It's 25 years since Father Ted was on the telly. That's a long time. I mean, it's nearly 26 years. So the lads in on cost are releasing a set of four commemorative lamps. We can get them at our post office or up on post.com. Father Ted, send them to people. You know why we just had lunch. Oh, right. They're actually stamps. Yeah. A great bunch of stops and laughs and fun, then log on post for your world.
I'm thrilled to say this episode of history, it is brought to you by Vodafone. Curiosity has no limits of Vodafone. You can follow your curiosity with unlimited data on Ireland's best performing mobile network. Like I am old enough to remember the world before unlimited data.
But I just still to this day, don't really know what we did. I guess we had to. I thought we had to prepare things better to use books and like have dossiers with us. I got a question for you. You can find out the answer in the break that comes in this podcast. But this is one that you can try and look up using your Vodafone Unlimited data. I'd Professor Bartlett on the podcast the other day, and he's identified 27 female monarchs in medieval Europe, 27 queen pregnant women actually ruled in their own right in medieval Europe, but none of them were from Ireland.
None of them appear in the list of high kings or any of the other, I guess. Why find out during the break? The other day, I drove from Cork to Dublin, right. And on the fly, using my Vodafone unlimited data, I was able just to plot this itinerary. We checked out these amazing castles. We did Kahir Castle. We checked out the Rock of Cashel. I mean, that place is unbelievable. And then we went to Dunhams and then my family went completely mad and didn't let me stop anywhere else.
But I mean, that was all just done in the passenger seat of a car as my wife was driving and my kids were all screaming in the back. And I was able to do that with the supercomputer in my hand connected to the World Wide Web, thanks to Vodafone. You know what? You people are fans of history. That's why you listen to this podcast. You've got to get the best performing network. I don't one of those networks, there's good in the cities.
You want one that when you are in the middle of nowhere, you got decent signal because you've got to research what's going on around you. You got to work out which castle is that, this hoving into view on the horizon. It's just a beautiful thing. Let your whole family follow their curiosity when you bring everyone's plans together on our multi mobile read family plan. Such Vodafone read family for more.
I have a more condensed history. It I'm just sitting in my car overlooking the icy cold channel, the English Channel. I'm thinking about the decision I made to invite the entire history team down for the summer party, quote unquote. Summer party on my boat, on said channel. I'm looking for brightness in the western horizon. I'm to be honest, I'm not seeing much. I'm not saying much. But in Britain we have a little tradition. When the weather is bad and we're getting seafaring, we just go seafaring and then we go to the pub.
Now, that tradition, it's a bit of a Segway. That tradition is despite the worst maritime disaster in British history. That is according to the latest history on the white ship disaster 900 years ago in eleven twenty, the only legitimate son of Henry, the first William the Earthling, William Etling. He set sail from Normandy for the relatively straightforward journey with a southerly wind across the channel to the south where I am now. He never made it. They smashed into the rocks less than a mile out of harbour in the middle of the night on a freezing cold night.
Nearly every single person on that boat died. Only one person told the tale it was the white ship disaster. Never before or after was the so much of the ruling political and military elite of the Kingdom of England wiped out in one accident. And that event has got a new book out about it from Charles Spencer. Charles Spence has been on the podcast before. He's talked about the escape of King Charles. The second he's written many of the books.
He's descended, of course, from Duke of Marlborough and the victor of the Battle of Blenman. Other the battles he has to give his full title. He's the ninth. Earl Spencer is the younger brother of Diana, princess of Wales, therefore uncle of Princes William and Harry and all that kind of stuff. But more importantly to all the history here, finds he's a brilliant historian and a brilliant writer. And his new book On the White Ship is fabulous.
And I'm glad he's come on the come on the podcast. Talk about it if you want to go and watch documentaries about medieval history or listen to lots of lots of podcasts about it in the back catalogue, he's got a history hit TV. You just got a history of TV, used the Cape Cod one paddy one, and you get a month of free and you get the first month, just one pound euro dollar. Go and do it. Go and listen to Charles Spencer's previous forays onto the podcast.
