Williams Rufus, the second Norman king in England, did not strike a chord with his contemporary chroniclers and writers of history. Instead, he was portrayed as just about everything a monarch should not be. This changed in later centuries, but once his image had been set by eleventh and twelfth century writers, many others just drew on them, manifesting the negative picture that existed of William Rufus and reinterpreting it only in nuances.
It is not the subject of this essay to retrace and follow this picture throughout the ages, although the conclusion will come back to this point. Instead, the focus here will be on two medieval writers who wrote about William Rufus, Eadmer and Henry of Huntingdon. A short passage will deal with their backgrounds and the key features of their work, so far as they are relevant to their attitudes towards William Rufus. The main body will look at passages written about William Rufus, taking into account the rhetoric and language involved, comparing where they differ and where they have similarities. The focus here will be a critical one, highlighting contradictions within and between the texts. Finally, the conclusion will again question both Eadmer’s and Huntingdon’s motives, and try evaluate the use of their accounts of Williams Rufus.
Both Henry of Huntingdon and Eadmer were writing from within the ecclesiastical community, but with different backgrounds and mindsets, as will be seen throughout this essay. This does not mean to say, however, that they were entirely different. Henry was married and in a way part of the “secular clergy,” writing about things he himself read about, while Eadmer was a monk and very close to the “object” of his writing.
It is hardly surprising that Eadmer did not take kindly to William Rufus, given the constant trouble between the king and the very man Eadmer was portraying as an immaculate saint. The first time he mentions William, it is with the words, “William oppressed the churches and monasteries throughout England most harshly.” On the following page, Eadmer describes the respect paid and tribute done to Anselm by William: “he [William] fell on his neck and led him by the hand to his seat.” According to Eadmer’s account, Anselm then openly criticized the king for his treatment of the church and his homosexuality (sic!), which the king tolerated and accepted.
Having thus taken certain liberties which others might (or might not!) have lived to regret, it follows neither from Eadmer’s nor from Henry of Huntingdon’s account why the “hated king,” who “ended his cruel life with a wretched death” and was “at the instigation of the devil and of evil men,” little later declared that for the vacant archbishopric of Canterbury “Anselm was the man most fitted for this work.” One explanation could be that William was so ill that his death seemed more than likely, so that he was in fear of his soul. In this case, appointing Anselm, whose reputation as a saint was already in the making, as archbishop would seem a wise move.
Henry of Huntingdon’s first mention of William is, on the other hand, by far more favourable than Eadmer’s:
“William, going to Winchester, divided his father’s treasure as he wished. In the treasury there was £ 60,000 in silver, in addition to gold, jewels, vessels, and hangings. Of this he gave to certain churches ten marks of gold, to others six, and to the church of each village 5s, and he sent to each county £ 100 to be distributed among the poor. He also freed all those bound in chains on his father’s orders.”
However, such moves were later taken back, at least as far as the prisoners were concerned:
“Any prisoners who had not yet been released he ordered to be guarded more strictly than ever, those already released, if they could be caught, were to be thrown again in prison (…) and tried by judges whose concern was more to subvert justice than to guard or defend it (…)”
After the first struggle over power with William’s brother Robert, whose allies Henry of Huntingdon condemns, William Rufus took to political patterns reminiscent of those his father employed, namely the redistribution of his opponents’ land to his own followers and supporters. Moreover, Henry mentions that “the king assembled the English people, and restored to them the rights of hunting and forests, and promised them desirable laws.”
 T. Callahan, The Making of a monster: the historical image of William Rufus, in: JMH 7 (1981), 175.
 This merely refers to Eadmer’s Vita Anselmi, which is part of the subject of this essay, not his other historical writings.
 Vita Amselmi, 63.
 Vita Anselmi, 64.
 Ibid., 64.
 Historia Anglorum, 49.
 Ibid., 48.
 Vita Anselmi, 67.
 Ibid., 64.
 R. Huscroft, Ruling England 1042-1217, Harlow et al. 2005, 65.
 Historia Anglorum, 33.
 Quoted from T. Callahan, The Making of a Monster, 176.
 Ibid., 35.
 Ibid., 36.
 Ibid., 35.
- Quote paper
- Nicholas Williams (Author), 2006, The Portrayal of William Rufus in the "Vita Anselmi" and Huntingdon’s "Historia Anglorum", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/127228