Image by Gaven O'Keefe
the years, Margaret Murray has come to be regarded as something
of an authority on witchcraft, based upon her two books, "The
God of the Witches" and "The Witch Cult in Western
Europe". More recently, doubt has been cast upon the
historical accuracy of these books, but she nevertheless remains
a significant influence in the thoughts and beliefs of modern
feel that Ms Murray is guilty of one fundamental crime; that
of presenting historical "evidence" to support romantic
theories that she would have liked to be true. She is not
the first, and I am certain will not be the last, to delve
selectively into historical records and construct a plausible
story be revealing only part of the facts. Any "history"
can be open to doubt, and even conjecture, but not manipulation
to the degree which Ms Murray achieves.
example: in her book, "The God of the Witches", Ms Murray
presents her case to prove "Divine Kingship" for Joan
of Arc, Gilles de Rais, Thomas a'Becket and William Rufus, suggesting
that there are many similarities between their respective deaths,
and that each was a willing sacrifice. I feel that her reasoning
is, at best, dubious, and the claims supported by selective evidence,
ignoring all reports that are contrary to her theory. A closer examination
of the life of William Rufus should illustrate this.
the Conqueror had four sons: Robert, the eldest; Richard, who died
in an accident in the New Forest in 1075; William Rufus, who ruled
England between 1087 and 1100, and Henry, who was to become King
Henry I of England in 1100. Tradition has it that Rufus met his
death at the hands of Walter Tyrrel, a French nobleman, during a
hunting party in the New Forest on 2nd August 1100.
her principle sources on the life of William Rufus, Ms Murray gives
William of Malmesbury and Ordericus Vitalis, both Christian monks
whose chronicles have the character one would expect of 12th century
Christians, where all references to paganism are suitably disguised,
or translated to the work of the devil.
is condemned by them for supporting the Jews; taking money from
the Church (although there were no complaints when he handed it
out to the Church!); for holding vacant clerical offices in his
own hands (for later sale to the highest bidder!); and for allowing
the court to wear, "flowing hair and extravagant dress; and
then was invented the fashion of shoes with curved points; then
the model for young men was to rival women in the delicacy of person,
to mince their gait, to walk with loose gesture, and half naked."
(William of Malmesbury).
they also praised Rufus for being strong, fearless, and a defender
of his people. However, there is no mention by either chronicler
of Rufus allowing or encouraging pagan festivals, nor of his own
participation in any pagan feasts; a curious omission in Christian
chronicles about the life of a "pagan" King. Rufus is
castigated by the monks for many things, and it seems likely that
had there been any indication of his adherence to a pre-Christian
religion, they would have reported such indiscretions with glee!
order to prove her theory of Rufus's divine sacrifice, Ms Murray
quotes (selectively) from William of Malmesbury and Ordericus Vitalis
at some length, and conveniently ignores any passage which serves
to cast doubt upon the veracity of her argument.
stresses that Rufus knew of his impending demise, and went willingly
as a victim. She repeats the story from William of Malmesbury that
the King could not sleep the night before his death, and therefore
"ordered lights to be brought to his bedchamber and made his
chamberlains enter and talk with him. All the forenoon of that fatal
day he occupied himself with serious business, and how well he did
this is shown by the fact that there was no confusion or loss of
time in the appointment and crowning of his successor."
exact quote from William of Malmesbury is as follows: "The
day before the King died, he dreamed that he was let blood by a
surgeon; and that the stream, reaching to heaven, clouded the light,
and intercepted the day. Calling on St Mary for protection, he suddenly
awoke, commanded a light to be brought, and forbade his attendants
to leave him. They then watched with him several hours until daylight."
Perhaps a closer interpretation of this story is fear of a nightmare,
rather than a planned discussion with his advisors concerning matters
the story concerning the succession, we have to refer to Ordericus
Vitalis, who has this to say: "Prince Henry lost no time in
riding as fast as his horse could carry him to Winchester, where
the royal treasure was kept, and imperiously demanded the keys from
the keepers, as the lawful heir. William de Breteuil arrived at
the same instant with breathless haste, for he anticipated Henry's
deep policy and was resolved to oppose it." As history informs
us, Henry carried the day to become King, but only after much argument
and drawing his sword to defend his right against that of his older
brother, Robert of Normandy.
William of Malmesbury and Ordericus Vitalis report events preceding
and following the death of Rufus. Ms Murray makes much of Ordericus's
account of Rufus handing sharp arrows to Walter Tyrrel saying, "it
is right that the sharpest arrows should be given to him who knows
how to deal deadly strokes with them", implying that the King
knew Tyrrel would be his executioner. However, the prelude to this
quote, which Ms Murray ignores, suggests something quite different
"...an armourer came in and presented to him (Rufus) six arrows.
The King immediately took them with great satisfaction, praising
the work, and unconscious of what was to happen, kept four
of them himself and held out the other two to Walter Tyrrel."
apart from her selective use of contemporary chronicles, Ms Murray
fails to take into account the rather complex political situation
of England and Normandy in the twelfth century (and again, in her
accounts of the deaths of Gilles de Rais, Joan of Arc and Thomas
a'Becket). The suggestion that Rufus went willingly to his death
is not consistent with his active campaign to extend the power of
the English throne. His brother Robert had already pawned the Duchy
of Normandy to him for the sum of 10,000 marks in order to raise
funds to fight in the Crusades, and the Earl of Poitiers sent ambassadors
to discuss with Rufus a similar scheme, where the Duchy of Aquitaine,
and all territories controlled by the Earl would be mortgaged to
the English throne in return for money to take an army to the Crusades.
Arrangements were made for Rufus, accompanied by a large body of
cavalry, to spend Christmas of the year 1100 at Poitiers to finalise
the deal; not the plans of someone who intended to die at Lammas!
it is clear that Rufus' political skills would not endear him to
other European nobles and Church leaders, who could undoubtedly
envisage the power of England growing under a King who was fearless
in battle, ambitious, and giving scant regard to the wishes of the
Ms Murray offers no theory to support the choice of Tyrrel as Rufus's
executioner, he was a French nobleman who immediately fled to his
castle in France after the King's death. That would seem to be an
admirable choice of assassin to rid mainland Europe of an ambitious
and clever King. Ms Murray does make much of the fact that Rufus's
death was known within a few hours in Italy and several parts of
England, and that in Belgium, the Abbot of Clugny knew the day before
the event, but does not draw the obvious conclusion - that the death
was indeed premeditated, but through a desire to place a King upon
the English throne who would not prove a threat to the rest of Europe,
and who was keen to submit to the power of the Christian Church.
of Henry's first acts after ascending to the throne of England was
to restore the Duchy of Normandy to Robert, and the proposed discussion
between the English King and the Earl of Poitiers was cancelled.
It would seem that Henry I lived up to Europe's expectations.