HENRY I - THE TRAGEDY OF THE WHITE SHIP

[ORDERICUS VITALIS] a monk of Normandy

Orderic (b. Feb. 16, 1075, near Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England. c. 1142), English monk of Saint-Evroult in Normandy, a historian who in his Historia ecclesiastica left one of the fullest and most graphic accounts of Anglo-Norman society in his own day. The eldest son of Odelerius of Orleans, the chaplain to Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury, he was sent to Normandy in 1085 to become a monk at Saint-Evroult, where he was given the name Vitalis. There, apart from a few visits to other monasteries, he passed the remainder of his life. He began his historical work before 1109 by transcribing the Gesta Normannorum ducum of William of Jumieges with lengthy interpolations of his own, chiefly relating to the history of Norman families connected with Saint-Evroult. Not later than 1115, at the command of his abbot, he began a history of his own monastery and its patrons, which gradually expanded into a general history of the church and incorporated a chronological outline of events from the birth of Christ, originally intended as a separate work. He worked on his history, periodically revising the early parts, until June 1141. He made critical use of all the works of contemporary historians. His account of William the Conqueror's campaigns in 1067-71, based on William of Poitiers, has the value of a contemporary narrative, because the last books of William's Gesta Guillelmi ducisNormannorum et regis Anglorum have not survived in the original. Otherwise the Historia ecclesiastica is most valuable for Norman, English, and French history in the period 1082-1141.


HENRY I

King Henry having by God's help. humbled his enemies, he razed to the ground all the unlicensed castles which Robert [de Belesme] and other factious nobles had erected. He sent his brothers to England to prevent the malcontents from disturbing the peace of the well-disposed, under colour of taking the duke's part, who was therefore kept a close prisoner for twenty-seven years, but amply supplied with luxuries of every kind. Meanwhile, henry governed the duchy of Normandy as well as his kingdom of England with a firm hand, being to the end of his days careful to maintain peace and though he enjoyed his prosperity according to his own pleasure, he never faltered in his stern career and the severity with which he administered justice. His able policy enabled him to keep the greatest nobles and lords of castles, and the most turbulent barons, in due subjection, while he was at all times ready to encourage and protect his peaceable subjects, the men of the church and the commons of the land.

His power being established, on both sides of the channel, in the eighth year of his reign, it was his constant endeavour to procure peace for the population under his rule, and he rigorously punished offenders against whom he enacted severe laws. Surrounded by all the indulgence which his vast wealth could procure, he was criminally addicted to one vice, from the days of his youth until he was advanced in years, having several sons and daughters by concubines.

By his unwearied industry he profusely augmented his worldly wealth, amassing vast stores of all valuable objects which he coveted. Reserving for his own sport beasts of chase in the forests of England, he even caused all dogs kept on the verge of the woods to be mutilated by having one of their claws chopped off, and reluctantly licensed some few of the greater nobles and his particular friends to have the privilege of hunting in their own forests.

A close observer, he investigated all subjects with great acuteness, and his memory was very tenacious of all the information he received. His enquiries extended to all the proceedings of his ministers and great officers, and he regulated the multiplied affairs of England and Normandy according to the dictates of his own sagacious judgment. he penetrated every one's secrets, and the most private transactions, so that the actors were at a loss to understand how the king obtained his knowledge. After a careful examination of ancient history, I boldly assert that, in regard to worldly prosperity, no king of England was mightier or richer than Henry.

The Tragedy Of The White Ship

In this voyage a sad disaster happened which caused much lamentation and innumerable tears to flow. Thomas, the son of Stephen, had obtained an audience of the king, and offering him a gold mark, said to him, "Stephen the son of Airard was my father, and during his whole life he was in your father's service as a mariner. He it was who conveyed your father to England in his own ship, when he crossed the sea to make war on Harold. He was employed by your father in services of this description as long as lie lived, and gave him such satisfaction that he honoured him with liberal rewards, so that he lived in great credit and prosperity among those of his own class. My lord king, I ask you to employ me in the same service, having a vessel, called the Blanche-Nef, which is fitted out in the best manner, and perfectly adapted to receive a royal retinue." The king replied "I grant your request ; but I have already selected a ship which suits me, and I shall not change however, I entrust to you my sons, William and Richard, whom I love as myself, with many of the nobility of my realm."


