Discovered: bones of King Alfred the Great

The bones of King Alfred the Great have been found inside a box at Winchester Museum.

Hyde Abbey Gate, Winchester © Wiki

Although a high-profile excavation in a graveyard on the site of the former Hyde Abbey, Winchester, took place in 1999, no bones were found that could definitely be attributed to the Anglo-Saxon king and findings were shelved – in a box in the basement of Winchester Museum.

However, now experts believe that a fragment of the bones are part of Alfred’s hips (or those of his son, Edward the Elder).

The examination of the bones is being led by Dr Katie Tucker and the entire story will feature in a BBC documentary The Search For Alfred The Great – which airs at 9pm tomorrow (21 January) and is presented by archaeologist Neil Oliver.

The documentary follows initial investigations of an unmarked grave that was rumoured to contain the remains of King Alfred. However, when these bones were found not to be of the right age, a new piece of archaeological evidence came to light and the search was reignited from evidence stored at Winchester Museum.

© BBC Pictures

Historians have always been somewhat obsessed with finding Alfred’s remains because they are known to have been moved at least once since his initial burial place at New Minster in Winchester, which was demolished in the early 12th century. The bodies of Alfred and his successors were moved to Hyde Abbey, but the building was demolished during Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. In 1788, a prison was built on the site with convicts working on the construction. They dug up graves in order to loot jewellery from within coffins and smashed up bones, spreading them around the site, so to find part of Alfred the Great’s bones is a real coup.

Alfred is the only English king to earn the epithet ‘the Great’, which he was honoured with thanks to his rule of Wessex between 871 to 899. He fought off Viking invaders and was a clever, cunning ruler. He also established our justice system.

Despite all of this, Alfred the Great is perhaps most renowned for his poor culinary skills: legend has it that this monarch was once so down on his luck during the Anglo-Saxon resistance to the Danes that he travelled around relying on the goodwill of peasants to feed and shelter him. In one of his lodgings he was asked to keep an eye on a peasant’s cakes, which she had only just begun baking. But vigilant he was not and the peasant returned to find her cakes charred, earning Alfred a scolding for his laziness.

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