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Exclusive: Earl Spencer’s frozen shoulder will prevent him salvage-diving to wreck of White Ship

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 06/06/2021 Simon de Bruxelles
a map of a mountain: The White Ship foundered and sank in the English Channel near the Normandy coast off Barfleur, on November 25, 1120 - Alamy Stock Photo © Alamy Stock Photo The White Ship foundered and sank in the English Channel near the Normandy coast off Barfleur, on November 25, 1120 - Alamy Stock Photo

Earl Spencer has revealed a shoulder injury has prevented him joining divers investigating one of England’s least-known maritime disasters as a search is carried out for the White Ship.

Divers are preparing to scour the seabed outside a small French harbour for evidence of the sinking of the White Ship exactly 900 years ago.

Taking part in the expedition is Lord Charles Spencer, the best-selling historian and brother of Princess Diana, who has written a book on the disaster which changed the course of English history.

But the Earl, 57, has been disappointed in his initial attempts to join explorers on the seabed on Tuesday after doctors advised him not to dive because of a frozen shoulder

He said: “It sounds like a pretty feeble excuse but is really quite painful and unpleasant.  

“I asked my doctor ‘can I dive?’ and he said, ‘only if you want to drown.’  I decided that would be taking the authenticity of the adventure too far.”

Among the drowned was the heir to the English throne, whose death left a hole in society that would lead to more than 60 years of conflict - Iconographic Archive/Alamy Stock Photo © Provided by The Telegraph Among the drowned was the heir to the English throne, whose death left a hole in society that would lead to more than 60 years of conflict - Iconographic Archive/Alamy Stock Photo

The newly-launched Saxon-style longboat was bringing 300 members of the Anglo-Norman aristocracy back to Southampton from Barfleur in Normandy in November 1120 when it hit a rock and sank, drowning all but one of its passengers – a baker from Rouen.  

Among the dead was the heir to the English throne, the grandson of William the Conqueror, and a whole generation of young nobles and their wives, many of whom were drunk, leaving a hole in society that would lead to more than 60 years of conflict.

Although the site of the sinking in around 10m of water has been known for 900 years, it has never been fully investigated.  

The expedition, led by Roger Michel of the Oxford-based Institute for Digital Archaeology (IDA), will use magnetometers, ground penetrating radar, metal detectors and the latest surveying equipment to search for any remaining evidence.  

Mr Michel, the IDA’s executive director, said: “While the Royal Treasury was recovered from the wreck, many personal items from the White Ship’s wealthy passengers may have survived.  

“We also hope to find the boat’s iron fittings, including at least some of the 4,500 rivets that held the planks of the hull together. We know exactly where the ship sank, and so our search will be quite focused.  

"We can’t wait to see what surprises the seabed holds.”

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