Church Monuments Society

Oliver 1

Oliver Cromwell’s Coffin Plate

Month: August 2012
Type: Effigy  
Era: 17th Century

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Museum of London
150 London Wall,

More about this monument

The Protector Oliver Cromwell died at the early age of 59 of what was described as a tertian fever ¹ at Whitehall on the afternoon of Friday 3rd September 1658. A post mortem – to rule out foul play – was performed immediately after death and his body was embalmed the following day. It was then placed in a lead shell inside a lead coffin and conveyed to Somerset House on the 20th September and there the coffin lay in state. An effigy of the Protector, which was first moulded in wax by medal maker Thomas Simon and then carved in wood, surmounted the coffin. The embalmed body was buried privately at an unknown date in a vault below the chapel of King Henry VII in Westminster Abbey, so that an empty coffin was later conveyed ceremoniously in the funeral procession on 23rd November to the Abbey. Various explanations – all speculative – have been given for this but these will not be discussed here. A hearse and recumbent effigy were place over the site of burial, the latter probably resembling those which survive in the Abbey museum. A coffin plate (above) was fixed to the lid with an inscription in Latin which, when translated, reads simply:

Oliver Protector of the Republics
of England, Scotland and Ireland.
Born 25th April in the year 1599
Inaugurated 16th December 1653
Died 3rd September in the year 1658
Was buried here

However Oliver was not to rest in peace. At the Restoration in 1660 Lords and Commons, not satisfied with the brutal execution of the living regicides, were determined to exact revenge on the dead ones too. Parliament ordered that the corpses of Henry Ireton (an important architect of the regicide), John Bradshaw (president of the court which had tried the King), Thomas Pride (of Pride’s Purge ²) and Oliver Cromwell were to be disinterred, dragged in hurdles to Tyburn ³ and there hung up ‘in their coffins’, although the actual meaning of latter phrase is somewhat obscure.

This disgusting performance was carried out on the 30th January 1660/61, the anniversary of the execution of Charles I. Colonel Pride’s body was not discovered but the other three were all resting in the Cromwell vault. At this point Oliver’s coffin plate was torn off and passed into private ownership. The three bodies were dragged to Tyburn and hanged, then beheaded and thrown into the common pit. At the same time the effigies of the Protector and the Commonwealth coat of arms were burned.

The subsequent fate of Oliver Cromwell’s body – and especially that of his head – will be the topic of another article.

The coffin plate is on display in the Museum of London

¹ A fever with a forty eight hour periodicity which occurs in some forms of malaria
² Col Thomas Pride was one of those who stood at the door of parliament and purged parliament of the members who would not vote for the trial of the King
³ Site of the famous London gallows, now Marble Arch

John K Bromilow MInstP