Boozy History: 10 Times Alcohol Helped Shape World History
Boozy History: 10 Times Alcohol Helped Shape World History

Boozy History: 10 Times Alcohol Helped Shape World History

D.G. Hewitt - June 16, 2018

Boozy History: 10 Times Alcohol Helped Shape World History
A booze-fueled boat race led to a succession crisis in England. Fine Art America.

Future king of England drowns in drunken boat race

If it weren’t for one day of youthful, drunken foolishness, William Adelin would have grown up to become King of England. As it was, he died at the age of just 17, drowned off the coast of Normandy, France. And, while many princes are murdered by their enemies or rivals, young William had only himself to blame for his early demise. His death caused a succession crisis in England and almost caused a huge war. So, how did all this come about?

According to observers of the time, William was a very pampered young man. The son of King henry I of England and Matilda of Scotland, he was made Duke of Normandy, even if the title was largely symbolic. Then, as was the custom, he was married off to Matilda of Anjou, a union that would bring England and Normandy closer together. That was why, on 25 November of 1120, William and his closest men were in Normandy, preparing to cross back over the English Channel. But first, they decided to stay on the beach and have a few drinks. After all, William reasoned, his vessel, The White Ship, was by far the fastest in the King’s fleet. They would easily be able to catch up with the rest of the ships.

The story goes that, upon getting ready to finally leave for England, two holy men blessed the boat. William threw them off, fearing they would ruin the party vibe. He carried on drinking, even sharing his booze with the crew. He urged them to speed up and try and catch the other ships in the fleet. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long before disaster struck: The White Ship hit a rock and started taking on water.

To his credit, William might have lived to tell the tale. He made it onto a dinghy but then turned back to rescue his half-sister, Matilda FitzRoy, the Countess of Perche. However, both of them, along with all but a couple of the crew, drowned. William’s death King Henry, who had no other legitimate sons to be his heir, had to navigate a succession crisis. Eventually, he chose his nephew, Stephen of Blois, to take the throne. Tellingly, however, this ushered in a period in English history known as ‘The Anarchy’, from 1135 to 1153. It would be more than 20 years before law and order would return to the land – all because of an evening of drunken, youthful tomfoolery.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“What Happens If the President Gets Drunk?” Time Magazine, June 2016.

“Pour One Out for Ulysses S. Grant”. Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, October 2017

“Field of Cloth of Gold.” Encyclopedia Britannica.

“The Battle of Stones River”. The National Parks Service,

“Commandaria: The fame of the praised wine for kings”. Cyprus Wine Museum.

“The Battle of Okehazama”. Chris Glenn, Japan Travel, November 2011.

“Drunk in charge: Extracts from The Arrogance of Power, the Secret World of Richard Nixon.” The Guardian, September 2000.

“Brewery was burned after Ancient Peru drinking ritual.” National Geographic News, November 2005.

“Diodorus on the Sack of Persepolis”.

“7 times alcohol decided the course of battle.” David Nye, Business Insider, May 2015.