Move aside Dermot! Run away Ant and Dec! Dead kings are the new TV must-have. In just under two years, Channel 4 has signed up Richard III, and BBC2 has snapped up Alfred the Great. Boudicca is supposed to be under a McDonalds in Birmingham, so there is still time for ITV to get in on the action (yes, I know she wasn’t a king). And there are the questionable remains of the Princes in the Tower at Westminster Abbey for Channel 5 (or should that be the other way around?). Anyway, on to the real story…
In March 2013, following the high profile announcement of the discovery of Richard III’s remains in Leicester, Hyde900 was granted permission to see if remains inside an unmarked grave in the grounds of St Bartholomew’s Church in Winchester were those of King Alfred the Great. The remains at the site of Hyde Abbey were exhumed, it is claimed, amid concerns about theft or vandalism.
King Alfred died in his fifties in 899AD and was first interred at the Old Minster cathedral in Winchester, but his bones were later moved by monks to New Minster, and then Hyde Abbey. He is considered to be one of the most important monarchs in our history.
Today a press conference was held in Winchester by Hyde900. They announced that radiocarbon dating had revealed that the remains, dated from about 1100 to 1500 AD, hundreds of years after King Alfred’s reign. They explained that the bones belonged to a minimum of six individuals and included five human skulls. It was disappointing, but not the end of the story.
Undeterred, the team examined an adult male pelvis that had been discovered during a 1995-99 community excavation on the site of Hyde Abbey. The pelvis had been discovered at the Abbey’s ‘High Alter’ and was radio carbon dated to 895-1017AD, and found to belong to a man aged between 26-45.
Could it belong to King Alfred? Maybe.
Without DNA analysis no one can be certain, but it certainly looks as though it belongs to either Alfred or his son Edward. Dr Katie Tucker said: “Given the age of death of the individual, and the probable male identity, the plausible candidates are King Alfred, King Edward the Elder, or the brother of King Edward, Ethelweard. All were buried in the abbey. However, historical evidence indicates that only the coffins of Alfred and Edward were at the site of the High Altar. The discovery of the bone in a pit dug into the graves in front of the High Altar makes it far more likely that it comes from either Alfred or Edward.”
Naturally, the investigation is to be the subject of a documentary, The Search for Alfred the Great, due to air on BBC Two at 9pm on 21st January. If you cannot wait for this, the fantastic Michael Wood BBC4 series on King Alfred and the Anglo Saxons seems to be on youtube right now.