- Cromwell, Oliver
- Copper gilt coffin plate
- circa 7in by 5in
Cromwell's body in fact played a minimal part in the public ceremonials: it had been badly embalmed and began to decompose, so was interred at the Abbey some two weeks before the funeral. Nevertheless, the grandeur and ceremony that characterised Cromwell's funerary rites extended to his coffin, as Privy Council orders of the time make clear:
"his Highness Corps being embalmed, with all due rites appertayneing thereunto, and being wrapped in Lead, There ought to be an Inscripcion in a plate of Gold [i.e. gilded metal, not necessarily gold] to be fixed upon his Brest before he be putt into the Coffin. That the Coffin be filled with odours, and spices within, and Covered without with purple Velvett, and handles, Nayles, and all other Iron Worke about it, be richly hatched with Gold." (Order Book of the Privy Council, 14 September 1658, quoted Fitzgibbons, pp.37-38)
The body was exhumed little more than two years later, and in very different circumstances. On 26 January 1661, James Norfolke, Serjeant of the House of Commons, entered the Henry VII Chapel of Westminster Abbey to disinter the former Lord Protector. With the Restoration of King Charles II had come the Act of Indemnity, Pardon, and Oblivion, but this had excluded the Regicides from its general amnesty. In addition to the punishment of surviving Regicides, it was decreed that the bodies of leading figures in the Protectorate who had inconveniently died before they could be executed should suffer the indignity of posthumous execution.
According to contemporary reports, this plate was “found in a leaden canister, lying on the breast of the corpse", as had been ordered by the Privy Council in 1658, and was pocketed by Sejeant Norfolke. The body was laid out at the Red Lion inn in Holburn, together with those of Henry Ireton and John Bradshaw. The corpses were then conducted to Tyburn and hanged, drawn, and quartered, and their heads placed on spikes on Westminster Hall. This plate was not the only relic to survive: Cromwell's head remained on its spike for more than twenty years but eventually blew down in a gale and was taken by a sentinel on guard below. It passed through numerous private hands until it was eventually interred in a secret location in the chapel of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, in 1960.