• The White Ship

  • Conquest, Anarchy and the Wrecking of Henry I’s Dream
  • By: Charles Spencer
  • Narrated by: Richard Trinder
  • Length: 9 hrs and 8 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (191 ratings)

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The White Ship  By  cover art

The White Ship

By: Charles Spencer
Narrated by: Richard Trinder
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Publisher's Summary

The sinking of the White Ship in 1120 is one of the greatest disasters England has ever suffered. In one catastrophic night, the king’s heir and the flower of Anglo-Norman society were drowned and the future of the crown was thrown violently off course.

In a riveting narrative, Charles Spencer follows the story from the Norman Conquest through to the decades that would become known as the Anarchy: a civil war of untold violence that saw families turn in on each other with English and Norman barons, rebellious Welsh princes and the Scottish king all playing a part in a desperate game of thrones. All because of the loss of one vessel – the White Ship – the medieval Titanic.

©2020 Charles Spencer (P)2020 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

Critic Reviews

"How a drunk teenager shipwrecked the monarchy.... As colourful and racy narrative history goes, this absolutely gallops. The White Ship whips through 100 years of complex history from the Norman Conquest to Henry II." (Daily Mail

"Rooted in the medieval chronicles, but crafted like a Hollywood thriller. Spencer is one of the finest narrative historians around.... This story fairly rattles towards it terrible denouement." (Mail on Sunday

"Charles Spencer has shown himself to be a perceptive and lively historian.... A gifted storyteller.... A complex tale spanning decades, with a rich, but rarely attractive cast of characters, pivoted on one single, tragic winter evening. It is an event and a period of history that should be better known, and now it will be." (The Times

What listeners say about The White Ship

Average Customer Ratings
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Brilliant and concise

Excellent narration and easy to follow. I will definitely search out more of the author's works.

5 people found this helpful

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For history lovers

Engaging, with a brisk pace, this book is everything a history lover could want. The author makes you feel as if you have a clear view of the tumultuous times following death of William the Conqueror and the close connection between England and the European Continent. The WSJ book review brought this work to my attention and I’m so glad it did!

4 people found this helpful

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I always wanted to know more…..

I was always interested in the story of the white ship. I’ve read enough over the years to understand much regarding politics & people, but this gave me the details. Thank you, Charles Spencer, you have done a thorough & enjoyable job!

4 people found this helpful

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Death, Devastation, and Redemption

When I first got this book, I was curious how the author was going to get an entire book out of one shipwreck and be able to keep everyone's attention the entire way through - which I quickly discovered was a stupid question. I was HOOKED very early on, and drawn into the story.
The author begins by taking us through William the Conqueror's story, the following kings, the hardships that followed through the kingdom, and winding up with Henry - who had worked hard to ensure that the monarchy was secure. His son, William, was destined to take the throne after his father, but after years of warfare, hard-earned respect, and finally recognition from France, it seemed that everything was complete - bring on the golden years! Cue, the White Ship.

The youth aboard the White Ship was jovial, partying along with the crew, and celebrating. As they waited to embark on their short voyage to England, drinks were flowing, and the crew, unfortunately, was just as drunk as the passengers. Instead of waiting for the following morning, the Captain decided to sail anyway, forgetting about the dangerous rocks at the beginning of the harbor. What happened would crush the aristocracy of England, taking some of the best and brightest of the future generations, tearing families apart, ending families, and destabilizing the monarchy itself.
After the tragedy, there was nothing good waiting for England, which after the death of the king, quickly was realized. While Henry had ensured that his daughter, Matilda, was sworn to be his heir after his death, her cousin, Stephen of Blois, raced to claim the crown instead. What followed were decades of warfare, tearing the country apart. When it seemed that Matilda finally had the crown in her hands, she alienated her support. She had to finally realize that she needed to fight for the rights of her son, not herself, and therein the tides of war changed. Stephen was finally forced to recognize the young Henry Fitzempress as his heir, finally bringing peace and harmony to the country.

I was absolutely blown away by this book, and hate that it took me so long to get through it. I enjoyed the breakdown of the history, the backstory of what led to the tragedy, and the unfortunate endings of the lives of so many promising youths.
For those who love history, this is one book that you need to read. Medieval history at its finest!

2 people found this helpful

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Amazing history

This was an amazing book covering so much . I is interesting to have presented the effect of the sinking of one ship and the chain of events that preceded and followed. well done!

2 people found this helpful

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Dense material

Know what you are getting into! This isn't a wham-bam thank you, ma'am. There are so many characters and plot twists it is so easy to get lost. Strap in and have fun.

2 people found this helpful

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Very decent survey

Earl Charles does a good job here creating a general survey of the reign of Henry I and the immediate aftermath. He does skirt through the actual Anarchy but as a companion to Dan Jones’ The Plantagenets and War of the Roses it is quite good.

