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The Royal Burial Ground at Sutton Hoo

Sunset over the burial mounds, shrouded by mist, at Sutton Hoo
Sunset over the burial mounds at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk | © National Trust Images/Justin Minns

Whether you're planning a visit to Sutton Hoo or exploring from the comfort of your own home, learn about the discovery of this special landscape and the impact it has had on understanding the lives of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors.

Burial mounds of Kings

There are around 18 burial mounds within the Royal Burial Ground at Sutton Hoo. Many have been so eroded over the centuries that it's hard to know exactly how many there were.

The burials date to the 7th century AD. The people buried here left no written records, so it's impossible to know exactly who they were, but historians strongly suspect that Sutton Hoo was the cemetery for the royal dynasty of East Anglia, the Wuffingas, who claimed descent from the god Woden.

Most of the mounds were robbed, largely in the Tudor period, and much of what was there was lost. Two mounds escaped this fate - the Great Ship Burial, or King's Mound One, and the Horseman's Mound.

The Great Ship Burial

Sutton Hoo is England's Valley of the Kings, and the Anglo-Saxon ship burial found in the King's Mound is the richest burial ever found in northern Europe.

1,400 years ago, a king or great warrior of East Anglia was laid to rest in a 90ft ship, surrounded by his extraordinary treasures. Its discovery revolutionised understanding of the Anglo-Saxon period and provided a lens through which to examine this fascinating era of history.

A victorious King

The most likely candidate for the man who belonged to this grave is King Rædwald, a great King of East Anglia who was both famous for his victory over the Kingdom of Northumbria, and criticised for establishing altars for Christ and the old gods side by side.

The Ship Sculpture at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk
The Ship Sculpture at Sutton Hoo | © National Trust Images / Phil Morley

Where's the boat?

The 27-metre Anglo-Saxon ship no longer exists. It was made of oak and after 1,300 years in acidic soil, it rotted away leaving only its 'ghost' imprinted in the sand. Although all physical trace has gone, perhaps the ship has sailed into the next world, bearing its captain on new adventures.

What happened to the treasure?

The King's Mound treasure is displayed in Room 41: Sutton Hoo and Europe, AD 300-1100 at The British Museum in London, where it can be seen in the context of the huge changes taking place across Europe in the Early Medieval period.

The other ship burial

There are three other Anglo-Saxon ship burials known in England - one nearby at Snape, and two at Sutton Hoo. The lesser-known ship burial took place in Mound Two. Mound Two was reconstructed to its original height back in 1992 as an experiment to see how long the mound would take to erode.

The Prince and his horse

Underneath the Horseman's Mound lay a double burial: a young warrior and his horse. The warrior must have been greatly loved, as he was buried with his weapons as well as everyday items such as his comb.

For more information about the Royal Burial Ground, scroll to the bottom of this page where you can download a PDF short guide.

A modern looking viewing tower at Sutton Hoo in a field of golden grass with large green trees nearby. The tower features wooden and steel elements.
The viewing tower at Sutton Hoo | © National Trust Images/Phil Morley

View the Royal Burial Ground from above

Until recently, it has been hard to appreciate just how close the Royal Burial Ground is to the River Deben. During the Anglo-Saxon period, the burial ground would have sat surrounded by a large expanse of open heathland, with views stretching down towards the river.

You can now get a whole new perspective of the Royal Burial Ground thanks to 17-metre-tall viewing tower. The recently completed tower was the final part of a £4million National Lottery Heritage Fund project Releasing the Sutton Hoo Story.

Explore the tower

The tower is approached via a ramp and the first level is accessible offering views across the Royal Burial Ground. Interpretation panels give a clear map of which mound is which and when they were excavated.

As you climb the tower, the views open up even further. The penultimate level offers an incredible vista of the Royal Burial Ground and the landscape beyond, whilst a platform projecting towards the rear of the tower gives you a sense of scale as you look down on the surrounding tree canopy and across the river towards other local landmarks.

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Views from the Sutton Hoo viewing tower

Enjoy this short film showing the views from the different levels of the tower.

Sutton Hoo facts

  • The Royal Burial Ground is a Scheduled Monument.
  • Grave robbers tried to rob the King's Mound, but missed the treasure by just a couple of metres.
  • As the landowner at the time of the discovery, Edith Pretty was declared the owner of the priceless Anglo-Saxon treasures. She gave them all to the nation and they can still be seen and enjoyed today at the British Museum.
  • Edith's son Robert left his roller-skates in the Mound 2 ship burial back in 1938.
Sunset over the burial mounds, shrouded by mist, at Sutton Hoo

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