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A shipwreck is the loss or destruction of a ship at sea, with the implication that it is by natural causes and not by deliberate action. Shipwreck can also refer to the debris and remains of a wreck after the event.

The actual details of a shipwreck vary considerably, some being sunk in open sea or others driven against a rocky coastline, for example. Generally, shipwrecks are associated with great loss of life.

In period, sailing was a chancy business at best and shipwrecks often occurred. Some of these were of great significance at the time, particularly the loss of the White Ship, which in 1120 sank off the coast of Normandy, drowning William Adelin, only son and heir of Henry I and his retinue, which according to William of Malmesbury included the flower of the young nobility of England and Normandy:

"Here also perished with William, Richard, another of the King's [Henry I] sons, whom a woman without rank had borne him, before his accession, a brave youth, and dear to his father from his obedience; Richard d'Avranches, second Earl of Chester, and his brother Otheur; Geoffrey Ridel; Walter of Everci; Geoffrey, archdeacon of Hereford; [Matilda] the Countess of Perche, the king's daughter; the Countess of Chester; the king's niece Lucia-Mahaut of Blois; and many others..."

Shipwrecks in Archaeology

Despite the disastrous nature of a shipwreck, certain wrecks are very important from an archaeological standpoint. Under the right conditions shipwrecks can be an invaluable source of well-preserved artifacts, representing a literal snapshot of a particular day in a particular time. Such significant wrecks include Henry V's flagship the Grace Dieu, which sank in the River Hamble in 1439, and the Mary Rose, sunk in the Solent in 1545 during a battle with a French fleet.