Well, as many other people said, please go and check that out. In the meantime, enjoy the Earl Spencer talking about the white ship.
Charles, thanks very much. Coming back on the podcast, what fun, thank you very much for having me. You point out only the first deserves. He's one of the more remarkable kings of English. History deserves far more credits, the right word, but far more recognition than most of us, given. Absolutely.
His reign was a very, very key part of English history from eleven hundred for 35 years. And we live with the consequences of his reign. He set up very strong financial systems and we still have his exchequer in place today. He got a grip really on the overmighty aristocrats in England and Normandy. He asserted royal power. He was a very effective, I say by our standards, probably quite ruthless and cruel, but by the standards of the day, necessarily powerful, effective king, one of the greats.
I think there is a sort of central problem, isn't there, in this? And it runs through your book, which is of succession and particularly succession in a trans maritime state. We've got England and Normandy.
It's they just they were fighters, weren't they?
What I learned writing this about really was that when somebody died, first of all, they went from a very elevated strength and position to total irrelevance, people fighting over the jewels on William the Conqueror, his corpse, while he was still warm.
And and then William Rufus, you know, shot in the new forest and left to be lumbered back in the back of a cart to Winchester for burial. And every man was for himself. There was this very terrifying period for most people who were in the know between one king becoming dead and the next one being crowned. There was no law then you couldn't be prosecuted if you did something terrible. You hadn't broken any king's law. So that the essential thing for the powerful people in England and Normandy was to fill the vacancy as quickly as possible.
And both of the key times during this period, Henry the first seized the kingdom of England. He really had no expectation of it. He was the fourth son and but he was on on sight.
He rushed from his brother's corpse, William Rufus's corpse, to Winston on to London to become crowned. And everyone was quite glad to have a king very quickly. It was only once they had him that they thought, hang on. His eldest brother, Robert, should have been king. Everyone knew that. He just distinguished himself hugely on the first crusade and was heading back to claim. Well, he went he didn't know he had a throne, but he would have claimed the throne is in the land of William Rivers.
His death and the same happened with Henry. The first death. I mean, the central tenet of his life after the white ship disaster was getting people in England and Normandy to recognize his daughter Matilda, as his successor.
But as soon as he died, his nephew Steven rushed across the channel and scooped up the English throne for himself. So it really was a matter of there were various claimants. There was no primogenitor, really. It was sort of every man for himself. And the first one there got it.
Yeah. The look at the Royal Treasury, the location is just fascinating and important. So so the so as you say, William the Conqueror dies. He's already at odds with his sons when he dies, which seems to be a norm. And Plantagenet. Well, to be fair, Stuart and Hanoverian and who knows, possibly even House of sexy Koberg and Windsor and everything. Problem we won't go into that. It seems to be a it's a problem with monarchy and for some reason anyway, so.
Well, in the Concordia's, he's fighting his sons, Vinicky in France, and he's got these one boys already been killed, the new forest. He's got these three sons. And I mean, Henry is way out of it. I mean, he's irrelevant. This this guy I mean, you paint a picture of him, it's almost well, he's imprisoned. He's penniless, he's nothing.
He is the absolute spare part in terms of succession. As I've touched on, he is the fourth son. Nobody's really thought about him doing anything. There's a very big hint that he was probably destined for the church as the youngest and most irrelevant son and then his two surviving brothers. When William the Conqueror dies, they use them when it's convenient. He's he gets no land.
William the Conqueror leaves them money, but no land, no title. And he's basically told to get on with it.
Now, that leaves him at the mercy of his to much more powerful brothers, Robert, who controls Normandy, and then William Rufus controlling England, who are at each other's necks most of the time anyway.
And they use him as an ally when it suits them. But yes, they imprison him. Yes, they take his money off him. He has a miserable time.
This man, who becomes a sort of titan of the 12th century, spends his youth as a wandering knight.
