15 May 2013

King Arthur and the quest for the ancient bones

Druid leader King Arthur Pendragon’s second legal bid to get ancient bones found at Stonehenge reburied may have been unsuccessful, but he tells Katie Razzall he will fight on.

King Arthur Pendragon, Britain's most senior Druid (ITN)

Surprisingly perhaps, today wasn’t the first time King Arthur Pendragon had addressed a judge at London’s High Court but it was the first time I’d seen him do it.

Dressed in white flowing robes, with a tidy grey beard and shoulder-length hair, the Battle Chieftan of the Council of British Druids told Court 27 the Government was being “duplicitous” over the fate of 3000-year old human remains exhumed at Stonehenge in 2008.

The ancient dead are due as much respect as the recent dead
King Arthur Pendragon

The case seemed to be about who said what when and to whom, and the arcane nature of Britain’s Burial Act of 1857.

I found my mind wandering to whether he wears his marvellous outfit to work or is being Britain’s most senior Druid work enough for any man? (It turns out – after a quick bit on online research – it is).

The Druids are furious that the cremated remains of more than 40 bodies, removed from a burial site at the ancient stone circle 5 years ago, may never be re-buried.

Druids believe they could be the remains of the “founding fathers of this very nation”. King Arthur Pendragon – or KAP in my notebook – says they might be members of the “royal line or priest caste”.

“The ancient dead are due as much respect as the recent dead,” he told me.

Respect was due to the King himself today, for appearing on behalf of the remains in front of a judge, without legal representation. But he’s used to that. He already lost a High Court bid to have the bones reburied in 2011.

Bones ‘on licence’

The Druids argue the law says the remains are only out “on licence”. The bones were excavated from one of the Aubrey holes at Stonehenge by Professor Mike Parker Pearson.

The judge ruled against them in their latest legal effort today, but outside court a group of self-dubbed “Loyal Arthurian Warriors”, looking part crusader part Gandalf, cheered on the King as he emerged, vowing to fight on.

“We want the Guardians back in the ground, where they belong”, he told me. “Let those we lay to rest, stay to rest.”

What I wanted to know was how you get to be King Arthur Pendragon. Election is the answer. By a number of arch druids, the King says.

And a little deedpoll change – KAP changed his name from John Rothwell after reading a book about the legendary King and reportedly being astonished at the similarities between them, I wish I’d asked him what they were now.


An earlier version of this article stated that the bones excavated by Professor Mike Parker Pearson were due to be put on display at a Stonehenge visitors centre being built by English Heritage. This was incorrect – the bones intended for public view in the visitors centre were excavated from three different sites many years ago.

In a statement, English Heritage said:

“Stonehenge is the focus of a ceremonial and ritual landscape shaped by prehistoric people for over 1,500 years. The exhibition in the new visitor centre will provide an introduction to the story of the monument and its landscape, and puts at its centre the people associated with it. The remains of three human burials found in the landscape will be displayed with ample explanation along with archaeological objects, providing visitors with a direct connection to the people who lived and worked there. They have been in the care of scholarly institutions for at least 10 years and do not include any of those recently excavated by Professor Mike Parker Pearson from one of the Aubrey Holes at Stonehenge.”