Monday, June 26, 2017

The Death of William Rufus

William Rufus, King of England, met his death in a hunting accident in the New Forest (2/8/1100). He was “accidentally” killed by an arrow loosed from the bow of one Sir Walter Tyrell, 3rd Lord of Poix. After Rufus was struck down, Tyrell panicked and fled to France. As a result of his death, Rufus’ brother Henry seized the English throne for himself and was crowned King of England.

William of Malmesbury in his “Chronicle of the Kings of the English” (c. 1128) had this to say:
“The next day he went into the forest… He was attended by a few persons… Walter Tirel remained with him, while the others, were on the chase. The sun was now declining, when the king, drawing his bow and letting fly an arrow, slightly wounded a stag which passed before him… The stag was still running… The king, followed it a long time with his eyes, holding up his hand to keep off the power of the sun’s rays. At this instant Walter decided to kill another stag. Oh, gracious God! the arrow pierced the king’s breast.

On receiving the wound the king uttered not a word; but breaking off the shaft of the arrow where it projected from his body… This accelerated his death. Walter immediately ran up, but as he found him senseless, he leapt upon his horse, and escaped with the utmost speed. Indeed there were none to pursue him: some helped his flight; others felt sorry for him. The king’s body was placed on a cart and conveyed to the cathedral at Winchester… blood dripped from the body all the way. Here he was buried within the tower.”

For his own part, Henry, now King of England, issued Tyrell with a pardon. This action alone has led many to conclude that Henry was somehow behind the death of his brother.

These are the “facts” such as they are and such as they have come down to us through the ages.

But there are a number of other, most intriguing, points to consider.
(1) – Tyrell was innocent.
(2) – That this was an accident.
(3) – That this was a premeditated murder instigated by Henry.
(4) – That this was a premeditated murder instigated by a third party.

Scenario 1 – Innocent:
From the safety of France, Tyrell claimed that his was innocent of the death of the King William.

Abbot Suger, Confessor to King Louis VII of France, was apparently a friend of Tyrell’s and provided him with a safe haven following his flight from England. Abbot Suger claimed that: “but I have often heard him, when he had nothing to fear nor to hope, solemnly swear that on the day in question he was not in the part of the forest where the king was hunting, nor ever saw him in the forest at all.”

So, why flee – why not just claim to have become separated from the King and was elsewhere in the New Forest; or, why not claim to have just come upon the dying King. There were no witnesses to the actual death – Tyrell could only have been accused if he had been seen with the King by others.

Scenario 2 – Accident:
It was claimed that Tyrell “let loose a wild shot at a passing stag. However, instead of striking the stag as intended, the arrow pierced William in the chest, puncturing his lungs.”

However, could a man whom many claimed knows how to shoot the deadliest shots have been so reckless or careless in his aim?

Peter of Blois (1070 – c.1117) writes: “The said Walter, the author of his death, though unwittingly so, escaped from the midst of them, crossed the sea, and arrived safe home in Normandy.”

“Tyrrel, without informing any one of the accident, put spurs to his horse, hastened to the sea-shore, embarked for France, and joined the crusade in an expedition to Jerusalem; a penance which he imposed on himself for this involuntary crime.” (Source: David Hume “The History of England from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution in 1688“, Foreword by William B. Todd, 6 vols. (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1983). Vol. 1.)

It was not uncommon for deaths to occur accidentally when hunting – even today, hunters are often mistake for their prey and are killed or wounded by other hunters. Carelessness is not atypical of one period of history alone. Again, why flee. Tyrell could not have known the mood of Henry nor expected clemency for the death of the King, no matter how accidental, hence his immediate flight.

Scenario 3 – Murder by Henry:
Henry himself directly benefited from the death of his older brother – this was a well known fact.

Henry was himself a part of the hunting group that day in the New Forest, though not, as Henry himself points out, with his brother William. Henry maintained that he was in another part of the New Forest when Rufus met his end.

