A Brief Review of King William II, a.k.a. “Rufus” and His Coinage

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by johnmilton, Nov 25, 2020.

  1. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    When William the Conqueror was on his deathbed in 1087, he bequeathed the duchy of Normandy to his eldest son, Robert, England to his third son, William, and £ 5,000 to his youngest son, Henry. Henry anticipated that Henry’s future was with church. William’s other son, Richard, had been killed in a hunting accident. All of the sons had been feuding with one another while William was alive, and that situation only intensified after his death.

    The new king of England, William II, who is perhaps better known as “Rufus,” had been closest to his father. William was known as “Rufus the red” because of his flushed complexion and red hair which became a reddish brown. Rufus’ red complexion was enhanced when he drank. Some have speculated that he may have had heart issues.

    A Family at War

    Despite that fact that William the Conqueror had divided his assets among his sons, they continued to fight. William campaigned to take Normandy from Robert while Robert sought to take England from William. Henry, as the odd man out, waited in the wings for his opportunity.

    The barons who owned lands within the two areas began to take sides. At first most of them sided with Robert who had the support of his paternal uncle, Odo. Rufus put down a revolt which was led by Odo and ravaged his estate which was in Kent. After Robert failed to capitalize on his advantage among the barons, Rufus not only held Robert at bey but began to extend his power over Wales and Scotland.

    In 1090 Henry made his play to gain a landed estate. This united Rufus and Robert against Henry. Instead extracting revenge against Henry, Rufus showed his negotiating skills when he brokered a mutually advantageous settlement with his brothers. Robert even joined Rufus to campaign with him against the Scots.

    The issues between Rufus and Robert were finally settled in 1096. William paid Robert so that he could mount an army to fight in the First Crusade. In return, Robert gave William temporary control, as regent, over Normandy. After Rufus gained control over Normandy, he took back some of the lands that Robert had lost to the French king. Overall, Rufus was a much better military leader than Robert.

    Rufus and the Church

    Rufus’ relationship with the church was never good. When the archbishop of Canterbury, Lanfranc, died, Rufus refused to replace him. Instead he took the church’s revenues for himself. This incensed the clergy who equated this action to stealing from God.

    The clergy urged Rufus to appoint Lanfranc’s student and friend, Anselm, as the bishop’s successor. Rufus refused until 1092 when he believed that he was suffering from a fatal illness. Rufus made the appointment at that time, but relations with the church remained strained. Ultimately, Anselm went into voluntary exile after his interactions with Rufus became too strained.

    Rufus’ poor relationship with the church would do great damage to his historical reputation. The clergy, who would write the history of Rufus’ reign, compared his court with that of the Roman emperor, Caligula. They branded him as a homosexual and claimed that young men minced their gait in his court. They wore lose garments and were said to be naked or half naked. Rufus blasphemed the church and often used foul language. Probably overexaggerating, they claimed the Rufus practiced the black arts and worshiped the devil.

    Claims that Rufus was a homosexual may have been true. He was the only British king who never married, but there were rumors that he fathered an illegitimate child.

    The Largest Building in Europe

    In 1097 Rufus began construction of Westminster Hall. It was finished in 1099. The structure was the largest building in England and in fact, all of Europe. It measured 67 by 240 feet and had a floor space of 17,000 square feet. When asked about its size, Rufus responded that he only wished that he could have made it bigger. The building, which has been modified through the centuries, is used today for large ceremonial gatherings.

    Rufus Is Killed in a “Hunting Accident”

    Like almost all Normans, Rufus liked to hunt. The Normans set aside forested hunting areas that only they could use. Anyone found hunting, who was not authorized to be in the area was subject to severe penalties, which included blinding and other mutilations. Those who kept dogs in the area were forced to amputate a toe on their front paws to prevent the animals from chasing game.

    It was during one of those Norman hunting trips that Rufus met his untimely end. Norman nobleman, Walter Tyrell missed a deer and hit Rufus instead. The arrow pieced his chest and went into a lung. The king died quickly, and his youngest brother, Henry, set out immediately to claim the royal treasury and to be crowned king only four days later in London.

    Many have concluded that Rufus’ death was not accident, but a planned assassination. The king’s body was quickly loaded on a farm cart and sent to Winchester Cathedral where it was buried, with little ceremony, the following morning. Tyrell was quickly ferried back to Normandy while two of his brothers received special favors from the new king, Henry I.

