Monday, March 29, 2010

Question from Elizabeth M - Boiling of Cromwell's head

After his execution, why was the head of Thomas Cromwell boiled before being put up on a spike?


Tudorrose said...

The method of boiling was usually given to poisoners at the time.
Their is no evedence that Cromwell ever poisened anyone in his life,well not with food but perhaps it were his words that were seen as poisonous by some.When Thomas Cromwell set up the cleeves marriage and Holbein englnds cout painter was summoned aswell as sent to Germany to paint Anne he painted her in a different light than how she really looked and on the basis of this portrait the his majesty the king must have been thrilled as a result and it was only upon meeting the lady of Cleeves the king was to discover what she really and truthally looked like.It was from here on Henry must have thought lied to aswell as betrayed by his most loyal subject aswell as Holbein.It is words like these that could be seen as poisonous.It seemed that the closer that you were to the monarch the more dangerous it was.I highly doubt myself that Cromwell ever met Anne of Cleves before her arrival to England and I have never read any sources that speculate or clarify this.The only person in my eyes who was sent from the english court to the court of cleves was the kings painter Hans Holbein.Hans in my opinion would have been the only one to have known what the Duke of Cleves daughter really looked like.So who should have suffered really Cromwell or holbein or both of them.According to all sources Holbein got of lightly he was only banished from court.Whilst Cromwell as he was the cheif man behind the set-up aswell as the marriage would be the one to suffer even though he neverthe Lady of cleves until her arrival to England.Also I think it was also because he had Norfolk on his back aswell as Southhampton and other catholic enemies on his back trying to poison the kings mind against him and thus was hated anyway.I know that the Tudor people were bloodthirsty but this I would say would have been a contributing factor to the boiling of his head.

Tudorrose said...

Just to come back on a note.It took about eight seconds for full death to contemplate when one was beheaded.As the head of Thomas Cromwell was boiled thus not long after this would have ensured he suffered a quick and timely death.
Not forgetting that it took several blows to Cromwells head before it was stricken off.All I can his enemies aswell as his executioner really made him suffer a brutal death.

Lara said...

It should be pointed out that the boiling was not the method of his execution, but it was done to his head after his beheading. So this has nothing to do with poisoning or the bloodthirsty nature of the time.

Lara said...

Shoot, I hit "publish" went I meant to preview earlier.

Finishing my thought... I'm guessing that the head was boiled in brine to preserve it. Although I'm not entirely sure what the point was of preserving it? Maybe to keep it recognizable as a reminder that "this person died a traitor and this is what will happen to you if you betray the king too"?

Colleen said...

I've read before, although I can't remember where, that sometimes heads of the executed were boiled in tar to make them last longer once they were impaled on the spikes.

PenelopeHG said...

I believe Tudorrose is correct: murderers who used poison as their method of killing could be punished with the "boiling" death. However, this method of punishment was rare. Tudor chroniclers note only three such executions (Barrett, Crime & Punishment in England, p.47). I just read a murder pamphlet called "The examination ... Henry Robson ... who poysoned his wife" (1598) in which the author says Robson was condemned "to be hanged, which wa performed" (Sig. B2r).

I realize this doesn't exactly answer your question. My guess is that the boiling of Cromwell's head was an attempt to besmirch Cromwell's posthumous reputation.

shtove said...

A bit OT, but here's my account of what happened to the head of an Irish rebel in 1598:

The Lost Head

O'Byrne's corpse was cut up, and for months the head and quarters hung on pike staffs on the wall over Dublin Castle drawbridge. Several months later, the pickled head was presented to the council secretary at London by an English adventurer, who was disappointed to find that the head-silver due on O'Byrne had already been paid in Ireland. The queen was angered that "the head of "such a base Robin Hood" was brought solemnly into England". The offending item was given to some lad for burial, but was found a day or two later in Enfield Chase, outside London, perched in the fork of a tree.

No citations, but that's the accepted and rather amusing account of the adventures of a severed head.

Head silver was bounty money. And the head was actually "pickled in a pipkin", a ceramic jar.

hopeless romantic said...

Lara--boiling was done to keep the head from decaying as quickly.After it had been chopped off and held up on the scaffold,it was taken with the body to a nearby room,where the head was boiled,probably in salt brine.This had the effect of partial preservation,and gave the flesh a rosy appearance as well.Since the head was to be publically displayed,it was desirable that it last as long as possible.After his gruesome beheading,Cromwell's head was boiled well,pricked upon a sharp spike and displayed in full public view.