Book Review: “The White Ship: Conquest, Anarchy and the Wrecking of Henry I’s Dream” by Charles Spencer

53604802._SY475_In the middle of the night on November 25, 1120, screams could be heard from the English Channel. A ship known as The White Ship hit a rock and began to sink. Those on board were the glamorous English elite, including the legitimate son of King Henry I, William Aetheling. In an era where people feared the sea and could not swim, those on board sank to their watery death on that cold winter night that began with such frivolity. No one knew that night that this one disaster at sea would cause a dynastic struggle that would lead to the founding of the infamous Plantagenet dynasty. In his latest book, “The White Ship: Conquest, Anarchy and the Wrecking of Henry I’s Dream”, Charles Spencer takes his readers on a journey to fully understand the impact that this tragedy had on the English royal family.

Charles Spencer has written many nonfiction books in the past, but they have all been out of the time periods that I enjoy reading about. I might go back and read them in my own time, but when I saw that this particular title was going to be published and how much praise it had received from prominent historians, I decided to give it a try.

Spencer’s tale into this tragedy begins with a vivid account of the night of November 25th and then it jumps to the first part of the tale. To understand why this event was so horrific for Henry I, we have to understand what it took for Henry I to become King of England. Henry, I was one of three sons of William the Conqueror. After his father died in 1087, the third son, William Rufus became King William II, much to the chagrin of the eldest son, Robert Curthose, who remained Duke of Normandy, but he continued to be a thorn at his brother’s side. When William II died after a hunting accident, Henry knew that it was his chance to beat Robert to the throne, which he did, becoming Henry I, who fought hard to restore order to England.

His two legitimate children, William Aetheling and Matilda, allowed Henry I to breathe a sigh of relief, although he had numerous illegitimate children. This is why this tragedy hit me so hard. With William’s death, it meant that anyone could take the throne after Henry I’s death, which is exactly what happened. The period we know as The Anarchy was a battle between Matilda, who was Henry’s heir, and her cousin Stephen of Blois for the throne of England.

Spencer has painted a dramatically dark portrait of the fall of the Norman dynasty. The Normans were notorious for their cruelty towards those who opposed them, even their own family. What I thoroughly enjoyed with this book was Spencer’s tone. It is as if you are having a casual conversation with Spencer about Henry I’s reign and his family’s drama for the throne. I was impressed with how well researched this book was and the new information that Spencer provided to present the bigger picture of this catastrophe.

I found this book to be a thrilling read full of information and vivid descriptions. This may be Charles Spencer’s first dive into the world of medieval nonfiction, but I hope it is not the last. If you want a brilliant read about the aftermath of the Conquest, the rise and fall of Henry I, and the Anarchy, I highly recommend you read, “The White Ship: Conquest, Anarchy and the Wrecking of Henry I’s Dream” by Charles Spencer.

Guest Post: Excerpt from “The Usurper King: The Plantagenet Legacy Book 3” by Mercedes Rochelle

The Usurper King Tour BannerToday, I am pleased to welcome Mercedes Rochelle to my blog to share an excerpt from her book “The Usurper King: The Plantagenet Legacy Book 3”. This passage is when Prince Hal has to tell Queen Isabella about Richard’s death. I would like to thank Mercedes Rochelle and The Coffee Pot Book Club for inviting me to partake in this blog tour. 

Excerpt

Isabella of Valois was probably the only person in England who did not know about Richard’s funeral. She was fourteen now and kept in close confinement at Havering-atte-Bower, where she was taken after the failed rebellion. Her prison was an old royal palace to the northeast of London, modest but comfortable. She knew Richard’s life was in danger and was worried sick about him. Alas, no matter how much she cried and demanded to visit her husband, she was politely refused. So she was relieved when the Prince of Wales was announced, for of all King Henry’s children he was closest to her in age and they had gotten along well before he went to Ireland. Before her life fell apart.

Hal came in by himself and knelt before her—a gesture sorely lacking these many months. He had grown much taller since she last saw him, and his shoulders had filled out from training. Unsurprisingly, his stiff posture had not relaxed, nor had his eyes softened; they were guarded as usual. 