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Great book, could've had more on the Anarchy

Great book. Was really hoping and thinking there'd be more about the Anarchy which I'd have preferred over the history of William the Conqueror and entire reigns of William Rufus and Henry I. Either way it was a great book and I finished it in a single go

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Comprehensive History

A well organized presentation of English and early Norman history - lots of details and well worth your time.

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Depth, Drama and Detail

Viscount Spenser has produced an admirable account of the dreadful ,'White Ship' incident that is as shocking today as it was in the Medieval age.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 03-30-21

Awful narration

This clearly well researched and well written book is utterly ruined by a robotic narration. I get the impression that the narrator has no understanding of the subject and has recorded a first read-through. I wonder how it ever got past quality control! Don’t waste you money on this version, buy the book instead. Returned for a refund.

8 people found this helpful

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  • valmapp
  • 05-09-21

Great book but spoilt by the reader

Very disappointed with the reader whose voice is very flat and almost sounds like a computer! This book deserves better. Couldn’t listen for more than 10 minutes so will buy the book. Audible please do better than this! Feel like I should be refunded.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 09-03-21

Great book, terrible reading.

Excellent story but the reader has the dullest most wooden delivery and I couldn’t listen to anymore than an hour. I’ve bought the book instead so as not to put me off such a fascinating moment in history.

4 people found this helpful

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  • LR
  • 10-12-20

A good overview of post-Conquest England

This book gives a great insight into how the Plantagenet kings came to sit on the English throne. It does require your attention to keep track of who is who exactly, particularly among Henry's illegitimate children, and at one point there seems to be an awful lot of Rogers doing battle with one another. But if you're into your medieval history, and want a better idea of how all those magnificent castles came to be there, you could do a lot worse that Charles Spencer's The White Ship.

4 people found this helpful

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  • PJW
  • 09-03-21

Awful presentation

The reading is at speed and without much modulation. I am sure it is well researched and he normally writes well but I have given up on trying to listen to it. I suggest you buy the book.

3 people found this helpful

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  • JONAH8208
  • 01-26-21

Brilliant and Enlightening

A side note of history that was indeed a massive game changer for all that followed. Its importance would be on a scale of Harold winning at Hastings or Germany winning WW1 and dictating terms to the Allies, that big a deal a real crossroads in history with consequences that changed everything. I really didn't realize the true significance of the loss of this ship and I appreciate the education.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Mrs M E Burstow
  • 11-03-20

Good Hospital Reading

My father is in hospital and getting rather board. He wanted a book which was interesting, intellectually stimulating and zipped along nicely.

The White Ship fulfilled the brief rather well.

A fascinating book. Well written. Which covers a less well known period in history.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Susan Ryland
  • 03-07-21

Good historical account

I enjoyed this history lesson about post 1066 and leading up to the Plantagenets. So much to learn and I had to turn down speed of the narrator to take it all in. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Stephanie
  • 09-08-21

Wonderful historical detail

The whole historical content is fascinating. Enjoyed this book content very much...although the narration at times can be irksome in that it is occasionally sti-ca-t-oed...a.n.d. p.u.n.c.t.u.a.t.e.d. which may have more to do with the technical post production of the narrator's voice than his delivery but as in this (and with some other British Audible narrators on other books!), also being told to use the American pronunciation of some words!! ie in this book rouw-t instead of route(root)! etc etc..

1 person found this helpful

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  • CATRIONA SYME
  • 03-08-21

Well written history of a turbulent time

Enjoyed this book of a less well known period of history. Will read more books by Charles Spencer.

1 person found this helpful

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  • robert head
  • 06-27-22

A récit of staggering detail and colour

Before hearing this book I had no idea of this historical period .
That so much is known of the aristocracy and governance of England is testament to the scribes of that era. The density of detail in facts, descriptions of character, depiction of scenes that it is impossible to absorb all.
I allowed it wash over me as I marvelled at the propensity for battles, sieges, changed alliances, betrayals and aspirations of legitimate and illegitimate potential royal heirs.
Henry 1sts masterly attempt to stabilise a kingdom was ruined merely by the excessive drinking of a ship’s crew, such are the fragile turns of history and by comparison , also our own lives.
This book profoundly altered my previous over-simplistic view of history. I recommend it to those with the stamina to hear it out!

1 person found this helpful

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  • Aitch
  • 03-14-21

Great Revelations

A wonderful telling of a amazing story lost in the annuls of time. How history would certainly have been quite different if it were not for a particular rock unseen by those on board the White Ship. There is revealed a large secondary story of family connections across Europe. Loved the book Thank you very much Charles Spencer. Heather Herbert

1 person found this helpful