Historical Kings That People Literally Believed Would Rise From The Dead

When a king dies, does he really kick the bucket? It's hard to say for all of them, but at least some kings will return – their legends promise it. A bevy of long-lived legends feature mythical or real-life monarchs who, though they supposedly died, have messianic myths floating around their heads. The most famous of these is the wait for King Arthur's return – injured grievously in his final battle, he supposedly sleeps on the Isle of Avalon, only waking up when Britain is in a time of crisis.

These myths about kings who are currently sleeping and will wake up to save their people are truly inspired; these long-awaited royal slumberers are often called "kings in the mountain." Their number includes obvious figures like King Arthur and Merlin, as well as less well-known ones, like the medieval Irish-Norman lord Gerald FitzGerald, the Saxon King Harold, the naughty Emperor Nero, and several Eastern European rulers. 


  • Prince Marko Lives With His Horse Under The Sea
    Photo: Anonymous / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    This medieval monarch is one of Serbia's national heroes for his bravery, good humor, and zeal in fighting the Turks. But did Marko really die in 1395 as reported? One rumor has it that he and his horse dove into the sea instead of passing away, where they still live together in an underwater cave. Marko goes on land every night to get oats for his steed. Another tale suggested that Marko survived in modern Herzegovina, where he waits for the South Slavs to need his help. 

  • King Arthur Is Dozing On The Isle Of Avalon
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    One of the most infamous parts of the King Arthur legend is its ending. Arthur was usually said to have met his end at the hands of his secret love child, Mordred (a product of an illicit relationship between Arthur and one of his sisters). But Arthur didn't die – not exactly.

    Before he could kick the bucket for good, he was carted off by three queens – including the Lady of the Lake and his sorceress sister, Morgan Le Fay – to the magical Isle of Avalon. There, he has supposedly waited for 1500 years, sleeping, licking his wounds, and healing up until England needs him again. At the time of greatest need, Arthur will rise to help his people, making him a "once and future king" in truth.

  • Merlin Might Just Bust Out Of His Crystal Cave
    Photo: Arthur Rackham / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    King Arthur's number-one advisor/wizard, Merlin, is also a sleeper waiting to be awoken in a time of need. Merlin, dubbed by some a son of the Devil, wasn't only a magician, but he was also a creepy lover – he fell for his much younger student, Vivian (AKA Niniane). Depending on the version of the legend you read, Vivian is either madly in love with Merlin, too, or is a young lady Merlin lusted after.

    To avenge/protect herself and to get revenge on the ill-begotten Merlin, Vivian used the magic her master taught her and imprisoned Merlin in an oak tree or a cave (depending on the story). She buried him alive in a tomb until she chose to let him out (which she never did). Regardless, his legend promises his eventual return from this imprisonment.

  • The last Saxon king of England before the Normans took over, Harold Godwinson met his end at the hands of the aptly named William the Conqueror. The two men's forces met at the Battle of Hastings (in modern East Sussex) on October 14, 1066; Harold was slain, and William emerged the victor. 

    But rumor had it that Harold didn't actually die there. Some have claimed he survived and moved to Iceland, remaining in hiding. Medieval chronicler Gerald of Wales alleged that Harold moved to Chester, where he became a hermit and lived underneath a church. There, he was a beacon for the "oppressed" Saxon people, and it is said he will return one day to throw the "Norman yoke" off of his people.