Queer Places:
Winchester Cathedral

William II of England.jpgWilliam II (Anglo-Norman: Williame; c. 1056 – 2 August 1100), the third son of William the Conqueror, was King of England from 26 September 1087 until 2 August 1100, with powers over Normandy, and influence in Scotland. He was less successful in extending control into Wales. According to the historian Edward Augustus Freeman, William Rufus had "vices before unknown, the vices of the East, the special sin - as Englishmen then deemed - of the Norman were rife among them. And the deepest of all in guilt was the Red King himself. Into the details of the private life of Rufus it is well not to grope too narrowly. In him England might see on her own soil the habits of the ancient Greek and the modern Turk."

He never married and had no children, a startling circumstance for a king. Even those who disliked their wives usually did their duty and continued the line. Instead he surrounded himself with what the chroniclers call ‘effeminates’ with mincing step and loose or extravagant clothing. William Rufus established a number of monasteries in London where young men and boys mingled.

William is commonly referred to as William Rufus (Rufus being Latin for "the Red"), perhaps because of his ruddy appearance or, more likely, due to having red hair as a child that grew out in later life.[2][a] William was a figure of complex temperament, capable of both bellicosity and flamboyance. He did not marry or have children, which, along with contemporary accounts, has led historians to speculate of homosexuality or bisexuality.[4] He died after being hit by an arrow while hunting, under circumstances that remain unclear. Circumstantial evidence in the behaviour of those around him raises strong, but unproven, suspicions of murder.[5] His younger brother Henry I hurriedly succeeded him as king. Historian Frank Barlow observed William was "[a] rumbustious, devil-may-care soldier, without natural dignity or social graces, with no cultivated tastes and little show of conventional religious piety or morality—indeed, according to his critics, addicted to every kind of vice, particularly lust and especially sodomy." On the other hand, he was a wise ruler and victorious general. Barlow noted, "His chivalrous virtues and achievements were all too obvious. He had maintained good order and satisfactory justice in England and restored good peace to Normandy. He had extended Anglo-Norman rule in Wales, brought Scotland firmly under his lordship, recovered Maine, and kept up the pressure on the Vexin."[6]

Contemporaries of William raised concerns about a court dominated by homosexuality and effeminacy, although this appears to have had more to do with their luxurious attire than with actual sexual practices.[45] Citing the traditions of Wilton Abbey in the 1140s, Herman of Tournai wrote that the abbess had ordered the Scottish princess Edith (later Matilda, wife of Henry I) to take the veil in order to protect her from the lust of William Rufus, which angered Edith's father because of the effect it might have on her prospects of marriage.[46] The historian Emma Mason has noted that while during his reign William himself was never openly accused of homosexuality, in the decades after his death numerous medieval writers spoke of this and a few began to describe him as a "sodomite".[47] Modern historians cannot state with certainty whether William was homosexual or not; however, he never took a wife or a mistress, or fathered any children. As a bachelor king without an heir, William would have been pressed to take a wife and would have had numerous proposals for marriage.[47] That he never accepted any of these proposals nor had any relations with women may show that he either had no desire for women, or he may have taken a vow of chastity or celibacy.[47] Barlow said that the Welsh chronicles claim that Henry was able to succeed to the throne because his brother had made use of concubines and thus died childless, although no illegitimate offspring are named. Barlow also allows that William may have been sterile. Noting that no "favourites" were identified, and that William's "baronial friends and companions were mostly married men", despite having concluded that the chroniclers were "hostile and biased witnesses", Barlow considers that "there seems no reason why they should have invented this particular charge" (of homosexuality) and states that, in his opinion, "On the whole the evidence points to the king's bisexuality".[48]


Winchester Cathedral

William went hunting on 2 August 1100 in the New Forest, probably near Brockenhurst, and was killed by an arrow through the lung, though the circumstances remain unclear. The earliest statement of the event was in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which noted that the king was "shot by an arrow by one of his own men."[23] Later chroniclers added the name of the killer, a nobleman named Walter Tirel, although the description of events was later embroidered with other details that may or may not be true.[24] The first mention of any location more exact than the New Forest comes from John Leland, who wrote in 1530 that William died at Thorougham, a placename that is no longer used, but that probably referred to a location on what is now Park Farm on the Beaulieu estates.[25][26] A memorial stone in the grounds of Beaulieu Abbey, Hampshire, states "Remember King William Rufus who died in these parts then known as Truham whilst hunting on 2nd August 1100".

