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on 2 April 2016
It bought this as part of my research for a historical novel set in the reign of William Rufus. This is scholarly, well researched study of the king and the period which I found gave me all the information I was looking for. Because it followed themes rather than the chronology of events it did find it difficult to sort out what was happening when at times. I recommend this for anyone interested in the period.
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on 4 June 2017
Arrived in excellent condition and very well priced.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 28 March 2012
If I remember correctly, this high quality piece of scholarship was firt published by Frank Barlow in the early 1980s (1983, I think). It is a thoroughly and painstakingly researched book that further established Barlow's reputation, after his other excellent book on Edward the Confessor.

This book covers the reign and times of William II "Rufus", the third son (and second living son) of William the Conqueror, who became the second king of Normandy. Although this book was NOT written and targeted at the "general reader", it is nevertheless a fascinating read for anyone interested in Norman England because it is not simply and not exactly a biography. Rather, it tells the story of Rufus' reign and shows to what extent the second Norman king's reputation has been much maligned and his achievements belittled. Rufus has been the subject of what we would call today "character assassination" from the medieval sources, almost all of which were monks, because of his heavy handed taxation of the Kingdom of England and because he targeted the (very rich) Church from whom he extracted money by (quite deliberatly) failing to appoint bishops and abbeys to some of the sees, sometimes for several consecutive years. In doing so, he was following the precedent set by the Conqueror himself and his younger brother and successor, Henry I, the alleged "Lion of Justice" (and master of propaganda!) would do the same everytime he could get away with it. It is because of his grab on Church revenues that the Church hated him so much and also because he did not have either the same aura and authority as his father (which of the bishops would have dared go beyond some carefully worded complaint about the Conqueror's actions?) or the same cunning as his younger brother

To understand why this issue - control over appointments to senior ecclesiastical positions by the King - was so important, Barlow discusses it at length. This should be seen not only in the light of the quarrel between popes and emperors on investitures but also (and mainly) from a financial angle. As Barlow makes very clear, through the wealth of financial evidence that he provides, withholding the financial revenues of Church property could seriously increase the King's revenues. The example of the see of Cantorbury, with annual income of 3000 pounds, when compared to the King's annual "normal" income of some 14000 pounds, is particularly enlightening: the Kingdom's annual revenue could be increased by over 20% by keeping this see vacant for a year. It should also be realized that what allowed the Conqueror and his two sons to hold on to the crown of England was this financial wealth and this ability to stretch it, when needed, to pay for mercenaries (including knights) all year round and therefore reduce their reliance on fickle feudal levies with at least some of the Norman barons tempted to take advantage of any perceived weakness. No wonder all of the first three Norman Kings used this ploy when they needed to fund yet another campaign or put down yet another rebellion.

It was this financial wealth that allowed them to stay in power, regardless of their legitimacy, and expand the Kingdom. This is probably the book's most valuable insight: the Norman Kings' might was largely derived from and dependent upon their wealth, even if, to obtain it, they had to use extorsion. Given that the Conqueror, Rufus, and Beauclerc were all ruthless, tough and unscrupulous, this is what they did and this is what happened.

There are, however, three areas of the book which may be a bit controversial and where Barlow, despite his remarkable learning and talent, is not entirely convincing. However, because Barlow was a first class scholar with high integrity, he discusses each issue at length before taking sides.

The first is about Rufus' accession as Kind of England. I deliberatly did NOT mention that he "inherited" the crown because there is no real evidence to back this claim (for a detailed analysis, see Robert Coutheuse: the Twarted King). Rufus was not the eldest son and was not explicitly mentioned as the heir to the throne of England. In fact, as soon as his father was in his dying bed (but not yet dead!), Rufus rushed of to England to get himself crowned as quickly as possible, abandoning his father. He managed to rally Lanfranc's support and this is how he managed to get himself crowned. In other words, and since the Conqueror had NOT explicitly named his successor and had NOT disinherited, even in part, his elder son, Rufus' legitimacy was, at best, VERY questionable. AS the rebellion of 1088 showed rather quickly, it WAS questioned, and quite widely by a large number of barons, including the Conqueror's two half brothers.

Henry I Beauclerc would repeat the trick in 1100, getting himself crowned right after the death of Rufus and shortly before Robert had set foot back in Normandy, following the First Crusade. Here Barlow discusses at length the death of Rufus, and whether this was a genuine hunting accident (as the death of Richard, the Conqueror's second son in 1070 had been) or whether it was a disguised murder. He believes it was an accident. Maybe, but it was an extremely convenient one for Henry and other historians have made the case for an assassination directed by Henry, if not conducted by Henry (who was present at the hunt) himself. Henry had the motive (he became King thanks to his brother's very timely death), the means and certainly the personality (he was ruthless enough) to do it.

