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  • Writer's picturePaul


Ah, the endless, timeless nobility of the British line of succession. There are few things quite like it in this hectic day and age: our dear old Queen Elizabeth II can trace her royal family tree right back to William I, whose victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 altered the history of England forever.

Truly, the royal family tree—enduring as it has, down through the centuries—is an elegant and genteel paean to a lost, perhaps more sophisticated, age. Except for that time when next-in-line-to-the-throne was decided by who didn’t get the shits on a cross-channel ferry.

So. Here’s the deal. On 25 November 1120, a vessel called the White Ship was chartered to carry the present king of England, Henry I—fourth son of William I—back across the Channel from France to England. At the last moment, however, Henry decided to make his own travel arrangements, leaving the White Ship to depart without him, but with much of his extended family, aboard.

Not far off the coast of Normandy, the ship got into trouble; within minutes, it had vanished beneath the waves.

Quite what caused the White Ship to falter is unclear, but the vessel was certainly overcrowded (there were 300 people on board), and a beer-fuelled party the passengers had had back on shore probably didn’t help matters.

“You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here!”:

Did beer fuel the disaster of the White Ship? (Wikipedia)

But by pure happenchance, the king had escaped the disaster. And also by pure happenchance, the king’s nephew Stephen of Blois had also escaped.

It later transpired that some of that beer that had been drank back in port had upset the young prince’s stomach, and he had left the White Ship with a terrible bout of diarrhoea. Thanks to that wambly stomach, Stephen survived a disaster that all but wiped out the English line of succession—allowing him to ascend to the throne on Henry’s death in 1135.

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