    Many of the barons viewed Rufus and as ill-tempered and quarrelsome king. Yet, he did have a love for England, and he was regarded as an able administrator. His suspicious death brought an early end to a reign that was generally effective but marked by strife and controversies.

    A Sample of the Coinage of William II, Rufus

    William the Conqueror’s coinage was among the best in Europe. The coins were made of good silver, and they were quite well made. Unfortunately the coinage of Rufus started a period of low grade coins. More base metal began to appear in the coins, and the dies were often broken and defective.

    William II d All.jpg

    This piece, which is no longer in my collection, is actually quite nice for William II penny. It was stuck on a planchet which a minor split, and the die is broken which resulted in a weak portrait. The lettering is quite nice, however, which makes it better than average.

    The variety numbers are Spink 1261 and North 855. North rates it as “Rare.” The estimated years of issue are 1089 to 1082.

    William II Profile All Me.jpg

    This second piece is an example of the profile variety. It shows the king brandishing a sword, which is quite appropriate given the tenor of his reign. This piece is well struck, especially in the portrait area. It is among the first coins that were struck during William II’s time as king. The variety numbers are Spink 1258 and North 851. The estimated years of issue were 1086 to 1089. North rates this piece as “rare.”

    William II 1260 All.jpg

    The third piece has the highest technical grade of the three although the lettering is mushy. It is in a PCGS AU-53 slab. The luster indicates that it really is an AU. The variety numbers are Spink 1260 and North 853. It is the “stars and voided cross” type. North also rates this variety is “rare” although it might be the most common variety of William III penny.

    Using the Spink catalog values as a guide, the William II pennies appear to be the scarcest of the Norman king coins. All of the values are over £ 2,000 in VF condition. In contrast, there are pieces valued at less than £ 1,000 for Henry I and Stephen. From my limited observations, however, I believe that it is easier to find William II coins in the higher grades than then the two kings who succeeded him.
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  3. John Conduitt

    John Conduitt Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the write up. You have a lot of great coins from this period. It's an interesting part of English history!

    William II was killed in the New Forest (a very old forest proclaimed a royal forest by William I) less than an hour from my house. There's a small obelisk marking the alleged spot, the 'Rufus Stone', that was erected in 1745 and later covered with an iron case after the Georgians/Victorians vandalised it.

    I have a photo of some of my family sitting at the base of the stone dated 1869, which highlights how short they were as it comes up to my chest and I'm not even 6 foot!:

    I think the grumpy old lady in black (my ancestor) is in mourning dress, even though her husband died in April 1866, and tradition dictated she only had to wear mourning dress for 2½ years! Her husband was a carpenter in Portsmouth, where the Royal Navy was based - they got the wood for the ships from the New Forest.

    I agree better William II pennies do seem to be generally more abundant than Henry I or Stephen, although that doesn't make any of them cheap. Here's my William II penny (again):

    William II penny, 1092-1095, London. Voided cross type. 1.38g. + þillelm rei. + þvlfþord on lv, Wulfword of London (S 1260).

    The stars might represent the comets of 1075 and 1097, or the annular solar eclipse in 1093, all thought to be good omens. (William I coins featured similar stars after the appearance of Halley's Comet coincided with his Conquest of England in 1066).
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2020
  4. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    Do you have any idea why the Georgians/Victorians would want to vandalize the "Rufus Stone?" It was so long ago, even then, it seems like there was not political reason to do it. The Naman kings shared some minor DNA with them, but the connection was so distant that it would see more like vandalism.
  5. robp

    robp Well-Known Member

    Here you go. The first of the two missing substantive types to complete the reign.

    Type 2 is the cross in quatrefoil, S1259, N852. This one is from Launceston - IEGLMER ON STEFN. In Norman times the present day Cornish town of Launceston was also known as St. Stephen, hence the mint signature STEFN. The most desirable type of this mint is the William I reading SAGSTI STEFANI (3 known)
  6. robp

    robp Well-Known Member

    And the second is the type 5, cross fleury and piles - S1262, N856. This one is from Romney in Kent - GOLD ON RIIMNE. By the time you get to the end of the reign the quality has fallen away substantially compared to the first issue, with crispness the main casualty.
  7. Nap

    Nap Well-Known Member

    Here is mine, little wear but somewhat weak central strike

    NewStyleKing, johnmilton and Bing like this.
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