William II, King of England (known as William Rufus, because of his red face) was killed by an arrow while hunting in the New Forest on this day in 1100. Born in around 1056, the son of William the Conqueror, he had succeeded to the throne in 1087 but was not well-liked by his subjects, having broken his promise to relax the game laws of the forest and to relieve the burden of taxation.
His death may or may not have been an accident: the fatal arrow was shot by another member of the royal hunting party and glanced off an oak tree before hitting the King. His body was left where it lay and was later discovered by a charcoal-burner, who transported it to Winchester in a cart.
The oak tree was subsequently destroyed by souvenir hunters and vandals but a triangular pillar, known as the Rufus Stone, was erected in its place. The memorial is pictured below and bears the following inscription:
Here stood the oak tree, on which the arrow shot by Sir Walter Tyrell at a stag, glanced and struck King William the Second, surnamed Rufus, on the breast, on which he instantly died, on the second day of August, ANNO 1100. King William the Second, surnamed Rufus, being slain, as before related, was laid in a cart belonging to one Purkis, and drawn from hence, to Winchester, and buried in the Cathedral Church of that city.
Sir Walter hot-footed it back to Normandy in fear of being charged with the King’s murder. The tale says that he stopped at a blacksmith on the way and had his horse re-shod with backwards facing horseshoes, so as to confuse the chasers!
As it happened, there were no chasers because no-one was particularly upset about the King’s death.
Following William Rufus’ death, it took just three days for his brother Henry to become the new King.