Four hundred metres east of Stone Circle, and probably predating it by over 1000 years, the Whispering Knights is a 'portal dolmen' burial chamber that consists of four upright stones and a large fallen capstone. The so-called ‘portal’ facade is formed by three stones that look like a giant doorway facing down the hill and it was probably intended to be seen from that side. Originally there were two or three more uprights to support the capstone which would have been placed on top, possibly at a rakish angle, to form a table-like 'dolmen' structure. At one time it was believed to be part of a long barrow, but excavations in the 1980s suggested that it is more likely to have been free-standing and intended to impress. The very large pillar-like stone on the left of the portal is the largest of all the Rollright Stones, and with the capstone in place on top (as it was until the 18th century) the chamber would have been even more striking. It is estimated that using rollers, levers and sledges it may have taken over 60 people to move and erect the stones. It is thought that there would have been a low platform of small stones round the sides and back.
By analogy with other such monuments, the Whispering Knights was probably one the earliest funerary monuments in Britain, perhaps built around 3,800 BC and the c.2m square chamber would have contained the disarticulated bones of several individuals. Early Neolithic, Beaker and early Bronze Age pottery found in the immediate vicinity suggests that the tomb was venerated over many centuries and a piece of human bone washed out from the chamber was radiocarbon dated to c.1700BC.
The monument got its name as part of the legend about the king and his army who were outwitted by a witch and turned to stone: because of the conspiratorial way in which the portal stones lean towards each other, the stones are said to be the treacherous knights conniving against the king, though others think they are praying. Intriguingly, although it looks as if the central slab of the portal should be supporting the pillars either side, they do not actually touch, probably because the limestone has been dissolved over the millennia. (See article Rollright Stones - Natural Weathering and Condition of the Stones.)
Like the King's Men stone circle, the Whispering Knights were put into guardianship in 1883 and the railings erected in 1894 at the same time as those for the King Stone.
- The Whispering Knights audio tour (zip 586KB)