But, if involved, could Henry have been assured of his own position. Henry had an older brother, Robert Duke of Normandy – there was always the chance that Robert might seize the throne for himself or be acclaimed King. Even during the reign of Rufus there had been a rebellion in favour of Robert – William was disliked and Robert was popular. Henry’s own position was uncertain.

Henry’s hasty journey to secure the Treasury at Winchester and then have himself crowned King. Henry, however, had nothing to fear from Robert who was on Crusade at the time of Rufus’ death.

In fact, William Rufus was not the only member of the Conqueror’s family to meet an untimely death in the New Forest:
* Richard, Duke of Bernay, second son of William the Conqueror of Matilda of Flanders (c.1075 – 1081); brother of William II Rufus, Henry I and Robert of Normandy.
* Henry, son of Robert of Normandy (above) and Sybilla of Conversano
* Richard, illegitimate son of Robert of Normandy (d.1100)

What better place to rid oneself of witnesses or potential rivals for the throne than to arrange a “hunting accident”. Suspicion would not fall so easily upon one’s head – I guess a more than lack of direct heirs (excluding Robert whom Henry later imprisoned for the term of his natural life) left the throne well and truly open for Henry I.

And as for Henry I pardoning Tyrell, one would assume he did so for one of three reasons:
(1) Tyrell really was innocent;
(2) it really was an accident; or
(3) Tyrell actually did kill William on behalf of Henry.

William of Malmesbury writes, in his “Chronicle of the Kings of the English” (c. 1128): “he leapt upon his horse, and escaped with the utmost speed. Indeed there were none to pursue him: some helped his flight; others felt sorry for him.”

Scenario 4 – Revenge:
So what exactly was Tyrell’s role – was he the instrument of death of a “third party” bent on revenge. Quite possibly – so what are the known facts about Tyrell.

(1) Walter Tyrell was born in England (c.1065) and yet was made Lord of Poix – in Ponthieu, France. Poix wasn’t associated with Normandy (at the time) – in fact, Poix was some fifteen miles from Amiens, and its lordship was of considerable importance.

Walter has been identified by Pere Anselme who “occurs in an agreement with the [Ralf] Count of Amiens, 1087, and who, with his wife “Adelice,” founded the Priory of St. Denis de Poix [confirmed by Geoffrey, Bishop of Amiens], and built the Abbey of St. Pierre de Sélincourt.” (Source: JH Round “Feudal England” 1895).

Walter Tyrell was not one of those who came to England at the time of the Conquest (1066) – though it has been suggested that he was possibly the grandson of one Walter Tyrell who led a company from Poix at Senlac (1066). JH Round in his 1895 “Feudal England” claims Tyrell was actually a Frenchman, being the third of that name to bear the title.

So what exactly was Tyrell doing at the court of the English King.

The following article, The Royal Hunt, claims that Tyrell was not actually a member of William’s household but instead was invited on the hunt to discuss “political matters”.

Peter of Blois says: “For there had come from Normandy, to visit king William, a very powerful baron, Walter Tirel by name. The king received him with the most lavish hospitality, and having honored him with a seat at his table, was pleased, after the banquet was concluded, to give him an invitation to join him in the sport of hunting.”

So, what political matters were afoot that were so important that Tyrell was invited to hunt alone with the King – away from prying eyes and eavesdroppers.

At the time of Rufus’ death, he was engaged in a rebellion of nobles in County of Maine, who were supported by the French King.

Let us consider the following excerpts from David Hume’s “The History of England from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution in 1688“:
“ ….. he found the province of Maine still exposed to his intrigues and incursions” – this being the intrigues of the French King [1097].

“William, who was hunting in the new forest, when he received intelligence of this hostile attempt, was so provoked, that he immediately turned his horse, and galloped to the sea-shore at Dartmouth; declaring, that he would not stop a moment till he had taken vengeance for the offence” [1099].
“By this vigour and celerity, he delivered the citadel of Mans from its present danger; and pursuing Helie into his own territories, he laid siege to Majol, a small castle in those parts: But a wound, which he received before this place, obliged him to raise the siege; and he returned to England.” [1100].

