person."

If there is any truth in this story, it is probable that William was more affected by the prediction of the monk than he was willing to admit. He, however, passed on the wine cup quicker than before, encouraged the revelry of the party, and at length rose up and gave the signal to horse.

The company separated on arriving in the forest, as the custom was in hunting; the only person who remained near to the king being Sir Walter Tyrrel. As it drew towards evening, a hart, suddenly bounding from a thicket, crossed the path of the king. Rufus drew his bow, but the shot missed its mark. Tyrrel was placed at some little distance in the underwood, and the hart, being attacked on both sides. stood for a moment at bay. Then the king, who had spent all his arrows, called out to his companion, "Shoot! shoot! in the devil's name!" Tyrrel obeyed, and the arrow, glancing from a tree, struck the king in the breast, piercing him to the heart. Rufus fell beside his startled horse, and died instantaneously.

Such is the story most commonly related of the death of the Red King, but the account is not to be received without reservation. The facts which may be considered "fully authenticated are, that Rufus met with a violent death in the New Forest, having been shot in the breast by an arrow. Whether the bow was drawn "at a venture," or by the hand of a murderer - whether the hand was that of Sir Walter Tyrrel, or of another - are questions to which no positive-answer can be given.

Tyrrel, however, was suspected from the first of having killed the king. lie immediately galloped away to the sea -coast, and took ship for Normandy, whence he proceeded to seek the protection of the King of France. On arriving there he swore solemnly that he had no part in the death of King William; but in those days few men hesitated either to make or break an oath for a powerful motive, and, therefore, this circumstance of itself would not be sufficient to I throw discredit on the account already related.

The body of the king was discovered by a poor charcoal burner, named Purkess, by whom it was carried in a cart to Winchester Cathedral, where it was buried.

Rufus died at about forty-three years of age, having reigned thirteen years. He was short in stature, with red hair, and a stout person. He had an impediment in his speech, especially in moments of anger, for then, says Holinshed, "his utterance was so hindered, that he could scarcely show the conceits of his mind." He was fond of gorgeous apparel, and it is said of him that on one occasion he threw away a pair of new hose, because they cost no more than three shillings. In a vicious age he was remarkable for his debaucheries, and he died without issue.


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Pictures for Chapter XXXVI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1

The Death of William Rufus
The Death of William Rufus >>>>

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