After the White Ship disaster, which claimed the lives of all on board (except one), including William Adeline, the heir to the English throne, England was plunged into a civil war known as the Anarchy.

I have read a great deal about the disaster, but I have yet to come across any information about whether any part of the ship, or any artifacts from the passengers, were ever found and have survived.

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    Welcome to History:SE. How would we recognise any artefacts as belonging to that particular vessel if they were found? Mar 16, 2019 at 2:48

1 Answer 1


According to the chronicler Orderic Vitalis (1075 – c. 1142), most of the royal treasure was recovered:

The dwellers on the coast, as soon as they ascertained that the reports of the disaster was well founded, dragged to the shore the wreck of the ship, with the whole of the royal treasure; and almost all that was in the vessel, the crew and passengers excepted, was recovered.

(my emphasis)

However, without any details on what the specific items in that treasure, it is impossible to know if any pieces survive to this day. As for the wreck itself, some of the timber may have been reused or simply used for firewood - we simply don't know.

It seems very few bodies were recovered, though, and William's was not among the few that were. Orderic Vitalis again:

Active men were diligently employed on the seventh of the calends of December [25th November], while the faithful were celebrating the feast of St. Catherine, virgin and martyr, in searching along the coast for the bodies of those who were drowned, but finding none, they lost their expected rewards. Rich lords caused diligent inquiries to be made in all quarters for good swimmers and experienced divers, and offered them large sums for any bodies of their deceased friends which could be recovered, in order that they might be buried with due honour.

Orderic Vitalis was one of the more reliable chroniclers of the middle ages and there is little reason to doubt his account. Another chronicler, William Malmesbury, gives a similar - if slightly more colourful - account:

The calamity was augmented by the difficulty of finding the bodies, which could not be discovered by the various persons who sought them along the shore; but delicate as they were, they became food for the monsters of the deep.

The search for bodies would have been motivated by the desire to give them a proper burial than to retrieve any valuables they might have had on them.

Even if some the wreck was not dragged ashore, it's unlikely that any of it has survived:

The strong currents and tides in the area may well have washed away much of the rest [of the wreck]...while shipworms and other aquatic organisms would have reduced the wooden parts of the ship unless it was quickly covered in preserving silt.

The above source also states that

there is no record of anyone having mounted a search or exploratory dive

and nor have I found any evidence for any search or dives.

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    Ship's timbers were frequently used in building houses and, being ready-shaped and seasoned (if a little wet) were unlikely to sit around for long unused. Mar 18, 2019 at 8:38

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