| Our Island Story|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|A child's history of England from earliest legendary times delightfully retold. Beginning with the stories of Albion and Brutus, it relates all the interesting legends and hero tales in which the history of England abounds through the end of the reign of Queen Victoria. Ages 9-12 |
HENRY I.—THE STORY OF THE "WHITE SHIP"
 WILLIAM THE RED died in 1100 A.D. He had no children, so his
brother Henry became king after him. Henry was the youngest
son of William the Conqueror. He was fond of learning and
could read and write better than most people in those days,
so he was called Beauclerc, which is French and means "fine
Henry's eldest brother Robert, Duke of Normandy, was still
alive, and the Norman barons in England still wanted to have
him for their king. So they sent over to France and asked
Robert to come to fight again for the crown.
Once more the English people had to choose between the
Norman king and the Norman barons. Once more they decided
for the King and fought for him, even although William the
Red had forgotten his promises and cruelly deceived them.
For although Henry's father and mother had been Norman,
Henry himself had been born in England, and the English
people felt as if that almost made him English. So once more
they chose to fight for the King against the barons.
Henry Beauclerc did not repay the people with promises only,
as his brother had done. He gave them a written letter, or
charter as it was called, in which he promised to do away
with many of William the Red's
 cruel laws, to restore the
good laws of Edward, and to lessen the power of the barons.
Later on another king gave the people a much more important
charter, but in the meantime the English were very glad to
get this one.
Besides giving them this charter, Henry pleased the English
very much by marrying the Scottish Princess Maud, or Matilda
as she was sometimes called.
Edgar the Ætheling had a sister named Margaret. She married
the Scottish King Malcolm III., and this Princess Maud was
their daughter, and the great-granddaughter of Edmund
Ironside. When Henry married her and she became Queen of
England, the English felt that the crown had come back again
to their own people, and they were very glad. But the Norman
nobles were angry about it. They thought Henry ought to have
married a Norman lady.
Although many of the nobles were angry, Henry's marriage did
a great deal of good, for other Normans followed the King's
example and married English ladies so that the hatred
between the two races began to disappear a little.
Thus it happened that when Robert and his barons came to
fight Henry, they were met by an army of English, whose
hearts were with their king and who "nowise feared the
Normans." So hopeless did Robert feel it to be, that he made
peace with his brother and went back to Normandy without
Then Henry punished the rebel barons by taking their lands
away from many of them and banishing others. The English
helped him and rejoiced at the defeat of the proud barons.
Later on Robert and Henry quarrelled again. Henry sailed over
to Normandy with an army of English
 soldiers, defeated his
brother, and took possession of Normandy. So now instead of
England belonging to Normandy, Normandy belonged to England.
When Henry had been king for about twenty years a great and
terrible grief came upon him. He and his son, Prince
William, had been in Normandy together. Just as they were ready
to return to England, a sailor came and begged Henry to
honour him by using his ship. "My father Stephen," he said,
"steered the ship in which your father sailed over to
England when he went to conquer Harold. My father was a good
sailor, and he served King William until he died. I, too, am
a sailor like my father. I have a beautiful boat called the
White Ship. It is newly rigged and freshly painted, it is
manned by fifty trusty sailors, and is in every way worthy
of a king. Honor me, as your father honoured my father, and
give me leave to steer you to England."
"I thank you, good Master FitzStephen," said Henry, "but I
have already made choice of the ship in which I intend to
sail, and I cannot change. But," he added, seeing the man
looked disappointed, "my son, Prince William, is with me and
you may steer him and his company over the channel."
Thomas FitzStephen was very glad when he heard that, and
he hurried away to tell his sailors to prepare to receive
Late in the afternoon King Henry set sail, leaving Prince
William to follow in the White Ship. But Prince William was
young and gay, and he did not feel inclined to start at
once. He stayed on shore drinking and feasting and making
merry with his friends. When at last he did go on board, he
ordered the captain to give the sailors three barrels of
good red wine with which to drink his health. So there was
still further delay. As
 was usual in those days, priests
came to bless the ship before it started, but the prince and
his gay companions laughed at them, and the sailors, whom
the wine had made merry, chased them away.
One of the King's friends, who had been left behind with the
prince, now urged the captain to start. "Oh, there is no
hurry," said FitzStephen, "my beautiful
White Ship has sails
like the wings of a bird. She skims over the water swifter
than a swallow. We can easily overtake the King and be in
England before him."
At last they started. The deck was crowded with fine ladies
and gay gentlemen. These ladies and gentlemen had many
servants, so that, together with the sailors, there were
about three hundred people on board the ship.
The sails were set, the sailors bent to the oars, and to the
sound of song and laughter the gay ship left the harbour,
skimming over the waves like a beautiful bird, as the
captain had said.
It was a clear and frosty winter's evening. The red sun had
sunk and a silver moon shone brightly. All was merriment and
laughter when, suddenly, there was an awful crash. The ship
seemed to shiver from end to end and then stand still. The
next minute it began to sink. It had struck upon a rock.
One fearful wail of agony rose from the hearts of three
hundred people, breaking the stillness of the night. Far
away over the sea Henry hear that cry. "What is it?" he
asked, straining anxious eyes through the darkness.