The third point is the characterization of Robert Courtheuse. Ironically, while Barlow rehabilitates Rufus rather brillantly, he choses to believe the traditional (and very biaised view) that Courtheuse was unfit to rule and that he wasn't even capable of holding Normandy together. This was one of the excuses used by both of the usurpers - Rufus and then Beauclerc to justify their right to the throne of England. It was also used, even more hypocritically, as an excuse to try to deprive him also of Normandy, although they were the ones stirrin up trouble for their elder brother both before he went on Crusade and after he had returned from it.

The last point is about Barlow's assessment of Rufus' reign, which is also excellent. The summary version would be "not bad at all", if only because he continued his father's policies and was certainly ruthless enough to become king, make himself respected and remain on the throne despite everything. Would Courtheuse have done any better had he become King of England? We will never know for sure and Barlow's comparison between Courtheuse and King Stephen (another one which has been very much maligned) is a bit exagerated. Barlow's answer (a resounding NO) is probably on the mark. Courtheuse had many qualities, and have been, for instance, a better leader and commander than either Rufus or Beauclerc, but he had one major defect: he was not as ruthless, unscrupulous and power-hungry as his brothers and had not "inherited" these elements from his father. It is in this sense that he may have been "unfit to rule", "weak" and influencable.

Finally, assessing Rufus' personality against that of Beauclerc shows both why the latter has come down to us as a "great king" whether the former has been maligned. Rufus' homosexuality and behaviors at his court may have shocked or appaled, but they are also largely excuses. Remember King Richard I, the Lion Heart, was also a homosexual. He even did public penance for sodomy in Italy during his Crusade, but never had his name blaknened in the same way as Rufus. The difference is probably that Rufus simply didn't CARE about churchmen. Whether he was an atheist (rather unlikely) or not may not even be the point. The issue was rather that he believed and wanted his will to be law. He did not even bother with disguising this, and had no qualms whatsoever in using violence or torture to get it. His brother Henry, by contrast, was probably more subtle, more of a diplomate perhaps (some would say a hypocrit) so that despite holding essentially similar views - the King's will is paramount in his kingdom - he could get away with similar levels of extorsion without antagonizing the Church so much.

Anyway, this is an excellent piece of scholarship which is well worth four stars.
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on 29 April 2012
Frank Barlow, a prolific historian of medieval history, provides an excellent exploration into the life and times of William II King of England. William Rufus, as he is sometimes known, was the third son of William the Conqueror, the first Norman King of England. William Rufus inherits the Kingdom of England in lieu of his elder brother Robert (Curthose). Robert inherits the Duchy of Normandy and the stage is set for years of intrigue.

Barlow's biography of William is a scholarly account that may turn off many readers, but I doubt few would dive into the story of such an obscure king unless they had a great interest in the subject. Those who want to know the full story have come to the right place. Barlow is familiar with all the chroniclers of the time and remaining evidence that exists including writs, ecclesiastic letters, Domesday book, and architecture. Barlow with his familiarity with the various chroniclers examines the causes of their prejudices and is able to point out their inaccuracies and sometimes selective recollections of events.

Barlow begins by setting the story with William the Conqueror. He presents an exhaustive study of the children of William the Conqueror. He explains medieval customs and discusses how they might have been raised, the relationship with their father, their education, etc. Barlow continues by following briefly the life of William the Conqueror, pointing out where the children are referenced in primary sources during the events. If you have interest in William the Conqueror, I would highly recommend William the Conqueror: The Norman Impact Upon England (English Monarchs) (English Monarchs Series) by David Douglas. Robert Curthose is discussed to great length as well. Barlow explains why William Rufus is given the kingship of England over his brother. I knew much of this story before, but Barlow explores all angles and provides what the evidence is without prejudicing the reader.

Barlow explains William Rufus's activities to establish his position in England. He explores the rebellion of 1088 instigated by Robert and explores the continuing intrigue between the two brothers and their younger brother Henry, the future King Henry I of England. Loyalties switch and control over Normandy hangs in the balance. In summary, William consolidates Norman control of England and helps reestablish the Ducal rights in Normandy. When Robert Curthose, seeks to go on crusade to Jerusalem, William funds the expedition with Normandy the collateral for the loan. William strengthens Normandy while it is under his direction by reestablishing control over Maine and going on the offensive in the Vexin.

