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  • That Was Genius Team

Episode 89 - A Dwarf in Crotchless Underwear (Hangovers Week)

Tom's Notes

The White Ship, or le Blanche Nef as they say in Le France.

I am telling the story of the White Ship party; a wonderful example of how a few drinks can lead to total anarchy, and by anarchy, I mean The Anarchy. You know, that period between 1135 and 1153 in English history where lots of people needlessly died and life was bloody miserable. I bet there were a few people coming round with horrendous headaches the morning after this bender. HUNGOVER POSH RUGBY PLAYER VOICE “What happened last night? Mate you’ll never guess what we did! Oh shit, I’m going to be in so much trouble, but we are legends!” Well, fortunately for all but one individual, they didn’t experience the consequences of this bender because they all died, and are definitely now legends.

My sources for today!? Well there are two main ones and a number of shorter ones that I perused. The two biggies are…

Orderic Vitalis, who was an English Chronicler who lived during the events I am soon to describe. His Historia Ecclesiastica is an absolute cracker of a source if you’re into your 11th and 12th Century English and Norman history.

The other is William of Malmesbury, also known as Willelmus Malmesbiriensis did that make me sound like I’m presenting Gardener’s World? Anyway, William is another big-hitter from the 12th Century. A very important historian and he also lived through the events what I am about to describe. I was reading his Gesta Regum Anglorum.

Okay, let’s start by introducing Henry I of England, or as he was known at the time, Henry of England. Get it? It’s a temporal perspective joke. Henry I was the second Norman king of England, the first being, of course William the Conqueror, then we have William II or Rufus to his friends, who was shot in very suspicious circumstances whilst our hunting in the New Forest. Henry I was on this hunting trip and being the loving brother and loyal courtier that he was, left the body in the woods, (SIMPSONS bye) and immediately made to Winchester to secure the treasury and hence the throne of England. Again, showing his loving and loyal side, he fought his other brother, Robert of Curthose, defeated him and imprisoned him for the rest of his life. He was king from 1100 to 1135.

Henry I married Matilda of Scotland and had two children; William Adelin and Empress Matilda. Let us now turn to William Adelin who was the heir to the throne on account of him being the only legitimate male son of Henry I (Henry I had loads of illegitimate children too who were looked after as nobles; not just cast away). William was married to Matilda of Anjou in 1119 as usual, for diplomatic reasons. That’s enough background because a year after the marriage, in 1120, we get to the main part of my story.

It’s 1120, only a year ago it was 1119 and before that 1118. 1121 was just around the corner. It’s November, only a month ago it has been October and before that September. December was just around the corner. Henry I, William Adelin and many other Norman nobles are in Normandy, the coastal town of Barfleur in fact. Henry I has transport arranged but a noble called Thomas FitzStephen approaches him and asks for the honour of lending his ship, The White Ship, on account of the fact that his father had captained William the Conqueror’s flagship during the Norman Conquest. Henry I says “thank you very much, that’s very kind of you, my children will go on your ship, I’ll keep away from them because they’re a boisterous lot and I’d prefer a bit of peace and quiet so I can work on my new Airfix project; it’s a Messerschmitt don’t you know, arrived in the post a few days ago.” FitzStephen bows down low and says SNIVELLY VOICE “thank you your grace, it’s most kind of you, it’s quite the honour, snivel snivel snotty snivel.”

About 300 people were to board the White Ship and it was quite a collection. If they were Pokemon cards, they’d be really good, shiny ones with lots of high numbers. In addition to William Angevin, there were a few other illegitimate children of Henry I and lots of other nobles. I say illegitimate, my Encyclopedia Britannica doesn’t dilly dally around here; it goes straight for bastards! Here’s a quote from William of Malmesbury,“they eagerly hastened from all quarters, expecting no small addition to their reputation, if they could either amuse, or show their devotion to the young prince.” Sounds fucking revolting doesn’t it?

Many of the 250-300 passengers had been on an absolute bender before the White Ship set sail. About 140 of the 250-300 were nobles and a there was a large retinue of armed marines who apparently got involved in the boozing too. Here’s Odoric Vitalis “The mariners were in great glee at hearing this, and greeting the king's son with fair words asked him to give them something to drink. The prince gave orders that they should have three muids (274.2 litres). No sooner was the wine delivered to them than they had a great drinking bout, and pledging their comrades in full cups, indulged too much and became intoxicated.” In fact, they apparently went and sat down where the ships rowers were supposed to sit, quote from William of Malmesbury; “The sailors, too, immoderately filled with wine, with that seaman’s hilarity which their cups excited, exclaimed, ‘row, row, row the boat, gently down the stream, belts off trousers down, isn’t life a scream!”

Details of the pre-boarding booze up are sketchy but what we can say with some confidence is it involved duty-free bags of French wine, road cones on heads, streaking and a shopping trolley race in a Carrefour car park. The passengers boarded the White Ship and immediately demanded more wine. They also became aware that Henry I’s ship had set sail much earlier, according to Orderic Vitalis’s account, quote “in the first watch of the night”. Being totally slozzeled, and with the night still young, they demanded that FitzStephen, who too was drunk, to sail as fast as he could to catch up and beat the king home. With glorious visions of hanging out the side of the boat mooning at the King whilst shouting, DRUNK VOICE “The King is a twat, long live the twat! You’re boat’s shitttt!”

