Exhumation and Obsession

Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland, died in 1658, most likely from septicaemia caused by a urinary infection. Two years later, the Commonwealth collapsed and the monarchy restored, King Charles II decided to execute him.

He had the body exhumed from Westminster Abbey and hanged at Tyburn then decapitated. The rest of his body was thrown into a pit. Cromwell’s head, like Einstein’s brain and the Dauphin’s heart, then had a fairly eventful time. It spent twenty-five years on public display on a pole near Westminster Hall. At some point, it fell off and passed through numerous hands before being buried in 1960.

Pope Formosus

Formosus was pope for a mere five years from 891 until his death in 896 and managed to upset a lot of people in that time. Nevertheless, his treatment after death by Pope Stephen VI, driven largely by a personal hatred, was a little over the top.

In 897, Stephen had Formosus exhumed. The corpse was dressed in papal vestments and placed on a chair. He was then tried for perjury, coveting the papacy and violating church canons.

Since he was dead and couldn’t speak, a deacon was assigned the job of answering for him. Not surprisingly, he was found guilty. He was stripped of his vestments, three of his fingers were cut off and he was reburied. Later, he was exhumed again so that he could be thrown into the Tiber.

Pedro and Inês

Not all exhumations are done out of hatred. For Pedro I of Portugal, it was an obsessive love worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy.

Before he took the throne, Dom Pedro was fated by his father, King Afonso, to marry the Infanta Constança of Castile. But he immediately fell in love with Constança’s lady-in-waiting, Inês de Castro. Alarmed by this, Afonso had Inês murdered. Pedro didn’t take this well and attempted to usurp the throne from Afonso. He failed but Afonso died shortly after.

As king, Pedro then did what any sane person would. He had Inês’ assassins brought before him and personally tore out their hearts. He then had Inês exhumed, dressed in royal garments and placed on a throne. He commanded his vassals to acknowledge her as their queen by kissing the rotting flesh of her hand.

Pedro and Inês now rest in a pair of elaborately carved marble tombs in the Alcobaça Monastery, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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