The Edmondson Blog

Oliver Cromwell's Head

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. He 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 he second, smaller skull explained that his version was obviously that of Cromwell when he was a boy.


The tomb of King Richard I at Westminster Abbey once had a hole in it, through which visitors could actually touch his skull. In 1776, a schoolboy stole the king's jawbone; it was kept as a family heirloom until it was finally returned to the abbey in 1906.

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