Essays and Orations, Read and Delivered at the Royal College of Physicians to which is Added an Account of the Opening of the Tomb of King Charles

Halford, Henry





is stated by , in his History of the Rebellion, that the body of , though known to be interred in , at , could not be found, when searched for there some years afterwards. It seems, by the historian's account, to have been the wish and the intention of ., after his restoration, to take up his father's corpse, and to re-inter it in , with those royal honours which had been denied it under the government of the regicides. The most careful search was made for the body by several people, amongst whom were some of those noble persons whose faithful attachment had led them to


pay their last tribute of respect to their unfortunate master by attending him to the grave. Yet such had been the injury done to the chapel, such were the mutilations it had undergone, during the period of the usurpation, that no marks were left, by which the place of burial of the king could be ascertained.[1] 

There is some difficulty in reconciling this account with the information which has reached us since the death of Lord Clarendon, particularly with that of Mr. Ashmole, and more especially with that most interesting narrative of Mr. Herbert, given in the

'Athenae Oxonienses.'

Mr. Herbert had been a groom of the bed-chamber, and a


faithful companion of the king in all circumstances, from the time he left the , until his death-was employed to convey his body to , and to fix upon a proper place for his interment there; and was an eye-witness to that interment, in the vault of

Were it allowable to hazard a conjecture, after 's deprecation of all conjectures on the subject, one might suppose that it was deemed imprudent, by the ministers of . that his Majesty should indulge his pious inclination to re-inter his father, at a period when those ill-judged effusions of loyalty which had been manifested by taking out of their graves and hanging up the bodies of some of the most active members of the court which had condemned and executed the king might, in the event of another triumph of the republicans, have subjected the body of the


monarch to similar indignity. But the fact is, was buried in the vault of situated precisely where Mr. Herbert has described it;[2]  and an accident has served to elucidate a point in history, which the great authority of had involved in some obscurity.

On completing the mausoleum which his present Majesty has built in the tomb-house, as it is called, it was necessary to form a passage to it from under the choir of . In constructing this passage, an aperture was made accidentally in one of the walls of the vault of , through which the workmen were enabled to see, not only the two coffins which were supposed to contain the bodies of and , but


a third also, covered with a black velvet pall, which, from Mr. Herbert's narrative, might fairly be presumed to hold the remains of

On representing the circumstance to perceived at once, that a doubtful point in history might be cleared up by opening this vault; and accordingly ordered an examination to be made on the first convenient opportunity. This was done on the first of April last, the day after the funeral of the Duchess of Brunswick, in the presence of himself, who guaranteed thereby the most respectful care and attention to the remains of the dead during the inquiry. was accompanied by his Royal Highness the Duke of Cumberland, Count Munster, the Dean of , Benjamin Charles Stevenson, Esq., and .

The vault is covered by an arch, half a brick in thickness, is seven feet two inches in width, nine feet six inches in length, and four feet ten inches in height, and is situated in the centre of the choir, opposite the eleventh knight's stall, on the sovereign's side.

On removing the pall, a plain leaden coffin, with no appearance of ever having been inclosed in wood, and bearing an inscription






in large, legible characters, on a scroll of lead encircling it, immediately presented itself to the view. A square opening was then made in the upper part of the lid, of such dimensions as to admit a clear insight into its contents. These were, an internal wooden coffin, very much decayed, and the body carefully wrapped up in cere-cloth, into the folds of which a quantity of unctuous or greasy matter mixed with resin, as it seemed, had been


melted, so as to exclude, as effectually as possible, the external air. The coffin was completely full; and from the tenacity of the cere-cloth, great difficulty was experienced in detaching it successfully from the parts which it enveloped. Wherever the unctuous matter had insinuated itself, the separation of the cere-cloth was easy; and when it came off, a correct impression of the features to which it had been applied was observed in the unctuous substance. At length, the whole face was disengaged from its covering. The complexion of the skin of it was dark and discoloured. The forehead and temples had lost little or nothing of their muscular substance; the cartilage of the nose was gone; but the left eye, in the first moment of exposure, was open and full, though it vanished almost immediately : and the pointed beard, so characteristic of the period of the reign of , was


perfect. The shape of the face was a long oval; many of the teeth remained; and the left ear, in consequence of the interposition of the unctuous matter between it and the cere-cloth, was found entire.

