If you think the election in America is insane, 17th century England reminds us that things can be a lot worse—and have been most of the time. Cromwell’s Head is an hour-long documentary exploring Oliver Cromwell’s life, legacy, and severed head.
Cromwell came to prominence in England following the English Civil War, caused by the king seeking more power over the Parliament. The Parliamentarians came out ahead, due in no small part to Cromwell’s military leadership. With the monarchy ceremoniously snuffed out, Parliament took control, and England became something resembling a republic, but only for a brief time. Cromwell eventually grew dissatisfied with the Parliament, feeling that it was corrupt and immoral, so he used the military to take full power, thus becoming the de facto king of England. During Cromwell’s short reign, the House of Commons banned such cherished pastimes as theater, cockfighting, and Christmas. You heard that right. Oliver Cromwell is partially responsible for killing Christmas.
“…Cromwell’s head…exchanged hands many times…until finally being given a proper burial…”
While the people of England were on board with dismantling the monarchy, they weren’t looking to replace it with something just as authoritarian. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” sayeth the Who. After Cromwell’s death from illness, his reputation decomposed faster than his body. Charles II, the rightful heir to the throne, came out of hiding and took power, with the public’s full backing. All Parliamentarians who had a hand in the destruction of the monarchy were hung until almost dead, then disemboweled, chopped up, and used to decorate London’s streets. There were so many heads on pikes that they hired a “keeper of the heads” to watch over and arrange them.
The heads of the most notable insurrectionists, Cromwell among them, were placed on pikes above the courthouse where they condemned the previous king to death. There they stayed, until years later when a storm came by and flung Cromwell’s head at the feet of a sentry. He took it home—who among us wouldn’t—and became the first owner of the head. It exchanged hands many times thereafter—from alcoholic actors to curiosity shop owners to historians—until finally being given a proper burial in the 1960s at an undisclosed location.
"…banned such cherished pastimes as theater, cockfighting, and Christmas."