17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Paul Doherty is the consummate storyteller and whatever subject he happens to pick to write about the books and the characters within them seem to come to life. Be it medieval England or Ancient Egypt his grasp of the subject is always first class. He has written many, many books over the years and how he manages to achieve this and also have the full time job of a school headmaster beggars belief. I do not think I have missed reading one of his books and there really are a lot of them. But with hand on heart I can say that there has not been one that I have not thoroughly enjoyed. Even the ones written under other pseudonyms, (Michael Clynes etc.).
William Rufus was the second surviving son of William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders. Just before the Conqueror died he decided that William Rufus rather than his brother Robert Curthose should become King of England after him and Rufus was crowned on September 26th, 1087.
Most of the history books will tell you that on August 2, 1100, King William Rufus went hunting at Brockenhurst in the New Forest. Gilbert de Clare and his younger brother, Roger of Clare, were with the king. Another man in the hunting party was Walter Tirel, who was married to Richard de Clare's daughter, Adelize. Also present was William Rufus' younger brother Henry. During the hunt, Walter Tirel fired an arrow at a stag. The arrow missed the animal and hit William Rufus in the chest. Within a few minutes the king was dead. Tirel jumped on his horse and made off at great speed. He escaped to France and never returned again to England.
In this book Paul Doherty looks into the death of the king, through the eyes of Anselm, the great philosopher and secret admirer of the Red King. After studying evidence, both old and new the author put a much more sinister interpretation on William's death.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Royal deaths always had been fascinating if the occurred unexpectedly. The recent report of the death of Diana Princess of Wales is only one in many proving this.
Here the subject is a medieval English King - William II Rufus.
William II (called "Rufus", perhaps because of his red-faced appearance due to his propensity for anger or his red hair) was born, the third but second surviving son of William the Conqueror. He succeeded his father as King of England in 1087 and rules until 1100.
Perhaps the most memorable event in the life of William Rufus was his death, which occurred on August 2, 1100 while William was hunting in the New Forest. He was killed by an arrow through the heart.
Was this an accident or deliberate? That is the question this book tries to answer.
Paul Doherty continues with this book his interest in royal murder cases -Edward II. and Tutankhamun being the subjects of his first books. However, this one is different as he approaches the subject in form of a novel. The setting is the last months of the life of Anselm, the saintly Archbishop of Canterbury, mentor, guardian and opponent of William Rufus. His devoted secretary Eadmer describes the last quest of Anselm as he tries to find out what really had happened to the king. So the evidence is presented in this form. Fiction and report quoting from sources change which I found in the beginning a bit odd and I had to get used to it. However, it makes a pleasant read and it is not a dry book quoting and comparing various medieval sources on the king's death. Like in Agatha Christie's Poirot mysteries the cases is finished with a dramatic dénouement when all the still living principle figures come together and Anselm (Doherty) reveals what he believes really has happened on August 2nd, 1100 in the New Forest.
The book is interesting, well written, fact and fiction coming easily together to forma well argued case. All in all, a book I enjoyed. Find out for yourself what happened to William Rufus.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This little book is written like one of the detective stories that Paul Doherty has accustumed us too. It is an inquiry into the very strange death of William II Rufus, son of William the Conqueror and kind of England from 1087, when he usurped the throne, to 2 August 1100, when he died of arrow during a hunt in the royal forest.
His death has traditionnally been presented as an accident, or even sometimes as "God- will" for having oppressed the Church. What he really did was to leave bishopprics and abbeys vacant, sometimes for several consecutive years, so as to "cream" their revenues and boost the kingdom's treasury. William the Conquerer had already started the practice, but had been less systemic about it. Henry I would continue it and get himself also into trouble with Archbishop Anselm for this very reason, just like Rufus had. The sums involved were indeed huge since vacant seats allowed both kings to increase the royal revenues by up to 20% or 30% some years.
The "accident version" is, for instance, the thesis that is still defended by Frank Barlow who, among other books, has written an excellent biography of William Rufus. However, the circumstances surrounding the death of Rufus have always lead to suspicions of foul play - murder in ther words. The events that followed his death tend to reinforce these suspicions.
The story is told by Eadmer, who was the secretary of Archbishop Anselm and who leaft us a History of England which is one the main sources for the reign of Rufus. The story takes place in 1108. The book is divided into 8 short chapters, each of them followed by a historical note (with the exception of the two last ones which share the same historical note). Needless to say, Doherty believes that Rufus was assassinated, not killed by accident, and not by Willian Tirell who, ever since, has been presented as the one who short the arrow and who fled to France immediately after, never to come back to England.
The story is exciting. The plot is very well told and the case for identifying the real killer - as opposed to Tirell, who was the scapegoat, is well made. We will, of course, never know for sure what happened. However, the person identified as the real killer (regardless of whether he shot the arrow himself or ordered someone else to do the deed) had cause, opportunity and the necessary ruthlessness to carry out the deed and immediately seek to profit from it.
I won't add anything more about who Anselm and Eadmer identify as the culprit, apart from stating that such suspicion has gathered support since this book was published. For instance, Lack's biography "The Conqueror's Son: Duke Robert Courtheuse: Thwarted King" also identifies the same person as the organizer of the murder and death of the king, even if he may not have been the actual murderer.
Although I found Doherty's case rather convincing, I do, however, have some reservations with the way the story was told because two elements seemed a bit implausible:
- One was to have Archibishop Anselm conduct the inquiry in 1108. By this time, he was ailing and he had been since at least 1105. This is hardly surprsing since he was born around 1033. So he was a very old man and a sick one, by the time of the supposed inquiry
and he would in fact die in 1109, the very next year
- Another element is that even if Anselm had been both fitter and younger, it is doubful that he would have the kind of confrontation that we see him having at the end of the book, especially after having been exiled a second time from England. Anselm was indeed very principled, but his principles were essentially about defending the rights (or the privileges, depending upon your point of view) of the church against the powerful, and against kings and emperors in particular.
So, this is an excellent story (just as good as his one on the death of Thutankamun, for instance) which is well worth four stars, but perhaps not five...