1661: Oliver Cromwell, posthumously

On this anniversary date of King Charles I’s beheading, the two-years-dead corpse of the late Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell was hung in chains at Tyburn and then beheaded, along with the bodies of John Bradshaw and Henry Ireton.

The great-great-grandnephew of ruthless Tudor pol Thomas Cromwell rose higher than any English commoner, high enough to be offered the very crown he had struck off at Whitehall. Oliver Cromwell declined it in sweeping Puritan rhetoric just as if he hadn’t spent weeks agonizing over whether to take it.

“I would not seek to set up that which Providence hath destroyed and laid in the dust, and I would not build Jericho again.”

The House of Stuart never could rebuild its Jericho while the Lord Protector ran the realm* — thirteen years, writes Macaulay, “during which England was, under various names and forms, really governed by the sword. Never, before that time, or since that time, was the civil power in our country subjected to military dictation.”

“Cromwell lifting the Coffin-lid and looking at the body of Charles I”, by Hippolyte (Paul) Delaroche — a French painter with an affinity for English execution scenes. The painting is based on an apocryphal but irresistible legend, also used by Nathaniel Hawthorne in a tedious short story.

And not only England. Cromwell’s prodigious depredations in Ireland — justifiably or not — remain a source of bad blood.

The English Commonwealth foundered after Cromwell’s death, however, and restoration of the monarchy — a rock, as it turned out, on which the Puritans’ bourgeois revolution could erect its colossus — came with the price of a few examples being made.

Of course, “executing” dead guys displays about as much strength as it does sanitation, and for all Charles II‘s demonstrative vengeance, the politically circumscribed throne he resumed was very far from his father’s dream of absolutism. Between the late dictator and the new king, the future belonged to the corpse clanking around on the gibbet.

When the able Charles II followed Cromwell into the great hereafter, his brother James II promptly fumbled away the crown with his anachronistic insistence on royal authority and his impolitic adherence to Catholicism.**

In the emerging England of the century to come, the divine right would depart the Stuarts for another dynasty more amenable to the rising authority of the parliament whose sword Oliver Cromwell once wielded.

* Resources on the particulars of Cromwell’s career, the English Civil War, et al, are in plentiful supply online. This BBC documentary is a very watchable overview: part I; part II; part III; part IV.

** James II remains England’s last Catholic monarch.

On this day..

26 thoughts on “1661: Oliver Cromwell, posthumously

  1. Pingback: Remember, remember, the fifth of November… | No size fits all

  2. Pingback: ExecutedToday.com » 1645: Conor Macguire, Lord Baron of Enniskillen

  3. Pingback: ExecutedToday.com » 1655: Jane Hopkins, Bermuda’s last known witch execution

  4. Pingback: ExecutedToday.com » Themed Set: The Medical Gaze

  5. Pingback: ExecutedToday.com » 1666: Nine Covenanters in Ayr and Edinburgh

  6. Pingback: ExecutedToday.com » 1655: Henry Manning, Protectorate spy

  7. Pingback: ExecutedToday.com » 1691: Jacob Leisler, “a Walloon who has sett at the head of the Rable”

  8. Pingback: ExecutedToday.com » 1649: Robert Lockyer, Leveller

  9. Pingback: ExecutedToday.com » 1655: Massacre of Waldensians

  10. Pingback: Lördagslänkar « No size fits all

  11. Pingback: ExecutedToday.com » 1623: Amboyna Massacre

  12. Pingback: ExecutedToday.com » 1659: The first two Boston Martyrs

  13. Pingback: ExecutedToday.com » 1672: Cornelis and Johan de Witt lynched

  14. Pingback: Dagens historietips: Executed Today « No size fits all

  15. Pingback: ExecutedToday.com » 1554: Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Days’ Queen

  16. Pingback: ExecutedToday.com » Themed Set: Resistance and Rebellion in the Restoration

  17. Pingback: ExecutedToday.com » 1540: Thomas Cromwell

  18. Pingback: ExecutedToday.com » 1997: Hostage-takers in Lima

  19. Pingback: The execution of Charles I - a mini blog carnival « Mercurius Politicus

  20. Right. So I was all prepared to defend Hawthorne until I clicked on the link and read the short story. Correction: skimmed it until I couldn’t take it anymore. Seriously, “tedious” is being gracious. More like, wretched and amateurish.

  21. Pingback: ExecutedToday.com » 1649: Charles I

  22. Pingback: ExecutedToday.com » 1663: Illiam Dhone

  23. Pingback: ExecutedToday.com » 1652: Captain James Hind, royalist highwayman

  24. Pingback: ExecutedToday.com » 1660: Major-General Thomas Harrison, the first of the regicides

  25. Pingback: ExecutedToday.com » Nine Executed People Who Make Great Halloween Costumes

  26. Pingback: ExecutedToday.com » 1552: Edward Seymour, deposed Lord Protector

Comments are closed.