History

Monks Made up King Arthur's Legends to Raise Cash

King Arthur's grave, allegedly found by monks in 1181, is nothing but a pit filled with rubble.

A four-year study has dramatically rewritten the history of Glastonbury Abbey, said to be the burial place of the legendary King Arthur and the site of the earliest Christian church in Britain.

King Arthur's grave, allegedly found by monks in 1181, is nothing but a pit filled with rubble, say the researchers. And the church was not founded by Jesus's disciples in the first century A.D., but was built by medieval monks to raise cash.

Faced with a financial crisis when their abbey was destroyed in a fire in 1184, the creative monks rebuilt the abbey to look older and mystical. To draw on Arthurian legends, they even crafted a fake burial cross with the name of the king.

"The monks needed to raise money by increasing the numbers of visiting pilgrims – and that meant keeping the myths and legends alive," team leader Roberta Gilchrist, professor of Archaeology at the University of Reading, UK, said.

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Gilchrist and colleagues reexamined and reinterpreted all known archaeological records from excavations at the site between 1904 and 1979, none of which have ever been published.

"Dig directors were led heavily by Glastonbury's legends and the occult. Using 21st century technology we took a step back from the myth and legend to expose the true history of the Abbey," Gilchrist said.

Her team carried out chemical and compositional analysis of glass, metal, and pottery artifacts held in the Glastonbury Abbey Museum, and undertook a new geophysical survey of the Abbey grounds.

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They also reexamined the work of British archaeologist Ralegh Radford who excavated the site in the 1950s and '60s.

Radford claimed to have discovered a Christian British cemetery, a Saxon cloister that was believed to be the earliest in England, as well as the location of King Arthur's grave, allegedly discovered by the Glastonbury monks.

But Gilchrist's analysis disputes his finding. Foundations revealed the walls do not line up and are unlikely to be those of a cloister, and the graves Radford dated to be "Dark Age" in fact date to later than the Saxon church and cemetery.

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Moreover, the site of Arthur's tomb turned to be a pit in the cemetery containing material dating from the 11th to 15th centuries, with no evidence linking it to the era of the legendary king.

"It's likely the judgement of excavators like Radford was clouded by the Abbey myths. They were also less critical of historical sources than we are today and did not have the luxury of 21st century technology," Gilchrist said.

Further analysis has also showed how the monks crafted the early Christian tales to restore the Abbey to its former glory after the devastating fire.

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"We found evidence that the monks laid out the buildings in a very distinctive way to emphasize the ‘earliest church' story," Gilchrist said.

She noted the monks deliberately designed the church to look older in order to validate its ancient heritage and preeminent place in monastic history.

"They used archaic architecture style and reused material to emphasize the Abbey's mythical feel. This swelled pilgrim numbers – and the Abbey's coffers," Gilchrist said.

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Indeed, the monks' strategy paid off. Glastonbury Abbey became the second richest monastery in England by the end of the Middle Ages.

"Re-examination of the archaeological records revealed the exceptional scale of the abbot's lodging, a luxurious palatial complex to the southwest of the cloister," Gilchrist said.

But it's not all bad news for Glastonbury Abbey.

The study found evidence the site was occupied 200 years earlier than previously estimated and housed an important complex of five glass furnaces radiocarbon dated to about AD 700.

"This represents the earliest and most substantial evidence for glass-working in Saxon England," Gilchrist said.

Glastonbury Abbey.

Sept. 16, 2012 --

The remains of Richard III, the monarch immortalized as a villainous hunchback by William Shakespeare and the last English king to die in battle, might have been discovered in a parking lot in Leicester. DNA analysis is still needed to confirm the findings, and that could take up to 12 weeks, according to researchers at the University of Leicester. While we wait, let's look at other royals known to have vanished from history.

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Edward V and Richard, Duke of York Before Richard III assumed the throne, there was only one person standing in his way: his nephew, Edward V. Only a boy at 12 years old, Edward V was unprepared for the responsibilities of the crown left to him by his father, Edward IV, who entrusted Richard as Protector until the boy came of age. The future king Richard III in short order imprisoned Edward V in the Tower of London, along with his younger brother, Richard, Duke of York. The uncle then declared Edward IV's marriage invalid, and therefore his heirs were illegitimate. Richard III assumed the throne and the two boys disappeared from history shortly thereafter. Although remains belonging to two children were discovered in the 17th century by workers renovating a section of the Tower, the bones were never conclusively identified as belonging to the two boys.

