England’s missing monarchs: Richard III may have been found but eight other rulers are still missing


Click to follow
The Independent Online

For a royalist country, England has been rather careless with its old monarchs. Richard III may have now been found after being mislaid for 500 years, but eight other rulers are still missing.

Alfred the Great (849 – 899): His remains were buried in the Old Minster, Winchester, but later moved, ending up in nearby Hyde Abbey, demolished as part of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the monasteries. All trace of his tomb and its contents was lost when a prison was built on the site in 1788. There are now plans to investigate possible royal bones on a suspected site at the city’s St Bartholomew’s Church.

Harold II (c. 1022 – 1066): Whereabouts unknown. Some argue that Harold’s true burial place was Waltham Abbey; others think Norman troops hid the body to prevent his grave becoming a shrine. An Anglo-Saxon coffin was found in 1954 in Bosham, West Sussex, but a request to exhume the tomb in 2003 was refused by the Diocese of Chichester.

William the Conqueror (c. 1028 – 1087): After his death in 1087, William’s funeral at Caen, France was interrupted by a citizen with legal grievances. The king’s body then burst as it was forced into a coffin that was too small. After being disturbed intermittently, the tomb was plundered during the French Wars of Religion in 1562. The only part of his body left was his thigh bone which was reburied but later destroyed in the French Revolution.

Edgar the Outlaw (c. 1051 – c. 1126): Son of Edward the Exile, Edgar was proclaimed, but never crowned, king. Both the date of his death and burial place are unknown. Edgar is thought to be the last male descendant of Alfred the Great.

Henry I (c. 1068/69 – 1135): Henry was buried in Reading Abbey but this was destroyed in the Dissolution. No trace of his tomb remains.

Stephen (c. 1092/6 – 1154): Stephen was buried with his wife and son in Faversham monastery, Kent. Their remains are thought to have been transferred to the nearby church of St Mary of Charity after the monastery dissolved and pulled down, but no-one knows if Stephen’s body was part of the reburied material.

Edward V (1470 – 1483?): The older of the two princes in the Tower, rumour has it that Edward was murdered on the orders of his uncle Richard III so he could gain the crown. Two bodies have been found in the tower, but it has never been confirmed that they belong to the two brothers.

James II (1633 – 1701): Exiled in France, James wanted to be buried at Westminster Abbey. Instead, various body parts were dispersed around France; his brain, heart and intestines were dissected, and his remaining body lost during the French Revolution. All that survives is a fragment of his bowel. 

And it seems that we’ve lost half of our royal protectors too. The head of Oliver Cromwell, (1599 –1658), was impaled on a pole outside Westminster for years before it was passed around, sold and eventually buried in his old Cambridge College, Sidney Sussex. His headless remains may have been dumped in Tyburn, Middlesex, but some say that the body was hidden to prevent it becoming a place of republican pilgrimage.