Little Bits of History

Plans Gone Awry

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 25, 2014
Drawing of the White Ship sinking

Drawing of the White Ship sinking

November 25, 1120: The White Ship sinks. The ship was plying the English Channel and sank near the Normandy coast off Barfleur. It was a new ship and captained by Thomas FitzStephen whose father, Stephen FitzAirard, had captained the ship William the Conqueror used when he invaded England in 1066. The ship had been offered to Henry I of England to use for his return to England from Barfleur. The King had already made other arrangements but allowed the White Ship to take much of his retinue back to England. Aboard the ship was William Adelin, heir to the throne, and two of the kings’ illegitimate children (Richard of Lincoln and Matilda FitzRoy) as well as many other nobles.

William had been born in 1103 in Winchester, Hampshire in southern England. His mother was Matilda of Scotland. His name is sometimes written as William Ætheling, Adelinus, Adelingus, or Audelin. Henry I was the youngest son of William the Conqueror. When William was fatally injured, he divided his property amongst his sons since primogeniture had not taken full effect. Henry had two, possibly three, legitimate children. Matilda, his eldest, William followed, and Richard may have existed, but if so, he died young. Henry’s extracurricular activities were far more fruitful. He had up to nine sons and fifteen daughters by various mistresses. William was a pampered, spoiled child, set to inherit the throne of England. He was 17 years old when he died.

Prior to the journey from the mainland to England, William supplied wine to the travelers and crew. According to Orderic Vitalis, William supplied so much wine that some of the travelers were no longer well enough to travel. Still, there were about 300 on board when the ship set sail. The drunken passengers pressed Thomas FitzStephen to try to overtake the king’s ship which had set off earlier. The White Ship was fast and new, with the best technology of the time put into her construction. She sailed away in the dark and soon struck a submerged rock. Taking water from the huge gash in the port side, the ship capsized. William made his way to a small boat and would have survived except he turned back to rescue his half-sister Matilda. Other drowning passengers swamped the boat and all of the drowned.

With his only legitimate son dead, King Henry I was in a quandary. His only surviving legitimate child was Matilda (not the woman on the boat) and he pressed his barons to swear an oath of allegiance to her. No woman had ruled England independently and Matilda was not a popular person in her own right. Without a male heir, a period known as The Anarchy ensued. Two factions arose with one led by Stephen of Blois, the king’s nephew, and the other by Matilda and her husband Geoffrey of Anjou – founder of the Plantagenet dynasty. The two sides warred and The Anarchy lasted from 1135 to 1153 with devastating effects, especially in southern England.

Here also perished with William, Richard, another of the King’s sons, whom a woman without rank had borne him, before his accession, a brave youth, and dear to his father from his obedience; Richard d’Avranches, second Earl of Chester, and his brother Otheur; Geoffrey Ridel; Walter of Everci; Geoffrey, archdeacon of Hereford; the Countess of Chester; the king’s niece Lucia-Mahaut of Blois; and many others … No ship ever brought so much misery to England. – William of Malmesbury

To reach a port we must set sail – Sail, not tie at anchor / Sail, not drift. – Franklin D. Roosevelt

When I’m all grown up, come what may, / I’ll build a boat to carry me away. – Guy Gavriel Kay

Now I remembered a captain’s honor and his only duty: to bring his crew back alive. – Carsten Jensen

Also on this day: Trapped – In 1952, Agatha Christie’s play, The Mousetrap, is first produced – and it continues live performances to this day.
Striking Hunger – In 1984, Do They Know It’s Christmas was recorded.
Perfect Storm – In 1703, England was ravaged by its worst storm when a hurricane made landfall.
Thankful – In 1926, this Thanksgiving Day spawned several tornadoes.

2 Responses

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  1. vanbraman said, on November 27, 2014 at 3:36 am

    Interesting that Stephen of Blois, who became King, was also supposed to sail on the White Ship. However, he got sick and withdrew from the voyage.

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