We understand that there are developments with Henry I on the site of Reading Abbey. What can you tell us?
As its name suggests, the Hidden Abbey Project is a research initiative to uncover the hidden story of Reading Abbey. The project began with a Ground Penetrating Radar survey of the Abbey Church site (completed in June 2016), to be followed by archaeological investigation. If the location of the burial place of Henry I is located during this time the aim is to place a memorial above ground so that Henry is no longer England’s forgotten king. A nineteenth century tradition from an archaeological paper records how the king’s grave was desecrated in 1550 during the reign of Edward VI (1547-1553) and latter stages of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. At this time, the Norman king’s burial was apparently looted for its purported silver lined coffin. Whether this event took place is, of course, unknown. As a result, it forms one of the project’s many research questions. If the king’s grave is discovered to have been desecrated and his remains scattered it is hoped Henry may be afforded an honourable reburial in nearby St James Church. It is also hoped that any other remains discovered in a similar manner might receive the same.
There are a number of reasons why St James Church has been proposed by HAP for any potential reburial (if the king’s grave is found to be desecrated, as above). Firstly, it’s important to remember that Henry chose to be buried in this location and built the abbey as his mausoleum. St James is only a few feet from the car park and abbey church site (please see image above), and if it is decided that the Norman king should receive some form of tomb monument there is space for this within St James. St James Church is also of the king’s faith.
Westminster Abbey has also been proposed and is, of course, where so many of our monarchs are buried. However, we know from consultation with the previous dean for the Looking For Richard Project that the abbey is full and Henry would be unable to receive a tomb monument if reburied here. He would, however, be able to receive a brass plaque somewhere in the floor. Perhaps, therefore, taking on board all the above, the king’s own wishes for his burial location should be uppermost in our minds in this regard.
Is Earl Spencer directly involved in this quest?
The Times newspaper has revealed that Earl Spencer, brother of Princes Diana, ‘hopes that crowdfunding can finance excavations to recover the remains’ of King Henry I in Reading. The earl is publishing a new book on the king. The newspaper reported: ‘A distant relative of Henry I, Charles Spencer, the 9th Earl of Spencer, has started a campaign to exhume his remains in Reading to give them a “dignified reburial” in a church.’ The report also confirmed that the Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth, which owns the nursery school land said ‘it would be open to proposals’ for archaeological excavation ‘but believed that the remains [of the king] were outside its boundary.’ The car park is directly adjacent to the nursery school site. Historic England, who oversee the abbey site as a Scheduled Monument, has also confirmed that ‘it would be happy to enter discussions’ for archaeological investigations.
Earl Spencer is actually a direct descendant of Henry I, via Charles II
Have you any news with regards to the “Princes” supposed remains in Westminster Abbey?
There are several developments on this front but they aren’t yet crystallised.