William Aetheling, son of Henry I, was sent to the French king to do homage to Normandy, which the English kings ruled as dukes, legally under the French kings, but often, in fact, free from and even above them. The homage was a success, and Aetheling prepared to return to England aboard the White Ship, his father’s newest and finest vessel, accompanied by a large number of his noble friends.
They celebrated so greatly that soon even the crew was drunk, and the ship launched at night. The ship struck a rock, and began to sink. The crew was able to launch a single skiff and pushed the prince inside, who made his way towards shore and safety, but the cries of his half-sister, shrieking not to be abandoned, compelled him to return, where he drowned. Only one person survived, a butcher who held onto the mast until morning. The prince and many noble sons and daughters were lost, and Henry I lost his only legitimate heir.