The likely remains of Don Quixote author Miguel de Cervantes were found in 2015 after centuries of being misplaced somewhere in the Convento de las Trinitarias Descalzas de San Ildefonso in Madrid. This fate seems to befall famous historical figures more than you might think—the grave sites of these notable people also went missing for decades or even centuries before being rediscovered.
1. Richard III, Died 1485 // Rediscovered 2012
King Richard III of England was killed during the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. Though he did receive an actual burial site at Greyfriars Friary Church in Leicester, the friary was dissolved in 1538 and demolished not long afterward. No one bothered to make sure Richard’s body was accounted for, and by the 1600s, it seemed he was lost to the ages.
Until 2012. While excavating a bank parking lot, archaeologists uncovered the friary’s original foundation. From there, they were able to determine the location of the choir area, where Richard’s remains were rumored to be. Those rumors turned out to be correct—a skeleton bearing the same curved spine and death injuries as the maligned king was uncovered in September, and by February 2013, DNA testing had proven that it was, indeed, the long-lost body of King Richard III. His remains were later permanently interred in Leicester Cathedral.
2. King Herod, died 4 BCE // Rediscovered 2007
Think five-plus centuries is a long time to lose a burial site? That’s nothing compared to the 2000 years that King Herod’s tomb was missing. The King of Judea likely died in 4 BCE, succumbing to what historians say was a particularly gruesome illness, later thought to be chronic kidney disease and infection. Though ancient texts written relatively soon after Herod’s death were surprisingly detailed about the lavish burial that followed, it wasn’t until 2007 that scholars finally found the tomb—and that was 35 years after excavations of the site began.
In 1972, Hebrew University professor Ehud Netzer led the charge to excavate Herodium, a huge, man-made hill about eight miles south of Jerusalem. He and his team spent decades excavating the base of the tomb and didn’t make it to the upper levels until 2006, when they noticed a strange section of wall and decided to investigate. A year later, the team found an ornate sarcophagus made of pink limestone, one they believe can only have been made for a king. No bones were found—they were likely destroyed by Jewish rebels around 60 CE—but Netzer is certain that Herod was the man who inspired such a luxurious burial site.
3. The Romanovs, died 1918 // Rediscovered 1979, 1990, and 2007
You probably know the sad tale of the Romanovs. Russian tsar Nicholas II, his wife, four daughters, and son were executed by a Bolshevik firing squad in 1918. Bolshevik leader Yakov Yurovsky intended to hide the bodies in some remote iron mines, but the truck carrying them got stuck in the mud en route. In a hurry to dispose of the corpses, Yurovsky decided to bury them right there. After acid was thrown on the remains, the bodies were burned and then buried beneath some logs. Two of the children were buried in a different grave because Yurovsky believed it would be harder to identify the family if they were separated.
His plan worked until 1979, when a geologist discovered three skulls with bullet holes in a forest. He tried to have forensic tests conducted, but ended up putting the skulls back where he found them, believing that his discovery was putting his life in danger. It wasn’t until 1990 that the geologist wrote to Boris Yeltsin to inform him of the location of the bodies, which ultimately led to a public excavation; the separate grave containing two of the Romanov children wasn’t found until 2007. The family and the four household servants who were executed with them have since been reunited in a crypt at Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg.
4. and 5. Henry VIII, died 1547, and Charles I, died 1649 // Rediscovered 1813
Who knew that kings went missing so often? After his beheading in 1649, Charles I was quietly buried in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, stuck in the same vault as the infamous Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour. A stillborn child was added to the vault sometime later in the 17th century, and then, it would seem, people just kind of forgot the unmarked vault existed at all. It wasn’t found again until 1813, when men working on a new royal vault stumbled upon it. These days, the burial spot is marked with a simple marble slab bearing the names of those inside.
A version of this article was published in 2010; it has been updated for 2022.