|William Aetheling (1103-1120)|
But it was another element that claimed the prince. Married for just a year (to Matilda of Anjou) and already Duke of Normandy, William seemed to have the world at his feet. He boarded The White Ship at Barfleur, supposed to follow his father's vessel across the channel. But like many a seventeen-year-old he saw no harm in a little drink or two first; he would easily overtake the king's ship in the calm waters.
One or two drinks turned into a full-blown binge,not just for the young prince and his courtiers but also - disastrously - for the captain and crew. When the ship did finally set sail, it hit a rock in the harbour and went down with a massive hole in its side. William and some friends made it into a life-boat but the Aetheling turned back to rescue his illegitimate half-sister (a Matilda, like William's mother and wife). The life-boat was then swamped by survivors scrambling to board it and it too sank. There was only one survivor of this shipwreck - a butcher, who had never intended to go to sea.
You might say that nothing in William's life became him like the leaving of it. A whole courtful of golden boys and girls went down with The White Ship and Henry l was left without a male heir. The widowed king re-married quickly but had no more sons and THAT was was led to the whole Stephen versus Matilda battle for the English throne, Matilda having been Henry's daughter and not deemed worthy to reign as a mere woman. (Matilda was clearly the equivalent of Amelia in the twelfth century).
|Henry the Young King (1156-1183)|
Young Henry had wide blue eyes and red-gold hair; he was crowned at the age of fourteen, married to Margaret of France at sixteen (and crowned again just to make sure) but by eleven years later he was in conflict with his father and younger brother Richard and caught dysentery campaigning against them. He died at twenty-seven.
|The Black Prince (1330-1376)|
|Arthur, Prince of Wales (1486-1502)|
Here's another golden boy whose early death gives us one of the biggest "what if"s of counter-factual historical fiction. Arthur was the oldest son of Henry Vll and should have been the second Tudor king. He was married to Katherine of Aragon in 1501, at the age of fifteen, after a two year betrothal. Whether that marriage was consummated or not became, more than twenty-five years later, the subject of much speculation and inquiry as Henry Vlll, Arthur's younger brother, sought to disentangle himself from having married his brother's widow. Arthur died of "the sweating sickness" or perhaps TB within months of his wedding, and the rest is history - some of the most popular aspects of it.
|Henry Stuart (1594-1612)|
Henry Stuart was another handsome young prince who died tragically young. He was the older son of James l of England and Vl of Scotland and Anne of Denmark. He was another athletic and popular Prince of Wales, much more popular than his father in fact. But he died, probably of typhoid fever, after swimming in the Thames, aged only eighteen.
|Frederick Louis (1707-51)|
This is a rather neglected "lost prince," the eldest son of George ll and Caroline of Brunswick. He too is denied "boy" status but he did die before is father, of an abscess on the lung. Fortunately, Frederick had married and had a son, who became George lll.
|Edward Vlll (1894-1972), later Duke of Windsor|
And so to the 20th century, where another golden boy, who did reign as king for most of 1936 but was never crowned, found a new way to disappoint all the expectations loaded on him. Fortunately, there were several "spares" and his younger brother became George Vl, the father of the present Queen.
Don't you think all these lost princes would make a good book? Are you listening, Dan Jones? It's only seven in eight hundred years, unless I've missed someone out, but the consequences each time one was lost were enormous for English history.