The Lordship of Poix was associated with the County of Maine. Could Walter Tyrell have been about to change his allegiance from Maine (and thus France), and turn towards England? Was Walter a spy for England (against France) at the court of Maine?

(2) We know that Tyrell made an advantageous marriage to one Adelize (1069 – 1138), the daughter of Richard Fitz Gilbert. This, it seems to me, to be quite remarkable considering Tyrell’s lack of serious “political” connections with the Conqueror and his family – before the hunting incident.

(3) It was said that Tyrell was one of Rufus’ “favourites”. Is there any evidence of this – well, Tyrell alone was with Rufus hunting in the New Forest. Most other members of the Court were quite apart from the King.

Was there any evidence of the allegation that Tyrell argued with Rufus the night before the hunt? None that was mentioned by any of the contemporary chroniclers.

There was, however, one man whom none have suspected despite his deep and well publicized hatred of Rufus. Who was this man, none other than Anselm of Bec, Archbishop of Canterbury, the highest prelate in England!

The Case Against Anselm:
What exactly was the “relationship” between the King of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury?

Well, let’s begin with a couple of interesting facts about Anselm:
(1) Anselm and Rufus clashed famously and furiously over the question of jurisdiction over the Church. This would be an alarmingly familiar scenario to the Pope, who was battling the German King, Henry IV, over the question of ecclesiastic investitures; and would later reverberate in the clash between King Henry II of England and his Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Beckett.

But at the heart of this battle of wills was the fact that Rufus had, for the past five years, kept the See of Canterbury deliberately vacant for the sole purpose of collecting and keeping those revenues for himself. Only, when the cold hand of death stretched toward him did Rufus finally concede and appoint to the vacant See, Anselm. When he recovered, Rufus found that Anselm, far from being malleable was proving himself a constant thorn in the royal side. It became Rufus’ chief desire to be rid of the Archbishop ……. “He could elevate him, but not remove him; he could make, but not unmake.” In fact, “…… political troubles came so thick and heavy on the King, some of his powerful nobles being in open rebellion, that he felt it necessary to dissemble and defer the gratification of his vengeance on the man he hated more than any personage in England.” (Source: Beacon Lights of History, Volume III, Part 1 – Saint Anselm A.D. 1033 – 1109).

Such was the “professional” relationship between King and Archbishop – one was a gentle, God-fearing man, devoted to the interests of the Church; the other was a hard, unscrupulous, cunning despot. Or so it would seem.

(2) Anselm (d.1109), along with a number of other well-known clerics, including St.Bernard of Clairvaux, Aelred of Rievaulx (110 -1167), Ivo of Chartres (c.1040 – 1115), Bishop Baudri of Bourgeuil (1046 – 1130) and his friend, Marbod of Rennes (1035-1123), all wrote “homo-erotic” poems and prose.

To whom were these poems written or dedicated – typically, young men; though in the case of Baudri and Marbod, it was also to each other, where there was “an emphasis on pederasty”. (Source: John Boswell “Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality” Pub: University of Chicago Press, 1980).

Anselm wrote many letters to monks, male relatives and others that contained passionate expressions of attachment and affection. These letters were typically addressed “dilecto dilectori,” sometimes translated as “to the beloved lover.” As such, these letters have been characterised as having “homosexual” tendancies by later chroniclers and historians.

So, what has this to do with William Rufus, King of England, whose own sexuality was questionable, and the cause of so much gossip?

Many labels have been attributed to William Rufus and his sexuality. He has invariably been labeled “bisexual” and “homosexual” but there we must stop. These labels are modern day inventions – or rather, 19th century inventions.

