On this day in history : 26th October 899 – The death of Anglo-Saxon King, Alfred the Great….the only English monarch to be known as ‘the Great’….
Alfred has been revered in history not only for his military successes and eventual peace-making with the Vikings but also for his educational and social reforms….
The cause of his death (at the approximate age of 50 years) is unknown – but he had suffered an illness all his life…. He was buried at the Old Minster – an Anglo Saxon cathedral in Winchester…. This was a temporary burial – as 4 years later he was moved to the New Minster, a Benedictine Abbey, possibly built for the purpose of taking his body….
In 1110 the monks of the New Minster were relocated to Hyde Abbey, situated just outside the walls of Winchester City…. They took with them Alfred’s remains and those of his wife and children…. During the reign of King Henry VIII Hyde Abbey was dissolved and demolished….
It was in 1788 that a prison was built on the site…. Upon finding coffins, whilst digging around the altar area, the lead was stripped from them and the bones within were scattered and lost…. The prison was demolished some time between 1846 and 1850….
In 1866 John Mellor, an amateur antiquarian recovered a number of bones from the site, claiming them to belong to Alfred the Great…. They came into the possession of the vicar of a local church, St. Bartholomew’s…. The vicar reburied the remains in an unmarked grave within the churchyard….
The Winchester Museums. Service excavated the Hyde Abbey site in 1999 and discovered a pit in front of where the high altar would have been and concluded this was probably Mellor’s excavation…. The Museum Service found the foundations of the original abbey buildings….and some bones…. But they turned out to be those of an elderly woman….
In March 2013 the Diocese of Winchester exhumed the bones from the unmarked grave at St. Bartholomew’s – because of the huge publicity surrounding the discovery of King Richard III’s remains they were concerned for their safety…. The bones were put into storage for future analysis….
The Diocese later gave permission to a local group, Hyde 900, to test the bones….but radio-carbon dating showed them to be from the 1300s….
In January 2014 a fragment of pelvis unearthed at the 1999 Hyde Abbey site excavation was carbon dated to the right period…. Suggestions have been made it could belong to Alfred or his son….but this is still unproven….
I have a feeling we will never know the final resting place of Alfred the Great – perhaps after having had his ‘sleep’ disturbed so many times over the centuries he would prefer not to be found….