The Whispering Knights
Dating back to around 3000-4000 BC, the Whispering Knights are the oldest part of the complex and are actually the remaining elements of a dolmen - an ancient burial site. 4 stones huddle together over an area of around 4 square yards adjacent fifth stone, which is believed to be the remains of the capstone that the knights once supported.
The King's Men
The King's Men is the name given to a stone circle comprising 77 stones in an arrangement nearly 100 feet in diameter. Slightly 'newer' than the Whispering Knights, they are believed to have been raised in the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age. Excavations carried out in the 1980s suggest that the stones originally touched each other to form a circular barrier. In 1882, the landowner re-erected fallen stones, which probably resulted in today's less-than-perfect circle. It is thought that there were originally around 105 stones, some of which will have been unceremoniously hauled away in the distant past for some workaday purpose.
The King Stone
The King Stone is a single monolith around 7ft in height and some 75 yards North of the King's Men. While the meaning and purpose of all of the Rollright Stones is mysterious (even by the standards of prehistoric monuments) the King Stone is perhaps the most mysterious of all. It has defied attempts to date it and no consensus to its purpose has arisen amongst the many archaeologists who have studied it. Theories advanced include the idea that the stone was a waymarker to the King's Men, or was somehow aligned to something of cosmological significance. The only theory that can be refuted is the idea that the stone is the remain of a barrow or burial mound, as archaeological investigations have found no evidence to support this particular idea.
Traditions and Folklore
One tradition holds that the stones are men who were turned into stone - and that the Kingstone was similarly actually a transformed King. The first mention of this story is recorded in Camden's Brittania of 1586. The 1610 translation of this work tells the story thus:
The highest of them all, which without the circle looketh to the earth, they used to call The King, because he should have been King of England forsooth, if he had seen Long-Compton, a little town so called lying beneath, and which a man, if he go some few paces toward, may see: other flue standing at the other side, touching as it were, one another, they imagine to have been Knights mounted on horseback, and the rest the army.
In more modern times, William Stukely recorded a similar (if more pertly described) myth:
If Long Compton thou canst seeKing of England thou shalt be
The meaning of the tales is evidently that if you step a yard or two North of the Kingstone, you can see the village of Long Compton. A lord of ancient times was challenged by a wizard or magician to view the village and thus become King, but taking 7 strides forward in his hubris, his view was blocked and he and his army were turned to stone. Perhaps bizarrely, the magician has been named in some tales as Mother Shipton - maybe because a similar story is told about her that Wolsey would never enter York.
Another popularly told tale maintains that the stones come to life on certain days to drink from a nearby spring (which reminds us of the similar story told about the Cerne Abbas giant.)
Perhaps most famously, it is said that it is impossible to count the stones and that attempts to do so will be thwarted and a different number arrived to on each try.