"Only some night bird, sire," replied the captain.
"Methought it was some soul in distress," said Henry, still
looking back over the sea, anxious he knew not why.
On the White Ship all was terrible confusion. Without losing
a moment FitzStephen thrust the prince into
 the only small
boat, and bade the sailors row off. He at least must be
saved, though all the rest should perish.
The prince, hardly knowing what had happened, allowed the
sailors to row away from the sinking vessel. But suddenly a
voice called to him, "Ah, William, William, do you leave me
It was the voice of his sister Marie.
William was careless and selfish, but he loved his sister.
He could not leave her. "Go back," he said to the sailors,
"go back, we must take my sister too."
"We dare not, sire," replied the boatmen. "We dare not, we
must go on."
"You dare not," cried the prince, "am I not the son of the
King of England? Obey me."
The prince spoke so sternly that the men turned the boat and
went back to the sinking ship.
As the boat drew near, the Princess Marie, with a cry of
joy, leaped into her brother's arm. But, alas! many others,
eager to be saved, crowded into the little boat. The sailors
tried in vain to keep them back, the little boat was
overturned and the prince was drowned.
The White Ship sank fast, until only the mast was seen above
the water. Clinging to it were two men—all that were left
of that gay company. One of these men was a noble called
Geoffrey de l'Aigle. The other was a poor butcher of Rouen,
As they clung there, a third man appeared swimming through
the waves. It was the captain, FitzStephen.
"What of the prince?" he asked.
"The prince is drowned," replied Geoffrey.
"Ah, woe is me!" cried FitzStephen, and throwing up his
arms, he sank.
Hour after hour the two men clung to the mast. They were
numbed with cold and perishing from hunger.
 Again and again, as long as they had strength, they called
aloud for help. But there was no one to hear. The bright
stars twinkled overhead and the moon shone calmly, making
paths of shining silver over the still water. But no voice
answered their cries.
All through the terrible long night the noble and the
butcher talked and tried to comfort each other. But towards
morning the noble became exhausted. "Good-bye, friend," he
whispered to Berthold, "God keep you. I can hold out no
longer." Then he slipped into the water, and Berthold was
When the wintry sun rose, Berthold, faint and benumbed, was
still clinging to the mast. He was the poorest of all those
who had sailed in the beautiful White Ship. While the others
had been dressed in silk and satin and velvet, his coat was
of sheepskin, and perhaps that helped to save him for the
rough skin kept out the cold and wet far better than a coat
of satin could have done.
It was beginning to grow light when three fishermen, passing
in their boat, caught sight of something floating in the
water. The rowed near to see what it was, and found the poor
butcher almost dead from cold and hunger.
The fishermen lifted him into their boat and took him home.
When they had warmed and fed him, and he could speak again,
he told his dreadful story.
Alas, what news to carry to England! There was mourning and
tears among the nobles when they heard it, for almost every
one among them had lost a son or a brother.
But who should tell the King? No one dared. The nobles knew
that Henry loved his son above everything on earth, so for
three days, in spite of his anxious
ques-  tions, no one dared
to tell him the truth. When alone they wept for their dear
ones, but in presence of the King they put away their tears
and tried to smile and jest as usual.
At last one of the nobles, taking his little son by the
hand, and whispering to him, "Go, tell the King," gently
pushed the child into the room where Henry was sitting.
The little boy felt frightened and shy at finding himself
alone with the stern King, although he hardly understood how
terrible a tale he had to tell. Half sobbing with excitement
and fear, he knelt before Henry and stammered out the story.
The little boy knelt before the King and stammered out the story.
As Henry listened, his hands clutched his robe, his lips
moved, but no sound came. Then suddenly he fell senseless to
the floor, and the little boy, now quite frightened, burst
into loud sobbing.
At the sound of the fall the nobles rushed into the room.
They lifted the King and placed him upon a couch. He lay
there with white face and closed eyes. When he opened his
eyes again there was a look in them that no one had seen
before; his face was lined and drawn with sorrow, and no one
ever saw him smile again.
Henry had no other son, but he had a daughter who was called
Matilda, as her mother had been. He resolved that this
daughter should be queen after he was dead.
In those days it was thought strange for a country to be
ruled by a woman, and the haughty Norman nobles hated the
thought of it. But Henry was so strong and stern that he
forced them to promise that Matilda should be queen. How
they kept that promise you shall hear.
After Prince William's death, Henry spent a great deal of
his time in Normandy. He was there when he died. It is said
that his death was caused by eating too many lampreys.
Lampreys are fish something like eels.
Henry was very fierce and stern, but he was wise, and in
those days it was necessary for a king to be stern in order
to keep the strong barons in check. He loved justice so much
that he was called the Lion of Justice. He took the side of
the English people against the Norman barons, and the
English repaid him by being true to him. We read of Henry
that, "Good he was and mickle awe was of him. No man durst
misdo with other in his day. Peace he made for man and
Peace he made and peace he loved, so that he was called the
Kneeling beside King Henry, as he lay dying, the Archbishop
of Rouen prayed, "God give him the peace he loved."
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