A Brief history
On January 30, 1661, Oliver Cromwell, former Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland, was removed from his grave and “executed” 2 years after his death!
Digging deeper, we find Cromwell the ultimate winner of the English Civil War, having deposed the monarchy and becoming the de facto ruler of Britain.
After leading the anti-royalist forces known as the Roundheads against the forces of King Charles I, known as the Cavaliers, Cromwell was among those who decided Charles I should be executed after his defeat.
Charles I was executed in 1649.
Cromwell was a prominent player in British politics and was eventually made Lord Protector for life, though many of his detractors prefer viewing him as a dictator. He did have numerous admirers, however, and he remains a revered part of British history to many.
Oliver Cromwell died of natural causes in 1658 at age 59, possibly of infection related to kidney or bladder stones. He was buried with honors, and his son succeeded him as Lord Protector, ironically resembling a new monarchy!
Change had again come to Britain, and Cromwell’s son was deposed within a year, and Charles II (son of the executed Charles I) became king in the restored monarchy. Cromwell’s body was dug up, hung in chains and then beheaded, officially executing him for treason! His head was displayed on a spike in the manner of the day and his body disposed of in a pit. The “execution” took place exactly 12 years after the execution of Charles I.
Then the conspiracy theories started! Stories of Cromwell’s body having been relocated to avoid just this sort of indignity abounded, with claims that a different body was “executed” by proxy. Likewise, the whereabouts of Cromwell’s severed head remains controversial, with the official version being his head was buried on the grounds of Sidney Sussex College – in 1960!
Question for students (and subscribers): Was Cromwell a hero or a villain? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Drinkwater, John. Oliver Cromwell. 2011.
Fraser, Antonia. Cromwell. Grove Press, 2007.
Gentles, Ian. Oliver Cromwell: God’s Warrior and the English Revolution (British History in Perspective). Palgrave, 2011.