Monday, November 25, 2019

The Sinking of the White Ship

The Sinking of the White Ship

            Pillars of the Earth is in my view an excellent book both for its description of events “from the ground level” of the period of English history known as the Anarchy as well as its treatment of medieval as people just like those of the modern era who are just trying as best they can to make it through each day.

            The fulcrum of the macro-political events described in the book is The Anarchy, the contest between the Empress Matilda, daughter of King Henry I (and former spouse of the Holy Roman Emperor, hence her title “Empress”), and Stephen of Blois, Henry’s nephew (just to keep things confusing Stephen’s wife was named Matilda) for the English throne after Henry’s death.  The expected heir to Henry I was his son William, the only legitimate male child to have survived to adulthood.  William, however, drowned on this day in 1120 in the sinking of the White Ship, thereby affording Follett the pivot around which to write Pillars of the Earth.

            The Anarchy, wich lasted some 18 years, was resolved by Stephen holding the throne for life and appointing Matilda’s son Henry his heir.  That Henry would be Henry II, one of England’s great kings.

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