Harold II Even though Harold II might have had one of the most famous deaths of any monarch in English history, his final resting place is unknown. Harold II assumed the throne in 1066. That same year, William the Conqueror led an army of Norman invaders into England. The armies of William and Harold met at the Battle of Hastings in October. After hours of fighting, with victory within his grasp, Harold was, according to legend, either shot in the eye or stabbed with a sword. His body was then mutilated and dismembered. Although the site of Harold's death is known, what followed after is a matter of some speculation. According to popular accounts, William had Harold's body buried in secret, even though Harold's mother offered a sum to claim the body.

Henry I When Henry VIII was engaged in his campaign against Catholicism, he seized church lands and raided monasteries. In the process, his men disturbed and even destroyed the final resting places of the monarchs who came before him. In fact, Henry VIII even likely caused the destruction of the tomb of his namesake: Henry I. Henry I was the son of William the Conqueror, and reigned for nearly 30 years from 1106 to 1135. Although he crowned himself king in 1100, his reign was disputed by his older brother, Robert, who had been away fighting in the Crusades. Henry initially was able to buy Robert off, but the two later came into conflict again, which was only resolved in 1106 with Henry's army capturing Robert in battle and imprisoning him for life. Henry spent much of his time away from England, often frequenting Normandy. In order to rule in his absence, he created a bureaucracy that would efficiently govern and run the affairs of state, the most important duty of which was to collect taxes. Following the death of his son, Henry was left with only one legitimate heir, his daughter. When Henry died in 1135, his daughter's rule was rejected by the English nobility and civil war ensued.

Pharaoh Userkare If famous kings who died within the last 1,000 years are difficult to find, then an obscure pharaoh that lived some 4,300 years ago must be close to impossible. The reign of Userkare, the second pharaoh of the Sixth Dynasty, has been shrouded in mystery, partly due to the fact that his tomb had not been discovered. In 2010, Giulio Magli, professor of archaeoastronomy at Milan's Polytechnic University, suggested a possible final resting place for the pharaoh. as reported by Discovery News' Rossella Lorenzi. The search, however, is still ongoing.

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Queen Nefertiti Obscure royals are bound to escape history's notice. But when the ones who really left their mark manage to elude discovery, that's another story entirely. Ancient Egypt's Queen Nefertiti might be the most sought-after royal yet undiscovered. She died over 3,300 years ago, but was made famous in the modern era following the discovery of the 19-inch limestone, painted bust of her, seen here. Nefertiti was, in the words of Discovery News' Rossella Lorenzi, "the royal wife of the 'heretic' pharaoh Akhenaton, who initiated a new monotheistic religion that involved the worship the sun god Aton." Despite pursuits to find her tomb, including one such expedition funded by the Discovery Channel, no archaeologist has yet found where Nefertiti is buried.

READ MORE: Tracking Nefertiti: Egypt Guide

Emperor Jianwen When you're emperor of a nation as large as China, you'd think someone would notice your disappearance. Emperor Jianwen (1377-1402) was the second emperor of the Ming Dynasty, and nearly led it to ruin. Failed efforts to gain greater control over territory within his empire, which was governed by his uncles, led to the outbreak of civil war. When troops belonging to one of Jianwen's uncles attacked Nanjing, then the capital under the Ming Dynasty, the imperial palace caught fire, supposedly killing Jianwen and his concubines. However, an alternate version of events suggests Jianwen secretly escaped in the midst of the battle and took refuge in a monastery, where he lived out the rest of his days.

Anastasia Nikolaevna Although no longer missing, the final resting place of Anastasia Nikolaevna, daughter of tsar Nicholas II, the last monarch of Russia, was a nearly century-long mystery that ended in 2009. Along the way, false reports, witnesses and impostors claiming to be the deceased grand duchess turned up. The idea that somehow Nikolaevna had escaped execution gripped popular imagination, including an animated film in 1997. In 1991, speculation that Nikolaevna survived the massacre that claimed her family was bolstered by the discovery of a mass grave. Buried there were the remains of the tsar, his wife and three of their daughters. Traces of the two remaining children, a son and another daughter, were not at the site. In 2007, a grave in Yekaterinburg, Russia, proved to be the final resting place of the two remaining children. Two years later, researchers announced that DNA analysis confirmed that the remains were of the two young royals.