The bones of Richard III are barely once again cold in the grave: but Richard III is so two o’clock this afternoon.
They’re not content with one king. Like the pilgrimage centres of old, mediaeval dead celebrities attract hordes of tourists and plentiful income. So: who are the contenders for next dug-up king of England?
I must not say, ‘I told you so’: but this very Monday there I was, blogging about Reading Abbey and the fact that Henry I – and indeed Mathilda – are said to be buried there.
Someone’s auditory ossicles must have been rattling, because now Philippa Langley, the Scottish Branch of the Richard III Society (who visited the Leicester car park long before the archaeologists found the old devil and said she had a ‘feeling’ standing over what later transpired to be his grave) is turning her attention to Reading Abbey.
English Heritage have thrown in their support and will be visiting the site of the Abbey with Ground Penetrating Radar – GPR – to track Henry down and disturb a long and peaceful repose.
Race you to watch. Last one there’s a beany pottage.
Henry – you will remember – was the fourth son of William the Conqueror and they wax lyrical about him being educated in Latin and the liberal arts. But just as with Richard, there are some serious gargoyles sandwiched between the lines. He teamed up with William Rufus against his older brother Robert: and when the victorious William was killed in a highly suspicious hunting accident involving an arrow from a friend and courtier which glanced off a tree and hit Rufus, Henry was beneficiary and took the throne.
His record with women was dodgy too: married to Mathilda, he nevertheless had a string of mistresses and fathered manymanymany illegitimate children.
Meanwhile, in Winchester King Canute, Queen Emma and a gaggle of Anglo Saxon kings have been all mixed up in a set of six ossuary boxes. They have been taken down from their longtime perches up high and are taking an inordinately long time to be examined, DNA tested, sorted and separated so each monarch gets his own box. It is all being done in the Lady Chapel of the Cathedral, now closed to visitors and veiled in skeletal mystery.
Every time I visit, I stand a little and wait. Pointless, but deferential.
And of course, there’s Alfred.
Legendarily buried at Hyde Abbey, bones said to be his were sold to St Bartholomew’s Church, Winchester, in the 19th century: but exhumation and carbon dating has scuppered hopes that they were really Alfred. They were centuries too late.
In an affectionately English piece of eccentricity, though, they claim to have found a bit of Alfred in a box in the store of Winchester Museum amongst a pile of animal bones.
The third of a human pelvis dates from 895 to 1017: and Alfred died in 899AD.
That story, incomplete as it is, is sure to run and run.
So there it is: at least three kings-bone tales to follow up, and you may be sure that if it is good for tourism they will be digging up many more.
It makes one uncommonly glad to be a commoner.