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.

Book Review: “Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown: The Kings and Queens Who Never Were” by J.F. Andrews

52645565._SX318_SY475_In history, we tend to focus on those who were crowned kings and queens of different nations. Their strengths and their weaknesses. Their accessions and the legacies that they left behind. With every story of someone who triumphed in gaining the throne, there are tales of those who were close to the throne but were never able to achieve the ultimate goal of ruling a nation. These “lost heirs” fall into two categories; either their names live on in infamy or they are thrown into the dust of the past. Who were these men and women and why did they lose their chances to sit on the throne? These questions are explored in J.F. Andrews’ book, “Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown: The Kings and Queens Who Never Were”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. The title was what drew me into reading it, since these figures rarely get attention, let alone have an entire book dedicated to their lives. I have never read a book by J.F. Andrews, which is not surprising since it is a pseudonym for a historian who has a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies. I want to know who the historian really is since, in the historical field, it is a rarity to use a pseudonym, but that may just be my own personal curiosity.

Andrews’ book begins with the death of William the Conqueror and extends through the reign of Henry VII. With over 500 years of Medieval English history (with the main focus being on the Plantagenet family), it can get a bit confusing to figure out how everyone is connected, but Andrews provides a simplified family tree at the beginning of each chapter to help the reader out. It is a brilliant move and it also shows how vast Andrews’ knowledge of Medieval England’s royal families truly is.

When we tend to think about those would inherit the throne, we tend to think about the firstborn sons, like Robert Curthose, Henry the Young King, Edward the Black Prince, and Edward V. However, as the reader will learn, they were not the only ones who had a chance at the throne. Men, like Richard duke of York, believed that their claim to the throne was stronger than the person who was king. There were also those who were seen as a threat to the king who sat on the throne because of their lineage. They were all legitimate, as Andrews chose not to include those who were illegitimate.

Another factor that united all of these stories was that they all ended in tragedy. Some died from medical conditions at a young age. Others were either imprisoned, never to be heard from again. Yet the majority died in battle, either fighting for or against the king who sat on the throne at the time. Most of them, except for Richard duke of York, died relatively young, which makes us as readers wonder what their reigns might have been like if they were able to be crowned king or queen respectfully.

Overall, I found this book rather informative. Andrews’ writing is enjoyable and is easy to follow. This book really makes you wonder what if these lost heirs became kings and queens, how different history would have been. If you want to read an intriguing book about some mysterious men and women in history, I highly recommend you read, “Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown: The Kings and Queens Who Never Were” by J.F. Andrews.