Really, he does spend quite a lot of time in the. The ladies doesn't even during that time, he loves the lady, he is our most fecund monarch, I believe we know of 24 children. Two of them were legitimate, William and Matilda, and then we know of 22 others who he readily acknowledge. And actually, I have to say for Henry, the fact that that was quite a sort of noble thing to do. A lot of royal and aristocratic sires of illegitimate children just moved on.
But Henry looked after them, promoted them, use them for his own benefit very much. He he arranged marriages around Europe to suit his interests and to further his power and to establish himself. And it is always the way with history, as you know about anyone. You look back and you realize Henry the first had a solid reign of 35 years. But early on, he could easily have been dispossessed and he needed to build up alliances across Europe to make sure that he could stay in power.
And we are all all descended, surely, from Henry.
The first I'd say that I was trying to work it out, but there must be millions of people descended from him. I mean, 24 children, I imagine they all had three children who survived and had and then cascade down the generations. I mean, yes, I think I think we all carry a little bit of Henry the first in us.
Yeah. And I think Adam Rutherford, who's been on this podcast, the geneticist, I'm sure, prove it.
So now and then he so I guess let's come to this this key moment. I'm sitting in the new forest talking to you now just a couple of miles from my house. He was hunting with his older brother, William Rufus, who, by the way, I didn't realize I mean, he did not get a good press. He was awful. He would just go round his followers, raping, pillaging his own country, even quote unquote, peacetime.
I mean, just a brutal king. Yes.
I think what attracted William the Conqueror liked him the best of his sons. And I think it was because he was a very competent soldier. But, my goodness, he was rough and he encouraged appalling behaviour. His court going around England was similar to the people who had to suffer their presence as an invading army. There was no rule. They people just helped themselves to people's daughters, property, whatever they wanted. And there was no comeback, really.
And at the same time, where he gets a really bad press, of course, is that most of the historians from this period, I mean, they're all they're all churchmen of some kind. He had a total disregard for the church's authority and he used to keep Bishop Rex and Archbishop Rex vacante so that he could enjoy the income and he only ever sort of came good whenever he was particularly ill and he thought he was going to meet his maker.
And occasionally he was brought into line to, you know, do the right thing for the church. But he will always get a bad press because the church wrote the press. True, of course, a very important point to remember.
So he's hunting in the new forest very near me, a big piece of Royal Forest, which William the Conqueror established, throwing off locals and one of his sons already been killed there. And tell me what happened on that day.
Well, it gosh, it was a dangerous sport. I mean, not only you're quite right, not only had one of William the Conqueror sons died already from hunting, but William Rufus's so sorry.
No, Robert Curtis is the oldest brother. His his one of his sons had died earlier that. Yeah. So on the morning of that August morning in eleven hundred, William Rufus's had a terrible night of nightmares and he's had visions of his blood being taken out of his body through steam. And he's a bit shaken up and he gets a message from a bishop saying his his church men have had visions too. And he's got to mend his way ways and he doesn't.
And he decides to put a very brave face on it. And he goes out with his hunting party, including his brother, Henry, and nobody knows who fired the fatal arrow. It's meant to be a man called Teryl, but he always denied it, even on his deathbed, when people tended to be quite honest because they were facing a fairly stern judge in the great beyond.
And it's interesting to me that no one ever said that Henry did it. Henry killed his brother because he is the one who would benefit the most from it. And I think what happened was it probably was an accident. We don't know. But the arrow went straight in and killed William. Rufus pretty much out. Right. And what finish him off was he staggered to his knees and then fell forward and drove the arrow through himself and of course, to the sort of superstitious Christian mind.
This was a very telling way for him to go because he had behaved so badly towards the church, etc. There was no chance of him having absolution at the end. And Henry sees his brother dead and rides hell for leather to Winchester sees the Treasury leaving the corpse, leaves his brother's corpse, which I find deeply odd.
