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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Saturday, 26 December 2009

"KIng Rufus" by Emma Mason

This is a biography of William II. It is well written if not riveting and the print is rather small.

She is clearly on his side. Generally protrayed as a bad king in both senses of the world (not to mention a sodomite), she suggests that he was very capable, a good military leader (though he never actually fought a pitched battle) and competent administrator who successfully prevented rebellion until his murder. He is likely to have had illegitimate children although he never married and we do not know any names of any sexual partner male or female.

His favourite oath was "By the (Holy) Face of Lucca" (or once, "By the Face at Lucca") but, to my immense frustration, Ms Mason NEVER tells you who or where Lucca was and what the face was. This is symptomatic of a slightly too scholarly history. Wikipedia does!

I came across a bumper of interesting bits: the king of Scotland, Malcolm Canmore, ambushed and killed by the earl of Northumberland who later rebelled against Rufus and got imprisoned for life; Wulfstan, Bishop of Worcester, defending Worcester against rebels; Rufus using English mercenaries to fight his brother, Duke of Normandy; Edgar Aethling, Saxon hope for the crown, working with Rufus and the King of Scotland; Ranulf Flambard, the flamboyant chief minister, who was imprisoned by Henry I after the death of Rufus only to escape the Tower; Gundulf who worked on the White Tower and Rochester Cathedral (it cost £60 to build) and then on the walls around the Tower; Rufus also had Westminster Hall built; Westminster was a dodgy place for a palace because criminals claimed sanctuary in the Abbey and then used it as a base to mug courtiers arriving at the Palace. Much fascinating stuff!

Rufus extended Norman rule into the north, defending his realm against Malcolm Canmore of the Scots. He built a New Castle on the north bank of the Tyne and settled Cumbria, refounding Carlisle (it had been devastated by Scottish scorched earth) and rebuilding its Castle.

Finally, his death. He was shot with an arrow by Walter Tyrrel who fired at a stag in the New Forest but hit the king "by mistake"; he then left the scene and the country and became quite pally with the King of France who clearly had reason for wanting Rufus dead (Rufus was a much wealthier and more powerful king who was threatening to take over lands adjoining the tiny Kingdom of France). Was it an accident or was it murder? The best evidence for the accident was the total lack of people who claimed it was murder at the time ... but given that Henry I hot-footed it from the scene (the New Forest) to Winchester to claim the treasury and the throne he might have silenced those who claimed it was a killing. The best evidence against the accident is the fact that the King's nephew was killed by an arrow in a hunting accident in the New Forest a few months before. Dodgy or what!

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