Henry I of England at St James’ Church


Do I stay at home to watch England v Scotland on television or should I find out more about King Henry, whose remains are being searched for in Reading’s Abbey Ruins?  Culture wins; off to the Catholic Church next to the prison.

Henry I is a modern history play of contemporary relevance written by Beth Flintoff and performed by the Reading Between the Lines theatre company (RBL) about the medieval King who founded Reading Abbey. In the words of the producers, Dani and Toby Davies:

As residents of the town that he chose to build his profoundly ornate and simply gigantic abbey in, within which he was buried, we are the ones that should be championing this story and so it is that RBL chose to create a play about our buried King.

The play was full of energy, with battles, hunting and a great scene where a ship goes down in the channel. In the high quality cast, some actors play multiple parts; for example James McGregor plays Robert of Bellême, Hugh, Geoffrey & Ralph Harenc. This can be a little confusing at first but you get used to it!

Cast on Stage

The production was highly professional and as good as a London theatre.

Henry I, born in 1068, was William the Conqueror’s fourth son. He was a bit of a lad, fathering at least 26 known offspring (10 sons and 16 daughters) with only two surviving legitimate children. His son William drowned while crossing the channel which gave Henry a succession problem.

He was responsible for considerable loss of life in the violence which went with his lust for power and his ambition to become King. The play dramatises the events through which he manoeuvred his position to become King of England.

Henry founded the abbey in Reading as his intended mausoleum. Cluniac monks there would pray for his soul; Henry knew he had much to repent. He died in 1136 after eating a rich dish of lampreys and was buried before the high altar of Reading Abbey.

The play was excellent value and a five star performance. As I wandered back up Katesgrove Hill, I wondered if Henry came up here to get a view of the new Abbey he was building.

Performances continue until 19 November 2016. Book at the RBL website.


  1. Reading Between the Lines theatre company
  2. Henry I of England production information and education pack
  3. St James Church
  4. Reading Abbey Revealed
  5. Friends of Reading Abbey