Famous Exhumations English King Charles I

About the English King Charles the first and his exhumation.


CHARLES I (1600-1649), king of England

Oliver Cromwell and his associates sent Charles I to the headsman, and the king was buried in St. George's Chapel, Windsor. Just where, however, remained in dispute until workers accidentally made a hole in the wall of Henry VIII's burial vault in 1813. There, along with Henry's coffin, were those of his wife Jane Seymour and the stillborn baby of Queen Anne. There also was a coffin covered with black velvet, inscribed "King Charles 1648."

Although the date was wrong--Charles was beheaded on Jan. 30, 1649--the coffin was undoubtedly the right one. The confusion over the exact location of the coffin had arisen because, when Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, it was decided that Charles I's corpse should be exhumed and buried in Westminster Abbey under a tomb designed by Christopher Wren. However, Charles II appropriated the pound70,000 granted for the new burial, and a mysterious disappearance of Charles I's body was arranged to squelch rumors of profiteering.

The coffin was opened in front of a distinguished group. The head end was cut away, revealing a corpse wrapped in cerecloth. The wrapping was removed, and observers beheld a face that closely resembled the Charles I in the portraits of Vandyke. The skin, according to Sir Henry Halford, was dark and discolored, the nose decayed, the pointed beard intact. The head was found to be loose; the back part of the scalp was perfectly preserved, and the hair at the neck shaved as if in preparation for execution. Examination also showed that the head had been severed by a heavy blow which split the fourth cervical vertebra. After examinations, the head was returned to the coffin and the vault was closed.

It was later discovered that a portion of the fourth cervical vertebra had been left behind. It was given to Halford by the prince regent, and Halford put it in a gold-lined box in which he used to display it at his dinner table. Halford's heirs, however, didn't like the idea of the relic and returned it to the Prince of Wales, who is supposed to have returned it to the coffin.

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