Reading – Reading Abbey (Burial Place of King Henry I)

Monarchs have had a variety of outcomes with their burial surroundings, as many found themselves buried in buildings that were torn down following the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Several are buried in France, such as William I, and some such as William II were fortunate that their burial location in Winchester Cathedral has been left relatively intact. Richard III ended up under a car park before his recent move to Leicester Cathedral and some such as Richard II got lucky and are at Westminster Abbey.

King Henry I, the son of King William I, died in France and was brought back to Reading Abbey, which he himself had funded. He died on 2 December 1135 and it’s said that this was because he ate too many lampreys, which isn’t an ideal way to go. His body took some time to be brought back to Reading, but the grand funeral took place on 3 January 1136. The great and the good turned up for this, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Winchester and the Bishop of Salisbury to name just a few. And he would have remained buried here with some grandeur if it wasn’t for the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the ultimate destruction of the abbey buildings.

And there’s no happy story here about finding King Henry’s remains in a car park, although that’s actually potentially where he is. His burial site is now used by a school and there is a car park, so stranger things have happened. People have looked for his grave, but it’s likely long gone, probably shattered soon after the Dissolution from pesky locals wanting to have a peer into what remained. There’s a stone plaque here now which is dated 1921, although was heavily restored recently so it looks modern. During the recent restoration work the archaeologists did think they might have found the former Monarch’s grave, but it transpired to be a religious burial that was from a later period. There’s a chance that King Henry is under the Victorian school, but it feels excessive to take the school down to have a quick look, although I suspect some historians would think it was a sacrifice worth making.

If King Henry could look down on the current arrangements, I think he’d be annoyed. He financed one of the grandest abbeys going, bigger than some cathedrals today. His grave would have been pride of place if the building had survived, something of a tourist attraction and it would have likely been given a lovely big slab of some expensive marble to put him under. But, history went another way, and his remains are lost, but at least not forgotten. But I don’t think that he’d think that the situation is ideal.