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Archaeologists begin hunt for remains of Henry I

Surveyors have begun scouring the land around the ruins of Reading Abbey, as part of a search that could unearth the missing remains of King Henry I.

Archaeologists begin hunt for remains of Henry I
The radar is being used on land near Reading Abbey to generate computer images of what lies underground 
[Credit: John Mullaney]
Investigators began using ground-penetrating radar on Friday, in a bid to outline the extent of the grounds of the ruined abbey, in a search that could see the body of a second English king discovered beneath a car park.

Henry, who died in 1135, reportedly from a “surfeit of lampreys”, is thought to have been buried alongside his second wife, Adeliza, under the high altar of the abbey, which was largely destroyed during Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries.

Archaeologists hope to use the search – the first comprehensive examination of the land surrounding the 900-year-old abbey for 150 years – to discover the location of Henry’s remains, which could fall beneath a school car park.

John Mullaney, of the Hidden Abbey Project, said: "We are hoping to find out the real footprint of the abbey. It was one of the largest in the country.

“Unlike Richard III, we know within a few yards where it is likely that Henry was buried. What we don’t know is whether he is still there. There has been so much development in the area over the years that his bones could be scattered everywhere. But there’s a chance he’s still there.”

Archaeologists begin hunt for remains of Henry I
Early 14th-century depiction of Henry [Credit: British Library manuscripts blog]
The search comes four years after the bones of Richard III were discovered under a car park in Leicester.

Philippa Langley, who led the search for Richard III’s remains, wrote in BBC History Magazine last year: “What’s really exciting is that we know that Henry was buried in front of the high altar, with members of his family buried in specific locations around him. The thinking in Reading, using current estimates of the size of the abbey, is that this burial spot is located beneath a school.

“If the abbey is larger, it could be situated underneath either what is today a playground or a car park. That option is considered less likely, but if Henry’s tomb is beneath the car park, that will be very interesting.”

Reading Abbey closed to the public in 2009, over fears that its walls were unstable. It is expected to reopen in 2018.

Henry I reigned between 1100 and 1135, and was the youngest of the four sons of William the Conqueror.

Archaeologists begin hunt for remains of Henry I
The ruins at Reading Abbey are expected to re-open to the public in 2018 
[Credit: Reading Museum]
He has been considered by some as a usurper, because he was crowned while his elder brother, Robert, whose claim to the throne was seen as more legitimate, was away fighting in the Crusades.

While Henry helped to stabilise the nation, including by normalising England’s relationship with Scotland by marrying Mathilda, the daughter of King Malcolm III, he had a darker side.

In 1119 he is said to have allowed the mutilation of two of his illegitimate granddaughters, who had their noses cut off and were blinded, in retaliation for a similar attack on a boy being held hostage by one of his enemies.

Henry died in Normandy, in 1135, with his body being transported back to Reading, sewn inside a bull’s skin. He was buried in 1136, but there is no definitive record of the fate of his remains.

Source: The Telegraph [June 13, 2016]

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