No doubt there were some who boarded the boat who weren’t involved in the boozing and were really rather annoyed by it all, much like one of those flights to Amsterdam. Odoric Vitalis writes “But two monks of Tyron, Count Stephen,' with two men-at-arms, William de lloumare, Kabel the chamberlain,' Edward of Salisbury, and several others came on shore, having left the vessel upon observing that it was overcrowded with riotous and headstrong youths.” By ‘Count Stephen’ he is refereeing to Stephen of Blois, the future king of England and it was good thing that these people did alight! Odoric tells us later that Stephen actually alighted because he had the squits; “you don’t have to put that detail in Odoric, you really don’t”. The religious men who were supposed to board the boat were apparently driven off by the drunken hoard who were taking the piss out of them as they tried to bless the boat and all the drunkards within her.

They had barely left port when the ship, rowed forward chaotically by the drunken soldiers and captained by the pissed FitzStephen keen to catch the king, smashed into submerged rocks (that any ship captain would have known about). Nothing sobers you up like the English Channel in late November. It was utter chaos as the ship sank. Odoric again; “at this fearful moment, the passengers and crew raised cries of distress, but their mouths were soon stopped by the swelling waves, and all perished together, except two who seized hold of the yard from which the sail was set.” The two individuals were a lesser noble called Geoffrey and a butcher called Berold; the poorest man on the ship. For an entire night, a bitterly cold one at that, the two of them hung on for dear life. Eventually, Geoffrey succumbed but Berold held fast and rescued by fisherman in the morning.

Henry of Huntingdon actually tells of how William Angevin managed to get away from the sinking ship in a lifeboat before turning back after hearing the desperate cries of his illegitimate sister. The moment the lifeboat returned to the sinking ship, it was overrun with drunken nobles who didn’t fancy drowning and the whole boat sank. You try to do a good deed…

Through that account of the shipwreck, I referred to William of Malmesbury and Orderic Vitalis, 2 of the most detailed accounts of the incident from the Middle Ages. There are many other accounts, usually with only short accounts of the shipwreck. My favourite is this from Henry of Huntingdon; “William and Richard, and his daughter and niece, with the Earl of Chester, and many nobles, were shipwrecked, besides the king's butlers, stewards, and bakers, all or most of whom were said to have been tainted with the sin of sodomy. Behold the terrible vengeance of God!”

Got an axe to grind have you Henry of Huntingdon?! Something on your mind?

I made a rather cracking joke at the start of my piece about anarchy. Well, the death of William Angevin left Henry I without a male heir and this was the cause of the period in English history called the Anarchy. Henry certainly tried his best to get another legit child; he married Adeliza of Louvain in 1121, three years after wife number 1 had died. They bonked, shagged and rooted but all to no avail. It’s the law of sod isn’t it? When you dilly-dally with a noble lady, she always gets pregnant, when you need a legitimate son and you try with your wife, nothing.

In 1127, Henry I compels his Barons to accept his daughter Matilda as his heir. However, a Queen was unprecedented in England and Normandy (although not Anglo-Saxon England) and Matilda was married to the Count of Anjou; something the Baronage disliked immensely. She had a son in 1133 called Henry and this was cause for hope; he wouldn’t have ovaries and would be a far leader than Matilda and her hormones. But oh shit, Henry I dies in 1135. Stephen of Blois, if you remember he had the fortunate shits on the night of the White Ship disaster, was a great grandchild of William the Conqueror. He heard about Henry I’s death and sailed to England to seize the throne. Anyway, long story short because I can’t go on forever, Matilda and Stephen go at each other. Stephen even gets captured at one point and is ransomed off. Matilda is on the verge of being made queen and then pisses of the people of London by refusing to wear a pearly coat on her wedding day and dance around the piano. Matilda’s son, the future Henry II invades England. Stephen’s son and heir dies (Eustace), Stephen kind of gives up, agrees to let Henry be his heir and in 1153, after almost 20 years of chaos and violence, Stephen dies and Henry II becomes king. And all because of a piss-up that got out of hand.

Naturally, as I had made the effort to find so many relevant sources, I thought it pertinent to search through them for vulgar words. Orderic Vitalis came up clean. In fact, all the sources I used did. With the exception of William of Malmesbury who tested positive for two excrements. The first story concerns the irritatingly pious wife of the West Saxon king Ina;

“Ina’s queen was Ethelburga, a woman of royal race and disposition: who perpetually urging the necessity of bidding adieu to earthly things, at least in the close of life, and the king as constantly deferring the execution of her advice, at last endeavoured to overcome him by stratagem. For, on a certain occasion, when they had been revelling at a country seat with more than usual riot and luxury, the next day, after their departure, an attendant, with the privity of the queen, defiled the palace in every possible manner, both with the excrement of cattle and heaps of filth; and lastly he put a sow, which had recently farrowed, in the very bed where they had lain.”

After this, the queen persuades the King to return to the house to see the mess, when he does, he says “happy wife happy life”. Yes dear, what a good idea. I can see now how all my material possessions look far worse when covered in shit. What wonderful logic you possess, I shouldn’t be so materialistic”.

William also comes out with this one: “at that time too, on the confines of Brittany and Normandy, a prodigy was seen in one, or more properly speaking, in two women: there were two heads, four arms, and every other part two-fold to the navel; beneath, were two legs, two feet, and all other parts single. While one was laughing, eating, or speaking, the other would cry, fast, or remain silent: though both mouths ate, yet the excrement was discharged by only one passage. At last, one dying, the other survived, and the living carried about the dead, for the space of three years, till she died also, through the fatigue of the weight, and the stench of the dead carcass.” A very interesting and slight sad reference of course to a Siamese twin. Thank god for Western medicine aye?

Failed inventions/technology that never worked

Best friends; that was from Rhiannon

Psychiatry then best friends

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