An ironclad stone near the small New Forest village of Minstead in Hampshire is a memorial to William Rufus, the third son of William the Conqueror, who was killed there in a hunting accident by Sir Walter Tyrell, although whether by accident or design is still a matter of much debate today.
Conveniently located next to some stunning forest scenery, it makes a great base for a stroll in the woods while learning more about this infamous Norman ruler.
Outside the village of Minstead and in the heart of the forest, the Rufus Stone is a small stone which marks the spot where William Rufus is said to have died. Although many historians now believe that the actual spot is closer to Beaulieu on the south coast, this is the place that has been marked since the 18th century and is supported by local lore and legend.
There is more to this area than a stone to a historically dubious event though, as it is a truly lovely part of the New Forest. There is a huge area to explore nearby, with a mix of open land, forest and streams. New Forest ponies roam free, deer can be spotted in the undergrowth and the birdsong is all around. The area can get busy in the school summer holidays, but you will still be able to find areas without any other people in them if you wander off the beaten track.
If you get there early in the morning, you can have the whole place to yourself, making it a much more tranquil experience.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF THE RUFUS STONE
The New Forest was marked as royal hunting grounds in 1079 by William the Conqueror, who reigned over England until his death in 1087. On his death, his eldest son Robert inherited Normandy, the second son had died in a hunting accident in 1075 and William inherited England, with the youngest son Henry, left landless. William II was more commonly known as William Rufus due to being born with red hair and a florid complexion. He was a very unpopular king, helping himself to church funds, falling out with nobles and his brothers and treating his people with contempt and disdain.
On the 2nd August 1100, he was hunting boar and deer in the New Forest with some noblemen, when an arrow was fired by a French nobleman at a stag, which ricocheted off an oak tree and ended up in the King’s lungs, killing him almost instantly. The French nobleman, Sir Walter Tyrell, immediately made for Normandy, fearing retribution for killing the king. It is said that he stopped at a blacksmith in the forest to have his horses shoes put on backwards so that he could not be traced.
He needn’t have wasted his time, for it appears that people weren’t bothered. The King’s body was left where it was, until a local charcoal burner called Purkis put it on his cart and took it to Winchester, where he received a very low key burial in the cathedral.
On receiving the wound the king uttered not a word; but breaking off the shaft of the arrow where it projected from his body… This accelerated his death. Walter immediately ran up, but as he found him senseless, he leapt upon his horse, and escaped with the utmost speed. Indeed there were none to pursue him: some helped his flight; others felt sorry for him. The king’s body was placed on a cart and conveyed to the cathedral at Winchester… blood dripped from the body all the way. Here he was buried within the tower. The next year, the tower fell down. William Rufus died in 1100… aged forty years. He was a man much pitied by the clergy… he had a soul which they could not save… He was loved by his soldiers but hated by the people because he caused them to be plundered.
William of Malmesbury in his ‘Chronicle of the Kings of the English’ (c. 1128)
Meanwhile, brother Henry hot-footed it to Winchester, seized the royal treasury and had himself crowned as King Henry I within three days. The elder brother Robert was inevitably peeved as he was entitled to the crown, but the nobles gave their allegiance to Henry and although the two fought later on, Henry was victorious and remained the King of England.
There is still much debate about whether the killing was accidental or deliberate. Sir Walter was renowned as a skilled bowman, but accidents do happen and people were frequently killed in hunting accidents at the time. He was an unpopular leader and there were many with reason to kill him, particularly his brother Henry who seized his throne. It was said that Henry was also hunting in the forest on the same day, perhaps even in the same hunting party.
It is all speculation however, and the truth is unlikely to come out over 900 years after the event.
The bones of William Rufus can be found in Winchester Cathedral in one of the famous mortuary chests. Read more about it in our guide to visiting Winchester Cathedral >>
THE RUFUS STONE
The stone was erected in 1745 by John Lord Delaware, although the one you see today is a newer version erected in 1841, as the original was vandalised and defaced. The original oak tree which it commemorates is long gone, but there is still an oak tree there, perhaps a descendant of the original one.
The three-sided stone is inscribed as follows:
Here stood the oak tree, on which an arrow shot by Sir Walter Tyrrell at a stag, glanced and struck King William the Second, surnamed Rufus, on the breast, of which he instantly died, on the second day of August, anno 1100.
King William the Second, surnamed Rufus being slain, as before related, was laid in a cart, belonging to one Purkis, and drawn from hence, to Winchester, and buried in the Cathedral Church of that city.
That the spot where an event so memorable might not hereafter be forgotten, the enclosed stone was set up by John Lord Delaware who had seen the tree growing in this place. This stone having been much mutilated, and the inscriptions on each of its three sides defaced. This more durable memorial with the original inscriptions was erected in the year 1841, by WM Sturges Bourne, Warden.
VISITING THE RUFUS STONE
Postcode: SO43 7HN
Public Transport: The area is well served by buses, but there will still be some walking involved. Use the Moovitapp to put in your departure point and it will outline all public transport options available.
Parking: If you do drive, parking is directly opposite the stone in a woodland clearing and is free of charge. You will see brown signposts saying ‘The Rufus Stone’.
When is the Rufus Stone open?
The stone is accessible at any time of day
How much does it cost to visit the Rufus Stone?
There is no charge for visiting the stone
What facilities are there at the Rufus Stone?
The stone has no facilities, but nearby the Sir Walter Tyrell is one of many eateries in the area. It is a traditional British pub which has a large garden with lovely views and a fantastic kids play area.