It was difficult, at this moment, to withhold a declaration, that, notwithstanding its disfigurement, the countenance did bear a strong resemblance to the coins, the busts, and especially to the pictures of by , by which it had been made familiar to us. It is true, that the minds of the spectators of this interesting sight were well prepared to receive this impression; but it is also certain, that such a facility of belief had been occasioned by the simplicity and truth of Mr. Herbert's Narrative, every part of which had been confirmed by the investigation, so far as it had advanced: and it will not be denied that the shape of the face, the forehead, and


eye, and the beard, are the most important features by which resemblance is determined.

When the head had been entirely disengaged from the attachments which confined it, it was found to be loose, and, without any difficulty, was taken up and held to view. It was quite wet,[3]  and gave a


greenish red tinge to paper and to linen which touched it. The back part of the scalp was entirely perfect, and had a remarkably fresh appearance; the pores of the skin being more distinct, as they usually are when soaked in moisture; and the tendons and ligaments of the neck were of considerable substance and firmness. The hair was thick at the back part of the head, and, in appearance, nearly black. A portion of it, which has since been cleaned and dried, is of a beautiful dark brown colour. That of the beard was a redder brown. On the back part of the head it was more than an inch in length, and had probably been cut so short for the convenience of the executioner, or perhaps by the piety of friends soon after death, in order to furnish memorials of the unhappy king.

On holding up the head, to examine the place of separation from the body, the


muscles of the neck had evidently retracted themselves considerably; and the fourth cervical vertebra was found to be cut through its substance transversely, leaving the surfaces of the divided portions perfectly smooth and even, an appearance which could have been produced only by a heavy blow, inflicted with a very sharp instrument, and which furnished the last proof wanting to identify .


After this examination of the head, which served every purpose in view, and without examining the body below the neck, it was immediately restored to its situation, the coffin was soldered up again, and the vault closed.

Neither of the other coffins had any inscription upon them. The larger one, supposed on good grounds to contain the remains of measured six feet ten inches in length, and had been


inclosed in an elm one of two inches in thickness: but this was decayed, and lay in small fragments near it. The leaden coffin appeared to have been beaten in by violence about the middle; and a considerable opening in that part of it exposed a mere skeleton of the king. Some beard remained upon the chin, but there was nothing to discriminate the personage contained in it.

The smaller coffin, understood to be that of , was not touched; mere curiosity not being considered, by the , as a sufficient motive for disturbing these remains.

On examining the vault with some attention, it was found that the wall, at the west end, had, at some period or other, been partly pulled down and repaired again, not by regular masonry, but by fragments of stones and bricks, put rudely and hastily together without cement.

From 's account, as well as from Mr. Herbert's narrative of the interment of , it is to be inferred, that the ceremony was a very hasty one, performed in the presence of the Governor, who had refused to allow the service according to the Book of Common Prayer to be used on the occasion; and had, probably, scarcely admitted the time necessary for a decent deposit of the body. It is not unlikely, therefore, that the coffin of had been injured by a precipitate introduction of the coffin of King Charles; and that the Governor was not under the influence of feelings, in those times, which gave him any concern about Royal remains, or the vault which contained them.

It may be right to add, that a very small mahogany coffin, covered with crimson velvet, containing the body of an infant, had


been laid upon the pall which covered King Charles. This is known to have been a still-born child of Princess George of Denmark, afterwards Queen Anne. LONDON, APRIL 11, .


[1] Pope, alluding to the doubt which was entertained in his day, as to the place of the King's interment, invokes the Muse to 'Make sacred Charles's tomb for ever known, '(Obscure the place and uninscribed the stone.') Windsor Forest, v. 319.

[2] Mr. Herbert, whose account furnished the clue to our inquiry, retired immediately after his Majesty's death into Yorkshire, and lived to the beginning of the next century. His papers were not published till sometime after his death.

[3] I have not asserted this liquid to be blood, because I had not an opportunity of being sure that it was so, and I wished to record facts only, and not opinions: I believe it, however, to have been blood, in which the head rested. It gave to writing paper, and to a white handkerchief, such a colour as blood which has been kept for a length of time generally leaves behind it. Nobody present had a doubt of its being blood; and it appears from Mr. Herbert's narrative, that the King was embalmed immediately after decapitation. It is probable, therefore, that the large blood vessels continued to empty themselves for some time afterwards. I am aware, that some of the softer parts of the human body, and particularly the brain, undergo, in the course of time, a decomposition, and will melt. A liquid, therefore, might be found after long interment, where solids only had been buried: but the weight of the head, in this instance, gave no suspicion that the brain had lost its substance; and no moisture appeared in any other part of the coffin, as far as we could see, excepting at the back part of the head and neck.