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Summary

The sinking of the White Ship on the 25th November 1120 is one of the greatest disasters that England has ever suffered. Its repercussions would change English and European history for ever.

King Henry I was sailing for England in triumph after four years of fighting the French. Congregating with the king at the port of Barfleur on that freezing November night was the cream of Anglo-Norman society: three of his children, including the only legitimate male heir to the throne, as well as the flower of the aristocracy, famous knights and mighty courtiers.

By 1120, Henry was perhaps the most formidable ruler in Europe, with an enviable record on the battlefield, immense lands and wealth and unprecedented authority in his kingdoms. Everything he had worked so hard for was finally achieved, and he was ready to hand it on to his beloved son and heir, William Ætheling. Henry I and his retinue set out first. The White Ship - considered the fastest afloat - would follow, carrying the young prince. Spoilt and arrogant, William had plied his comrades and crew with drink from the minute he stepped aboard. It was the middle of the night when the drunken helmsman rammed the ship into rocks. There would be only one survivor from the gilded roll call of passengers....

Written to commemorate the 900th anniversary of the shipwreck, Charles Spencer evokes the harsh and brutal story of the Normans from Conquest to Anarchy. With their heir dead, a civil war of untold violence erupted, a game of thrones which saw families turned in on each other with English and Norman barons, rebellious Welsh princes and the Scottish king all playing a part in a bloody, desperate scrum for power.

©2020 Charles Spencer (P)2020 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

Critic reviews

"How a drunk teenager shipwrecked the monarchy.... As colourful and racy narrative history goes, this absolutely gallops. The White Ship whips through 100 years of complex history from the Norman Conquest to Henry II." (Daily Mail

"Rooted in the medieval chronicles, but crafted like a Hollywood thriller. Spencer is one of the finest narrative historians around.... This story fairly rattles towards it terrible denouement." (Mail on Sunday

"Charles Spencer has shown himself to be a perceptive and lively historian.... A gifted storyteller.... A complex tale spanning decades, with a rich, but rarely attractive cast of characters, pivoted on one single, tragic winter evening. It is an event and a period of history that should be better known, and now it will be." (The Times

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  • 12-10-20

A good overview of post-Conquest England

This book gives a great insight into how the Plantagenet kings came to sit on the English throne. It does require your attention to keep track of who is who exactly, particularly among Henry's illegitimate children, and at one point there seems to be an awful lot of Rogers doing battle with one another. But if you're into your medieval history, and want a better idea of how all those magnificent castles came to be there, you could do a lot worse that Charles Spencer's The White Ship.

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Fascinating tale

I knew little about Henry 1. This book just made me say Wow! A really well researched, well told account.

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  • 28-11-20

Brilliant and concise

Excellent narration and easy to follow. I will definitely search out more of the author's works.