Kings and Queens in London -William II (Rufus)
Continuing our series on traces of Kings and Queens in London – this time William the Conqueror’s son William II, known as William Rufus
When William I died in 1087 he split his kingdom between two of his sons. William’s oldest son Robert was left in charge of the core territory in Normandy, however his second son Richard was already dead. The crown of the new possession of England was therefore left to William’s third son, also called William, known also as William the Red or William Rufus, possibly a sign he had a red complexion. Coming to the throne at approximately the age of 31, William II soon faced conflict with Robert, a rivalry that started in childhood and carried on throughout his reign.
Although William II was kept busy retaining the throne, he made some decisions that have had a lasting impact on London. In 1091 a powerful tornado badly damaged London Bridge. William II appointed his treasurer Ranulf Flambard, Bishop of Durham to supervise its reconstruction. As part of the rebuilding, William II allowed a special tax to be raised specifically for maintenance of London Bridge. This tax continued to be raised and in the 13th century became administered by The Bridge House Estates. Careful investment meant that this fund flourished, and is still going strong today, now being in charge of Blackfriars, Southwark Tower and now the Millenium Bridge. Properties owned by Bridge House Estates carry this mark.
Ranulf Flambard then began work on another great London building that you can visit today – Westminster Hall. The hall was begun in 1097, intending to impress visitors to William II’s kingdom. William reputedly was unimpressed – when he first saw it he said he thought it a mere bedchamber compared to what he had intended. At 1547 square metres it was probably the largest hall in Europe. Although the hall was remodelled by Richard II, the core of the building remains William II’s. Take a virtual tour here
Ranulf Flambard also continued work on another important London building -the Tower of London. Flambard improved the defences of the White Tower, building a wall surrounding it. He probably wished he hadn’t bothered – poor Ranulf was put in prison there himself on William II’s death in 1100.
During William II’s reign we have the first records of a Jewish community in London, William appearing to treat Jewish people fairly, unlike other medieval kings. William II also donated land in Bermondsey to monks that later founded Bermondsey Abbey. Traces of the abbey still exist, but the spot is marked by a tower block called appropriately Rufus House
You can see William II depicted in the Stowe Manuscript in The British Library (pictured at the top of this page). The National Portrait Gallery has a number of depictions of William II in its collection, but sadly none on display. There are no pubs named after William II (you’ll have to go to Carlisle to find one) but if you go take the A31 to the New Forest you can drink his health at Rufus Stone service station, surely Britain’s most historically interesting Little Chef. For, from them, it is just a short walk to the actual Rufus Stone – which marks the spot where the unmarried and childless William II died, shot by one of his own men during a hunting expedition. Accident or murder, we will never know, but the beneficiary was William’s younger brother Henry, who we will look at next time.