Blinking back tears, she held out her hands. “You are a welcome sight, my lord. Thank you for visiting me.”

Slowly he stood and together they walked over to a window seat. Tucking a lock of hair behind her ear, she smiled self-consciously. It had been so long since she had a visitor, she was not dressed like a princess. Hal didn’t seem to care. 

“Do you have everything you need?” he said, trying to find a good place to start a conversation.

Isabella nodded. She knew that’s not why he was here. “I had hoped to see my husband,” she said softly. She knew this was none of his doing, but she had to make her feelings known to somebody.

At least Hal had the grace to look embarrassed. “I loved King Richard like a father,” he said earnestly, trying to take her hand. “He was very good to me.”

“Loved?” Her eyes narrowed. “You love him no longer?”

He sighed. There was no easy way to say this. “My lady, there is something I must tell you.”

She pulled her hand away, panic spreading over her face. “What has happened to him?”

As he struggled to find the words, Isabella broke into tears. “He’s dead, isn’t he?” She covered her face with her hands. “My poor Richard. How could you do this to him?”

Stricken, Hal fell to his knees. “I swear to you, I am overcome with anguish. I didn’t even know where he was kept.”

Lowering her hands, she looked at him doubtfully. “Do you expect me to believe that?”

Hal shook his head. “I am not privy to my father’s decisions.”

“How can that be?”

He hesitated, biting his lip. “It seems my father trusts no one, except for the archbishop. And perhaps his inner circle. We were never close.”

She was not convinced. However, there was no point in arguing. “How did Richard die?” Her voice was so soft he barely heard her. 

“It is said that after the rebellion, he stopped eating. This went on for almost two weeks when they sent a confessor to reason with him. Relenting, he tried to eat but by then he was unable to swallow. Sadly, he expired shortly thereafter.”

“Dear God, he starved to death?”

“That is what I am told.” This sounded weak, even to him. What could he do? Richard’s death was shrouded in mystery. 

“Do you believe this?” Isabella’s voice was harsh. 

“Of course I do.” Hal tried to sound sincere. 

“I expect to attend his funeral,” she said firmly. Once again, he hesitated and she couldn’t restrain her tears. “You wouldn’t stop me, would you?”

Hal had to fight back his rage at his father. He was furious to discover Isabella hadn’t been told about the funeral and insisted he be the one to break the tidings to her. Now he regretted it. 

“It’s too late, Isabella. The king thought it best for you not to attend.”

“Not to attend?” Her voice rose to a shriek. 

Hal stood, stepping back. “He sent me to tell you. He thought it would be best for you to hear from my lips.” 

Did she even heed him? Turning away, she threw herself onto the cushion, crying uncontrollably. Looking around the room, Hal went over to a sideboard and poured a cup of water. He knelt by her side, holding it out.

“Here, drink this.”

Hiccoughing, she sat obediently, accepting the water. 

“I promise you, I will do my best to see you are well taken care of,” he said.

She stopped drinking. “What does it matter? I’ve lost everything I care about.”

Defeated, Hal got up to leave.

“Wait.” 

He stopped, his back to her.

“When?”

He was hoping she wouldn’t ask. Turning, Hal wiped his hands on his sides. “The funeral was the twelfth of March.” 

“That was months ago!” 

He waited for her to start wailing again and she surprised him by her restraint. “I see how it is,” she said sadly. “Once again I am a pawn in your game. I am not supposed to have feelings. I must do what I am told for I have no choice.”

She was breaking his heart. “My dear friend, you are not the only one.”

Henry’s response gave her pause. She cocked her head, considering him for a moment. “I am sorry we are enemies,” she said. “In another world we might have been friends. Please, Hal. Help me go home.”

The Usurper King cover(Blurb)

From Outlaw to Usurper, Henry Bolingbroke fought one rebellion after another.