There were other labels used when describing a man who succumbed to the “unnatural vice”. In fact, Henry I, brother and successor of William Rufus, attempted to clean up the court of the “unnatural vice” and laid down a series of penalties for “those who commit the shameful sin of sodomy“. Later, Thomas Aquinas in his “Summa Theologica” refers to homosexuality as “peccata contra naturam” or “the sin against nature”.

We all know that William opposed the appointment of Anselm and that their animosity was the cause of much conflict between church and state. But could it be much more personal than that.

Anselm himself was one of the proponents of the medieval “homo-erotic” poetry – could his “advances” (ie: poetry / letters of love) have been directed at Rufus. Could these “advances” have not only been unwanted but ridiculed (especially amongst the court favourites) and spurned – which was the true cause of the deep hatred between Anselm and William. Was Anselm merely the scorned “potential” lover??

Was Anselm hoping to take advantage of what we in modern terms would label as William’s homosexuality on a personal level, and use his role as potential lover to enhance his own clerical position. Anselm, as we know, was just as manipulative as the next cleric – afterall he saw himself as another Lanfranc. Could his sudden hatred and vilification of William have been used to disguise his own earthly failings as a mortal man.

Yes, this is speculative in the extreme and there is absolutely no proof whatsoever that there was or wasn’t some form of more “personal” or possibly “homosexual” relationship between these two antagonists.

And so to the “ecclesiastical” version of Rufus’ death.
“It was remarked in that age, that Richard, an elder brother of William’s, perished by an accident in the new forest; Richard, his nephew, natural son of duke Robert, lost his life in the same place, after the same manner: And all men, upon the king’s fate, exclaimed, that, as the Conqueror had been guilty of extreme violence, in expelling all the inhabitants of that large district, to make room for his game, the just vengeance of heaven was signalized, in the same place, by the slaughter of his posterity.”

This I have previously documented above – death by “hunting accident” was not an uncommon event.
“See the just hand of God upon kings usurping wrongfully upon other men’s grounds, as did William the Conqueror, their father, in making this New Forest, plucking down divers churches and townships the compass of thirty miles about. Here therefore appeareth, that although men cannot revenge, yet God revengeth either in them, or in their posterity, &c. This king, as he always used concubines, so left he no issue legitimate behind him. His life was such, that it is hard for a story, that should tell the truth, to say whether he was more to be commended or reproved. Among other vices in him, especially is to be rebuked in him unmeasurable and unreasonable covetousness; insomuch that he coveted (if he might) to be every man’s heir.” (Source: Foxe’s “Book of Martyrs“)

To clerical chroniclers, such an “Act of God” was a just end for a wicked king.
These clerics referred to Rufus as “… a man much pitied …. [who] had a soul which they could not save…”Rufus’ quarrel with the saintly Anselm ensured that “it [was] no wonder his memory should be blackened by the historians of that order.” (Source: David Hume “The History of England from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution in 1688” (Foreword by William B. Todd, 6 vols. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1983). Vol. 1.)

Could the saintly Anselm have seen Tyrell as an instrument of God with which to strike down this faithless enemy of the Church (and of himself). Anselm certainly had the motive, but as for the opportunity – could Anselm have been assured that Tyrell would act on behalf of the “Church”. In fact, the question to be asked is: could Anselm stoop to murder to rid himself of this most despotic enemy. Tempting … but unlikely. With the benefit of hindsight we know that Rufus’ death did not end the quarrel between the Crown and the Church in England.

So then, who else not only had a beef with Rufus, but was also in a position to utilize Tyrell without Tyrell giving the game away. The only reasonable “suspects” would have to be exceedingly close to Tyrell. His own family: no motive or opportunity there. What about his in-laws: motive – yes; opportunity – yes; weapon – yes.

So then, who else not only had a beef with Rufus, but was also in a position to utilize Tyrell without Tyrell giving the game away. The only reasonable “suspects” would have to be exceedingly close to Tyrell. His own family: no motive or opportunity there. What about his in-laws: motive – yes; opportunity – yes; weapon – yes.

