On this day in 1120 Henry 1 of England was departing from Barfleur (near Cherbourg) in Normandy to return to England. The Captain of the White Ship, Thomas Fitzstephen, offered his vessel to the King. Henry did not sail on the vessel, but he placed his only legitimate son, William Adelin on board.
William decided that a party was in order and broke out some barrels of wine for the crew and passengers. Accounts say there were 300 on board when the ship sailed. They hit a rock and the ship sank with the loss of all but two lives.
The result was a constitutional crisis in England. Henry nominated his daughter Matilda as his successor. But Stephen of Blois, a nephew of Henry, usurped her rule. The result was 18 years of civil war from 1135 to 1153 and the devastation of the economy of southern England.
The son of Matilda and Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou, Henry Curtmantle, went on to become Henry II of England, the first Plantagenet king. He married the most powerful woman in Europe, Elanor of Aquitaine.
The moral of this story is simple: Don’t drink and sail!
“Any damn fool can navigate the world sober. It takes a really good sailor to do it drunk.” – Sir Francis Chichester
“To the question, “When were your spirits at the lowest ebb?” the obvious answer seemed to be, “When the gin gave out.” – Sir Francis Chichester