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The White Ship with Earl Spencer

On Thursday evening Cornelius Adkins-Hudd discussed “The White Ship” with Earl Spencer.  Earl Spencer describes being an historian as “people watching” and in his books he likes to take a dramatic moment of history and, as well as explaining it in colourful detail, examine its consequences. 

He has thus written highly acclaimed books on the battle of Blenheim in 1704 and the escape of Charles II after the battle of Worcester in 1651 and in his most recent book “The White Ship” focuses on a pivotal moment in English history when, William Aetheling, the son of Henry I was drowned when the White Ship hit rocks just off the coast of Normandy in 1120.  In just one hour Earl Spencer told the story from the Norman Conquest in 1066 through to the 19 years civil war between Stephen and Matilda English and the eventual accession of Henry II in 1154 centring on the dramatic moment when all but one of the passengers on the doomed ship was killed.  Cornelius skilfully directed the talk and discussion, asking penetrating questions about the status of medieval women, the relationship between Anglo Saxons and Normans, the extent to which Henry I can in any meaningful sense be regarded as an English King and whether “Game of Thrones” is inspired by this period of English history! Earl Spencer also took questions from his on-line audience including a fascinating one on why the Normans were so militarily successful not only in England but as far away as Italy and Sicily.  Earl Spencer concluded by imaging if the White Ship had not hit rocks.  The Norman dynasty would have continued and there would have been no Plantagenet dynasty, no Bosworth, no Tudors and possibly no Reformation.  The talk was also highly topical given that in the last few weeks marine archaeologists believe that they may now have discovered the wreck of the White Ship.    

Our sincere thanks go to Earl Spencer for a rich and fascinating talk and to Cornelius for his sensitive and well-informed questions. The discussion has been recorded and is available via the Teams link on the weekly mailing, and we hope, too, that this will be the first of many more exciting and informative on-line Sir Ben Kingsley lectures.