Wednesday, 16 May 2012

An Unlikely Route to Kingship

 In which William Rufus upsets his brother and the Church is shocked

  Let’s face it, when chroniclers call someone "hateful to almost all his people and odious to God" and the Archbishop refers to them as a ‘wild bull’, you just know things are going to get colourful with this person.    These things were said of William II of England, whose rise to kingship came, appropriately, from a most unexpected frolic.

  William was nicknamed ‘Rufus’, which means red.  This likely refers to his somewhat florid complexion brought about by going around shouting at people.  A disagreeable habit perhaps, but when one is short and has a mother who is only 4ft tall that has been called incestuous by the Pope, one probably has had to put up with a lot in the playground.

William II
Statue of William Rufus looking mischievous

  As third son of William the Conqueror, Rufus followed the custom of being packed off to get a degree in archbishop-ry.  This wasn’t for young Rufus.  In fact his care free larks seemed to get right up the noses of the Clergy.  He had indecently long hair for the Church and wore it in a blasphemous centre-part.  And his shoes ... long, pointy and curled at the ends were a scandal!

  When his eldest brother Richard died, Rufus suddenly transferred careers to being a knight.  This was more like it.  Now he could curse loudly, tell rude jokes and bash people with a mace.  But his breezy ways would lead to family complaints.

  In 1087, Rufus joined his Father and elder brother Robert in L’Aigle, where the Conqueror was planning to go and biff a neighbour.  One evening, when he was sat twiddling his thumbs and feeling bored, Rufus decided to nip around Roberts house with a few of his friends and his ten year old brother Henry.

  Robert was entertaining his own guests at the time with a game of charades or Pictionary.  Answering the door he said “Come in.  We’re playing charades.  I think Cedric is meant to be Edward the Confessor.”

  Charades not being Rufus’ scene, he tramped up to the mezzanine floor and began playing dice and making a right old racket with his chums.  Robert, trying to impress his friends may have said ‘Shhh’, but Rufus didn’t hear him if he did.

  Eventually, after tiring of dice and drink, Rufus looked for something really fun to do.  And he hit upon a corker.  Wouldn’t it be a wheeze, thought he, if we all wee over the balcony onto my brother?  So they did.

  Down below, Robert and his friends had just got Trivial Pursuits out when the urine began to fall.  His nostrils flared and his hair dripped.  “Oi” said Robert and, grabbing a heavy instrument ascended the stairs to do Rufus bodily injury.  There followed a royal rumble in which more than one vase was broken and the carpets were ruined.

  So great was the fighting that the King was called who shouted “Now then!” a great deal until everybody stopped.  The errant boys stood before their father.  Robert smelled suspicious and Rufus sniggered.  Despite imploring his father to let him bash his brother silly, Robert was told that boys will be boys and to shake hands.

  Robert’s ego smarted.  Nobody likes being piddled on in front of their friends.  He would have his revenge.  So, after taking a quick bath, he tramped south with his friends and promptly broke into the keep at Rouen, which belonged to his father.  He was making his point.

  King William took exception to this insolence and visited Robert with weapons.   Unthinkingly, in hindsight, Robert’s men wounded William the Conqueror and thus, at the end of his life William the Conqueror bequeathed the English throne, not to his eldest son, but to that charming whipper-snapper, William Rufus who was mighty pleased.

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