BELIEVE or not but these remains of a thatched cottage on the outskirts of the New Forest have an unlikely royal connection.

Taken at the turn of the 20th century, the picture records the once home of a charcoal burner called Purkis or Purkess – depending on which account you read – and reputed to be the place where he left the body of King Rufus the night before it was taken to Winchester.

Rufus – or King William the Second, the third son of William the Conqueror, to give him his official title – died on August 2, 1100 in murky circumstances the New Forest after being struck in the chest by an arrow fired by Walter Tirel or Sir Walter Tyrrell – the spelling again varies – while hunting.

But was he murdered or was he killed in a freak accident?

Accounts and theories differ, as do opinions on his popularity and effectiveness.

Rufus, so named because of his ruddy complexion, was apparently a figure of complex temperament, described by one commentator as “a rumbustious devil-may-care soldier, without dignity or social graces, with no cultivated tastes and little show of conventional religious piety and morality.”

Yet regarded by his ardent acolytes as a wise king and victorious general who kept England safe from invasion.

However, he was generally disliked by the nobles and the church who then exerted much power. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, he was “hated by almost all his people and abhorrent to God”.

Rufus, a thick set and muscular man built in the same mould as his father with red hair and eyes of different colours, ruled with uncontrolled tyranny and sparked at least one rebellion which he ruthlessly put down. At the time of his death his popularity had slumped through increased taxation, and his rigid enforcement of forest laws led killers of the royal deer directly to the gallows.

It was on August 2 that the middle-aged Rufus, believed to have been born in 1056, went hunting in the New Forest, the morning after suffering an ominous dream of his fate.

A monk, William of Malmesbury, wrote about his demise.

“The sun was now setting when the king, drawing his bow and letting fly an arrow, slightly wounded a stag which passed before him. The King followed it a long time, holding up his hand to keep off the power of the sun’s rays. At this instance Walter decided to kill another stag.

“Oh gracious God! The arrow pierced the king’s breast. On receivng 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 was none to pursue him: some helped his flight; others felt sorry for him.”

The king’s body was abandoned by his party where he fell and it was Purkis who discovered his corpse, putting it on his horse and cart which he drove home.

Rufus is believed to have been slain at a place called Thorougham which no longer exists and is believed to be part of New Farm on the Beaulieu Estate.

The claim that he fell where the ‘Rufus Stone’ is erected appears to date from a visit by Charles II to the area.

The most popular tale of Rufus’s death centres on the tree which deflected the arrow and Charles appeared to select a suitable one, which two centuries later was cut down and burnt.

Originally about 5ft 10in in height, once topped with a small ball and visited by King George III in 1789, it is inscribed:

‘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.’

His remains are contained in the Cathedral, positioned on the presbytery screen, flanking the choir. His skull is apparently missing but some bones remain.

Conspiracy theorists claim Tirel was in the pay of his younger brother Henry, supported by the Clare family, who coveted the throne and it was inconceivable that as Tyrrell was renowned as a brilliant marksman, it could not have been an accident. Yet Tyrrell, who perhaps would have had much to gain, fled to France and never returned to England.

Whatever the truth of the matter, Henry was quickly crowned king after dashing to Winchester to seize the royal treasury and the Clare family benefited handsomely from the death.