Just because you’re dead and buried doesn’t mean your severed head can’t go on an amazing, 300-year journey — and talk about it.
Oliver Cromwell’s notorious noggin speaks in Marc Hartzman’s new book, The Embalmed Head of Oliver Cromwell: A Memoir.
For those of you who slept through history class, Cromwell led an uprising against the British monarchy that resulted in the beheading of King Charles I. He served as lord protector of England until his death in 1658 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Naturally, a few years later, when King Charles II restored the royal family to power, it was payback time.
Cromwell was dug up and posthumously beheaded. His defiled head hung from a Westminster Hall post for 20 years. And that’s when his skull-twisting, three-century journey began.
Maybe Cromwell’s head didn’t grant Hartzman an exclusive, but this fictionalized account recounts one of history’s strangest tales in a way you’ll never forget.
Hartzman joins us for this week’s HuffPost Weird News Podcast, to talk about his new book, his career as a sideshow scribe, and the fantastic story of how he helped a bearded lady reunite with her bearded son after decades of separation.
Hartzman is a longtime blogger for HuffPost Weird News, and we’re proud to publish an excerpt from his book:
THE EMBALMED HEAD OF OLIVER CROMWELL (An Excerpt)
Victory swept through the cold, grey air that 30th of January in the year of Our Lord 1649, when, upon the scaffolding, my greatest military and political efforts at last proved triumphant. The trial at Westminster Hall resulted in grand success and the High Court of Justice made its unprecedented decision, sentencing King Charles I to be the last the Commonwealth would know of his tyrannical kind.
The judgment announced: “He, the said Charles Stuart, as a tyrant, traitor, murderer and public enemy to the good of this nation, shall be put to death by severing of his head from his body.”
On that most delightful morning of the execution, Charles enjoyed one final walk in St. James Park through the naked trees and along the lake with his faithful dog. One last moment of companionship; one last moment to bask in the glory of the land he ruled.
At two o’clock in the afternoon, the festivities commenced. An escort led the king through the Banqueting House at the Palace of Whitehall, out a window, and onto a scaffold built on the street, draped in black cloth. There, amongst the crowd of joyous Parliamentarians and dismayed royalists, the masked executioner stood over the powerless tyrant. Charles dressed warmly in thick robes over his waistcoat to avoid shivering, fearing that witnesses might see him as the weak man he truly was. He wore heels to elevate his short stature, though this deceived no one. As he awaited his fate, the realisation grew clear that Providence would not save him, for He had granted no such divine rights to the throne after all. God’s will, in fact, appeared quite the contrary.
“Is my hair well?” he asked the executioner. Vanity prevailed even in his final moments. Assured his appearance was in order, including his neatly tapered Van Dyck, the pious king looked upward and uttered a prayer imperceptible to anyone but himself and the Lord above and then said these last words, for only the closest gathered to hear:
“I have delivered to my conscience; I p-p-pray God you do take those courses that are best for the g-g-good of the kingdom and your own salvation. I shall go from a corruptible to an incorruptible Crown, where no d-d-disturbance can be.”
I appreciated the brevity of his words, for it spared us his awful stammer and the moment of glory would be prolonged no further. Charles informed the axe man that he would stretch his arms forward when he was ready, and implored him to make the deed quick. With tension mounting amongst those gathered in the street, he at last stooped to the scaffold and laid down upon the block, his neck without defence, and gave the signal. The executioner slowly raised the axe as the hushed crowd looked on in disbelief, awaiting a moment unparalleled in history. Seconds later the blade fell swiftly and, with one clean blow, severed both the head and the English monarchy. Blood splattered like a fountain of treason. The executioner held the pate up high and exclaimed, “Behold the head of a traitor!”
Acclamations of the soldiery mixed with the collective groans and sobs of the royalists, all of which echoed harmoniously through London. Those who still believed in the power of the king stepped up to the scaffold and, for a fee, dipped handkerchiefs in his blood to be wiped upon wounds. This, they foolishly alleged, would serve as a cure to their ailments. At the very least, it would be a fine souvenir.
After these events, I assumed control of the Rump Parliament and within a short time became the first Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland. Never, though, did I expect to meet a similar fate just a few short years later. Nor did I expect that my own head, severed posthumously, would experience a new life and journey through the land for the next three centuries. (Read More)
SIDE NOTE: If you’re in New York City on Aug. 17, bring your severed head over to the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn and check out Hartzman’s book launch. This guy’s a legend. And one more shout-out, to Stephie Coplan, who wrote and performed the theme song to the new book, “Hey Oliver Cromwell!”
See? Here at HuffPost Weird News, we’re bringing people together, and bringing you all the stories that matter. But we couldn’t do it without our beloved producer, Katelyn Bogucki, editor Jorge Corona and sound engineer Brad Shannon. We can’t continue to do it without your support, so please stay tuned and give us a review, people!
CORRECTION: An earlier iteration of this piece stated that Cromwell died in 1691.