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The White Ship: Conquest, Anarchy and the Wrecking of Henry I’s Dream

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4.14  ·  Rating details ·  155 ratings  ·  31 reviews
The sinking of the White Ship is one of the greatest disasters in English history. Here, Sunday Times bestselling author Charles Spencer tells the real story behind the legend to show how one cataclysmic shipwreck changed England’s course.

In 1120, the White Ship was known as the fastest ship afloat. When it sank sailing from Normandy to England it was carrying aboard the o
...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published September 17th 2020 by William Collins
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Average rating 4.14  · 
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Lou
Sep 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The sinking of the White Ship is one of the greatest disasters in English history. Here, Sunday Times bestselling author Charles Spencer tells the real story behind the legend to show how one cataclysmic shipwreck changed England’s course. In 1120, the White Ship was known as the fastest ship afloat. When it sank sailing from Normandy to England it was carrying aboard the only legitimate heir to King Henry I, William of Ætheling. The raucous, arrogant young prince had made a party of the voyage, ...more
Michael Cayley
Nov 19, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
A popular and very readable history of England, and to a lesser extent Normandy, in the period of the decades leading up to the sinking of the White Ship and the death of Henry I’s heir, and the decades that followed until the end of the civil war between Stephen and the Matilda. It is well told, with plenty of eye-catching, often gory, detail, but do not look for any original historical research or assimilation of modern scholarship. There is heavy and fairly uncritical reliance on contemporary ...more
ConstantReader
"The White Ship" is about the accident that changed the course of history: on 25 November 1120 Henry I's son and heir, William Adelin, drowned on the White Ship together with some 300 other people. His death led to a succession crisis and a period of civil war in England known as the Anarchy.

The book is divided into three parts. Part 1, "Triumph", tells the story of Henry I's path to the throne. Part 2, "Disaster", is about William Adelin's death and its impact on Henry I's private and political
...more
Cathryn Pattinson
Oct 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
A very well researched historical book. From 900 years distance, I can see why Charles Spencer, had to write it as historical fact to set the scene, rather than more emphasis on the drama & and colourful life /relationships of the time. Also, there is probably little or less facts known about the individual relationships in the story.
An interesting read, as I have learnt stuff about Stephen, Matilda & the 19 years anarchy.
Melisende
Nov 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Spencer uses the White Ship itself as an anchor for the story of one of the most tragic events in English history - in fact Spencer writes, "... there as not a part of Henry's Anglo-Norman realm that remained shielded from the impact of the catastrophe ...".

In this tale, Spencer takes you the reader on a tour of the timeline of events from William the Conqueror leading up to the tragedy at sea, and the repercussions for the English throne beyond this.

His narrative is casual, almost conversation
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Kate Vane
Jan 18, 2021 rated it it was amazing
[This is an edited extract from a longe post comparing this book with Alison Weir's Queens of the Conquest at https://katevane.com/2021/01/18/book-...]

Charles Spencer takes as his starting point the sinking of the White Ship on a voyage from Normandy to England, carrying Henry I’s heir, William Ætheling, two of his illegitimate children and a number of the younger generation of courtiers. In a prologue he paints a vivid picture of the event itself and the terror of those who had to break the new
...more
Alex Sarll
I'd expected Lady Di's brother might bring a unique perspective to the story of a young royal lost to an ill-advised journey with a helmsman who'd been drinking, but no, this is really more of a general history of Norman rule in Britain, with the loss of Henry I's heir as its hinge, putting in jeopardy all that Henry, and the Conqueror before him, had achieved. As such, it's basically going over the same ground as the English half of my A Level, and it's interesting the way some characters have ...more
Nikki Poulton
Jan 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
Well written take on a well known disaster. Not the fault of the author, but hard to follow who’s who sometimes as there are so many similar names!

I think it covers too much of the (many) years before the sinking of the White Ship and not enough given over to the long shadow cast by the disaster. I was more interested in the Anarchy and Henry II’s accession than how Henry I got the throne in the first place.
Hannah Thomas
Feb 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing
One suggestion: Add a family tree line to refer to and a timeline with important dates
Mike Sissens
Jan 05, 2021 rated it really liked it
A fascinating chronicle of our history after the last conquest. What we never learned at school was that that period was like Game of Thrones on hyperdrive.
Eva Müller
The sinking of the White Ship happens about halfway through the book and takes only one chapter. Which, in a way, isn't exactly surprising. "Ship sinks, all but one passenger drown" isn't something you can spent that many pages on. That there is still a whole book about it, is of course because of all the events leading up the the sinking and then because of everything that was the result of it. How Henry one his throne in the first place (which, admittedly, I wouldn't have needed in quite as mu ...more
Jo-anne Atkinson
Oct 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
When the ship carrying the only son of Henry I of England was dashed on the rocks outside Barfleur harbour in 1120 a great swathe of the Anglo-Norman aristocracy was lost. This led to 'The Chaos', a civil war between the descendants of William the Conqueror that was only ended by the ascension of Henry II and the start of the Plantagenet dynasty. This shipwreck was a turning point in English history in the early middle ages.
Whilst the book is called the White Ship, the shipwreck itself only occu
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Christopher Riley
Oct 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Great read.

Well worth waiting for this one to come out, Spencer tells the story of the white ship disaster beautifully.

