William II, commonly known as William Rufus from his red hair, third son and successor of the preceding, born in Normandy about 1056, slain in the New forest, Aug. 2, 1100. While his father was dying he hastened to England, and easily became king, owing to the slackness of his elder brother Robert, and was crowned in Westminster abbey, Sept. 26, 1087. At first he was popular with his English subjects, who aided him against Robert in 1088, William promising to restore the laws of Edward the Confessor; but after the death of Lanfranc, who had been his early instructor, he began to oppress both the people and the church. The expenses of his court were very great, and large sums were lavished upon public works. He completed the tower of London and Westminster hall, and built London bridge. In 1090 he invaded Normandy, but the king of France mediated a peace between the brothers, who then turned their united arms against their brother Henry. (See Henry I.) Returning to England, William repelled invasions of the Welsh and Scotch, and made an unsuccessful incursion into the country of the latter.
In 1093 King Malcolm of Scotland, having invaded England, was defeated and slain, together with his eldest son; but William Rufus protected the family of Malcolm and aided in restoring his younger son to the Scottish throne. A new war with Robert broke out in 1094, and William invaded Normandy, but without success, being recalled to England by a Welsh insurrection, and detained there by a rebellion in the north, headed by Mowbray, earl of Northumberland. In 1096 the king obtained Normandy as a pledge for 10,000 marks lent to Robert to enable him to join the first crusade; but this involved him in continual war with France and with Maine, which he claimed as part of his new territory. Returning to England in 1097, he had a violent quarrel with Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury, whom he had previously sought to displace, and robbed him of the income of his see. He still further disgusted his subjects by selling bishoprics to the vilest of men. In 1100 the count of Poitiers offered to pledge all his dominions to William for money to convey his army to Palestine, and the king eagerly embraced the offer. While he was fitting out a great fleet with which to take possession of the new countries that invited his rule, he went hunting in the New forest.
Here he was shot by Walter Tyrrel, lord of Poix and seneschal of Pontoise, and died instantly The received account calls it an accident, but it is more probable that he was assassinated. The character of William Rufus is not easy to draw, for he had plundered the church and oppressed the clergy, and they furnished the only writers of that age. He left no legitimate issue, being unmarried, and was succeeded by his younger brother as Henry I.