Oliver Cromwell's burial plate for auction at Sotheby's

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2015-06-26 11:25:24

An upcoming Sotheby's sale in London will offer a remarkable piece of English 17th century history.

The English Literature, History, Children’s Books and Illustrations next month will offer the engraved brass plate found buried with the body of Oliver Cromwell.

IN 1658 Cromwell, then Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, passed away from natural causes. He was given a state funeral at Westminster Abbey as grand as that of any King, documented in the Order Book of the Privy Council:

“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.”

However, just two years later King Charles II was restored to the throne and was eager to take revenge on those who had signed his father's death warrant. And it didn't matter to him that many were already dead – he simply had their corpses exhumed and sentenced to be executed posthumously.

Cromwell's body was exhumed by James Norfolke, Serjeant of the House of Commons, who discovered the engraved brass plate "in a leaden canister, lying on the breast of the corpse". After laying overnight in Holborn, Cromwell's corpse was taken to Tyburn and hanged, drawn, and quartered, and his head was displayed on a spike above Westminster Hall.

It remained there for twenty years, until a gust of wind blew it down and it was taken home by a soldier on guard. Cromwell's head passed through the hands of private collectors for almost 300 years, before being interred in the chapel of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, in 1960.

The brass plate, which has remained in the collection of the Harcourt family since the 29th century, is expected to sell for £8,000-£12,000 when it crosses the block on December 9.

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