Royal wedding: Williams who have ruled us

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From conqueror to clown, a mixed review for the variety act of Prince William’s namesake.

With the lamentable exception of William Rufus, King Williams have on the whole served England and the monarchy pretty well. Our Prince William can take some pride in, or at least not be too ashamed about, his predecessors of that ilk.

The first William, the Conqueror, in fact put the show on the road. The Anglo-Saxon kings who preceded him had only the most tentative grip on the fringes of their realm. William I created a nation. If you happened to be English and thus on the losing side it was not a particularly enjoyable experience, but it was still brutally effective.

William wiped out the indigenous aristocracy, installed a new and relatively docile ruling class and, by an extraordinary feat of organisation, symbolised by that miracle of administration, the Domesday Book, created something that was Norman in its leadership but recognisably England.

His younger son, William II, almost managed to undo his father’s work. Red in hair or complexion – nobody seems quite sure what the ''Rufus” referred to – he was still more bloodthirsty in disposition. His father had ruled harshly but first and foremost in the interests of good order and national security; William II was quite as harsh but was fuelled by rapacity and self-interest. He died in a hunting “accident”, more probably at the hands of Sir Walter Tyrrell. Tyrell claimed that he was not responsible but prudently fled the country.

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