French agent killed William Rufus

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The Independent Online

A controversial new biography claims that William II, the son of William the Conqueror, was murdered by a French double agent.

The king, also known as William Rufus, lost his life in the New Forest after being hit in the chest by an arrow while out stag hunting in August 1100, according to historians. Yet new evidence suggests he may have been assassinated on the orders of the French heir, Prince Louis.

The author, Dr Emma Mason, argues that William was assembling a formidable army on the south coast, with plans for a major invasion of France. After learning of these plans, the French royal family hatched the plot to have William assassinated and replaced by his less-threatening brother Henry.

Dr Mason claims this feat was achieved during the hunting trip to the New Forest, when a French archer in the king's party - a man called Raoul d'Equesnes - fired the arrow that pierced the king's heart. D'Equesnes was in the service of the nobleman Walter Tirel, who had known links to Prince Louis. "People tend to see the death of William II as a hunting accident, but it has always been somewhat controversial," said Dr Mason.

She points to a number of occurrences to support this case in her book, William II: Rufus, the Red King, published tomorrow. These include Tirel's rapid return to France and subsequent entertaining of Prince Louis at one of his castles, as well as Henry I's accession to the English throne just three days after his brother's death. "One minute there are big English forces gathering around the Solent area, then Henry takes the throne, and the invasion is suddenly called off," said Dr Mason of Birkbeck, University of London.

The legacy of the 13-year reign of William II, nicknamed Rufus because of his ruddy cheeks, includes the construction of Westminster Hall in London.

Professor Frank Barlow, himself a biographer of William Rufus, said: "Of course these things happened a very long time ago, and I am not saying that Emma Mason is wrong, but I believe it was a genuine hunting accident."