The mariners were in great glee at hearing this, and greeting the king's son with fair words asked him to give them something to drink. The prince gave orders that they should have three muids. No sooner was the wine delivered to them than they had a great drinking bout, and pledging their comrades in full cups, indulged too much and became intoxicated. By the king's command many barons with their sons embarked in the Blanche-Nè, and there were in all, as far as I can learn, three hundred souls on board the ill-fated ship. But two monks of Tyron, Count Stephen, with two men-at-arms, William de Roumare, Rabel the chamberlain, Edward of Salisbury, and several others, came on shore, having left the vessel upon observing that it was overcrowded with riotous and headstrong youths. The crew consisted of fifty experienced rowers, besides an armed marine force, who were very disorderly and as soon as they got on board insolently took possession of the benches of the rowers, and being drunk forgot their station, and scarcely paid respect to any one. Alas ! How many, among the company embarked, were without the slightest feeling of devotion towards God,


who calms the raging sea and rules the winds.

They even drove away with contempt, amidst shouts of laughter, the priests who came to bless them, with the other ministers who carried holy water but they were speedily punished for their mockery. Besides the king's treasure and some casks of wine, there was no cargo in Thomas's ship, which was full of passengers and they urged him to use his utmost endeavours to overtake the royal fleet which was already ploughing the waves. In his drunken folly, Thomas, confident of his seamanship and the skill of his crew, rashly boasted that he would soon leave behind him all the ships that had started before them. At last, he gave the signal for departure the sailors seized the oars without a moment's delay, and, unconscious of the fate which was imminently impending, joyously handled the ropes and sails, and made the ship rush through the water at a great rate. But as the drunken rowers exerted themselves to the utmost in pulling the oars, and the luckless pilot steered at random and got the ship out of its due course, the starboard bow of the Blanche-Nef struck violently on a huge rock, which is left dry, every day, when the title is out, and is covered by the waves at high water.

Two planks having been shattered out by the crash, the ship, alas filled and went down. At this fearful moment, the passengers and crew raised cries of distress, but their mouths were soon stopped by the swelling waves, and all perished together, except two who seized hold of the yard from which the sail was set.

They hung on to it the greater part of the night, in earnest hope that they would receive aid in some shape or other.

One of these men was a butcher Of Rouen, of the name of Berold the other, a young man of gentle birth whose name was Geoffrey, the son of Gilbert de I'Aigle.

The moon was at this time in hot' nineteenth day in the constellation of the Bull, and gave light to the world for nine hours, so that all objects on the surface of the sea were clearly visible to the sailors. Thomas, the master of this vessel, after his first plunge into the sea, gained fresh energy, and, recovering his senses, raised his head above water, and perceiving the two men clinging to the yard-arm, cried out " What has become of the king's son ?. The ship-wrecked men replied that he and all who were with him had perished. "Then," said he, "it is misery for me to live any longer." Having said this, he abandoned himself to his fate in utter despair, preferring to meet it at once, rather than to face the rage of the king in his indignation for the loss of his children or drag out him existence and expiate his crime in a dungeon. Meanwhile, Berold and Geoffrey, hanging by the yard-arm over the waters, called upon God to save them, and encouraging one another, waited in fearful anxiety for the end which it should please Him to bring to their misery


The night was bitterly cold and frosty, so that the young Geoffrey, after cruel sufferings from the severity of the weather, lost his powers of endurance, and commending his companion to God, fell into the sea and disappeared. Berold, however, who was the poorest man of all the company, and wore a sheep-skin dress, was the only one among so many who survived till the dawn of another day. In the morning, three fishermen took him to their skiff; and thus he alone reached the land. Having a little revived, lie related all the particulars of the disaster to the crowd of anxious enquirers; and lived afterwards for twenty ears in good health.


Roger, bishop of Coutances, had conducted on board the devoted ship his son William who had been just appointed by the king one of his four principal chaplains, with his brother and three gallant nephews, and had given them his episcopal benediction, though they made light of it. The bishop and many others who still lingered with him on the sea-shore, as well as the king aid those who accompanied him, though they were a long way out to sea, heard the fearful cries of distress raised by the shipwrecked crew and passengers, but they did not learn what caused the shrieks until the next day; and marvelling what it could be, conversed about it, some saying one thing, and some another.


The melancholy news soon went abroad among the common people, and, spreading along the sea-coast, came to the ears of count Theobald mid other lords of the court but for that day no one ventured to make it known to the king, who was in a state of great anxiety and made many enquiries. The nobles shed many tears in private, and were inconsolable for the loss of their friends and relatives but, in the king's presence, severe as was the struggle, they concealed their grief, lest its cause should be discovered. On the day following, by a well-devised plan of count Theobald's, a boy threw himself at the king's feet, weeping bitterly and upon his being questioned as to the cause of his sorrow. the king learnt from him the shipwreck of the Blanche-Nef. So sudden was the shock, and so sharp his anguish, that he instantly fell to the ground but being raised up by his friends, he was conducted to his chamber, and gave free course to the bitterness of his grief. Not Jacob was more woe-stricken for the loss of Joseph, nor did David give vent to more woeful lamentations for the murder of Amnon or Absalom .