Westminster Hall - Netflix

Coverage of House of Commons proceedings in Westminster Hall.

Type: News

Languages: English

Status: Running

Runtime: None minutes

Premier: 2016-03-19

Westminster Hall - Oliver Cromwell's head - Netflix

After the defeat of King Charles I in the English Civil War and Charles' subsequent beheading, Cromwell had become Lord Protector and ruler of the English Commonwealth. Following the death of Oliver Cromwell on 3 September 1658, he was given a public funeral at Westminster Abbey equal to those of monarchy before him. His legacy passed to his son Richard, who was overthrown by the army in 1659, after which monarchy was re-established and King Charles II, who was living in exile, was recalled. Charles' new parliament ordered the disinterment of Cromwell's body from Westminster Abbey and the disinterment of other regicides John Bradshaw and Henry Ireton, for a posthumous execution at Tyburn. After hanging “from morning till four in the afternoon”, the bodies were cut down and the heads placed on a 20-foot (6.1 m) spike above Westminster Hall (the location of the trial of Charles I). In 1685, a storm broke the pole upon which Cromwell's head stood, throwing it to the ground (although other sources put the date anywhere between 1672 and 1703), after which it was in the hands of private collectors and museum owners until 25 March 1960, when it was buried at Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge. The symbolic value of the head changed over time. While it was spiked on a pole above the London skyline, it gave a potent warning to spectators. In the 18th century, the head became a curiosity and a relic. The head has been admired, reviled, and dismissed as a fake throughout the centuries. After Thomas Carlyle dismissed the head as “fraudulent moonshine”, and after the emergence of a rival claimant to the true head of Oliver Cromwell, scientific and archaeological analysis was carried out to prove the identity. Inconclusive tests culminated in a detailed scientific study by Karl Pearson and Geoffrey Morant, which concluded, based on a study of the head and other evidence, that there was a moral certainty that the head belonged to Oliver Cromwell.

Westminster Hall - Body - Netflix

The authenticity of the head has long been debated, and has resulted in several scientific analyses. The most notable and detailed of these was Karl Pearson and Geoffrey Morant's study conducted in the 1930s, which concluded that the Wilkinson head was that of Cromwell. Rumours and conspiracy theories have circulated since Cromwell's head fell from Westminster Hall.

According to Fitzgibbons, the rumours surrounding Cromwell's body immediately after his death are “merely good yarns born out of over-active imaginations”. One legend claims that he was conveyed secretly to Naseby, the site of his “greatest victory and glory”, for a midnight burial. The field was then ploughed over to hide evidence of the burial. Another legend, written in the 1730s by a John Oldmixon, claims that “a reliable Gentlewoman who attended Cromwell in his last sickness” had said the coffin was sunk in the deepest part of the River Thames the night following Cromwell's death. Fearful of royalists, “it was consulted how to dispose of his Corpse. They could not pretend to keep it for the Pomp of a publick [sic] burial...and to prevent its falling into barbarous hands, it was resolved to wrap it up in lead, to put it aboard a Barge, and sink it in the deepest part of the Thames, which was done the night following Cromwell's death.” In 1664, Samuel Pepys wrote of a story he had heard in which “Cromwell did, in his life, transpose many of the bodies of the Kings of England from one grave to another, and by that means it is not known certainly whether the head that is now set upon a post be that of Cromwell, or one of the Kings”. If this story had any accuracy, Fitzgibbons suggests the irony would be that the posthumous act was possibly carried out on an English monarch rather than Cromwell himself. Another story even suggested that Cromwell's body was substituted for Charles I, adding what Fitzgibbons describes as “an even greater mockery of the events of 30 January 1649”. This story is known to be false; Charles' tomb was opened in 1813, and his remains, including the cut that severed his head, remained as they were in 1649. Fitzgibbons argues that it was not impossible for Cromwell's body to have been substituted before his posthumous execution. One proposition is that Sergeant Norfolke, who exhumed the bodies from the abbey, found the tombs of Cromwell and Ireton empty, prompting the government to sanction an exhumation of two other graves. This has been put forward because Bradshaw's body arrived at the Red Lion Inn at Holborn a day after Cromwell and Ireton, prompting rumour that he was the only real body to be hanged at Tyburn. An alternative theory is that Cromwell's friends bribed the guards attending Cromwell's body, “privately interring him in a small paddock near Holborn”, so that when the sledges dragged the bodies to the gallows, Cromwell's body was already buried. The faces on the three bodies, although heavily shrouded, were clearly visible; and since no witnesses expressed any doubt that the bodies were those of Cromwell and Ireton, there is no evidence supporting this theory.

Westminster Hall - References - Netflix