First, he led his uprising. Gathering support the day he returned from exile, Henry marched across the country and vanquished the forsaken Richard II. Little did he realize that his problems were only just beginning. How does a usurper prove his legitimacy? What to do with the deposed king? Only three months after he took the crown, Henry IV had to face a rebellion led by Richard’s disgruntled favorites. Worse yet, he was harassed by rumors of Richard’s return to claim the throne. His supporters were turning against him. How to control the overweening Percies, who were already demanding more than he could give? What to do with the rebellious Welsh? After only three years, the horrific Battle of Shrewsbury nearly cost him the throne—and his life. It didn’t take long for Henry to discover that that having the kingship was much less rewarding than striving for it.

Buy Links:

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08YLFMVPZ

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08YLFMVPZ

Mercedes RochelleAuthor Bio:

Mercedes Rochelle

Mercedes Rochelle is an ardent lover of medieval history and has channeled this interest into fiction writing. Her first four books cover eleventh-century Britain and events surrounding the Norman Conquest of England. The next series is called The Plantagenet Legacy about the struggles and abdication of Richard II, leading to the troubled reigns of the Lancastrian Kings. She also writes a blog: HistoricalBritainBlog.com to explore the history behind the story. Born in St. Louis, MO, she received her BA in Literature at the Univ. of Missouri St. Louis in 1979 then moved to New York in 1982 while in her mid-20s to “see the world”. The search hasn’t ended! Today she lives in Sergeantsville, NJ with her husband in a log home they had built themselves.

Social Media Links:

Website: https://mercedesrochelle.com/

Blog: https://mercedesrochelle.com/wordpress/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mercedesrochelle.net

Twitter: https://twitter.com/authorRochelle

Book Bub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/mercedes-rochelle

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Mercedes-Rochelle/e/B001KMG5P6?

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1696491.Mercedes_Rochelle

Book Review: “Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England” by Sharon Bennett Connolly

Pen & Sword Book Cover / Jacket artworkThe year of 1215 marked a turning point in English history with the sealing of a rather unique document; the Charter of Liberties, or as we know it today, the Magna Carta. It was a charter from the people to a king demanding the rights that they believed that they deserved. Those who sealed it were rebel barons who were tired of the way King John was running the country, yet instead of asking for his removal, they wanted reform. The clauses mostly concerned the problems of the men who made the charter, however, three clauses dealt with women specifically. In her latest book, “Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England”, Sharon Bennett Connolly explores the lives of the women who were directly impacted by this document.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword for sending me a copy of this book. I enjoyed the last book that I read by Sharon Bennett Connolly and so when I heard that this book was going to be released, I knew I wanted to read it. I did not know much about thirteenth-century English history and the Magna Carta, so I was excited to start this new adventure.

To understand why the Magna Carta was considered an essential document for the time that it was forged, Connolly dives into the life of King John. His life and legacy will touch every woman in this book so it is vital to understand how John ran England while he was king. Although Connolly tends to be slightly repetitive with information about John, it is imperative that we as readers understand the significance of this reign and why it led to the Magna Carta, which radically changed English history forever.

Now, when one thinks about women who lived during thirteenth-century England, we tend to think about women whose marriages and bloodlines would interlace the numerous noble families of the time. Though some of the tales follow this pattern, there were some women and families who went against the norm. Women like Matilda de Braose, whose horrific imprisonment and starvation that led to her death, paved the way for clause 39 of the Magna Carta. There were also extremely strong women, like Nicholaa de la Haye, who was England’s first female sheriff and gained power and prestige by her own merits. These women acted as peacemakers by marrying foreign princes, or they were married to rebels against John. And of course, some women knew John well, like his wife Isabella of Angouleme, who had a very negative reputation because of John.

What I enjoyed about this book is how Connolly shared stories from women of many different walks of life. They were all so different and so unique. Connolly’s meticulous research and her true passion for this time paired with her easy to understand writing style make this book an engaging and insightful read. I found this a delightful read. If you want a fantastic book that introduces you to the world of the Magna Carta and the women who directly affected by this charter, I highly recommend you read, “Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England” by Sharon Bennett Connolly.