What is Henry I doing in Reading?
According to archaeologists and historians Henry I – who died in 1135 – could well be buried under a school there.
Stories tell how the king – who ruled England for 35 years – died from eating too many lampreys (a jawless fish) and was then placed in a tomb in medieval Reading Abbey. When the monasteries were ransacked during the dissolution in the mid 1500s, Henry’s sarcophagus was mostly destroyed. Other more apocryphal tales tell of how his grave was pillaged and his remains scattered by workmen looking for his silver coffin. Wherever he is buried ‘If Henry is still there, then he is buried where he wants to be buried,’ says John Mullaney, one of the historians (along with Philippa Langley, head of operations for the search for Richard III) leading the team in charge of this project.
Reading Abbey was the sixth wealthiest in England by the late medieval period and a significant religious powerhouse. If Henry I is found and exhumed, his reburial might well prove to be the kind of visitor attraction that Richard III has become for Leicester Cathedral. And if he is exhumed intact – as may well be the case given that, unlike Richard III, Henry would have been buried with full honours – this would be a special project indeed.
The only downside is the lack of genealogical evidence. Verifying Henry’s remains will prove difficult: Henry’s birthdate is unconfirmed (1068 0r 1069?) and his ancestry will need to be traced 350 years further back than Richard, always a more unreliable endeavour.