Quite possibly the most terrifying thing ever to happen on Bodmin Moor was the appearance of the death-fetch of William Rufus (r. 1087–1100).
Robert, Earl of Moreton in Normandy, was a special friend of Rufus and another of the same stamp. As soon as he was made Earl of Cornwall by William the Conqueror, he seized the priory of St Petroc at Bodmin and converted its lands to his use.
One day, he was hunting in the woods around Bodmin. During a long chase after a great red stag, he became separated from his huntsmen and found himself alone. Riding clear of the trees on to the moors above, he was astonished to see a large black goat approaching. As it drew near, he saw that it bore on its back ‘King Rufus’, black, naked, and pierced through the breast. Robert commanded the goat in the name of the Trinity to tell him what it was he bore, and the goat replied, ‘I am carrying your king to judgement.’
The goat revealed that he was an evil spirit, sent at the bidding of St Alban, ‘who complained to God of him’, to wreak vengeance on Rufus for his oppression of the English Church. Having spoken, the spectre vanished. Robert related this apparition to his followers, and shortly afterwards they learned that, at the very hour when he encountered the goat, William Rufus had been slain by the arrow of Walter Tirrell in the New Forest, Hampshire.
This horror story from the Latin chronicler Matthew Paris (c.1200–59) was not the only legend concerning the death of Rufus told by chroniclers (most of them monks) in the Middle Ages, when there was a strong clerical bias against him.