Getting to know Robert Curthose and William Rufus was something I both looked forward to and, was slightly surprised to find in this book. Spencer adds a wonderful amount of detail to the inter-family squabbling of the late 11th century, a period with little written records and primary sources.

The book shows the dark side of Norman England, the excesses of its ruler and the te
...more
Ruth Harwood
Jan 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Well, as a descendant of kings (which he is, however, distantly, though as a member of the aristocracy, he's pretty close!) the author is possibly one of the most qualified persons to write this book: a tragedy which, unless a history student isn't worth their salt, knows about, but not in detail, it being one of those 'glossed over' events in history, only referred to in passing regarding the Anarchy. I knew about the White ship - the events of the tragedy and the consequences, but there's so m ...more
Carolyn Cash
Feb 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Shannon Vincent Nelson
Feb 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
I heard Charles Spencer discussing his book on the BBC History podcast and picked it up due to his sheer enthusiasm for the topic. I found the book to be really engaging and readable, and Charles Spencer did an excellent job of making such a remote time period feel really interesting and relevant. The book covers more than just the White Ship - covering the period of Normal rule in England - which serves to really show the tragedy of the White Ship disaster. Spencer also really brings the remote ...more
Brinx
Jan 24, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2021
The sinking of the White Ship is a powerful story with repercussions stretching far across Britain and France for decades. As such this is a book about a truly intriguing and important historic event that is of huge interest. However, for me, Spencer’s writing style lacks fluidity and instead of being a compelling read this book delivers a lengthy schoolboy essay rattling through the historic events without providing the historic, social and other contextual evidence around events to show what m ...more
Matt
Feb 24, 2021 rated it liked it
Enjoyable read about the sinking of the White Ship and its effect on the Anglo-Norman realm of Henry I. There's a lot of good background information about the rise of Henry's ancestors from Rollo to William the Conqueror and Henry's own fraught ascension to the throne before tackling the sinking of the White Ship and the succession crisis thereafter.

Tends to veer off into the weeds somewhat at times with an addiction to context, most notably through the middle portion of the book, as the author
...more
Jo
Jan 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Well written, engaging, authoritative - a delight to read. This is an absorbing account of a little-known event in 1120 that changed the course of the English monarchy. It deals clearly and thoroughly with the background, the key figures, the event itself and the aftermath. I’ve learned a lot about the Normans, Henry I and this particular chapter in English history. A lovely book, and highly recommended.
Shell
Feb 12, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A very readable book which describes events leading up to and the following consequences of the sinking of The White ship in 1120. There is little known about the actual event as there was only one survivor, so the sinking itself is a very small part of the story. However, the Royal tragedies and feuding prior to the disaster read like a soap opera. And Charles Spencer describes vividly the long reaching effects of the death of England's only legitimate heir to the throne in great detail. ...more
David
Dec 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Despite my initial shock at the realisation that I-a dyed in the wool Republican- was about to read a book written by the brother of 'Lady Di ', I was impressed by Charles Spencer's fascinating coverage of the history of England from pre-conquest times to the accession of Henry II in 1154. As a History teacher, I'm familiar with aspects of this period . However, the detailed descriptions of the characters and motivations of Henry I, Stephen of Blois and 'Empress ' Matilda (just one of a bewilder ...more
Laura
This is an easy read, a lot of the information is already known, but it's good to have the wider repercussions of the incident explained. There was some jumping from year to year which if you're not paying full attention can throw you off a little - or it did me anyway. Ultimately, a very enjoyable book ...more
Grace-Elisa
Feb 13, 2021 rated it liked it
3.5*. A good account of events leading up to and surrounding a catastrophic period of English history. Thanks to the author for sifting through the historical archives and presenting the information in a readable way. I felt it was a little stilted and dry in parts, however, it is a work of non-fiction and fanciful embellishments were probably unnecessary.
Fiona Franklin
Jan 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Superbly written story of the background to, and consequences of, the accidental sinking of the ship carrying Henry I’s heir and many of England’s nobles and senior courtiers from Normandy to England. Highly recommended.
Nick
Jan 08, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A solid enough history of the hundred years after the invasion of 1066. The link to the disaster of the White Ship is used (sometimes in a rather laboured way) as a link to carry the reader through. Not sure this adds much to the sum of human knowledge, but I found it interesting enough.
Anand Chopra-McGowan
Jan 16, 2021 rated it really liked it
Strong storytelling, but it would have easier to follow if Spencer had dropped half the names who added 5% to the story but made the narrative twice as hard to follow. Always hard to decide between an academic approach or a pop history one.
Cathy
Mar 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I just really enjoyed this. Well written, engaging and I believe well researched this looked at the White Ship disaster, what came before and the ramifications of the disaster itself. A great read all round.
Mike
Dec 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
A fascinating and turbulent period of history, this book is well written and easy to read. An enjoyable book which leaves the reader wondering what would have happened if William Ætheling had not drowned after the wrecking of The White Ship.
Kate Guinan
Jan 16, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own
Charles Spencer is one of my favorite historians. He always writes a vivid narrative that makes history read like a story.
Ian
Feb 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing
An excellent read, clearly and thoughtfully presented. A superb overview of the events that led to the creation of the Plantagenet dynasty.
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