This day in London’s history: on 30 January 1649 Charles I was beheaded, following the Rump Parliament declaring him guilty of treason. On 30 January 1661 Oliver Cromwell, the man behind the the Rump Parliament and the execution, was ceremonially executed himself. He had, however, been dead for over two years. Still, he proved to be tough even in death; during the mock execution, it took several blows to sever his head.
There were rumours that Cromwell’s ghost haunted the area of Red Lion Square, supposedly the hiding place for his body the night before his posthumous decapitation. In any event, his head remained on a spike above Westminster Hall for nearly 25 years, until a storm broke the spike and hurled Cromwell’s head to the ground. It was then bandied about amongst collectors of such grisly items, and finally buried at Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge.
On the other side of the Charles I coin, but also somewhat grisly, is the story of one of his biggest fans and supporters, Sir Nicholas Crisp (or Crispe). Crisp, who gives his name to Crisp Road in Hammersmith, was apparently a remarkable man; Samuel Johnson said of him that he was “a man of loyalty that deserves perpetual remembrance”.
Crisp was a native of Hammersmith in West London, and a dedicated Royalist: he spent over £100,000 in the cause of Charles I. He managed to escape too dire a fate at the hands of Cromwell, but was severely fined for the mere fact of his existence.
Crisp built Grand House, later known as Brandenburgh House (later the home of Caroline of Brunswick, consort of George IV). He also paid for the east window in St Mildred’s church in Bread Street (the church was destroyed during the Second World War). The window was divided into five parts, depicting the Spanish Armada, the Gunpowder Plot, Elizabeth I, the 1625 plague and the Crisp family with their coat of arms.
Another of the Crisp memorials for his king was a bust of Charles I in the Hammersmith parish church of St Paul’s; the bust sits atop a black and white marble column and is marked by an inscription which reads: “This effigy was erected by the special appointment of Sir Nicholas Crispe, Knight and Baronet, in a grateful commemoration of that glorious martyr, King Charles the First, of blessed memory.”
Not being content with this token of loyalty, Crisp also directed that his heart be placed in an urn under the effigy of his king. The heart was to be refreshed annually with a glass of wine; this service was performed for around a century until the heart became too much decayed.
And what then? Let us hope that a century of wine provided enough alcohol for the spirit of Sir Nicholas.