White Ship

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White Ship
Cotton Claudius dii, f45v.  (12th century, British Library)
Cotton Claudius dii, f45v. (12th century, British Library )
Ship data
Ship type Sailing ship
Whereabouts Sunk on November 25th, 1120

White Ship ( German : Weißes Schiff ; in Norman Blanche-Nef ) is the Anglicized name of a Norman ship that sank on November 25, 1120 in the English Channel on the Normandy coast near Barfleur . Among the victims was William Ætheling , the only legitimate son of King Henry I of England .


At the end of November 1120, King Henry I wanted to translate from Normandy to England with his son William Ætheling and numerous other nobles. Thomas FitzStephen ( Thomas fi (l) z Estienne ) offered him his new ship called the White Ship for the crossing, but the king chose another ship. Then the heir to the throne William Ætheling boarded the ship. In front of the harbor the ship ran on a rock and sank. Only one man on board survived the sinking.

William Theling

The reason for the downfall remained unclear. The various legends also include the stories of the crew and passengers drinking breezes , and it is also mentioned that priests were not allowed on board to bless the ship in the usual way. Ordericus Vitalis describes the sinking of the White Ship ( Blanche-nef ) in the fourth volume of the Historia ecclesiastica . There were almost three hundred people on the ship, many of them barons . William Ætheling distributed wine and the crew was drunk. The king's ship had cast off first. The drunken pack now demanded that Thomas FitzStephen overtake the king's ship. Out of sheer zeal, no one paid attention to the sea until the left flank of the ship rammed a rock, which hit two planks. Water got into the ship and it sank very quickly. It was only two men on the Rah cling, a butcher named Berold (or Guéroult by Wace ) from Rouen and a young nobleman named Goisfred [Geoffrey], the son of Gislebert [Gilbert] de L'Aigle (s. Home l 'Aigle ). The night was very cold, after a few hours Goisfred lost his strength and he sank into the waves. In the morning, Berold was the only one of three fishermen to be rescued. Later ashore he told a clergyman what had happened.

According to another version, the ship ran on a rock in the dark in front of the harbor. William Ætheling was brought to safety in a dinghy from the sinking ship, but when his half-sister Maud called for help, he turned back. Now others tried to climb onto the boat, which was overloaded with it and capsized.

William of Malmesbury wrote: “Here disappeared with William, Richard , another of the sons of the King [Henry I], whom a woman of no rank had borne to him before his accession to the throne, a brave youth and loved by his father for his obedience; Richard d'Avranches, 2nd Earl of Chester , and his brother Otheur; Gottfried Ridel; Walter of Everci; Gottfried, Archdeacon of Hereford ; [Mathilde] the countess of Le Perche , the king's daughter; the Countess of Chester ; [Lucia of Blois], the king's niece; and many others …"

The shipwreck was later recovered. The bodies of Richard d'Avranches and a few others were found near Mortain in December . You could only recognize them by their clothes.


Stephan von Blois , King Henry's nephew, allegedly left the ship shortly before casting off. As a result of William's death, he later came to the English throne. A war of succession broke out in which Stephan von Blois fought with Matilda , William's sister, for supremacy.

Modern reception

In Ken Follett's novel The Pillars of the Earth , the sinking of the ship is the theme. Follett invented a conspiracy theory as the cause of the disaster : the Anglo-Norman barons had hoped that the death of the descendants of Henry would bring about anarchy and an opportunity to increase their power. The ship is also mentioned in the novels The Second Kingdom and Job's Brothers by Rebecca Gablé .


  • Victoria Chandler: The Wreck of the White Ship . In: Donald J. Kagay, LJ Andrew Villalon (Eds.): The final argument. The imprint of violence on society in medieval and early modern Europe . 1998.
  • Peter Konieczny: Was the White Ship disaster mass murder? Medievalists.net, May 21, 2013.

Web links

Commons : The White Ship  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. gutenberg.org
  2. a b Ordericus Vitalis: Histoire de Normandie . tape 4 (1825-1827) . J.-L.-J. Brière, Paris, p. 353-361 (French, Gallica ).
  3. JFA Mason: William (1103-1120). In: Henry Colin Gray Matthew, Brian Harrison (Eds.): Oxford Dictionary of National Biography , from the earliest times to the year 2000 (ODNB). Oxford University Press, Oxford 2004, ISBN 0-19-861411-X , ( oxforddnb.com license required ), as of 2004