The White Ship
The White Ship sank in the English Channel on November 25, 1120, leaving only a single survivor. Onboard at the time were multiple members of the English royal family, including the son and heir of King Henry I, William Adelin, his half-sister Mathilda, and his half-brother Richard. The losses, both to King Henry I personally and to the country of England, were astonishing.
As the White Ship prepared to sail across the Channel from Barfleur in Normandy, there were some 300 nobles aboard. While the King himself sailed separately, he had given many of the nobles permission to sail on the White Ship, and the group began a rousing party on board, delaying their departure. All were drinking heavily, with some leaving the ship before it set sail. The guests were not the only ones drinkingâWilliam Adelin had also provided significant quantities of wine to the crew.
The ship finally set off after dark, and nearly immediately hit a rock, capsizing. Some of the guests, including William Adelin, made it into a smaller boat, but drowned before reaching shore. The only survivor, a butcher from Rouen, wrapped himself in furs and skins to survive the icy waters.
With three of his children dead, King Henry I was left bereft. He had only one remaining child, a young widow named Matilda. He married Matilda to a Norman noble, Geoffrey of Anjou, but the English nobility refused to obey the new queen. Stephen of Blois, the nephew of Henry I, had disembarked from the White Ship before it sailed, and also laid claim to the throne of England. This period is called “The Anarchy,” and was a devastating war between Matilda and Stephen. “The Anarchy” began with a shipwreck in the English Channel on a cold November night.