Sunday, 30 January 2011

Anniversary of an Execution

350 years ago on 30 January 1661 Oliver Cromwell was executed; 2 years after his death.

Cromwell died on 3rd September 1658. His body was embalmed and lay in state from 18th October to 10th November before being interred in Westminster Abbey. After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 Parliament decreed that men who had cheated the executioner in life were not to cheat him in death.

Cromwell’s body was exhumed and transported to the Red Lion inn at Holborn. Tradition has it that Oliver’s ghost haunts the spot.

Early next morning the body was carried on a hurdle from Holborn to Tyburn where, clad in green cloth, it was gibbeted until 4 o’clock in the afternoon. When the body was taken down its head was hacked off; the executioner took eight blows to sever the neck. The trunk was consigned to a deep pit below the Tyburn gallows.

The head, stuck up on an iron-tipped oak pole, was exhibited until 1684 on the roof of Westminster Hall. Towards the end of the reign of King James II, it was blown down in a gale. The head passed from hand to hand before coming into the possession of Josiah Wilkinson and then a Canon Wilkinson.

Wilkinson left it to Cromwell’s own college, Sidney Sussex at Cambridge University.

Eventually the head received a proper burial at Sidney Sussex where a plaque proclaims:

The actual location is a closely guarded secret.

Twelve years prior to Cromwell's execution  on 30 January 1689, King Charles I was executed.

1 comment:

Alan Burnett said...

I always think that if you have to be be-headed, the best time to have it happen is a couple of years after you've died in your bed.