England's Lost Kings and Queens

With the finding of Richard III's lost tomb at Greyfriars in Leicester in 2013, I wondered if there were other English monarchs whose burial sites have been lost to history. Here are seven kings and queens of England whose final resting place today is in doubt... 

Henry I
Henry I was buried at Reading Abbey in 1136, the religious building that he founded in 1121. The problem is, Henry VIII ordered the closure of Reading Abbey in 1538 as part of the Dissolution and parts of the stone walls were used to build other structures in the town (like repairs and rebuilding at Reading Minster). The final end for the abbey came during the English Civil War, when the town was besieged by soldiers and cannon-fire, and the walls of the abbey were irreparably damaged. The likelihood is that any traces of decoration or grave goods that had been disturbed in the disruption were taken by looters. No one knows exactly where Henry I's royal tomb is, although records suggest he was buried at the High Altar, which today might lay somewhere under the Victorian-built Reading Gaol.

Henry I - Matthew Paris, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Queen Adeliza of Louvain
Adeliza was Henry I's wife, and some historians think that she was buried at Reading Abbey alongside her husband. She died in 1151 and any trace of her tomb at Reading has been lost to time, for the same reasons as Henry's, above. As the abbey is now a ruin there is no trace of any surviving tombs or graves on the site. There's also a possibility that Adeliza is actually not buried in Reading at all, but in Belgium. 

King Stephen 
Stephen declared himself king on Henry I's death, and raced to the English throne before Henry's daughter Matilda could reach it herself. Civil war ensued, often called The Anarchy. On his death in 1154, Stephen was buried at Faversham Abbey. As with Reading, the abbey was dissolved under Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538. Traces of Stephen's tomb have been lost, although it's thought that he may now lie under a school playing field. 

Silvester Harding, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Edward V
One of the ill-fated 'Princes in the Tower', Edward was never crowned Edward V but technically succeeded his father Edward IV at his death in 1483. That was until his uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester took the throne after the princes were declared illegitimate. It's still a mystery what happened to the princes - some say that they were murdered on Richard's orders, others blame other culprits and still others say that at least one of them escaped and lived in anonymity for the rest of his life. Legend is that the princes were hastily buried under some steps at the Tower of London. While two skeletons were found during seventeenth-century demolition work at the Tower, and reburied with great solemnity as the discovered princes by Charles II in 1674, we still cannot be certain if these are definitely the two sons of Edward IV.  

L-R: Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Jane Grey: from British Library Digital Collection, Public Domain

Lady Jane Grey, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard
Three queens lost their heads in the political and religious turmoil of the sixteenth century. The first, Anne Boleyn in 1536. Whether it was that Henry VIII was just after a new wife or whether she actually was guilty of treason (most historians think she wasn't), Anne was executed by the swift blow of a French swordsman on 19th May 1536. 

Her cousin, Catherine Howard, suffered a similar fate on 13th February 1542. She became Henry VIII's fifth wife, and when an incriminating letter surfaced from Catherine to Thomas Culpeper, Henry became convinced that Catherine had taken him as a lover behind his back, and therefore was guilty of treason. Catherine was very young - potentially a teenager - when she was executed. 

Finally, when Edward VI died, he changed his will and altered the line of succession that had been set in motion by Henry VIII. Edward's sister Mary was excluded from the throne, and the teenage Lady Jane Grey would become queen instead. This caused all sorts of strife. Jane was notified that she was now queen on Edward's death but she was never crowned. Mary Tudor, Edward's sister, won public support and secured the throne for herself. Mary later had Jane executed, on 12 February, 1554. She was seventeen years old. 

All these queens were buried in the chapel of St Peter Ad Vincula at the Tower of London. There was little ceremony in burying them at the time as they were thought to have been traitors to the crown, however unfair we think their deaths are today. Although plaques exist as a memorial to these women, the exact location of their remains is still unknown. Repair work carried out in the chapel in the nineteenth century involved lifting the floor and it was thought that Anne Boleyn's skeleton was found, but we have no way of really knowing that this was her. Catherine Howard and Jane Grey's remains were not found at all. We can be almost certain that they are all buried here at St Peter Ad Vincula, but as to the exact spot for each of them, we can't be sure. 

Will we ever track down the resting places of these lost monarchs of England and their consorts? Are there any I've missed? Have you visited any of these places yourself? Let me know in the comments below! 


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