But there we are. And and then he gets to Winchester. Where the treasure is and is trying to get into it when one of the old night stands in his way and says, no, we promise to swear allegiance to your brother. And Henry pushes them aside, claims the Treasury, and then rides to London and is very quickly crowned that there's no time for the archbishop of Canterbury. He grabs the bishop who crowns him.
And it's so interesting, Dan, when I look at this, I mean, this period is new to me in the medieval mind. Once somebody had undergone a coronation, they became divinely blessed.
So once you were king, it was really a difficult thing to take you off the throne without incurring God's wrath. That's how they viewed it. So it wasn't just a ceremony. It was a rubber stamp, a divine rubber stamping that you were God's representative on Earth.
And then he had a very tough time because people were very quick to support him when there was a possibility of chaos without a king on the throne. But then people thought, well, hang on, people had a very low opinion of Henry, the first from his childhood. A lot of the higher aristocracy and they his royal cousins saw him as a bit of an oaf. He was seen to be too obsessed with hunting and he would ride out into New Forest with his own packer hounds and his own horn.
And it was seen as a bit in for a dig that he became a sort of servant rather than being one of the leading figures of the royal court. And very quickly, Henry showed his skill, I think, as a diplomat by coaxing the exiled archbishop into his into his hands and said, look, please, I recognise you. I want you to come back. He been exiled and some have been exiled by William Rufus. And he said, come back, I'll recognize you if you recognize me.
And some crucially said that people had support, Henry, and that gave him breathing space to form his own foothold of a dynasty.
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So the question I posed at the start of this podcast was why in the whole of Europe are there queens regnant during the medieval period, but not in Ireland? And the answer Professor Bartlett gave me, it's because it was customary for Irish kings take many wives. So there was never a shortage of sons. Whereas over in England, over in France, elsewhere, those those kings, they just had one wife. I mean, the old mistress, like Henry, the first and a lot of illegitimate children, but they were excluded from the line of succession is an island, plenty of wives, plenty of sons, no shortage of male heirs.
Fascinating. You know what? Use Vodafone unlimited data. I have a little Google. Prove me wrong. Send me a tweet. I'd love to know if there are any queens. Let your whole family follow their curiosity when you bring everyone's plans together on our multi mobile read family plan. Such Vodafone read family for more. And he has a few seizures and things that go on and he'll say imprisons his brother and your other sweet about his brother Robert, who's a bit of a Muppet despite good performance in the First Crusade, that was a sort of peek of that was the highlight was like he gets imprisoned by his younger brother, Henry, and ends up but rather comfortably, rather enjoys, I think, just throwing off the ambition of of the of the eldest son.
And I mean, how long is in prison for.
He's in prison for decades. For about 40 years, I think.
And what happens with Robert Kurtas is he was an appalling ruler of Normandy and he would have been a catastrophe for England on that on the basis of how badly he did in Normandy.
And you're right, the only the only thing he did well was fight in the Crusades very bravely.
But he had no idea how to rule. And I think you're absolutely correct. I think he found, you know, very comfortable time in jail was was absolutely fine. And we find him towards the end of his life writing poetry. He's moved to a castle in Wales and he writes about an oak tree. And I think he was probably very relieved to be taken away from the front line of a brutal medieval ruling.
I tell you, I'd be relieved reading your book. I mean, I was so struck by the just insane. I mean, it just the various lords have put you in Oju and very I mean, just I mean, it was like a bag of eels. I mean, how did you how did you even begin? How do these sort of imposing peace was just a yearly an annual project start again at the beginning?
I don't know how they survived half of them, and of course, half of them didn't. I think one of the problems they had was the role of Christianity and all of that. So a lot of the particularly in England, there was a sort of fight between doing right by the church and doing right as a king. I think that the only way to survive in these times was to have very rigid rules which you stuck to. And the most appalling episode in my book, in the whole tale of Henry Henry, the first is the way he treated the basic laws of hostage taking.
