Famous Exhumations English Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell

About the English Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell and his exhumation.


OLIVER CROMWELL (1599-1658), lord protector of England

One of the most controversial figures in British history, Cromwell led the revolution that toppled the monarchy and beheaded Charles I. He headed the Commonwealth until its dissolution in 1653, when he proclaimed himself protector, or military dictator, of Britain. He ruled until his death and was buried with great pomp in Westminster Abbey, among royalty.

By 1660 the government had collapsed, and the monarchy was restored. Charles II treated Cromwell's supporters with lenience, but the populace wanted revenge. In January, 1661, the bodies of Cromwell and two followers were disinterred and dragged through the streets. The next day, the 12th anniversary of Charles I's execution, they were taken to Tyburn, where, according to diarist John Evelyn, they were "hanged on the gallows from nine in the morning until six at night." They were cut down, their heads were bludgeoned off, and their bodies were tossed in a pit beneath the gallows. Their heads were paraded through London on poles and then were stuck on spikes atop Westminster Hall.

About 25 years later, a storm dislodged Cromwell's mummified head from its perch. It landed in the street, where it was picked up by a sentry and sold. It passed from owner to owner down through the years. In the 20th century it was given to Cromwell's alma mater, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where studies confirmed its identity. It matched Cromwell's death mask, and a brown spot on the parchmentlike skin indicated Cromwell's distinctive wart. In March, 1960, the head was buried in a secret location at the college to protect the protector from further disturbance.

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