William died at Rouen on the 7th of September 1087; on his death-bed he expressed his wish that Normandy should pass to his elder son, Robert, in spite of all his rebellions, but gave his second son William (known by the nickname of Rufus) the crown of England, and sent him thither with commendatory letters to archbishop Lanfranc and his other ministers. There was at first no sign of opposition to the will of the late king, and William Rufus was crowned within three weeks of his father's decease. But the results of the Conquest had made it hard to tear England and Normandy apart. Almost every baron in the duchy was now the possessor of a smaller or a greater grant of lands in the kingdom, and the possibility of serving two masters was as small in 1087 as at any other period of the worlds history. By dividing his two states between his sons the Conqueror undid his own work, and left to his subjects the certainty of civil war.
For the brothers Robert and William were, and always had been, enemies, and every intriguing baron had before him the tempting prospect of aggrandizing himself, by making his allegiance to one of the brothers serve as an excuse for betraying the other. Robert was thriftless, volatile and easy-going, a good knight but a most incompetent sovereign. These very facts commended him to the more turbulent section of the baronage; if he succeeded to the whole of the Conquerors heritage they would have every opportunity of enjoying freedom from all governance. William's private character was detestable: he was cruel, lascivious, greedy of gain, a habitual breaker of oaths and promises, ungrateful and irreligious. But he was cunning, strong-handed and energetic; clearly the Red King would be an undesirable master to those who loved feudal anarchy. Hence every turbulent baron in England soon came to the conclusion that Robert was the sovereign whom his heart desired.
The greater part of the reign of William II was taken up with his fight against the feudal danger. Before he had been six months on the throne he was attacked by a league comprising more than half the baronage, and headed by his uncles, bishop Odo of Bayeux and Robert of Mortain. They used the name of the duke of Normandy and had secured his promise to cross the Channel for their assistance. A less capable and unscrupulous king than Rufus might have been swept away, for the rising burst out simultaneously in nearly every corner of the realm. But he made head against it with the aid of mercenary bands, the loyal minority of the barons, and the shire-levies of his English subjects. When he summoned out the fyrd they came in great force to his aid, not so much because they trusted in the promises of good governance and reduced taxation which he made, but because they saw that a horde of greedy barons would be worse to serve than a single king, however hard and selfish he might be. With their assistance William fought down the rebels, expelled his uncle Odo and several other leaders from the realm, confiscated a certain amount of estates, and then pardoned the remainder of the rebels. Such mercy, as he was to discover, was misplaced.
In 1095 the same body of barons made a second and a more formidable rising, headed by the earls of Shrewsbury, Eu and Northumberland. It was put down with the same decisive energy that William had shown in 1088, and this time he was merciless; he blinded and mutilated William of Eu, shut up Mowbray of Northumberland for life in a monastery, and hanged many men of lesser rank. Of the other rebels some were deprived of their English estates altogether, athers restored to part of them after paying crushing fines. This second feudal rebellion was only a distraction to William from his war with his brother Robert, which continued intermittently all through the earlier years of his reign. It was raging from 1088 to 1091, and again from 1093 to 1096, when Robert tired of the losing game, pawned his duchy to his brother and went off on the First Crusade.
Down to this moment William's position had been somewhat precarious; with the Norman war generally on hand, feudal rebellion always imminent, and Scottish invasions occasionally to be repelled, he had no easy life. But he fought through his troubles, conquered Cumberland from the Scots (1092), in dealing with his domestic enemies used cunning where force failed, and generally got his will in the end. His rule was expensive, and he made himself hated by every class of his subjects, baronage, clergy and people alike, by his ingenious and oppressive taxation. His chosen instrument, a clerical lawyer named Ranulf Flambard, whom he presently made bishop of Durham, was shameless in his methods of twisting feudal or national law to the detriment of the taxpayer. William supported him in every device, however unjust, with a cynical frankness which was the distinguishing trait of his character; for he loved to display openly all the vices and meannesses which most men take care to disguise. In dealing with the baronage Ranulf and his master extorted excessive and arbitrary reliefs whenever land passed in succession to heirs. When the church was a landholder their conduct was even more unwarrantable; every clerk installed in a new preferment was forced to pay a large sum downwhich in that age was considered a clear case of simony by all conscientious men. But in addition the king kept all wealthy posts, such as bishoprics and abbacies, vacant for years at a time and appropriated the revenue meanwhile.
This policy, when pursued with regard to the archbishopric of Canterbury, brought on Rufus the most troublesome of his quarrels. When the wise primate Lanfranc, his father's friend, died in 1089, he made no appointment intill 1093, extracting meanwhile great plunder from the see. In a moment of sickness, when his conscience was for a space troubling him or his will was weak, he nominated the saintly Anselm to the archbishopric. When enthroned the new primate refused to make the enormous gift which the king expected from every recipient of preferment. Soon after he began to press for leave to hold a national synod, and when it was denied him, spoke out boldly on the personal vices as well as the immoral policy of the king. From this time William and Anselm became open enemies. They fought first upon the question of acknowledging Urban II as pope for the king, taking advantage of the fact that there was an antipope in existence, refused to allow that there was any certain and legitimate head of the Western church at the moment. Then, after William had reluctantly yielded on this point, the far more important question of lay investitures cropped up.
The council of Clermont (Nov. 1095) had just issued its famous decree to the effect that bishops must be chosen by free election, and not invested with their spiritual insignia or enfeoffed with their estates by the hands of a secular prince. Anselm felt himself obliged to accept this decision, and refused to accept his own pallium from William when Urban sent it across the sea by the hands of a legate. The king replied by harrying him on charges of having failed in his feudal obligation to provide well-equipped knights for a Welsh expedition, and imposed ruinous fines on him. It was even said that his life was threatened, and he fled to Rome in 1097, not to return till his adversary was dead. There was much to be said for the theory of the king as to the relations between church and state; he was indeed only carrying on in. a harsh form his father's old policy. But the fact that he was a tyrant and an evil-liver, while Anselm was a saint, so much influenced public opinion that William was universally regarded as in the wrong, and the sympathy of the laity no less than the clergy was with the archbishop. For the remaining three years of his life the Red King was considered to be in a state of reprobation and at open strife with righteousness.
Yet so far as secular affairs went William seemed prosperous enough. Since his brother had pawned the duchy of Normandy to him, so that he reigned at Rouen no less than at London, the danger of rebellion was almost removed. His foreign policy was successful: he installed a nominee of his own, Edgar, the son of Malcolm Canmore, on the throne of Scotland (1097); he reconquered Maine, which his brother Robert had lost; he made successful war upon King Philip of France. His barons subdued much of South Wales, though his own expeditions into North Wales, which he had designed to conquer and annex, had a less fortunate ending. He dreamed, we are told, of attacking Ireland, even of crowning himself king at Paris. But on the 2nd of August 1100 he was suddenly cut off in the midst of his sins. While hunting with some of his godless companions in the New Forest, he was struck by an arrow, unskilfully shot by one of the party. The knight Walter Tyrrell, who was persistently accused of being the author of his masters death, as persistently denied his responsibility for it; and whether the arrow was his or no, it was not alleged that malice guided it. William's favourites had all to lose by his death.
Text extracted from the entry for ENGLISH HISTORY in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.