The king's body was abandoned by the nobles at the place where he fell. A peasant later found it. William's younger brother, Henry, hastened to Winchester to secure the royal treasury, then to London, where he was crowned within days, before either archbishop could arrive. William of Malmesbury, in his account of William's death, stated that the body was taken to Winchester Cathedral by a few countrymen.[28] To the chroniclers, men of the Church, such an "act of God" was a just end for a wicked king, and was regarded as a fitting demise for a ruler who came into conflict with the religious orders to which they belonged.[29] Over the following centuries, the obvious suggestion that one of William's enemies had a hand in this event has repeatedly been made: chroniclers of the time point out themselves that Tirel was renowned as a keen bowman, and thus was unlikely to have loosed such an impetuous shot. Moreover, Bartlett says that rivalry between brothers was the pattern of political conflict in this period.[30] William's brother Henry was among the hunting party that day and succeeded him as king. Modern scholars have reopened the question, and some have found the assassination theory credible or compelling,[31] but the theory is not universally accepted. Barlow says that accidents were common and there is not enough hard evidence to prove murder.[32] Bartlett notes that hunting was dangerous.[33] Poole says the facts "look ugly" and "seem to suggest a plot." John Gillingham points out that if Henry had planned to murder William it would have been in his interest to wait until a later time. It looked as though there would soon be a war between William and his brother Robert, which would result in one of them being eliminated, thus opening the way for Henry to acquire both England and Normandy through a single assassination.[34] Tirel fled immediately. Henry had the most to gain by his brother's death. Indeed, Henry's actions "seem to be premeditated: wholly disregarding his dead brother, he rode straight for Winchester, seized the treasury (always the first act of a usurping king), and the next day had himself elected."[35][36] William's remains are in Winchester Cathedral, scattered among royal mortuary chests positioned on the presbytery screen, flanking the choir.[37] His skull appears to be missing, but some long bones may remain.[38]

A stone known as the "Rufus Stone", close to the A31 near the village of Minstead (grid reference SU270124), is claimed to mark the spot where William fell. The claim that this is the location of his death appears to date from no earlier than a 17th-century visit by Charles II to the forest.[39] At the time the most popular account of William's death involved the fatal arrow deflecting off a tree, and Charles appears to have been shown a suitable tree.[39] Letters in The Gentleman's Magazine reported that the tree was cut down and burned during the 18th century.[39] Later in that century the Rufus Stone was set up.[39] Originally it was around 5 feet 10 inches (1.78 m) tall with a stone ball on top.[39] King George III visited the stone in 1789, along with Queen Charlotte, and an inscription was added to the stone to commemorate the visit.[39] It was protected with a cast iron cover in 1841 after repeated vandalism.[39] The inscription on the Rufus Stone reads: Here stood the Oak Tree, on which an arrow shot by Sir Walter Tyrrell at a Stag, glanced and struck King William the second, surnamed Rufus, on the breast, of which he instantly died, on the second day of August, anno 1100. That the spot where an Event so Memorable might not hereafter be forgotten; the enclosed stone was set up by John Lord Delaware who had seen the Tree growing in this place. This Stone having been much mutilated, and the inscriptions on each of its three sides defaced, this more Durable Memorial, with the original inscriptions, was erected in the year 1841, by Wm [William] Sturges Bourne Warden. King William the second, surnamed Rufus being slain, as before related, was laid in a cart, belonging to one Purkis,[e] and drawn from hence, to Winchester, and buried in the Cathedral Church, of that City.[42]


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