Hugh Thomas

title.none: Barlow, William Rufus (Thomas)

identifier.other: baj9928.0102.001 01.02.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Hugh Thomas, University of Miami,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Barlow, Frank. William Rufus. Yale English Monarchs Series. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000. Pp. xxiii, 486. $20.00. ISBN: 0-300-08291-6.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.02.01

Barlow, Frank. William Rufus. Yale English Monarchs Series. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000. Pp. xxiii, 486. $20.00. ISBN: 0-300-08291-6.

Reviewed by:

Hugh Thomas
University of Miami

The Yale University Press edition of Frank Barlow's William Rufus is basically a reissue of the original text with only the most minor revisions. Barlow has written a new four-page preface mentioning recent work, briefly discussing one article, and noting new editions of important texts. He has also provided an updated bibliography. Within the text itself, however, he was apparently limited to revisions that would not create expensive changes in the layout of the pages, which remain precisely the same as in the 1983 University of California Press edition. Thus, there is the very occasional minor addition to a footnote, and the equally occasional minor alteration in the text (such as changing Florence of Worcester to John of Worcester in line with recent thinking), that could be fitted into the existing format. For all practical purposes, however, the text is the same as in 1983. It should be said that there has been no explosion in William Rufus studies since then, though Emma Mason has written a couple of important articles, one of which is the one Barlow discusses in the preface. However, there has been a tremendous amount of work in the Anglo-Norman field in general, which the author has not been able to incorporate. As a result, Barlow's work is still perfectly useful, but feels slightly out of date.

For readers not familiar with the original edition, it is a good, solid, and thorough overview of the reign. Sources for William Rufus are limited, but Barlow makes the most of them, and provides an exhaustive discussion of the political events and campaigns of the reign. Trying to reconstruct the upbringing and character of any medieval figure, even a king, from surviving sources is a tricky endeavor, and often reveals interesting preconceptions on the part of the biographer, as when Barlow writes, "like all children brought up in large country households, he would have learned much from the servants, both indoor and outdoor, about the lower and grosser aspects of life." I would have thought that fellow members of the Anglo-Norman elite were perfectly equipped to provide an education about "the lower and grosser aspects of life", whatever they may be, but that assumption only reveals my own preconceptions. In general, however, Barlow's judgments concerning controversial aspects of the king's character, including his sexuality, strike me as sensible and judicious. Like most biographers, at least until very recently, he may be inclined to favor and defend his subject, but given the traditional negative historiography of William Rufus, this provides a welcome balance. In addition to providing a traditional political biography, Barlow also provides detailed accounts of a number of related subjects, including the royal finances (where most of his conclusions are extrapolated from earlier and later evidence) and the organization of the royal household. He even has fourteen pages on medieval hunting, one of the favorite activities of the king, and the cause of his death. There is much for the reader to learn in this book beyond the history of William Rufus.

Yale University Press is to be commended for bringing this useful and important work back into print. Those who already own the earlier edition and are familiar with recent bibliography may not want to spend money on the new edition, but anyone English medievalist who does not have this book will find it a useful addition to her or his bookshelf.