It is easy to hate and it is difficult to love. This is how the whole scheme of things works. All good things are difficult to achieve; and bad things are very easy to get. — Confucius

Story of the English - Helene Guerber

The "White Ship"

To make sure that Normandy should continue to belong to his family, Henry went over there with his son Prince William, to present him to the nobles as their future lord. Henry was about to embark with all his followers, to go back to England, when a seaman came up to him, begging him to sail in his vessel, the White Slip. As William the Conqueror had once promised this captain the privilege of taking the royal family across the Channel, King Henry now bade his son William sail in it.

The king's vessel set out ahead, but the prince delayed, spending the last hours in Normandy in feasting. He sent plenty of wine to the boatmen, that they might drink his health, and when he finally set sail he bade the half-drunken sailors row fast, so as to overtake his father's ship.

Before the White Ship had gone very far, it ran upon a sunken reef, stove a hole in its bottom, and began to sink. The captain hurried Prince William into a small boat, and pushed away; but the prince heard his sister call for help, and insisted upon going back to save her.

As the small boat drew near the sinking vessel, so many frightened people crowded into it that it sank at the same time as the White Ship, with all its living freight. It was thus that Prince William died the death of a hero; but we are told that, although he did so noble a deed in the face of great danger, he was, on the whole, an unfeeling lad. Indeed, he is reported to have said that when he became king he would make Englishmen draw the plough themselves, like beasts of burden.

The White Ship went down, but three men were still afloat, clinging to a few spars which were tossing up and down on the waves. These men were the captain, a nobleman, and a Norman butcher. As soon as the captain could speak, he wildly inquired, "Where is the prince?" When he heard that William had gone down with the rest, he let go his hold and sank into the sea.

The nobleman clung to the spar all night; but when morning came he was too exhausted and cold to hold on any longer, so he also was drowned. The only person saved was the butcher. When the calamity became known, no one dared tell the sad news to the king. Finally a weeping boy was sent to him; and when Henry learned why the child's tears were flowing, his heart was filled with such intense grief that he never smiled again.

Henry's son was dead, and his sole living child was Matilda, the widow of the Emperor of Germany. She now married Geoffrey, Duke of Anjou, who was surnamed Plantagenet because he generally wore a sprig of yellow broom (planta genistae)  in his cap.

No woman had ever ruled over England then, but Henry wanted Matilda to be his successor, and to make sure that she should inherit his crown, he made all the barons swear fidelity to her. They did so reluctantly, because in those troublous times it seemed that the country could be safe only under an able-bodied man and a warrior.

Having taken these precautions, Henry fancied that he had made Matilda's succession certain. He reigned thirty-five years, lived to see his three grandsons, and we are told that he died from eating too many lampreys, a kind of fish of which he was very fond.


Front Matter

Early Times
The Druids
The Britons
Caesar in Britain
Queen Boadicea
The Great Walls
The Great Irish Saint
The Anglo-Saxons
Brave King Arthur
The Laws of the Saxons
The Story of St Augustine
Three Great Men
The Danish Pirates
King Alfred and the Cakes
Alfred conquers the Danes
A King's Narrow Escape
The King and the Outlaw
The Monasteries
An Unlucky Couple
St Dunstan
King Canute and the Waves
A Saxon Nobleman
Lady Godiva's Ride
The Battle of Hastings
The Conquest
Lords and Vassals
Death of William
The Brothers' Quarrels
Arms and Armour
The "White Ship"
Matilda's Narrow Escapes
Story of Fair Rosamond
Thomas a Becket
Murder of Thomas a Becket
Richard's Adventures
Richard and the Saracens
The Faithful Minstrel
Death of Richard
The Murder of Arthur
The Great Charter
The Rule of Henry III
A Race
Persecution of the Jews
The Conquest of Wales
A Quarrel with France
The Coronation Stone
The Insolent Favourite
Bruce and the Spider
Death of Edward II
The Murderers punished
The Battle of Crecy
The Siege of Calais
The Age of Chivalry
The Battle of Poitiers
The Peasants' Revolt
Richard's Presence of Mind
A Tiny Queen
Henry's Troubles
Madcap Harry
A Glorious Reign
The Maid of Orleans
The War of the Roses
The Queen and the Brigand
The Triumph of the Yorks
The Princes in the Tower
Richard's Punishment
Two Pretenders
A Grasping King
Field of the Cloth of Gold
The New Opinions
Death of Wolsey
Henry's Wives
The King and the Painter
A Boy King
Lady Jane Grey
The Death of Cranmer
A Clever Queen
Elizabeth's Lovers
Mary, Queen of Scots
Captivity of Mary Stuart
Wreck of the Spanish Armada
The Elizabethan Age
Death of Elizabeth
A Scotch King
The Gunpowder Plot
Sir Walter Raleigh
King and Parliament
Cavaliers and Roundheads
The Royal Oak
The Commonwealth
The Restoration
Plague and Fire
The Merry Monarch
James driven out of England
A Terrible Massacre
William's Wars
The Duke of Marlborough
The Taking of Gibraltar
The South Sea Bubble
Bonny Prince Charlie
Black Hole of Calcutta
Loss of the Colonies
The Battle of the Nile
Nelson's Last Signal
The Battle of Waterloo
First Gentleman of Europe
Childhood of Queen Victoria
The Queen's Marriage
Wars in Victoria's Reign
The Jubilee