The bodies of many medieval English kings have simply disappeared – nobody knows where they are located today. You might think – surely everybody knows where King Henry I is buried? He’s the king who features in the opening part of Ken Follet’s historical novel Pillars of the Earth.
But – they don’t.
His successor King Stephen also features in that same novel but try finding his body – because you won’t succeed. Disappeared as well! Here is the interesting history of what happened to some famous royal bodies!
READ MORE: So, was Richard III evil or not?
HENRY THE FIRST was William the Conqueror’s son and became king after his older brother was killed in a rather unfortunate hunting “accident”. Being a Norman king, it’s not surprising that he died in Normandy – his domains in what’s now northern France. It’s said that he died from a “surfeit of lampreys”! His body was returned to England, embalmed and sewn into a bull’s hide – nice! He was buried in Reading Abbey but unfortunately for him, the abbey was shut down by Henry VIII four hundred years later during the Protestant Reformation and his body disappeared.
But BBC news reported in 2016 that there were attempts now being made to find his body. Will keep you updated.
His successor KING STEPHEN had a stormy reign – a period known as the Great Anarchy in England. Embroiled in a civil war and losing the throne for a while, he managed to regain the crown but died at Dover Castle of dysentery in 1154. Buried at Faversham Abbey in Kent, his body went missing when…Henry VIII shut down the abbey during the Reformation. It’s said the local people stole the jewels off his skeleton and any other valuables.
HENRY II took over after Stephen, the son of the Empress Matilda – daughter of Henry I – who had fought that nasty civil war with Stephen. He married the feisty Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the most powerful medieval queens, and she and his children rebelled against him. Not a happy family! He’s buried at Fontevraud Abbey in modern France. His empire extended from Scotland to the Pyrenees.
RICHARD THE LIONHEART – you all know about him. Brave crusading king who spent hardly any time in England and allegedly admired by the legendary Robin Hood (if Hollywood is to be believed). Like his father, he was also buried in Fontevraud Abbey.
KING JOHN – “bad king John” who signed Magna Carta, ceding power to the barons. He was forced to flee an invading French army and died of dysentery. According to one account the disease was brought on by eating peaches and wine. He was buried in England at Worcester cathedral, largely on account of having lost his ancestral lands in France.
HENRY III – he was buried in Westminster Abbey, which is appropriate as he rebuilt the original Saxon church into something much grander that we see today. His tomb used to be adorned with jewels but pilgrims and tourists hacked off bits of it over the centuries so only the uppermost part of the tomb glitters anymore.
EDWARD I followed the new example and was also buried in Westminster Abbey but this time in a very grand but austere tomb. You can still see it today. This king, you may recall, was the vanquisher of Braveheart and a stern but effective ruler.
His tomb was opened in 1774 during a rather morbid and gothic phase of grave inspecting that titillated posh society. The king was found to be ‘richly habited, adorned with ensigns of royalty, and almost entire’. At another tomb opening around that time, of a medieval knight, one of the high society people decided to taste the remains of the Middle Ages warrior. Ugh!
EDWARD II – the last king to preside over the Templars came to a grisly end. Reputedly homosexual, though one can argue that with many historians, it’s alleged that his wife and her lover had him executed with a red hot poker placed somewhere I’d rather not mention! His body was buried in an abbey that then became a place of pilgrimage, in spite of his reputation.
In fact, he was so popular in death that the abbey expanded to become Gloucester Cathedral. It’s claimed the presence of his remains stopped Henry VIII shutting the place down but as it didn’t stop him dissolving the other two abbeys I mentioned, I wonder if that’s really true.
I mentioned Pillars of the Earth above and for no other reason other than I really like the music, here are the opening credits to the TV series from 2011 based on the book – which of course was set in the Templar period!