The Case Against the House of Clare:
(1) The founder of the de Clare family was one Godfrey (also named Geoffrey), (bc.970 – dc.1015), who was an illegitimate son of Richard I, Duke of Normandy. Godfrey was the father of one Gilbert, surnamed “Crispin” (bc.1000 – 1040) who was Count of Bionne and Eu, and was one of the protectors or guardians of the infant William, Duke of Normandy. Gilbert made the ultimate sacrifice in the “execution” of his duties when he was murdered (1040).

(2) The sons of Gilbert “Crispin” (above) were named Baldwin and Richard (1030 – 1090). Now it has been speculated, though definitely not proved, that Richard may have been Gilbert’s illegitimate son by one Arlette/Herleve of Falaise, mother of Duke William of Normandy (himself an “illegitimate” son of a union between Arlette and Robert, Duke of Normandy). Thus, Richard has been referred to as William’s “half-brother”. I have not personally seen any documentary evidence that would support this.

It has also been speculated in the “Annals of the Four Masters” that Richard was descended from Robert “the Devil”, Duke of Normandy – himself the father of William “the Conqueror”. However, this is not the case.

Further, Baldwin and Richard had been dispossessed of their father’s lands by their “uncle” Richard II, Duke of Normandy, and had fled to the court of Baldwin V of Flanders after the murder of their father. The County of Eu was then given by Richard II to his half-brother, William.

These lands were restored by William, Duke of Normandy, who celebrated his marriage to Matilda of Flanders at Eu. However, Eu itself remained with the descendants of William.

(3) Richard (above) married one Rohese (daughter of Walter Giffard of Normandy), and was the father of notably Roger (who inherited the Norman patrimony) and Gilbert (who inherited the English patrimony) – and was the father-in-law of Walter Tyrell, who married Adeliza, Richard’s daughter. Other children were born of the marriage of Richard and Rohese.

Richard and his brother Baldwin both accompanied William of Normandy on his invasion of England (1066). Both, though Richard especially, were well rewarded by William after the “spoils of war” were divided. Baldwin was appointed Guardian of Exeter and Sheriff of Devonshire, and Richard was granted 170 manors in Suffolk. Richard (also known as Richard of Tonbridge) adopted the surname “Clare” after one of his large estates in Suffolk. Richard was also appointed to William’s Council, and as a trusted friend, was given the position of Chief Justiciar. Richard thus found himself as one of the regents for England during William’s absences in Normandy, and he played an important role of the suppression of the revolt of the Earls against William (1075).

(4) Richard de Clare (father of aforementioned Gilbert and Roger) had been involved in a rebellion against Rufus (1088). Along with many other leading Norman barons, he supported Robert, eldest son of William the Conqueror, as a suitable heir. Richard was forced to surrender and enter a monastery where he died three years later (d.1090). Gilbert kept the family estates and was, to all intents and purposes, reconciled with the King. Gilbert fought with the King against the Scots (1095), and possibly took part in Rufus’ campaigns against Wales and in Normandy.

The House of Clare certainly benefited from making their “peace” with Rufus – they could position someone in close enough, unsuspected, to “do the deed”.

However, another conspiracy of nobles against Rufus occurred (1095), led by Robert Mowbray Earl of Northumberland, Richard de Tunbridge and Roger de Lacy. William, Count of Eu was also said to have also been a part of this conspiracy to put Stephen, Count of Aumale (nephew of William the Conqueror) on the throne instead of Rufus. The plot was discovered – this was treason.

Who then was William, Count of Eu (bc.1055 – d.1096) and what was his relationship with the House of Clare?
William was the son of Robert, Count of Eu, who was the son of one Guillaume de Hieme (bc. 955 – db. 9/1/1039). Guillaume or William (bc.985) was the son of: Richard I “the Fearless” Duke of Normandy (b.28/8/933 – d.20/11/996) – by a concubine. Said William (d.1096) was married to one Beatrice de Busli (bc.1065), daughter of Domesday baron, Roger de Busli of Tickhill. William had two brothers: Ralph d’Eu (bc.1043 – dc.1090) and Robert d’Eu (bc.1057).

