2006: A female spy by al Qaeda 1945: Private Eddie Slovik, the last American shot for desertion

1661: Oliver Cromwell, posthumously

January 30th, 2009 Headsman

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..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,20th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Famous,Gibbeted,Hanged,Heads of State,History,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Politicians,Posthumous Executions,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Soldiers,The Worm Turns,Treason,Tyburn

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

26 thoughts on “1661: Oliver Cromwell, posthumously”

  1. SGMoore says:

    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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>


Calendar

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!


Recent Comments

  • Meaghan: It looks like Mann and Ohr, or whoever actually wrote their gallows ballads, ripped them off the 1874 ballad...
  • Meaghan: Just listened to an episode about Mary Blandy with a really cool, funny true crime podcast called...
  • Johan Louis de Jong: I am very happy with this portrait of the royal children. The girl was a lovely child but died...
  • Johan Louis de Jong: The refusal of the last male Bourbon was only a pretext. The wife of the prince had an...
  • Kevin M. Sullivan: Hi Jack, Well, while I don’t mind ZE playing the part, I hope it isn’t exactly how you...