This Quest is to visit the resting places of England's monarchs, including the 12 UK monarchs that followed the Act of Union. There are 65, give or take a few that are in dispute. This includes five Saxon monarchs - Alfred the Great (d. 899), his brothers Æthelbald (d. 860), Æthelbert (d. 866) and Æthelred I (d. 871), and his son Edward the Elder (d. 924) - that claimed to be Kings of England. Well, to be accurate, they thought of themselves as kings of 'Englaland', which became England. It was considerably smaller than the England we know today, but we think they are valid enough for the purposes of this Quest. We intend to address the Scottish monarchs - and our relation to them - in a separate Quest.
Excluding the monarchs whose remains are lost or buried abroad, there are 11 royal resting places, all in England. Your reward for visiting them is the title Royal Resting Place Master Explorer.
Two Saxon kings of England, Eadred (d. 955) and Eadwig (d. 959), are interred at Winchester Cathedral. Norse kings Cnut the Great (d. 1035) and Harthacnut (d. 1042) are interred there too, along with Norman king William Rufus (d. 1100). Their mortuary chests were smashed by Parliamentarians during the Civil War, scattering their bones and mixing them with those of four Wessex kings - Cygnelis (d. 643), Cenwalh (d. 672), Egbert of Wessex (d. 839) and Æthelwulf (d. 855). The bones were randomly dumped into six mortuary chests. They are on display in the cathedral.
No one knew which bones belonged to which Kings. Until now, perhaps. Winchester Cathedral has just opened an £11million exhibition named 'Kings and Scribes, The Birth of a Nation', which promises to identify some of the bones. Unfortunately, Red Funnel tried to poison us on our way to the exhibition, so we have not yet seen the results. Hopefully soon.
While you are visiting Winchester Cathedral's royal tombs, don't miss the wonderful Burne-Jones windows in the Epiphany Chapel, the Winchester Bible, the optical illusion Knowles Cross, the Flooded Crypt, the St Swithin Shrine, the Chantry Chapels (especially the fabulous Beaufort Chantry) or the Willis Organ.
Sixteen monarchs are interred in Westminster Abbey, starting with Edward the Confessor (d.1066), who commissioned the building. The others are: Henry III (d. 1272), Edward I (d. 1307), Edward III (d. 1377), Richard II (d. 1400), Henry V (d. 1422), Edward V, (d. 1483), Henry VII (d. 1509, above), Edward VI (d. 1553), Mary I (d. 1559), Elizabeth I (d. 1603), James VI/I (d. 1625), Charles II (d. 1685), Mary II (d. 1694), William III/II (d. 1702) and Anne (d. 1714).
Westminster Abbey is linked with more British history than anywhere else in the country. Every monarch since William the Conqueror has been crowned there. Many were married there. The Chapter House and Henry VII Chapel are worth the trip on their own. The Coronation Chair, Cosmeti Pavement, misericords and Retable altarpiece should not be missed. It is fun to seek out the graves of Newton, Darwin, Dickens, J J Thomson, etc. It is almost as much fun to Google the lesser known great and good - of which there are over 3,000 - that seem to be buried in every nook and cranny. In the Marmite argument over Westminster Abbey's building, we fall on the 'loath it' side. It feels pokey, claustrophobic, cluttered, tasteless and foreign to us. Still, the point of this Quest is to visit the resting places of English/British monarchs and Westminster Abbey has more than anywhere.
St George's Chapel, Windsor
Ten kings of England or the United Kingdom are interred in St George's Chapel, Windsor. They are: Henry VI (d. 1471), Edward IV (d. 1483), Henry VIII (d. 1547), Charles I (d. 1649), George III (d. 1820), George IV (d. 1830), William IV (d. 1837), Edward VII (d. 1910), George V (d. 1936) and George VI (d. 1952).
St George's Chapel is to the Hanoverians what Westminster Abbey is to the Plantagenets and Stuarts. We prefer St George's Chapel. It is on a smaller scale, but it is beautiful - perhaps the most beautiful late-medieval building in Britain - spacious and sumptuous. The vaulting and stone carving are as good as anywhere in Britain. Don't miss the frieze of angels, the line of grotesques, the Queen's Beasts, the organ, and anything to do with the Order of the Garter.
King Æthelbald (d. 860) and his brother Æthelbert (d. 866) are (allegedly) interred in Sherborne Abbey. Their father Æthelwulf divided his kingdom between them. When Æthelbald died, his brother re-united Wessex to reign over the whole of southern England. He was really the first recognised King of England.
While visiting Sherborne Abbey, look out for its world famous fan-vaulted ceiling and superb late-medieval architecture. It is worth going for these alone, which is just as well because it holds no other special features that we know of.
When Æthelbert died, he was succeeded by his younger brother Æthelred (d. 871). Æthelred is interred at Wimborne Minster. Although there is a bronze and plaque, Æthelred's body is not underneath. Legend suggests that he was buried somewhere near the altar, but his bones have never been found.