He brokered a peace between one of his illegitimate daughters and her husband and some neighbours by making them swap each other's children as hostages. And Henry's daughter lost patience with the boy hostage she was holding and had him blinded and the father of the boy went as understandably outraged to Henry and demanded his rights.
And so Henry agreed that his to his two granddaughters, his daughter's daughters would be blinded as well and have their noses cut off as the sort of wrongful part of a hostage situation that had gone terribly awry. And I'm afraid that's the one bit where I just can't get my head around this time, you know, isn't there some way I mean, here we are.
I mean, there's anything you do anything to observe that the rules have been broken, but to preserve your granddaughters, it's just an astonishing. But to me, it says these were the rules and Henry the first stuck by them.
Well, his daughter is daughter took matters into her own hands. Tell everyone what she did.
Well, yes, she pretended she wanted an audience with their father and then whipped out a crossbow and tried to shoot Henry the first. But she missed him. And then she was besieged by her father and then jumped into the moat of the castle in every where she was. And the observers were most shocked that this woman was actually fleeing for her life. And I don't think that dignity was the first thing in her mind. But she showed her legs when her dress was sort of swept up from her as she as she descended very fast into the moat, people were appalled that they could see the lady's legs, different standards.
I mean, it makes trying to find a common standard. It was difficult.
So he's got these two legitimate children and the air is everything. He's got a son, the son William, named after his father.
He's got his daughter, Matilda, and tell everyone what happens on a cold night, just as he beats the French kings, just as he establishes absolutely certain dominion over his French lands, they go back to Buffalo. And then what happens?
Buffalo is the common stop off point for voyages to Southampton. And on a normal day with a good wind, it would take 10 or 12 hours. So Henry arrives in the port of Buffalo and a man comes forward who declares himself to be the son of the captain of William the Conqueror, his flagship in the invasion of ten sixty 66. And he says to the king, I have this ship, the white ship, and it would be my honor to take you back to England in triumph.
You know, you've defeated the French king. You have power now and your son is recognized as you are. And Henry is always very organized. He says, no, no, I'm fine. I've made my arrangements. But it sounds fun. Your ship looks marvelous.
And yes, I'll put my son William in your ship and various others and they're onto that ship, gets the flower of the Anglo Norman aristocracy, including the only male heir to the throne, a couple of Henry's other illegitimate children, nieces, nephews, bureaucrats, generals and eighteen women of rank of Countess or about. So it's got a lot of very important people, 250 passengers of the highest note, and they decide to get stuck in to an awful lot of wine in Buffalo Harbor.
The prince is very flattered because the crew are overawed at the honor of having him there. So he shares the wine with them. They all get rip roaring drunk, too. And then some point towards midnight on the 25th of November, exactly nine hundred years ago, they set off in the night and the cry goes up that they must race to England and try and beat Henry the first day, even though his ships had several hour head start. And so the 50 oarsman bend their backs.
The helmsman gets a bit overexcited and I think miscalculates very badly because he drops the sail too soon, which adds to the speed. There are a few very obvious rocks outside.
Barfly One of them's called the Kiba Frock, and the white ship goes at great speed into this rock. The drunken sailors scramble around with their staffs and pikes and try and push the white ship off, which only succeeds. These are Klinker by a ship so that their lip lipophilic of timber.
It breaks open the timber and the passengers start to cascade into a very, very cold sea.
And the one survivor of this shipwreck is a man called Beru, that he's a butcher from Rouen who has well, he's basically followed these rich people onto the ship to try and cut his debts paid. And he watches this sort of ghastliness unfold. And at one point he's lying there with one night who at that point is alive. And the the ship's captain swims towards them on their broken mast and says, look, where's the prince? And the butcher tells him, he said, I saw the I saw the prince.
He was bundled into the only rowing boat and was going to go to safety with his bodyguard. And then he heard his sister, the Countess of Pash, call for him and furious that he wasn't coming to help. So he ordered the little boat to turn around. And at that point, all these people, they were thrashing around in the water for their lives, grabbed hold of the side of the lifeboat and they all went down, including the prince.