Now, back to the plot against Rufus (1095):
Oderic claims that William was accused by his brother-in-law, the Earl of Chester, for flaunting his extramarital affairs and thus neglecting Chester’s sister. William was charged with treason at court (Autumn 1095). At Salisbury, William was formally accused and challenged to a trial by combat by Geoffrey Baynard, former Sherrif of Yorkshire (1096). (Source: David Crounch “Normans: The History of a Dynasty”, Hambledon Press 2002)

“The count d’Eu denied his concurrence in the plot (c.1095-1096); and to justify himself, fought, in the presence of the court at Windsor, a duel with Geoffrey Bainard, who accused him. But being worsted in the combat, he was condemned to be castrated, and to have his eyes put out.” (Source: David Hume “The History of England from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution in 1688” (Foreword by William B. Todd, 6 vols. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1983). Vol. 1.)

Why would the death of William, Count of Eu have any bearing on the House of Clare?
William, Count of Eu’s ancestor was an illegitimate son of Richard I, Duke of Normandy, as was the ancestor of the House of Clare. Thus, they were related – and in this day and age, kith and kin were important in forging alliances, both political and social.

But, more importantly, Oderic says that one Gilbert de Clare was another of those who plotted against Rufus and then turned on his co-conspirators and thus saved his own neck. (Source: David Crouch “Normans: The History of a Dynasty”, Hambledon Press 2002)

Gilbert de Clare was cousin to William of Eu! And the “English” estates of William (the Honour of Striguil) went to one Walter de Clare, the brother of Gilbert de Clare (above), and thus a younger son of Richard de Clare. These estates remained with the House of Clare.

(5) The sons of Richard de Clare, Gilbert (fitzRichard) and Roger, and their brother-in-law, Tyrell, were all present in the New Forest as members of the hunting party when Rufus was killed (1100). Tyrell escaped and was later “pardoned” by Henry I who succeeded Rufus as King of England. The House of Clare were public in their support of the accession of Henry I, not Robert, as King of England.

(6) Gilbert (fitzRichard) de Clare was the father of one Gilbert fitzGilbert de Clare, 1st Earl of Pembroke (below).

(7) Gilbert (fitzGilbert) de Clare married Isabel de Beaumont. Isabel’s father Robert had fought with William I at Senlac (1066) – and she had previously been the favourite mistress of Henry I. Gilbert and the House of Clare family (with its extended and intertwining branches) would prosper considerably under Henry I.

* Walter Tyrell’s sons were permitted to keep their father’s lands and estates.
* Rohese Giffard’s brother Walter was created Earl of Buckingham, and another, William was created Bishop of Winchester.
* Richard (1062 – 1107), son of Richard de Clare (d.1090), and brother-in-law of Tyrell was made Abbot of Ely by Henry I.
* Robert (d.1134), another son of Richard de Clare (d.1090), was Steward to Henry I.
* Members of the House of Clare were in constant attendance at the court of Henry I.
* Gilbert de Clare (d.1115) led an army into Wales (1107) where he defeated the Welsh and managed to secure for himself, the important Lordship of Striguil. His children would marry well into the nobility.

Could this then simply have been a premeditated act of revenge on the part of the House of Clare – and Tyrell was the means, being a favourite of the King, and maybe less likely to be suspected??? The evidence, though certainly circumstantial, is highly plausible.

So many plots, so many questions, so many suspects ……

Or are we, as historian and author C.Warren Hollister suggests, being tempted to “look for some hint of human calculation such as we would not seek in the reportedly accidental deaths of lesser men ….. ”

 ~~~ originally posted October 2010

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