The White Ship Disaster Timeline 1120

White Ship Disaster 1120

This timeline gives a chronology of the White Ship Disaster 1120, an event that had a profound effect on the history of England.


1115 (during)
King Henry I was in Normandy trying to persuade the Norman nobles to accept his son, William Adelin as Duke of Normandy. He had little success since most saw William Clito, son of Henry’s elder brother, Robert Curthose, as the natural heir.
1118 (during)
Henry and his son William, were in Normandy defending it against attack from the King of France, the Count of Anjou and the Count of Flanders.
1118 (1st May)
Henry’s wife, Matilda died at the palace of Westminster. She was buried in Westminster Abbey.
1119 (May)
Count Fulk of Anjou agreed an alliance with Henry to be sealed with the marriage of his daughter to Henry’s son and heir, William Adelin.
1119 (20th August)
Battle of Bremule
This battle between King Henry I and Louis VI of France saw Henry victorious. However, Louis and William Clito escaped.
1119 (October)
Although beaten in battle, Louis was not prepared to accept defeat over Normandy and appealed to Pope Callixtus to intervene.
1119 (November)
William and his father met Pope Callixtus II who refused to take sides in the dispute insisting that Henry and Louis make peace.
1120 (June)
Henry I and Louis VI agreed peace terms. William Adelin gave homage to the French King and Louis recognised William as heir to the Duchy of Normandy.
1120 (November)
Having spent time in Normandy, the royal court made plans to return to England. They would sail from Barfleur.
1120 (around 25th November)
Thomas FitzStephen offered to carry King Henry I back to England in his ship – the White Ship. FitzStephen was the son of Stephen FitzAirard who had captained William the Conqueror’s ship when he invaded England. The White Ship had recently been refitted and was said to be the fastest ship in Barfleur. Henry declined the offer as he had already secured another ship, but agreed that others, including his son and heir, William and two of his illegitimate children, could use the ship.
1120 (25th November afternoon)
After King Henry had left Barfleur, William and many other nobles stayed in the port drinking wine and making merry. They believed that with the speed of the ship they would still arrive in England before the King.
1120 (25th November late afternoon)
Seeing their passengers drinking, many of the crew requested that they be given wine. William obliged and handed over a quantity of wine. On seeing this, some passengers including Stephen of Blois, decided to take another ship.
1120 (25th November evening)
It was after dark when the White Ship left Barfleur with around 300 passengers on board. William Adelin called for the ship to go as fast as possible to overtake the King. Captain FitzStephen set sail but as the ship left the harbour it struck a partially submerged rock, known as Quilleboeuf, on its port side. The force of the collision caused the ship to capsize.
1120 (25th November evening)
William Adelin was helped into a small boat and quickly rowed away by his bodyguards. However, when he heard his half-sister calling for help he insisted on going to her rescue. As he returned to the wreck the small boat was swamped by people desperate to get out of the sea and sank. The only survivor of the disaster was a butcher named Berold who managed to cling on to the rock that had caused the shipwreck. Berold reported that the Captain of the ship had also survived but on hearing that William had died preferred to die rather than face King Henry.
1120 (25th November)
Those that are known to have lost their lives in the White Ship Disaster were:
William Adelin (son of Henry I)
Matilda FitzRoy (illegitimate daughter of Henry I)
Richard of Lincoln (illegitimate son of Henry I)
Richard d’Avranches, (Earl of Chester)
Matilda Countess of Chester (wife of the Earl of Chester, sister of Stephen of Blois)
Ottuel d’Avranches (half-brother of Richard d’Avranches)
Geoffrey Ridel (brother-in-law to Richard d’Avranches)
Gilbert d’Aigle (Vicomte of Exmes)
Geoffroy de l’Aigle (son of Gilbert d’Aigle)
Engenulf d’Aigle (son of Gilbert d’Aigle)
William Bigod (King Henry I’s steward)
Walter of Everci
Richard Anskill
Richard de Bostock
Robert Mauduit
Hugh of Molines
Ralph le Roux of Pont-Echanfray
William of Rhuddlan
Ivo de Grandmesnil
William de Grandmesnil
Geoffrey, Archdeacon of Hereford
Two sons and three nephews of Roger Bishop of Coutances
Dietrich, son of Heinrich, a relative of Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor
Thomas FitzStephen, Captain
The helmsman
50 Crew Members
1121 (during)
The death of William Adelin led to the disintegration of the peace treaty made with Fulk of Anjou in May 1119.
1121 (January)
The death of King Henry’s only son caused a succession problem as there was no remaining male heir to succeed him. King Henry married Adeliza, daughter of Geoffrey, Count of Louvain, Duke of Lower Brabant and Lower Lorraine, in Windsor, hoping for a male heir but they had no children. Henry insisted the nobility swear to accept his daughter, Matilda as heir, but when Henry died in 1135 they supported Stephen of Blois as King.


Published May 14 2022 @ 8:20 pm – Updated – [last-modified]

Harvard Reference for this page:

Heather Y Wheeler. (2022). The White Ship Disaster 1120.

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