And this is so appalling, this news that the captain of the white ship decides to let himself die. Just goes under the water and never seen again, and then the butchers rescued by some fishermen, first light the next day. And then the terrible thing is who's going to tell Henry? You know, Henry is a very tough and unhappy man most of the time. But who's going to tell him that three of his children and all of his greatest men and women have died?
I mean, it's just brutal. And I never I mean, I heard the story the way, but I never realized it was a flat, calm night about a mile offshore.
This is the things that people heard it on shore. But because everyone on the ship was so drunk and noisy when they screamed for their lives, people just heard it and thought, oh, the parties reached a new crescendo. They didn't realize that there was something really serious going on.
In fact, they say people said that they could hear the screams across the water for many a mile, actually, and the ships, the ship that Henry was on. But whether that's, you know, wanted to be part of the tragedy, I don't know. Amazing.
So Henry is his only son.
He attempts to get Matilda on the throne, reminds you of Maria Teresa in the 18th century.
And I mean, he must've been devastated because he takes it within. Within weeks, he's married some young woman desperate to try and sire more sons.
It's so interesting because I don't know what happened here. I mean, it was definitely from his side that there was no children because his second wife, who is this great beauty, Adelies or a blue van, was she went on to have seven children with her second husband.
So there was no reproduction problems there, although the bishops tried to convince her that she had a problem with her whim. She did not. And I don't know whether by this stage or is in his 50s, which is old man, and whether he was impotent or sterile or depressed and couldn't, you know, whatever it was, I have no idea.
But the upshot was that she traveled with him. This young, beautiful bride was by his side the whole time.
He was desperate to have another male heir. Nothing happened. And after about seven years, he realized that things were looking very desperate. So he had his leading aristocrats and churchmen swear allegiance to his daughter Matilda succession, which they all seem to do quite happily, whether in Normandy or in Northampton.
Down the road from here, they swore allegiance, but it meant nothing. To be honest, I think that the prejudice against a female ruler was based in practicality and that a lot of the rulers business at this time was leading people into battle. But of course, there was this sort of fundamental prejudice against what women were capable of doing and not capable of doing. And Matilda had proved herself to be very useful as she had been married to the holy the Holy Roman Emperor, as he would be known now, and had done a very effective job, you know, sitting in for him occasionally.
But she wasn't given a chance in England.
And it's odd because it's so clear that there were so many impressive women about Henry's first wife was very impressive. Henry's sister.
You picked out two fantastic people that they're really impressive. Yes. And in fact, Adella, a bloke who is his youngest sister, Henry, the younger sister.
So the conquerers youngest daughter is an incredibly accomplished woman and really respected and known throughout Europe that she basically kept the show going and brought up because her husband was useless. And in fact, it's one of her sons, Stephen, who who seizes the throne.
And she becomes quite an even though she retires to a nunnery, she she's she's an important factor in pushing her children forward.
Yeah, well, they would have been a lot better off. And then, of course, Henry, the second marriage is both the the the son of Matilda and who marries a remarkable woman as well, all available on other podcasts. Anyway, Charles, tell us what this book is called. It's called The White Ship.
And yes, it's very much it came out of a I had to give a talk and and Leeds Castle about the queen of England. And I thought I'd throw in. The unknown, the nearly queen mattilda, and people were much more interested in that than they were in spite of their old lady, Jane Grey, and then I spotted this nine month anniversary. And I look, I do believe, you know, I'm taking Titanic into account. I believe the white ship disaster remains the greatest maritime tragedy this country's ever suffered.
Amazing, powerful stuff. Let's leave it there. Thank you very much indeed. Thank you.
However, it's me down, so just a quick request, it's so annoying and I hate it when the podcast do this, but now I'm doing it. I hate myself. Please, please go into iTunes, where you get your podcasts and give us a five star rating and review. It really helps basically boost up the chart, which is good, and then more people listen, which is nice. So if you could do that, I'd be very grateful.
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