Wimborne Minster is a bit of a poor relation to most of the other royal resting places, but we like it. Don't miss the unusual lizard-skin masonry, the chained library, one of only four in the world, and its wonderful 14th century astronomical clock.
Edmund I (d. 946), Edgar (d. 975) and Edmund Ironside (d. 1016) were interred at Glastonbury Abbey. According to some (unreliable) sources, they were buried around King Arthur and Guinevere. The Abbey's masonry was gradually plundered over the 200 years following dissolution of the monasteries, leaving it as a ruin. The alleged site of Arthur's grave, which may or may not be surrounded by the three kings, is marked in the grounds.
Glastonbury Abbey is in ruins but it holds an extraordinary promise. It is said to have been founded by Joseph of Arimathea or by 'one of Christ's disciples', which might mean the same. It also has links to the Holy Grail and to King Arthur. We are sceptical about both the latter, but the former is plausible. We intend to write a blog about it when we get a chance. For those that are sceptical about legends, the ruins are not terribly interesting. The Abbot's Kitchen nearby is a better bet.
Æthelstan (d. 939) was a patron of Malmesbury Abbey, supplying books and relics to help generate pilgrim income. He stipulated that on his death he should be buried at Malmesbury Abbey, rather than Winchester like his Wessex predecessors, because he believed that opposition to his rule was being orchestrated from Winchester. His bones were lost during the Reformation, although there is no reason to believe they were moved. The tomb now on display in Malmesbury Abbey (above) is empty.
Malmesbury Abbey is one of the oldest and most important religious sites in the country. It is not in great condition, but the carving on the 12th century door is still among the finest in Britain. The abbey is famous for being home and school to William of Malmesbury, one of Britain's greatest historians, whose works we retranslated during our Battle of Hastings investigations.
St Clement Danes
Harold Harefoot (d. 1040) was buried at the site now occupied by St Clement Danes. The current building was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in the 17th century. Harefoot's bones were not found. The interior is lovely and ornate but not old. The church was gutted during WWII and completely refurbished inside. It is now the RAF Church with many RAF memorials.
Richard III (d. 1485) died at the Battle of Bosworth Field. He was buried nearby in Greyfriars Church, Leicester. That church got subsumed by 500 years of development. His body was eventually dug up from a car park in September 2012. It was decided, after much debate, that he should be interred at Leicester Cathedral.
Leicester Cathedral is an ancient building, mostly built while William the Conqueror was still alive. But it was just a parish church before being promoted to cathedral status in 1927. As such, it lacks the trappings of age. It has no saintly relics, no famous chantries, no famous memorials, no medieval glass, and so on. As far as we know, it has no interesting history. It is therefore just as well for its visitor numbers that it won the battle for Richard's bones. Its other notable features are the Tom Denny windows in St Katherine's Chapel, Christopher Whall's 1920 East Window and some nice sculptures on the Vaughan Porch. It is pretty lightweight by English cathedral standards.
Edward II (d. 1327) died, probably murdered, at Berkeley Castle, Gloucester. His body was embalmed and transferred to Gloucester Cathedral, where his funeral took place several months later. He rests in a canopied shrine.
Gloucester is a lovely cathedral. It has the first fan-vaulting in the country. Robert Curthose, oldest son of William the Conqueror, is also buried in the cathedral, although no one knows quite where. Gloucester's most famous attraction is its magnificent 14th century east window, which was the biggest in the world at the time it was installed. In our eyes, the Tom Denny windows in the Gurny Chapel are better still. The cloisters are the filming location of the "Enemies of the heir, beware" message in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It has also appeared in Sherlock and Wolf Hall.
John (d. 1216) died of dysentery at Newark Castle. His body was taken to Worcester. He was eventually interred in Worcester Cathedral.
Worcester Cathedral has a warm welcoming nave, thanks to its painted ceiling. It has Prince Arthur's Chantry, the first circular Chapter House, a Norman crypt and lots of treasures. The recently restored Hardman window in the Lady Chapel featured in the 1862 Paris Exhibition. The Elgar window commemorates the cathedral's long association with Edward Elgar, who lived nearby. Elgar's Enigma Variations was first performed in the cathedral. There is a nice Christopher Whall war memorial window of angels and the very tasteful etched Millennium Window. The library has the only surviving Antiphoner and 55 rare incunabula. The nave clock has a very rare, in Britain at least, art nouveau face.
Victoria (d. 1901) is interred in a mausoleum (above) with her husband. Edward VIII, Wallis Simpson and some 20 non-sovereign royals are in the Royal Burial Grounds immediately outside the mausoleum.
Frogmore might be the trickiest place royal resting place to visit. It is only open six days a year. Victoria's mausoleum, the Royal Burial Ground and the Duchess of Kent's mausoleum can be viewed from the periphery on the days that Frogmore is open. The gardens are nice and Frogmore House, location of Harry and Meghan's wedding party, is also open.