Barlow also looks at William and his earls' successes in Wales and Scotland. Scotland returns to being a vassal kingdom of England and Wales is occupied even though it is not fully subdued. Barlow spends a good bit of time discussing how William administered England. Barlow explains the arrangement of the king's household, discussing their pay and endowment of lands as well as their duties, hierarchy, and hereditary transfer of office. The corruption of the legal system is discussed and reminds me of the abuses attributed to King John's rule. He discusses how he handled his barons and bishops. He talks about the earls that he establishes and his selective appointments to the ecclesiastic offices. Barlow explains the story of Anselm's selection to Archbishop of Canterbury and the resulting conflict between him and William.

Barlow discusses what is known of William's character. He talks about the charges of the monastic chroniclers vilify him for. Barlow explains the background of the issues and shows that many of the complaints were common practices of the Norman kings like extended vacancies of the church offices, use of forest laws, and practice of hunting and dice or the result of influence of English customs like his style of dress and long hair. Homosexuality or possibly just bisexual tendencies seems to be the only charge that is unique to William which was condemned by the chroniclers.

Barlow talks about William's death while hunting in the New Forest. He discusses the sources for the stories and compares them. He identifies the suspected killer and modern suggestions of assassination. Barlow's opinion is that it was indeed an accident, but presents the evidence all the same. He talks about the chroniclers claims of premonitions and signs telling of William's death and the monastic chroniclers acceptance of death as the act of God to save the church. Barlow gives a short, but pointed analysis of the significance of William's reign that is balanced with good perspective. All in all an excellent read for those with interest in the subject.
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on 31 December 2000
This book provides a fascinating glimpse of life in early Norman England. Full of impeccable scholarly detail, it is nevertheless a gripping read (even the taxation details are interesting!), and provides an understanding of how the country was run during this period. Frank Barlow brings to life the characters of the king and his circle of court officials and barons, and provides an alternative view of one of history's much-maligned rulers. Highly recommended.
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on 3 April 2011
This book covers the reign of the second Norman king of England. The son of William the Conqueror, William Rufus (A name that he probably never used in his lifetime) was the successor to his fathers kingdom but not his estates in Normandy. As king of England he continued his fathers policies with definite, but more limited success. A homosexual who never married, he fought with the church who thought him a corrupt and immoral man. This biography brings this little known king to life. Although somewhat dry this book maintained my interest throughout. Although not the most interesting figure in early English history, William was an important one and this biography will likely remain the best resource available on him.
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on 13 August 2011
I found this to be an interesting read. The late Frank Barlow gives a full account of William Rufus - his character, personality, and his reign. This book is probably more than a strict biography of the king - it is also a good accont of post-Conquest England, how the country was run, its relations with the Papacy, the French kings, Welsh principalities (with the Norman incursions into the Marcher lands), and Scotland. Norman fiscal policy is also very minutely detailed (probably the driest section of the book - but esential for any serious study).

William II comes across as a highly competent king, overcoming two rebellions relatively easy and extending his power into Normandy at the expense of his elder brother. He managed to keep the baronage largely onside and loyal, and had the knack of appointing competent churchmen and henchmen as advisors and administrators. He has often seen as greedy in keeping the bishoprics and abbacies empty in order to draw their revenues, but although he in some cases did this, this was no different to other monarchs of the time.

In summary I would recommend this, even though it can be a bit dry and you can sometimes be reading a list of witnesses to charters issued by the king - a lot of which is rather repititious and unnecessary.
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VINE VOICEon 6 March 2010
Although William Rufus by Frank Barlow is full of interesting information, the work is spoiled on four counts.
1 It lacks a sufficient number of good maps.
2 The genealogies at the end of the book are poorly presented.
3 The book lacks helpful headings indicating important aspects of the reign.
4 One of the most important events of the reign, the annexation of Cumbria and Carlisle, is skated over when it merits a chapter all to itself.

Good history books need to be readily accessible to the student or reader searching for information. This work is not. Interesting readability is just fine for a good novel, but s good history book needs something more: fingertip accessibilty whereby the reader can speedily find the required information. Wading boots are needed for this work. If the reader is willing to put up with all these shortcomings, he/she will find much information here and maybe it should have five stars for content; but I can give it no more than three for the reasons stated above.
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on 2 August 2014
thank you
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on 2 February 2015
Very good
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