Brass plate from Cromwell’s coffin sells for almost €95,000

Memento taken when body was exhumed in 1661 fetches six times the estimate at auction

A brass plate retrieved from the coffin of Oliver Cromwell when his body was exhumed in 1661 has sold at auction in London for £74,500 (€94,965).

The price achieved was over six times the highest estimate.

The bizarre memento of the man who overthrew the English monarchy in the mid-17th century and established a short-lived Republic, went under the hammer in a sale of historical memorabilia at Sotheby’s. The item had been assigned a pre-auction estimate of £8,000 to £12,000.

Bidding opened at £8,000 and jumped quickly in increments of one, two, and then five thousand pounds before the hammer came down at £60,000. When auction fees – known as the buyer’s premium - were added, the unnamed person who was seated in the New Bond Street saleroom and beat off competition from at t least three other bidders, paid £74,500.


Cromwell died of natural causes in 1658, and the self-styled “Lord Protector” was buried after a formal ceremony in Westminster Abbey. Sotheby’s said Cromwell’s body was placed in “in a double coffin” and the brass coffin plate was placed on “the breast of the corpse”.

Three years later in 1661, following the restoration of the monarchy, the new king Charles II decreed that Cromwell’s body be exhumed and subjected to “posthumous execution”.

The brass coffin plate was found and retained by one of the officials present at the exhumation and passed down through generations. The name of the current owner was not revealed, nor, as is customary, did the auction house reveal the identity of the buyer.

The plaque is engraved with a Latin inscription which refers to Cromwell’s role as Protector of Hibernia (Ireland) and records his dates of birth and death.

While Cromwell was popular in England, he is still reviled in Ireland where he personally led a military campaign to suppress dissent that resulted in massacres of the populace in Drogheda and Wexford.

He sanctioned a massive confiscation of land in Ireland and ordered Catholics to go “To Hell or to Connacht”.

Following the exhumation, Cromwell’s body was hanged, drawn and quartered. His severed head was displayed on a pole in London but was reputedly salvaged and surfaced in 1960, when it was interred beneath a chapel in Cambridge.

The fate of the rest of Cromwell’s body after his “second death” is not known but his original grave in Westminster Abbey is marked by a stone memorial tablet which was laid down in the 19th century.

Michael Parsons

Michael Parsons

Michael Parsons is a contributor to The Irish Times writing about fine art and antiques