#OTD in 1661 – Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland, is ritually executed more than two years after his death, on the 12th anniversary of the execution of the monarch he himself deposed.

On 20 April 1653 Cromwell dismissed the Rump Parliament by force, setting up a short-lived nominated assembly known as the Barebones Parliament, before being invited by his fellow leaders to rule as Lord Protector of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland from 16 December 1653.

Oliver Cromwell’s skull has changed hands many times since the Lord Protector lost exclusive use of it in 1658. After the restoration of the monarchy, Cromwell’s corpse was exhumed from Westminster Abbey and hanged at Tyburn. It was then taken down from the scaffold and decapitated. The body was thrown into a pit beneath the gallows and the head set on a spike above Westminster Hall.

The head remained there for forty-three years until it was dislodged in a violent storm and was found lying on the ground by a sentry. Mr. John Moore took it home and kept it hidden in his chimney and on his death he left it to his daughter.

In 1710 the head reappeared, this time in a freak show. By 1775 it had been sold to an actor named Russell, who in turn sold it in 1787 to James Fox, an antique dealer. Fox sold it for £230 to three men who put it on display in Old Bond Street, London, and charged half-a-crown per viewing.

By 1865, it had passed into the possession of a Mr. Williamson of Beckenham. His family donated it to Sydney Sussex College in the 1960s. At one time there were even two “authentic” Cromwell skulls on sale in London simultaneously. The owner of the second, smaller skull explained that his version was obviously that of Cromwell when he was a boy.

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